Monday, June 28, 2010

Reducing Toxins in the Home

By Theodora Filis

Most of us like to believe that the widespread contamination of our groundwater, soil and air is entirely due to the irresponsibility of large industry. We refuse to accept the notion that in our own everyday lives we are contributing to the poisoning of the planet. However, commonly used substances such as paint thinners, household pesticides, cleaners and solvents and some aerosols produce hazardous waste.  Our responsibility for them does not end at our curbside. Leaching out of municipal landfills and into groundwater released in the air from garbage incinerators, or discharged from sewer systems into public waters, toxic waste comes back to haunt us.

Many of those same household products present a direct health hazard to you and your family. Most commercial polishes, for example, contain poisonous solvents that emit vapors. These products are often composed of the same toxic chemicals that industrial dumpers have used to eliminate bugs in your garden is the same deadly poison which has given farm workers high rates of cancer. These persistent organic compounds are among the most deadly substances known.

Household toxins management programs in which citizens separate hazardous from non-hazardous wastes do not work.  There is no safe way to dispose of toxic waste.  The only long-term solution to keeping our water and air clean, and our home safe, is reduction.  Remembering that these products are identical to the substances, which poison our water and air, perhaps then, we can commit ourselves to making responsible choices.

There are alternatives to household toxins.  Some of these products are more time consuming to prepare, but they are cheaper than commercial products, and more importantly, they represent an investment in the future health of the planet.


When cleaning your home, keep in mind that you don’t have to wash away grease and dirt with chemicals dangerous to your family and the overall environment.  Most of your household cleaning needs can be met with six simple ingredients: vinegar, soap, baking soda, washing soda, borax, and ammonia.  Various combinations of these simple substances can accomplish most household cleaning jobs cheaply and safely.

Use caution with all cleaners.  Even some non-toxic cleaners are unsafe for consumption.


Mild Mixture: 1-gallon (4L) hot water
¼ c (50ml) sudsy ammonia
¼ c (50ml) vinegar
1 T (115ml) baking soda

This solution is safe for all surfaces, can be rinsed with water, and is very effective for most jobs.  For stronger cleaner or wax stripper, double the amounts of all ingredients except water.  Use gloves, and do not mix with other compounds, especially chlorine bleach.  Never mix ammonia and bleach, an extremely toxic gas is produced.


The best alternative for cleaning your clothes is naturally enough soap.  Despite the advantages of detergents, soap has accomplished the task of getting garments white and bright for generations.

Recipe:  Add 1/3 C (80ml) washing soda (sodium carbonate) to water as machine is filling.  Add clothes.  Add 1 ½ C (375ml) of soap.  If water is hard, add ¼ C (50ml) soda or ¼ C (50ml) vinegar during the first rinse.

Detergents leave a residue on fabrics that must be removed with softeners.  If you have been using detergents in your laundry, it is advisable to get rid of the detergent film.  To prevent yellowing, run your laundry through the washer with 1/3 C (80ml) washing soda before you convert to soap.

There are alternatives to enzyme pre-soaks and bleach for tough stains too.  Test each of the following remedies on your fabric first.  If it starts to discolor, neutralize the cleaning agent immediately.  Acids (lemon juice and vinegar) neutralize alkalis (baking soda and ammonia), and alkalis neutralize acids.  Wash after applications.

Rub with solution of 2 T (30ml) washing soda in 1 C (250ml) warm water.

Immediately pour salt or hot water on the stain and soak in milk before washing.

Pour boiling water on stains and follow with dry baking soda.  Or try ammonia and water.

Soak in milk or remove with hydrogen peroxide.

Soak in cold water or remove with hydrogen peroxide.  For a more stubborn stain, mix cornstarch, talcum powder, or cornmeal with water and apply the  mixture.  Allow to dry and brush away.

Mix egg yolk with lukewarm water and rub on stain.

Rub with ice.  Gum will flake off.

Rub with cold cream r shortening and wash with washing soda.

Saturate with sour milk (or lemon juice) and rube with salt.  Place in direct sunlight until dry, then wash.

Pour strong soap and salt on the spots and place in sunlight.  Keep the spots moist and repeat as often as necessary.

To fully clean and deodorize carpets, mix 2 parts cornmeal with 1 part borax.  Sprinkle liberally, leave one hour then vacuum.  For tougher stains, repeatedly blot with vinegar in soapy water.  Quick deodorizing is easy if you sprinkle the carpet with baking soda, then vacuum.


Lemon juice and salt, or hot vinegar and salt.

Rubbing alcohol, or a small amount of ammonia with hot water.  Also try white flour in a dry rag.

Equal parts salt and flour, with a little vinegar.

Bing to a boil in a large pan - 1 quart (1 liter) water, 1 T (15ml) salt; 1 T (15ml) baking soda.

Combine strong version of all-purpose cleaner with baking soda; wear gloves when scrubbing.  An easier oven cleaner is ammonia; place about ¼ C (50ml) in a shallow pan (no aluminum), and add enough water to cover the bottom of the pan.  Heat oven for 20 minutes, turn off, and place pan in oven overnight.  Baked-on foods will loosen, and the oven can be cleaned with baking soda and scrubbing.

Your drain can be kept open and odor-free without the use of corrosive drain cleaners.  Two simple rules:  Never pour liquid grease down a drain, and always use the drain sieve.  In addition, use this preventive measure for drains once a week:

Mix: 1 C (250ml) baking soda
1 C (250ml) salt
¼ C (50ml) cream of tartar.

Pour  ¼ C (50ml) of this mixture into drain.  Follow with a pot of boiling water, flush with cold water.  Done once a week, your drain should remain open and odor-free.

In the event a drain becomes clogged, pour in ¼ C (50ml) baking soda followed by ½ C (125ml) vinegar, close the drain until the fizzing stops, and flush with boiling water.

Most commercial tile cleaners do more harm than good because many contain chlorine, a serious irritant to eyes, nose and skin, and one of the most dangerous chemicals found in municipal sewers.  For bathroom cleaning, use a firm-bristled brush with either baking soda and hot water or the mild all-purpose cleaner.

Set aside your dish detergent, and dissolve soap flakes in hot water.  Add some vinegar to the water for tough grease.

Most store-bought polishes contain solvents that are released into the air.  Aerosol sprays are wasteful, and many contain gas harmful to the environment.

Dissolve 1 t (5ml) lemon oil in 1pt (4/5ml) mineral oil.  Apply with a rag.

Melt ¼ C paraffin wax and ¼ C vinegar together in a double boiler.  Soak a dusting rag in the mixture for ½ hour, then squeeze and hang to dry.

Melt ¼ C paraffin in a double boiler, add 1 quart mineral oil and a few drops of lemon essence.  Apply with a rag, allow to dry and polish.

Wash with simple soap and water; rinse with a solution of 1 part vinegar to 4 parts water.  Or use a spray bottle and a mixture of ½ ammonia, 1/8 cup vinegar and 1 quart of very warm water.  Use washable, reusable cheese cloth rather than paper towels or dry with loosely crumpled sheets of newspaper.

Commercial air freshener’s work by masking smells, coating nasal passages and deadening nerves to chemically alter odors and diminish the sense of smell.  Avoid these products.  Grow houseplants, which are an excellent source for air purification.  Baking soda in your refrigerator or garbage can help reduce odors at their source.


Locate the place of entry, squeeze a lemon onto it and leave the peel.  Ants will also retreat from lines of talcum powder, chalk, damp coffee grounds, bone meal, charcoal dust and cayenne pepper.

Plug all small cracks along baseboards, wall shelves, and cupboards, and around pipes, sinks, and bathtub fixtures.  A light dust of borax the fridge, stove and ductwork is effective in controlling cockroaches,  For a trap, lightly grease the inner neck of a milk bottle and put a little stale beer or a raw potato in it.

Pour a small amount of beer into a wide-mouth jar.  Cut the corner out of a plastic bag and attach the bag to the jar with a rubber band.  Flies will enter and be trapped.  Change the beer when necessary.

Sunny windows are flies most common entrances into your home, so close windows before the sun hits them.  Use regular sticky flypaper to catch unwelcome flying guests.  You can make your own with honey and yellow paper.

Keep vulnerable clothes dry and well aired.  Camphor can be used, as it is the major, non-toxic ingredient of mothballs.  To trap moths, mix 1 part molasses with 2 parts vinegar and place it in a yellow container.  Clear regularly.

Hot-pepper spray will help control pests on the leaves.  Do not forget soap and water, but be sure to rinse the pants with fresh water afterwards.

Under ideal conditions, do not destroy spiders because they help control pests.

Find out which non-chemical fertilizer’s aid in controlling bugs, and how to fortify your plants with proper soil care.  Pesticides carry the suffix “cide” which means “killer”.  Natural pesticides are cheap and safer for your family and are usually “pest-specific”.

Learn to promote the population of beneficial pests such as lady bird beetles, bees, fly larvae, lace-wing larvae (aphid lions), prying mantis, dragon flies, predacious mites, spiders, toads, garden snakes, and birds.  Investigate “companion planting”, which can provide a natural barrier to bugs.

Handpicking is time consuming but unbeatable.  Use gloves, and remove all visible offending pests.


Place a large handful of tobacco into 4 quarts of warm water .  Let stand for 24 hours.  Dilute and apply with a spray bottle.  This tobacco water is poisonous to humans - USE CAUTION when handling.

Blend 2 or 3 very hot pepper, ½ onion and 1 clove garlic in water, boil, steep for two days, and strain.  This spray will not damage indoor or outdoor plants and can be frozen for future use.

Formulated, biodegradable pest-control substances are commercially available..  For example:

Very effective against soft-bodied insects such as caterpillars, with low toxicity to mammals.  Avoid inhaling.

Made from the skeletons of tiny organisms, this dust controls pests by causing dehydration and death.  Can be used indoors and out.  Please follow manufacturer’s instructions carefully.

This soap is available in gardening, hardware and drug stores.