provided by the Environmental Health Coalition for the San Diego Regional
Household Hazardous Materials Program
Replace your toxic household cleaners with safe, effective substitutes
while saving money and treading more lightly on the environment
an Diego's homes and garages are full of toxic and hazardous
products. Paints, pesticides, lye, acids, and solvents are examples of the
products that can be dangerous to your family [see
story] and pollute the environment when they are thrown away. Many of
these items are not even needed. Safer alternatives can be substituted for
many of the more toxic cleaning products. To help you to make the switch
to safer products and alternatives, the Environmental Health Coalition has
developed this information for the San Diego Regional Household Hazardous
The variety of household cleaning products on the market
today is overwhelming. There are products on the shelves for every possible
cleaning need, and we are encouraged through advertising to buy all of them.
How would we get by without all of these?
Probably quite well. In fact, we might be better off.
Many cleaners contain hazardous chemicals that can cause health effects
ranging from minor skin irritation to possible cancer, aggravation of allergies
and respiratory disease, or reproductive disorders. Many cleaners also pose
physical hazards: some are flammable, some are caustic, and some can cause
dangerous reactions when mixed.
If all that weren't enough, many cleaners also pollute
the environment. When used in the large quantities that our society does,
everyone's use of detergents, solvents, aerosol propellants, dyes, perfumes,
and fillers add up to a large load of pollutants for our water, land and
The home safe home solution
It's simpler, safer, and more economical. When shopping,
look for new, environmentally-friendly brands. [ref. ad on the back page].
And less toxic household cleaners can be made at home from a few simple
ingredients. Ingredients for safer cleaning and air freshening include:
See the recipes using the ingredients, below.
- Soap flakes
- Washing soda
- Baking soda
- Liquid soap
- Mineral oil
- Herbs and spices
- Lemon juice
- Tri-sodium phosphate (T.S.P.)
- Nonchlorinated scouring powder
- Hydrogen peroxide
Some chemicals in cleaners may be hazardous to your
health during routine use, even though exposure is only to small amounts
in the air or on your skin. You can reduce the risk to your health by avoiding
products containing the chemicals listed below.
Cleaners may also contain added dyes, perfumes, fillers,
aerosol propellants, and traces of ammonia and formaldehyde. And keep in
mind that hazardous wastes are produced in manufacturing all the different
chemicals contained in these elaborate formulas; they generate waste problems
even before you buy them!
- Organic chemicals:
- Organics affect the central nervous system, liver, and kidneys; many
are flammable, and a few are suspected carcinogens. "Petroleum distillates"
in polishes and sprays, perchloroethylene in spot removers, mineral spirits
in paint thinner, and p-dichlorobenzene in moth balls are all examples of
- Strong acids or bases:
- These are corrosive to skin, eyes, and mucous membranes, and can react
with other household chemicals. Acids are found in tub, tile, and toilet
cleaners and in rust removers. Lye found in oven cleaners and hypochlorites
found in chlorine bleach are examples of high-pH corrosive substances.
- Phenols and alcohols:
- These poisonous and flammable chemicals are the active ingredients
in most disinfectant products.
- Synthetic detergents:
- Although not highly toxic, these cleaners are the household chemicals
most frequently ingested by children. "Real" soaps made from animal
fat or vegetable oil are an order of magnitude less toxic. Look for the
word "soap" on the label.
Call or write Environmental Health Coalition at (619)
235-0281, 1717 Kettner Blvd., Ste. 100, San Diego, CA 92101, to order fact
sheets on Garden and Indoor Pest Control, Paint Products, Household Cleaners,
Pool Chemicals, and Automotive Products.
The San Diego Regional Household Hazardous Materials Program (information
hotline 619-338-2267) is a community service provided by the County of San
Diego, the City of San Diego, and the Encina Waste Water Authority. The
program services include community events, regional collection services
and centers, community education programs, school curriculum development,
recycling of hazardous wastes, and identification of less toxic alternatives.
Recipes for Alternatives to Toxic and Hazardous Household Products
General notes and safety precautions
- The mixing of cleaning or other chemicals can be quite hazardous and
is never recommended without following product label instructions. The recipes
below are effective and safe when mixed in the quantities indicated.
- Washing soda and T.S.P. are the most caustic of the cleaners on this
list. Store them with special care in cabinets out of the reach of children.
Use them only when diluted and wear latex gloves.
- Label cleaning mixtures clearly. Never put them into old food containers
or store them near foods.
- If you do use chlorine cleaners or bleach, DO NOT mix them with ammonia,
acids, or any other cleaning products. A deadly gas is produced!
- Look for cleaners that do only what you want done. If you do use a
laundry detergent, glass cleaner, or other cleaning product, avoid ones
that say they have a "Plus," which is usually added bleach, fabric
softeners, or surfactants.
Avoid Using Use More Often
Aerosols Pump sprays
Chemical drain openers Plunger, or metal snake
Gasoline (as degreaser) Water-based degreaser
Moth balls Cedar chips or herbal sachets
No-pest strips Fly paper
Rust remover Steel wool
- All-Purpose Household Cleaner
- Add 1 teaspoon liquid soap and 1 teaspoon T.S.P. to 1 quart warm water.
- This solution can be used for a multitude of cleaning jobs including
counter tops and walls. Look for new eco-friendly brands (see ad on back
- Chlorine Bleach
- Use a hydrogen peroxide-based bleach.
- Degreaser (engine and tool)
- Use a water-based cleaner, well diluted, in place of kerosene, turpentine,
and commercial engine degreaser. Look for "nonflammable," "nontoxic,"
"store at temperatures above freezing" as label clues to water-based
- Degreaser (kitchen)
- Add 2 tablespoons t.s.p. to 1 gallon hot water.
- Use a nonchlorinated scouring powder with abrasive scouring pad or
fine steel wool. Look for "BCD" the first degreasing product to
receive a "Green Seal" certification.
- Rarely, if ever, needed in households. If you must, add 1 oz. chlorine
bleach to 1 gallon water for inanimate surfaces. Keep out of the reach of
- Fabric Softener
- Use natural fibers to reduce your need for fabric softeners.
- Floor Cleaner
- Vinyl floors: Add 1/2 cup vinegar to 1 gallon water.
- Wood floors: Damp mop with mild liquid soap.
- Furniture Polish
- Not essential. Simply wipe clean with a slightly damp cloth. If you
do polish, use mineral oil.
- Oven Cleaner
- Add either 2 tablespoons of baking soda or T.S.P. or washing soda
to 1 gallon of water and scrub with very fine steel wool. Wear gloves and
rinse well. For very baked-on spots, try scrubbing with pumice (available
at hardware stores).
- As a last resort, use an aerosol oven cleaner that says "No caustic
- Glass Cleaner
- Add to a spray bottle: 1/2 teaspoon liquid soap, 3 tablespoons vinegar
and 2 cups water. For very dirty windows, add more soap.
- Laundry Detergents
- Best: Use laundry soap in place of detergents and use 1/2 cup washing
soda as a softener (available in laundry section). Look for new eco-friendly
brands (see ads on back page and on page 43). Use detergents with no added
bleaches or softeners.
- Mildew cleaner
- For mild cases, scrub with baking soda. In more severe cases, scrub
with T.S.P. and do not rinse off except in food areas.
- Scouring powder
- Use baking soda or a nonchlorinated commercial scouring powder.
- Spot removers
- All work best when applied to fresh stains. Try one of the following
- All purpose: Make a paste of water and baking soda or washing
soda. Soak the stain and let dry prior to washing as usual. Check for colorfastness
- Blood: Pour 3% hydrogen peroxide solution directly on the stain,
before rinsing with water. Then wash as usual.
- Ink: Apply a paste of lemon juice and cream of tartar; allow
it to dry, then wash as usual.
Toilet bowl cleaner
- Scrub with nonchlorinated scouring powder and a stiff brush. For removal
of hard water deposits, pour in vinegar or a commercial citric acid-based
toilet bowl cleaner. Allow to sit several hours or overnight, then scrub.
- Tub/Tile Cleaners
- Use nonchlorinated scouring powder or baking soda.
- Air Freshening Tips
- Leave open boxes of baking soda in refrigerators, closets, and bathrooms.
- Use flowers, herbs, and spices to add subtle fragrances to indoor