Health Matters: Healthier cleaning products for your home

Health NW: Health hazard or hoax?

Think about all those cleaning supplies stored under your kitchen and bathroom sinks. Many of these products are hazardous to humans and harmful to the environment. Fortunately, there are inexpensive alternatives that won't damage your health or contaminate our air and water.

We are bombarded with advertisements for air fresheners and cleaning supplies for our clothes, carpets, cars, windows and mirrors, bathroom fixtures, furniture, kitchen appliances, pots and pans. If you believe the ads in magazines or on television, you need to buy a different cleaning product for each specific cleaning task.

In reality, all you need are a few nontoxic cleaning supplies that can take care of almost everything. Stock up on baking soda, borax, salt, vinegar, vegetable or olive oil, lemon juice, sponges and steel wool and you'll have everything you need.

All aerosol cans should be avoided because they are explosive and flammable. The spray can irritate eyes, skin and lungs.

Chlorine bleaches are hazardous. They irritate your skin, eyes, throat and lungs. They form a toxic gas when mixed with ammonia, toilet bowl cleaners, drain cleaners or vinegar. Look for products without chlorine or sodium hypochlorite. Hydrogen peroxide or citrus-based cleaners are safer.

Here are some suggestions for a nontoxic home:

• Make an all-purpose cleaner for kitchen and bathroom surfaces: mix 4 tablespoons baking soda with a quart of warm water in a spray bottle. Adding a tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice helps dissolve grease.

• Slow drains can be unclogged safely by pouring 1/2 cup baking soda plus 1/2 cup vinegar down the drain. Cover the drain and let sit for a few minutes; then pour a kettle of boiling water down the drain to flush it. Plungers and mechanical snakes are also nontoxic drain-clearing methods.

• Clean and polish stainless steel with full-strength white vinegar. Copper, bronze and brass can be cleaned with a mixture of vinegar and salt.

• White vinegar cleans lime and mineral deposits around faucets and showerheads. Just let it sit full strength for an hour before rinsing it away with a sponge.

• To clean mirrors and windows without streaks, mix 1/4 cup white vinegar in 1 quart warm water. Spray or sponge on the surface, then wipe with a crumpled newspaper instead of a paper towel.

• Clean grease from your stovetop or oven with a vinegar and water solution. Use baking soda or a citrus-based cleaner on difficult spots.

• Clean toilets by sprinkling baking soda into the bowl, then add some vinegar and scrub with a toilet brush. For more stubborn stains, make a paste of borax and lemon juice. Apply and leave it for an hour before scrubbing.

• Vinegar cleans bathtubs and tile; use about 1/2 cup vinegar in 1 gallon water. You can use baking soda in place of scouring powder to clean stains and grout.

• Polish wood furniture with a mixture of 2 parts olive or vegetable oil to 1 part lemon juice. Apply with a soft, clean cloth.

• Deodorize rugs and carpets by sprinkling on baking soda. Wait at least 15 minutes; then vacuum.

Here's a great New Year's resolution. As you use up the toxic cleaning supplies you already own, don't buy more to replace them. Instead, stick with baking soda, borax, salt, vinegar, vegetable oils, lemon juice and elbow grease. Your home will be just as clean. Our air and water will be less contaminated, our children will be safer, and you'll have more money in your wallet.

Kathryn B. Brown is a family nurse practitioner with a master's degree in nursing from OHSU. Is there a health topic you would like to read about? Send ideas to You can find more local health news and information in the Health section at

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