I know it seems a little counterintuitive since we all like to clean up dirt whenever it’s tracked into our homes, and our planet is literally called, “Earth,” but the Earth is chock full of natural cleaning products just waiting to wipe down your kitchen or bathroom. Other than the pockets of the world struggling to reconcile themselves with the havoc we humans have wrought as a species, the earth is, biologically speaking, squeaky clean. I remember learning about this miraculous process in high school biology: Earth’s plants use the Sun’s energy to create organic matter, and those plants are then eaten by primary consumers, who are in turn eaten by secondary consumers, and so on and so forth. In each step, the Sun’s original output of energy is consumed, but that energy also dissipates with each sequential step—basically, after each consumption. Thankfully, the Earth has a built-in biome, filled with amazing animals, insects, and even microorganisms too small for the naked eye that work together to break down all the waste produced, and afterward replenish the earth from whence that energy came from with life-giving organic material. Add some sunlight, and the cycle begins all over again. Organisms are recycled, become something new, and the biological wheel goes round and round.
Unfortunately for consumers, cleaning product developers have distanced themselves from the naturally occurring “cleaning chemicals” of nature in favor of caustic materials that can sometimes have a negative effect on the items being cleaned, and the human beings who use those items. Harsh chemicals like bleach, alcohol, and other superbases can effectively clean my toilet, my oven or my bbq range, but they can also be irritants to my family’s senses and skin. Microbial hope is not altogether lost, however: many other natural cleaners—both those you can make at home and those you can buy at the store—can disinfect as well as clean, and they do it without exposing my family and me to harsh chemicals found in commercial cleaning products that can irritate your skin, eyes, and lungs. Read on for some examples of a few great compounds that I use as alternatives to the harsh chemicals: these clean just as effectively, but are safe to touch, and even drink.
This is the single cheapest cleaner you can find. good white vinegar won’t run you more than five dollars at the store and it’s completely safe to use. Whenever I use white vinegar as my primary natural chemical for cleaning projects, I feel comfortable allowing my younger kids to help out with the job. I know that—if by some strange mistake my kids were to accidentally drink ingest some, and it wouldn’t do much more than make them a little queasy. This affords me total peace of mind so that I can best utilize my time by playing and working with my children without being too worried about what they might swallow when I’m not looking. Vinegar will perform just as well cleaning up the bathroom or kitchen as bleach, and it won’t scar your lungs if you forget to open the windows in your bathroom (especially if you don’t even have some to open). Distill some vinegar with water and you’ve got a simple cleaner that will do the trick, no matter what you’re cleaning.
Lemon Juice is a great cleaner that works about as well as vinegar; it’s got a great scent, and it’s an acid. Bad bacteria that grow and cause the smelliness in your house don’t happen to like lemon juice and will flee in terror when you’re wielding it to scour the sink and make your whole place smell like lemons.
Baking soda is another natural, clean, and edible substance that is also easily available on the cheap. It will clean just about anything and never does any damage to any of the surfaces I’m scrubbing. Mix it with some vinegar and lemon juice in the tub for a fun, bubbly, soapy mess that will not only excise the scum from tub’s surface but also the drain and pipes, too!
The Natural Conclusion
Although some great companies have commercialized the use of natural ingredients in their cleaners for a safer home cleaning solution, studies have shown that—when it comes to strictly killing germs—commercial disinfectants do pack more of a wallop. However, when I clean regularly, I don’t need industrial strength cleaners to cut through the grime. When I practice prevention, I can avoid using harmful chemicals on something as simple to clean as my countertops. Just as I’ve adopted a recycling routine to help my kids understand the power of going green, I’m using as many natural and homemade products as I can to lead them by example. No more buying caustic cleaners for my kitchen—we save on waste by making our own, and nothing could smell sweeter.