We can protect our homes and environment by using safe alternatives to common toxic household products, such as pesticides and household cleaners, and using common ingredients already found in many kitchens. While promoting a healthy home and environment, using safe alternatives also reduces the potential for exposing our families to unnecessary health risks and frees us from worrying about proper disposal of leftovers.
- Getting Started
- Recipes Around the House – Think Clean…and Safe!
- Safe Tips for a Pest-Free Garden
- Insect Pests
- Weeds and Diseases
- Safe Tips for a Pest-Free Home
- Green Marketing and You – Smart Consumer Tips
- Need More Info? Links to More Resources
Safer alternatives will save you money, but there are some small expenditure needed, such as new spray bottles for your cleaning concoctions. You may also wish to make sure you have the most common ingredients for safer cleaning recipes which include:
- Baking Soda – Baking soda cleans, deodorizes, and softens water (increasing its potential for suds, and thus soap’s cleaning power). It also serves as a good scouring powder.
- Borax – Borax cleans, deodorizes, and softens water. It is also an excellent disinfectant. You can find it in the laundry section of most grocery stores.
- Castile Soap – Castile soap is a type of soap made entirely from plant-based products. It is non-toxic and it biodegrades safely and completely. It can be found in most grocery stores and health food stores.
- Washing Soda – Washing soda cuts grease, removes stains, and softens water. It also acts as a disinfectant. It can be found in the laundry section of most grocery stores or in its pure form from chemical supply houses as “sodium carbonate”.
- White Vinegar – White vinegar cuts grease and freshens.
- Lemon Juice – Lemon juice, like white vinegar, cuts grease and freshens.
Don’t forget to label homemade mixtures with the date, contents, and recommended use.
Simmer cinnamon, cloves, or orange/lemon peels in water on the stove to freshen the entire house. For localized smells like the bathroom or car, soak a cotton ball in vanilla extract and set on a saucer in the area.
Ceramic Tile Cleaner
Mix ¼ cup vinegar with a gallon of water and mop. You may need to use more vinegar for dirtier floors.
Pour ½ cup baking soda into the drain, followed by ½ cup white vinegar. Cover tightly for 15 minutes, and then flush with boiling water. Repeat if necessary. A mechanical snake may be needed to clear hair-clogged drains. For standing water, use plunger or snake.
Add 1 cup of vinegar or ¼ cup of baking soda to the wash during its final rinse. Besides softening, vinegar also helps remove traces of soap that may still be in clothes and baking soda is a natural deodorizer. The small amount of vinegar used will not leave a scent in your clothes.
Mix two parts vegetable oil and one part lemon juice. Apply to finished wood to provide shine and a clean, fresh smell.
General Household Cleaner
Mix the following to create cleaning solution:
- One tsp. of liquid soap (castile peppermint)
- One tsp. borax
- One qt. of water
- One squeeze of lemon
Use on household surfaces such as counters, sinks, and bathtubs.
Moisten oven surfaces with water. Apply a mixture of ¾ cup baking soda, ¼ cup salt and ¼ cup water (make a paste). You can wait several minutes or even overnight before scrubbing off with a copper scrubber or steel wool.
Toilet Bowl Cleaner
Baking soda and vinegar are often all you need to keep the toilet bowl clean and fresh-smelling. Sprinkle both in the bowl and scrub well with a toilet brush. For more stubborn stains such as a toilet bowl ring, apply a paste of borax and lemon juice and let sit a few hours before scrubbing.
Vinyl or Linoleum Tile Cleaner
A mild detergent and water is usually all you need for these floors. To avoid loosening tiles, use a damp, not soaking, mop. If the tiles are dull, mop with 1 cup vinegar and a few drops of baby oil in a gallon of warm water to enhance shine.
Add 2 teaspoons of vinegar to 1 quart of warm water or add 2 tablespoons of borax to 3 cups of water. After using, rub the glass dry with newspaper to avoid streaking.
Wooden Floor Polish
After sweeping well, mix one part vegetable oil and one part vinegar together and apply a thin coat to the floor. Rub in well with a soft cloth.
Safe Tips for a Pest-Free Garden
Garden pests are tough to get rid of once they call your yard “home,” so think about keeping them away before you plant. Prevent disease and pests in your garden by selecting healthy plants for a garden that promotes a diverse and balanced ecosystem. You should choose plants suited for your yard’s particular growing conditions as well as the region’s climate. If those pesky critters do make their way into your backyard oasis, try the following safe, non-toxic recipes for dealing with them.
Please note: Treat only the plants that are infested with pests and only when absolutely necessary. Insecticides, whether natural or synthetic, kill the “helpful” insects that are needed for a health yard and plants.
Bye, bye aphid, whitefly, and mites
To get rid of these pests, mix one Tbsp. of liquid hand soap with one cup of vegetable oil. One Tbsp. of mixture can be mixed with one qt. of water to make a spray that can kill soft-bodied insects. Avoid using spray on sensitive plants or on hot days.
To keep aphids off your roses and tomatoes, finely chop one onion and two medium cloves of garlic. Add two cups of water and mix together in a blender on high. Strain out pulp and pour liquid into a spray bottle. Spray a fine mist on bushes, making sure to coat both tops and bottoms of leaves.
So long, sugar ants!
To keep ants out of your garden, sprinkle concentrated lemon juice around the whole garden area. (Other insects will stay away as well.)
Keep on truckin’, slugs!
To keep slugs away from your plants, sprinkle diatomaceous earth around them. Diatomaceous earth is a powdery substance which consists of crushed shells of tiny critters, and is ecologically safe and non-poisonous to man and beast. But be careful not to breathe in the fine dust as it may irritate your lungs. You can find diatomaceous earth at your local nursery. Also, pesky sweet gum balls strewn around the base of plants will do the trick. Slugs don’t like the sharp edges.
Bug off, brown recluse spiders!
Brown Recluse Spiders have small violin-shaped markings on their backs and are one of Missouri’s venomous spiders. The bites from these spiders may produce deep, open wounds that are slow to heal. These spiders prefer to hide in little-used drawers, closets and other small hiding places. Cardboard boxes are favorite spots, too. To get rid of these spiders:
- Vacuum their preferred hiding places, remove cardboard boxes and use plastic totes or bags for storage.
- During warm weather, remove or steer clear of wood piles around the house.
- Set out sticky glue traps in attic or basement areas.
Stop diseases from spreading in your soil
Use fermented compost tea (DO NOT DRINK!!). Make your solution by steeping 1 part compost to 5-8 parts water for 3-7 days. Strain through a fine screen and spray liquid to around plant stem and soil for soil-borne disease and on the leaves for powdery mildew.
Make a baking soda spray with 1 tsp. baking soda, 1 drop detergent, 1 tbsp. canola oil, and 1 gallon water. Spray on affected plant parts for powdery mildew.
Mulch those weeds
No spraying needed here! Use mulch (from your home compost pile!) in flower beds and around trees to suppress weeds and other uninvited plants.
Vinegar not just for salad
Typical white vinegar bought from the store (95 percent water and 5 percent vinegar) can be used to kill many weeds. A spray of vinegar on the leaves of young weeds (up to 2 weeks old) causes them to turn brown and die. Older weeds may need a stronger vinegar solution or several applications directed at their roots to finish them off. This vinegar treatment may harm desirable plants too. Protect other plants by carefully spot treating weeds and avoiding run-off to other areas that you don’t want to treat.
Other helpful tips:
- Intersperse your flowers and vegetables with “helpful” plants, such as onions, garlic, chives, old-fashioned (also known as French) marigolds, and mint plants. These will either attract beneficial insects or deter veggie-eating insects. Some even do both!
- Place some “helpful” bugs in your garden, such as ladybugs and praying mantises. Both are usually available at specialty garden supply stores.
No one wants to share their home with pesky, potentially harmful insects. But you also don’t want to endanger your family by overuse of harsh toxins and chemicals to control bugs. So what can you do to keep the critters in check?
If possible, don’t let insects in your home in the first place. Repair ripped window or door screens, check to be sure that caulking around windows and doors is intact, and check foundations and basements for holes and cracks that pests can slip through. Be sure that inside and outside trash cans have tight-fitting lids, and don’t leave food sitting out overnight, even pet food. Wipe up spills as soon as possible with soapy water to remove any residue.
Washing countertops, floors, and cabinets with a 50/50 solution of white vinegar and water will make your home unpleasant to ants. If you can find the area where ants are coming in, placing a barrier of bonemeal or powdered charcoal will deter them. Be aware that they may find a new place to enter.
Fleas are hazardous for your pets and can be irritating to humans, too. Wash all pet bedding in hot soapy water. Vacuum the entire house, including couches and uncarpeted floors; seal the vacuum bag with tape and dispose of it in the outside trash can. You will need to vacuum every day for several days to catch the fleas in all their life stages.
You can also try spreading Borax or food grade diatomatious earth (found at gardening supply stores, not the kind used for pools) throughout the house. Leave it for a day or two and either of these products will kill insects by drying them up. These powders can be used outside as well in areas your pets live or play, though they will need to be reapplied if it rains. You will want to wear a mask while applying these powders and remove pets and persons with respiratory problems from the area.
To prevent future infestations, be sure to vacuum regularly and comb your pets often to catch early signs of fleas. Adding a teaspoon of white vinegar to each quart of your pet’s drinking water can help to prevent fleas, as can the leaves of fennel or rosemary spread around your pet’s sleeping area.
Mint, basil, orange peels, and cloves all deter flies. You may grow the herbs in pots in your household and leave the pots on tables, countertops, or windowsills. Orange peels, cloves, or dried mint and basil can be hung around the house in mesh bags or old pantyhose, or left out in shallow dishes. To kill flies that have made it into your home, place a mixture of one beaten egg yolk and a tablespoon each of molasses and ground pepper in a saucer and leave it on the table or counter.
Humane box traps are available which trap mice without killing them. Be sure to release the creature far from your home so it doesn’t simply come back. Sticky or spring-loaded killing traps are also available. To kill mice without poison, try leaving uncooked instant mashed potatoes in the areas they frequent. Because they cannot vomit, mice will bloat and die after they drink water and the potatoes expand in their stomach.
The West Virginia University Extension Service has helpful guides on insects and other pests at www.wvu.edu/~agexten/ipm/insects/insects.htm, including natural ways of dealing with them.
If natural methods do not work and you decide to use chemicals, use them wisely. If available for your particular pest, consider using bait traps. This will contain poison to a smaller, confined area and ensure that only the pest species gets into the poison -not children or pets. If using sprays or foggers, read the label carefully and use the recommended amount so you will be less likely to need to reapply.
The increasing public concern for the environment and health has resulted in many new “green” products to be found in the stores. Be aware that there is currently no federal organization setting standards for use of words like “green,” “non-toxic,” “eco-friendly,” or “organic” (when referring to household cleaners), so these terms do not necessarily mean the product has met any standards other than the manufacturer’s own.
Scientific Certification Systems, an independent certifier, has developed a set of standards for the term “biodegradable.”If a product bears their certification, it means that the product will break down in the environment and will not be toxic to aquatic organisms when used as directed.
The EPA also recognizes some products as containing “only those ingredients that pose the least concern among chemicals in their class” and applies the Design for the Environment label to these products. Check www.epa.gov/dfe/pubs/projects/formulat/formpartc.htm#cleaners for a current listing of approved products.
For unfamiliar label claims and seals, check Consumer Report’s website at 188.8.131.52/eco-labels/eco-home.cfm. Here you can search for terms used and discover whether or not the claim is meaningful.
New environmentally friendly household cleaners can certainly be convenient, pleasant smelling, and a good way to transition away from more toxic chemicals. To protect the health of both your household and the environment, look for products which do not contain phosphates, petroleum based cleaners, or chlorine.
Although there are no standards for “green” products packaged on the shelf, you can be 100% sure your cleaning products are natural if you make them yourself. The ingredients needed for most home uses are easy to find in the supermarket or big box store, simple to mix, can be used for multiple purposes, and are usually inexpensive! Why not give it a try?
The Internet is full of safe alternatives to many household chemicals. Check out the following websites for more ideas on how to have a healthy, toxic-free home.
YARD and GARDEN
- OrganicGardening.com: www.organicgardening.com
- Cornell University, Biological Control, Guide to Natural Enemies in North America: www.nysaes.cornell.edu/ent/biocontrol
- National Science Foundation, Center for Integrated Pest Management, Biological Control: Virtual Information Center: cipm.ncsu.edu/ent/biocontrol
- Integrated Pest Management Project, University of California Statewide: www.ipm.ucdavis.edu
- United States Environmental Protection Agency: www.epa.gov/ebtpages/pesticides.htm and click on “Citizen’s Guide to Pest Control and Pesticide Safety”
- Missouri Botanical Garden: www.mobot.org/gardeninghelp/plantfinder/hortline.asp?code=3129
- USDA – Agricultural Research Service: www.ars.usda.gov/is/kids/weirdscience/story8/textonly.htm
- University of Missouri, Office of Waste Management, Household Hazardous Waste Project: http://extension.missouri.edu/owm/hhw.htm
- Earth Easy: www.eartheasy.com/live_nontoxic_solutions.htm
- The Ecology Center: www.ecologycenter.org/factsheets/cleaning.html
- U.S. EPA – Source Reduction Alternatives Around the Home www.epa.gov/osw/wycd/catbook/alt.htm
Mosquito Control – West Nile Virus
For current guidelines, check out the Department of Health webpage at www.stlouisco.com/HealthandWellness/AnimalandMosquitoControl/VectorControlMosquitoandRodent
Household Hazardous Waste Project, Guide to Hazardous Products around the Home. 2nd. Springfield, MO: Household Hazardous Waste Project, 1989. Print.
Consumer Reports: 184.108.40.206/eco-labels/