There is a reason why, according to traditional housekeeping lore, “you are supposed to be unable to keep house without white vinegar and baking soda,” explains Cheryl Mendelson in her meticulously researched book, Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House. And none other than undisputed homekeeping expert Martha Stewart advocates vinegar, baking soda, plain soap, and borax in much of her cleaning advice.
These effective, non-toxic ingredients are all you will need to fill and refill our kits: baking soda, borax, white vinegar, dish liquid, hydrogen peroxide and essential oils.
Baking Soda: Baking soda is a gentle abrasive for scrubbing. It reacts with water and vinegar by fizzing, which speeds up cleaning times. It is sodium bicarbonate, a simple chemical compound.
Borax: Borax helps to disinfect and deodorize. It is a naturally occurring mineral composed of sodium, boron, oxygen and water. It does not contain phosphates or chlorine. You can find it in the laundry product aisle of your local stores.
White Distilled Vinegar: Vinegar breaks up dirt and removes surface build-up to increase shine on the item to be cleaned. It is also an excellent deodorizer. White vinegar is made from the fermentation of grain diluted with water to make a 5% acetic acid solution.
Hydrogen Peroxide: Hydrogen peroxide has excellent disinfecting properties. It is the safest disinfecting product since it quickly breaks down into harmless hydrogen and water without the formation of byproducts. It is often used in hospitals because it causes far fewer adverse reactions than alternative disinfectants. At the commonly available dilution of 3%, it is suitable for home cleaning and disinfecting.
Liquid Detergent (Dish Liquid): Detergents help to remove dirt and grime and to disinfect. Detergent is a synthetic soap. For the Pure & Easy Cleaning Kit’s recipes, dish liquid is recommended. Look for a dish liquid made with plant-based ingredients, essential oil fragrances, and no dyes or phosphates. Natural soap, often labeled castile soap, is not recommended for cleaning as it reacts with the minerals in water and leaves an insoluble film. It can also clog the spray nozzle of a cleaning container.
Essential Oils: Essential oils are pure concentrated compounds extracted from plants. The term essential indicates that the oil carries distinctive scent (essence) of the plant. Though pure essential oils seem expensive for such a little bottle, it only takes a tiny amount for our products. Look for labels stating “pure essential oil” and not “essential fragrances.” Lemon and lavender would be an excellent combination for both our all-purpose cleaner and air freshener.
Traditional Non-Toxic Ingredients We Don’t Recommend:
The following ingredients are often listed in other sources for non-toxic cleaning, but our research has led us to believe the following are best left out of our recipes:
Washing Soda: This is an excellent product for effective and non-toxic cleaning but with a pH of 11 it is extremely caustic. It is necessary to always wear gloves when handling washing soda. It also leaves a whitish residue behind so thorough rinsing is necessary. We don’t think it is worth the extra effort.
Ammonia: Used alone or in commercial cleaning products to cut grease and add shine, ammonia is a severe skin, eye and respiratory tract irritant. U.S. poison control centers report nearly 6000 cases of toxic ammonia exposure each year. In addition, ammonia interacts with chlorine to form a dangerous gas. Vinegar is a much safer and equally effective alternative.
Olive oil or other food oils: Certainly these are non-toxic but they shouldn’t be used for cleaning. They do not have any chemical properties that remove dirt or bacteria. Instead they can turn rancid, which is definitely unclean. Most wood furniture manufacturers and antique dealers do not recommend oiling wood. Wood does not soak up oil. It makes the wood look shiny for a time, but only until it evaporates. Prior to evaporation, the oil just attracts and holds dust. After the oil evaporates, the residue it leaves behind eventually leads to a dulling build-up. If your wood is “dry” or routinely gets wet (like a wooden salad bowl), use pure mineral oil. Though a petroleum-derived product, it is the only non-toxic and safe oil for wood.