Safe and cheap ways to clean your home

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Safe and cheap ways to clean your home

Getting ready to do a little spring cleaning?

It’s about that time to throw away (or, better, donate!) the stuff you don’t need, do a little dusting, and get things in order. But sometimes you want to scrub a little deeper to disinfect, deodorize, and demold your home.

Except when you look at that spray bottle of cleaner, the list of lab ingredients seem less than welcoming. You can’t pronounce half of the chemicals, and you’re pretty sure the ones you can pronounce are bad for you. Like, should you really be putting ammonia on your kitchen countertops?

Luckily, there are a lot of options out there for people who want to keep themselves safe – from dirt and bacteria, and from their own cleaners.

Why are some household products dangerous?

A lot of the dangers of household cleaners and disinfecting products come from volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. VOCs are "chemicals that easily evaporate at room temperature." That means that even though you’re wiping up that spray from your countertop, it might be too late. Something harmful has probably already evaporated and is floating around your house, waiting to be inhaled.

What sorts of chemicals are categorized as VOCs? Substances like acetone, benzene,formaldehyde, and methylene chloride. Benzene and formaldehyde, among others, are known carcinogens. Inhaling other VOCs can have effects ranging from skin irritation to headaches to breathing difficulties to, in the case of carcinogens, and increased risk of cancer.

Your risk depends on the concentration of VOCs you’re breathing in, but the level of VOCs indoors can be up to five times higher than those outdoors, and with the number of products and materials that produce VOCs – paint, caulk, varnish, air fresheners, cosmetics, cleaning supplies, and more – whatever you can do to lower your chance at inhalation helps.

DIY home cleaners

There are so many things that produce VOCs that cleaning supplies seem more dangerous than just letting your home get overgrown with mold and mildew, doesn’t it?

But don’t worry. Not every cleaner is a bottle of toxic waste with a fancy label slapped on it. There are a lot of ways to clean your home safely. And the best part is, you can use a lot of household items to clean on the cheap so you can take it easy on your health and your wallet.

Baking soda works great as a deodorizer. It’s as easy as sprinkling it on the carpet, letting it sit, and vacuuming it up, or leaving an open box in the fridge for a while to absorb the odor of expired food. You can also use it as a scouring powder for the bathroom or kitchen.

Lemon juice works wonders on bacteria and mold, making it great for cleaning countertops.

Got a tub full of hard water stains? A spray bottle with white vinegar and water can handle it. It can also cut through grease.

If you’ve ever had a stubborn stain, you might have heard your grandma tell you to rub it out with some club soda. Turns out it’s not just useful against stains: it also helps with gems, windows, rust, and more.

Or maybe you don’t necessarily need to clean, but you want to give your wood furniture a little shine. Olive oil, with some lemon juice and vinegar added to it, makes for the perfect furniture polish.

The next time you need to do chores, check your kitchen cabinet before you run to the store. You might already have everything you need to get the job done.

"Green" brands

Maybe you’re not the kind of person who wants to spend the time making your own cleaning products, or you’d rather use your lemons for iced tea than grout cleaning.

That’s fine. There are companies out there who have done the hard work for you already, creating cleaning products that’ll kill germs and not your family.

Green Works is a pretty popular brand; the same way Coke and Pepsi saw the tide turning against soda and began investing in waters and juices, The Clorox Company has decided to start a green product line to fight back against...well, Clorox. Green Works says that "all of the active cleaning ingredients in our products are derived from mother nature, such as filtered water, plant-based cleaning agents, essential oils, corn-based ethanol and wood-based fibers."

Seventh Generation was founded by John Replogle, formerly of Burt’s Bees and Unilever, so he presumably knows his way around household products, and the company’s name comes from "the Great Law of the Iroquois Confederacy: In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations." Seventh Generation is also very open with what goes into their products; you can find a whole list of the ingredients used in their different cleaners.

Nellie’s doesn’t have the wide variety that you’d find with other brands – they mostly stick to soaps and a few laundry products – but it’s a customer favorite, with high ratings among users on places like Amazon and HSN.

There’s no shortage of green products out there, from Mrs. Meyers to Method to The Honest Co., founded by actress Jessica Alba of Fantastic Four fame (and probably other, better movies). But there’s something to keep in mind: while these brands cover the "safe" part of "safe and cheap," "cheap" is a different story.

Like organic foods, natural cleaning products are a little pricier than their less-than-environmentally-friendly counterparts. But it all depends on the brand. For example, a quick search of all-purpose cleaners on Target’s website shows (at the time of this writing) a 32oz bottle of Lysol spray for $2.44, a 32oz bottle of Green Works spray on sale for $2.69 (normally $2.99), and a 16oz bottle of Mrs. Meyer’s spray for $3.99.

While green products are more expensive, can you really put a price on your family’s safety? (Well, I guess you can, but this price analysis shows that price isn’t as much as you might think!) But whether you decide to buy green or make your own DIY cleaners, the most important thing is to be mindful of the chemicals you’re exposing yourself and your family to. Spending a little extra time or money to replace harmful products with safer ones adds up over time, and you can find yourself happier, healthier, and just as clean.

Image: Mitch Altman