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7 Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Dangerous Household Chemicals

Natural and effective ways to safely clean your home. What are the most dangerous chemicals to avoid, and which eco-friendly alternatives can you use instead?

Person cleaning a toilet

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We all want to keep our homes free from dirt, bacteria, and other grime. But, were you aware that many of the cleaning products found in your cupboard contain chemicals that may not be very safe for your families and pets? With so many time-tested natural methods available, as well as new eco cleaners being sold, it’s never been easier to clean safely and effectively.

1. 2-Butoxyethanol

Uses: Kitchen and glass cleaners, among other products.

Why avoid? 2-butoxyethanol is a solvent in the glycol ethers family that, according to the EPA, can cause: drowsiness, pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs), and severe kidney & liver damage, among other things. As a chemical ingredient in cleaning products, 2-butoxyethanol exposure can be harmful, with more serious effects being produced by higher levels of exposure.

Eco-friendly alternatives: For a great multi-purpose cleaner, try mixing baking soda with vinegar. To get your windows or glass surfaces sparkly clean, spray diluted vinegar and then wipe with a crumpled newspaper. (This may sound strange but it works!)

2. Ammonia

Uses: A polishing agent found in fixture cleaners and glass cleaners.

Why avoid? Ammonia evaporates and becomes a harmful irritant, especially to those with asthma or people with difficulty breathing. People with long-term exposure to ammonia are at greater risk of chronic bronchitis and asthma.

Eco-friendly alternatives: Try a water and vinegar mixture for cleaning glass. If you need something a little stronger to get those bathroom fixtures clean, mix baking soda with water and add a little elbow grease.

Woman mopping the floor with eco-friendly alternatives

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3. Chlorine

Uses: Mildew remover, toilet cleaner, laundry room bleach.

Why avoid? Chlorine is a naturally-occurring chemical element but that doesn’t mean it’s perfectly safe for human exposure. In very small amounts, chlorine is a powerful disinfectant used to treat drinking water supplies and swimming pools. However, at higher levels, chlorine is a skin, eye, and nose irritant that can cause breathing problems and watery eyes. It can also become a toxic gas if mixed with ammonia.

Eco-friendly alternatives: Try using baking soda or a chlorine-free bleach for your cleaning needs. If you want to limit your exposure to chlorine in tap water, install a water filter on your kitchen sink and in your shower.

Related: Helpful Home Maintenance Tips To Keep Your Place In Great Shape

4. Perchloroethylene or “PCE”

Uses: A solvent found in cleaning products, furniture cleaners, and dry cleaning products.

Why avoid? Perchloroethylene, or PCE, is a neurotoxin that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has determined to be a “possible carcinogen.” Those exposed to the chemical through breathing the fumes may experience loss of coordination and dizziness.

Eco-friendly alternatives: There are a number of all-natural cleaning supply manufacturers, such as Ecover, who make products that are free from PCE while still being effective. If you’re wanting to avoid perchloroethylene from your dry cleaning, ask around for a cleaner that uses “wet cleaning” technology, which avoids these chemicals.

5. Phthalates

Uses: Binder and plasticizer used in many products including soaps, shampoos, and plastic bottles.

Why avoid? Phthalates are everywhere in many different products we use. But, recent studies have linked exposure to these chemicals with a number of serious ailments such as ADHD, breast cancer, and male fertility problems. According to the CDC, more testing needs to be completed but it may be wise to go ahead and avoid these chemicals wherever possible.

Eco-friendly alternatives: It may be nearly impossible to completely avoid phthalates currently, but tips on cutting down on exposure include: using all-natural products, avoiding artificial air-fresheners (open a window instead), and cut down on plastic use by using refillable water bottles.

6. Quaternary Ammonium Compounds or “Quats”

Uses: A germ killer used in antibacterial wipes and cleaners.

Why avoid? Quats are powerful enough to be used in hospitals – they are proven killers of microbes such as E. Coli and Staphylococcus. But, studies show that the chemicals don’t make people’s homes safer than from normal washing with soap and water. They are also skin and lung irritants which can cause rashes or asthma. Furthermore, quats are contributing to superbugs which are resilient to antibiotics.

Eco-friendly alternatives: Vinegar is looking like a great all-around natural cleaning agent to keep well stocked at home. In this case, it can be combined with tea tree oil to make an effective disinfectant cleaner or on its own as a fabric softener. If you’re not crazy about the scent, add a dash of essential oil.

Related: 6 DIY Plumbing Jobs You Can Execute Confidently

7. Sodium Hydroxide or “Lye”

Uses: Sodium hydroxide is a major ingredient in oven and drain cleaners.

Why avoid: Lye, or sodium hydroxide, is a highly corrosive chemical that can cause severe burns if it comes in contact with your skin or through inhalation.

Eco-friendly alternatives: You may need a little more elbow grease to clean that oven, but reach for some baking soda paste instead. For a clogged drain, try mixing one cup of baking soda with an equal amount of vinegar. Pour down the drain and cover with a stopper. After a half hour, pour hot water to clear the drain. If the situation calls for more serious methods, try using a drain or plumbing snake, which can be found at any hardware store.

So, with all of these potentially harmful ingredients lurking under your sink, isn’t it time to give some of these eco-friendly cleaning solutions a try? 

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