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Green Cleaning - Information and Recipes

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Article | Recycling


Green Cleaning – Information & Recipes

Most conventional household cleaning products contain ingredients that are hazardous to human health and the environment.  This is not a complete list.  Check out the references listed below for more information on these and other ingredients.



Ingredients To Avoid

2-butoxyethanol (ethylene glycol butyl ether)

  1. Associated with liver & kidney damage, reproductive damage
  2. Found in carpet cleaners and glass cleaners



  1. Known human carcinogen
  2. Found in all-purpose cleaners, floor and furniture polishes, oven cleaners


Chlorine Bleach (sodium hypochlorite)

  1. A potent environmental pollutant frequently involved in poisonings; suspected to be neurotoxic and toxic to the liver
  2. Found in bleach, toilet bowl cleaners, disinfectants


Ethoxylated nonyl phenols (NPEs)

  1. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals, know as “gender benders”
  2. Found in degreasers, cleaning products and detergents


Formaldehyde (Formalin)

  1. Know human carcinogen and respiratory irritant; suspected immunotoxin, neurotoxin, respiratory and reproductive toxin
  2. Found in air fresheners, deodorizers, disinfectants, antibacterial soaps, furniture polish, carpet cleaners


Silica (in powder form)

  1. Carcinogenic as a fine respirable dust
  2. Found in abrasive cleaning agents in powder form


Lye (sodium hydroxide)

  1. Caustic substance that causes severe corrosive damage to eyes and skin; threatens environment during manufacture and disposal
  2. Found in drain cleaners, oven cleaners



  1. Suspected carcinogen, immune system and hormone disruptor
  2. Found in antibacterial and antimicrobial products


Trisodium nitrilotriacetate (NTA)

  1. Possible human carcinogen, impedes wastewater treatment of heavy metals
  2. Found in abrasive cleaners



  1. Associated with liver damage, can depress nervous system; suspected reproductive, developmental and respiratory toxin
  2. Found in floor polishes, spot removers, stainless steel cleaners, air fresheners.



How can I tell what’s in it?

Unfortunately, manufacturers of these products are not required to list their ingredients in Canada.  So how can you make sure that the product you’re using is free of these chemicals?  Some options:


  1. Call the 1-800 phone number printed on the product label and ask them what’s in it!  This also sends a powerful signal to the manufacturer that consumers care about what’s in their products.


  1. Look for an ingredients list.  Companies that use less-toxic ingredients want you to know about it and often provide this information on the label.  See section 5 of this guide for some local retailers of safer products.


  1. If you must buy a conventional cleaning product, opt for a fragrance-free product or one without warning labels.  Also, remember to wear gloves, follow the instructions and NEVER MIX TWO DIFFERENT CLEANERS TOGETHER!



Easy (and Cheap!) Green Cleaning Recipes

Multi-use Cleaner & Disinfectant

      white vinegar

      spray bottle

      a few drops of essential oil (optional)

Mix ingredients in spray bottle, Spray area to be cleaned and wipe with a cloth.  Works best on alkaline substances.  Dissolves scale and soap scum.  Inhibits mold, bacteria and viruses.


Multi-use Cleaner & Deodorizer

      baking soda

      damp sponge

Works best on acidic substances like proteins and grease.  Great for scouring metal surfaces and for deodorizing.


Glass Cleaner

      club soda

      spray bottle

      funnel (optional)

Pour club soda into a spray bottle.  Spray area to be cleaned and wipe with a cloth. Keeps working when no longer fizzy.


Furniture Polish

      two parts vegetable oil

      one part lemon juice

Mix ingredients together, apply and polish with a soft cloth.


Floor Cleaner

      three parts hot water

      one part white vinegar     

Mix ingredients together and use to mop floor.


Drain Cleaner (non-caustic)

      250 mL baking soda

      250 mL salt

      125 mL white vinegar

      1 kettle boiling water

Pour baking soda, salt and vinegar down drain and cover if possible.  Leave for 15 min. Pour in boiling water.  Do not use this method if any conventional drain cleaner is present.


Liquid Laundry Soap

      125mL       soap flakes

      65mL         washing soda

      65mL         Borax

      20 drops    essential oil (optional)


Boil the soap flakes in water until they melt (2-3 minutes on medium heat).  Meanwhile, add washing soda and Borax to a large bucket, then add 7 liters of cold water. Once soap flakes have dissolved, add the hot mixture to the cold, then add 20 drops essential oil (try lemon or citrus scents to deodorize, or tea tree oil to disinfect). Use 1/2 cup per load of laundry.


All Purpose Paste Cleaner

      500mL       baking soda

      125mL       castile soap

      60mL         water

      60mL         white vinegar

      10-20 drops essential oil (optional)

This recipe must be made in the following order: mix the baking soda and castile soap into a paste, add water then add vinegar and mix into a paste.  Add essential oil if desired.


Mirror & Window Cleaner

      45mL         white vinegar

      5mL           castile soap

      500mL       water

      spray bottle

Pour water and vinegar into a spray bottle, and then add castile soap.  Use with newspaper or a cotton rag to clean glass surfaces.


Dishwashing Soap

      125mL       liquid castile soap

      250-500mL            water

      20 drops essential oil (optional)

Mix ingredients and put in a squirt bottle.


Fabric Softener

      250mL       white vinegar

Add to rinse cycle.


Toilet Bowl Cleaner

      125mL       baking soda OR Borax

      125mL       washing soda

      white vinegar

Mix washing soda with baking soda or Borax and apply to surfaces.  Scrub and flush.  Finish with a splash of vinegar to deodorize.


Stainless Steel Cleaner

      olive oil

      white vinegar

Rub surface with olive oil on a cloth.  Wipe away with vinegar-soaked cloth and let dry.


Countertop/Cutting Board Cleaner

      4 tbsp         baking soda

      2 tbsp         lemon juice     

Mix into a paste and spread on surface.  Let sit 30 minutes for ink and other tough stains.  Wipe with a damp cloth.  Cleans and deodorizes.


Microwave Cleaner

      2 tbsp         baking soda

      1 tbsp         lemon juice

      1 cup         water

Mix ingredients together in a microwave safe bowl and microwave for 5 minutes or until the mixture boils.  Wipe condensation from the inside of the microwave.


Carpet Deodorizer

      2 cups        baking soda

      4-5             crumbled bay leaves

      1/2 cup      cornstarch

      1 tbsp         ground cloves

Mix ingredients together and sprinkle on carpets.  Let sit up to 24 hours and vacuum. To remove stains, sprinkle baking soda, rub and let sit for 1 hour.  Scrub with a stiff brush and vacuum out.


Wood Floor Polish

      1/4 cup      olive oil

      1/4 cup      white vinegar

      10 drops    essential oil (optional)

Mix ingredients together.  Spray on floors and polish.



About Green Cleaning Ingredients

Essential Oils

Different essential oils have different properties.

***Note: some essential oils should not be used by or around pregnant women.

Anti-bacterial: geranium, lavender, lemon, lime, patchouli & tea tree oils.

Anti-fungal: cedarwood, lavender, lemongrass, patchouli, rosemary & tea tree oils.

Grease cutting: grapefruit, lemon & lime oils.


Castile Soap (Seafarer’s soap)

Soaps made exclusively from vegetable oil (e.g. olive, coconut, almond) as opposed to animal fat or synthetic substances.  Considered a green choice due to reduced waste generated during manufacturing and faster biodegradability.  Has a very broad range of uses.


Washing Soda (sodium carbonate, soda crystals)

Cuts grease, removes lipstick and wax – so don’t use it on fiberglass, aluminum or waxed floors unless you want to remove the wax!  It is strongly alkaline so avoid contact with skin, store carefully, and do not mix with acids.  Considered very environmentally safe because it breaks down easily.


Borax (sodium borate)

Generally considered a green choice because it occurs naturally, is biodegradable, and is phosphate and chlorine free.  Has anti-microbial and insecticidal properties and can act like hydrogen peroxide when dissolved in hot water.  It is strongly alkaline so avoid contact with broken skin, store out of reach of children and pets, and do not mix with acids.

Soap Flakes

You can make your own soap flakes by using any pure vegetable, castile or glycerin soap and grating it with a cheese grater.  Pure soap flakes are biodegradable and have low toxicity.


References and Online Resources

Baking Soda Cleaning Recipes

  Arm and Hammer Baking Soda


Bisphenol A Fact Sheet

  Toxic Nation, Environmental Defence


CancerSmart Consumer Guide (ordering info)

  Labour Environmental Alliance Society


Green Cleaning Guide For Businesses and Individuals

  Clean Calgary Association


Green Cleaning Recipes

  David Suzuki Foundation


Green Clean: The Environmentally Sound Guide to Cleaning Your Home

  Linda Mason Hunter and Mikki Halpin, 2005

  Melcher Media, New York


Guide To Less Toxic Products

  Environmental Health Association of Nova Scotia


Guide To Spring Cleaning

  Toxic Nation, Environmental Defence


Make Your Home A Healthy Home

  Toxic Nation, Environmental Defence


Non-Toxic Cleaning Recipes

  Women’s Voices For The Earth