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Home science: How household cleaners work

Ever wonder what’s inside your cleaning products? We look into common household cleaner ingredients and possible alternatives to keeping your home spic, span, safe and green.

Woman cleaning counter

Window cleaners

Simply Safe

When Windex was first manufactured at the end of World War II, it was so flammable that it had to be sold in metal cans. In more recent years, Windex updated its formula to a more environmentally friendly version including isopropanol, butoxyethanol, ethylene glycol n-hexyl ether, water, blue dye and fragrance. Each ingredient has a specific function to keep glass streak free and dissolve dirt and scum, among other functions. All of these chemicals can cause irritation to your eyes and respiratory system if in direct contact.

Try Simply Safe glass cleaner made with organic and natural ingredients, or make your own by using this recipe from Mix 1/2 cup of ammonia, 1/4 cup of white vinegar, 1 tablespoon of cornstarch and 2 cups of warm water for a DIY safer version.

Furniture polish

Daddy Vans furniture polish

Furniture polish contains hydrocarbons meant to make furniture shine and become resistant to greasy fingerprints. These waxes and solvents can cause irritation to many of the body’s extremities, as well as induce depression and cranky moods. The chemical, which can hang around for a few weeks, can also cause negative effects for the environment in not only your home, but outside as well.

Use Daddy Van’s all-natural beeswax polish, or make your own using equal parts white vinegar and lemon juice; add a tablespoon of olive oil for extra shine.

Drain cleaner

Naturall's drain cleaner

There are a few types of drain cleaners, including oxidized, caustic and acid drain cleaners. Oxidized is among the least harmful, as it includes bleach, peroxide and nitrate, all meant to oxidize electrons by loosening them. On the other end of the spectrum, acid drain cleaners are the most hazardous for your home. Not sold in stores, these cleaners contain sulfuric and hydrochloric acid, both of which can cause harm to your skin and lungs, and even cause death. The caustic cleaners have lye and other alkaline cleaners, which break down substances and create heat for their release. These cleaners can also be as toxic as their counterparts if ingested.

Use Naturall’s drain cleaner made with natural bacteria, or make your own homemade drain cleaner. A Green Living Ideas recipe recommends using 2 cups of baking soda, 4 cups of boiling water and 1 cup of vinegar.

Toilet cleaner

Green Shield bathroom cleaner

Toilet bowl cleaners are meant to disinfect and clean stinky toilet residue. Many toilet cleaners have pesticides in them as the main disinfectant, which can have sodium hypochlorite and bleach. If mixed with other household cleaners, they can release poisonous gases. In addition, the chemicals can cause skin and eye irritation if splashed on the skin.

Made with organic cleaning agents, GreenShield is a healthier option for cleaning toilets. Use Home Talk’s homemade toilet cleaner recipe for a DIY option using baking soda, essential oils and white vinegar. It’s a safe alternative cleaner for your toilet cleaning needs.


Oxo Brite bleach

The common household cleaner used to clean floors, bathtubs and mildew is one of the leading poisonous products used in your home. Sodium hypochlorite, better known as chlorine and a common chemical used to clean pools, is the main ingredient in most bleaches. Possible exposure includes irritation to eyes, throat, skin and respiratory system. Toxic vapors will appear if mixed with other chemicals such as ammonia and vinegar.

Oxo-brite is a natural, non-chlorine bleach for your household needs. Make your own homemade bleach using Frugally Sustainable’s recipe and mixing hydrogen peroxide, vinegar, water and lemon.

More on going green

52 Cheap ways to go green
Slowly going green: Stop wasting water
The simplest way to go green this month

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