Cleaning up your act

G Magazine

Swap the nasties for nice with these non-toxic ways to clean your home.


Credit: iStockphoto

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For a long time now, ‘clean’ has been associated with strongly scented products an disinfectants, but these conventional cleaning products – though designed to make our lives easier – are often causing more harm than good. A quick look under the average household sink exposes a plethora of no-good chemicals. If you haven’t yet, it’s time to make the switch to non-toxic - with either the array of ‘eco’ alternatives at the shops or old-fashioned home-made solutions.

Oven cleaner

Conventional oven sprays contains some of the nastiest chemicals with corrosive, lye-based (sodium hydroxide)
solutions that are dangerous to inhale. Being hard to rinse off, the cancer-causing toxins can then get into your food.

From the store: Remove burnt-on food with Amaze Safe ‘n’ Clean (www.amazeproducts.com.au) and Korin Sandclean Scrubbers (www.korin.com) which are made from sandpaper.

DIY: Make your oven sparkle naturally with this recipe. Mix bicarb soda with water and leave the paste on for half an hour to loosen the grime, then scoop it off with a sponge easily. Lastly, to cut through the remaining layer of grease, use a spray of plant essential oils.

Upholstery cleaner

Known carcinogens, perchlorethylene (perc.) and naphthalene, are the most common chemicals used in upholstery cleaners. Removable couch covers and floor rugs make life easier.

From the store: EcoConcepts Carpet Extraction Cleaner (www.eco-concepts.com.au) is concentrated and easily mixed with cold water. Pure bamboo products (www.purebamboo.com.au) are natural deodorisers and humidifiers, removing odours and moisture from fabrics around the home.

DIY: Fabric spills should be treated immediately. Keep it simple and remember a fast reaction with a sponge with cold water, soda water, or white vinegar will prevent the stain from worsening.

Bathroom cleaners

Strong disinfectants and bleaches give a false sense of security against bacteria; over-use can lead to more
cases of childhood eczema, hayfever and asthma due to an under-stimulated, weakened immune system.
Sensible hygiene and regular natural cleaning is enough.

From the store: Planet Ark-endorsed, non-irritating, Orange Power (www.orangepower.com.au) is oil-based and removes soap scum, calcium build-up and stains that mould grows on. Try the Enjo cloth (www.enjo.com.au) which doesn’t need any cleaning products. Natural Instinct (www.naturalinstinct.com.au) has a great natural surface and floor cleaner.

DIY: Washing soda cleans hard surfaces such as walls, sinks, tiles and tubs, but it rusts aluminium. To remove mould from a shower curtain, mix 2 tablespoons of tea tree oil with 2 cups of water, spritz on and leave for at least two hours. Vinegar also kills mould.

Toilet cleaner

Avoid the petroleum-derived ‘nonylphenol ethoxylate’ (NPE), which interferes with fish reproduction and can
degrade soil quality.

From the store: Both EcoStore’s toilet cleaner and EnviroClean’s pine disinfectant are safe for greywater and septic. The best way to apply toilet cleaner is not directly into the bowl where it’s flushed away. Mix a few capfuls of store-bought or a sudsy home-made solution into water in a spray bottle and spray directly on seat, bowl and cistern, wiping it off with a dry cloth. Spray the solution onto the brush to clean inside the bowl.

DIY: Leave a solution of 1 part lemon juice, 3 parts water on the bowl overnight, and wipe or flush away any residue in the morning.

Drain cleaner

Lye, which is found in common caustic drain cleaners, is a potentially lethal acidic solution that burns the skin. It’s unnecessary, as a regular plunger will do the job; just place the plunger over the drain, create a seal with a few centimetres of water and pump until the blockage is gone.

From the store: Bio-clean (www.bio-clean.com.au) contains bacteria that eat away dead organic matter such as hair and grease.

DIY: If you own a Bokashi Bucket, keep your drains healthy by pouring a cup of diluted bokashi juice down them every few months. Another method you can try to unblock a drain is to pour down 1 cup of baking soda followed by ½ cup vinegar and cover drain for 30 minutes. Then slowly pour down boiling water. Keep the surface of your sink shiny with a wipe over from half a used lemon, using it to pick up any scraps left in the sink so your drain doesn’t get clogged in the first place.

Dishwashing detergent

Unfortunately, many dishwashing detergents contain phosphate, which causes blue-green algae blooms in waterways. Plus, artificial colours and surfactants in detergents can kill plants and animals and degrade soil quality.

From the store: Phosphatefree plant-based concentrated brands include Earth Choice (www.naturesorganics.com.au) or EcoStore (www.ecostoreaustralia.com.au). Before using, dilute at a ratio of 2:1 with water in a reusable bottle.

DIY: Mix in a squirt bottle ¼ cup petroleum-free soap flakes with ¼ cup glycerin, ½ teaspoon eucalyptus oil and 1½ cups hot water.

Dishwashing powder

Using the dishwasher saves water compared to washing by hand, but in addition to phosphates, dishwashing powder can contain surfactants which degrade soil and kill fish as well as hormone-disrupting synthetic fragrances. Is that really something you want to be washing down the drain?

From the store: Ecover tablets (www.ecover.com) and Seventh Generation powder (www.seventhgeneration.com) contain no synthetic fragrances or phosphates.

DIY: Fill the powder compartment with plain bicarb soda and use white vinegar as a rinse aid to prevent powdery residue.

Surface sprays

Many antibacterial sprays contain triclosan, which cause bacteria to become drug resistant and reduce the effectiveness of your clean long-term. Artificial colours can stain your benchtops, and if you’re preparing food, you want to prevent adding artificial additives to your meal. Plant-based ingredients are all that are needed.

From the store: Cinderella (www.shopnaturally.com.au) sprays biodegrade within 28 days, and Dr Bronner’s pure castile soap (www.drbronner.com.au) diluted with water works well in a spray bottle.

DIY: Plain salty water cleans safely and well, and keeps insects away so there’s no need for pesticides either.

Washing powder

Fancy ‘enzymes’ don’t work any better and can actually be irritating for people with sensitive skin, so look for
hypoallergenic products. Phosphates are gradually being phased out in clothes washing detergents in Australia, but check to ensure you’re preventing pollution in waterways by reading the label.

From the store: Phosphate-free brands include Planet Ark’s Aware laundry powder (www.palmoilfree.planetark.org/aware) as well as Biozet’s Attack (www.biozet.com.au). There are also Ecozone Ecoballs (www.ecozone.com), which are plastic contraptions with biodegradable pellets inside. Wild-harvested Sindhiya SoapNuts (www.soapnutssindhiya.com.au) or Wild Soapnuts (www.wildsoapnuts.com.au) are a natural soap that grow on trees!

DIY: Make a washing solution by simmering soap nuts on the stove for 20 minutes and add lemon as a preservative. Also try adding sodium carbonate, baking soda or sodium citrate to your wash, which are all non-toxic water softeners.

Stain remover

So-called ‘optical-brighteners’ are toxic to animals and don’t make your clothes cleaner; they make them appear brighter with a residue that reflects white light, and also damage your clothes.

From the store: For naturally powerful oxygen whiteners, try B_E_E (www.bee.net.nz). Enviroclean (www.envirocareearth.com.au) and Clean Conscience (www.cleanconscience.com.au) both have great presoakers.

DIY: A solution of half vinegar, half water sprayed on stains half an hour before washing helps to remove grass, juice, mildew, coffee and tea. Hairspray helps remove ink stains. Collect leftover soap slivers in a jar, dissolve in hot water, and cool into a soap jelly to pre-treat your laundry.

Fabric softener

Some fabric softeners build up and make clothes look dull and can also affect the absorbtion ability of towels
and nappies. If you really want a nice fragrance, avoid nasty hormone-disrupting phthalates and go natural.

From the store: EcoLogic softener (www.ecoathome.com.au) contains lavender, coconut and witch hazel; Tinderbox laundry additive (www.cheekyherbs.com) contains rosemary, cedarwood and grapefruit oils.

DIY: White vinegar softens fabric and stops static cling; add a cup to the wash, with a few drops of lavender oil for odours. Wool will stay soft if washed in warm water with eucalyptus oil.


Chlorine-based bleaches release dioxins into the air, especially when combined with ammonia – that’s why you can have trouble breathing when using bleach.

From the store: Ecover and Seventh Generation have chlorine-free bleaches that are greywater safe.

DIY: Natural alternatives to bleach include: lemon juice, hydrogen peroxide, washing soda and vinegar (don’t use all at once!). Opt for vinegar or lemon where possible.

G Tip

Be sure to dispose of old products through your local council’s hazardous waste collection, not in your bin.