by Andrew Pacholyk, MS, L.Ac and members of his group Alternative Answers

In celebration of Earth Day, I thought it appropriate to take a look back at some of the contributions in our archives from my free, 10,000 member community, Alternative Answers.

I want to thank, Michelle at and another member, Wild Mouse, (this also includes an article by Elizabeth Hughes) for these past posts about natural cleaning products!

Cleaning the House Safely by Elizabeth Hughes
This is a wonderful series of ideas from Elizabeth Hughes.

I have been feverish lately about getting people to use kid safe and environmentally safe cleaning solutions. I know I would have liked this information a few years ago and I had to make an effort to seek it out when it should have been common knowledge. Anyway, here are some simple compounds that you can make in your home and other cleaning tips that won’t make you run out of the room for air.

Environmentally Safe (and kid safe) products to clean your home:

Five basic nontoxic ingredients that can be used as cleansing agents:

These ingredients, supplemented with vegetable-oil- based soaps, lemon juice, herbs or toothpaste, can be mixed together and used to bring a natural, economical and safe shine to your home.

baking soda
washing soda
white vinegar

Here are some of the compounds you can make:


Mix 1/2 cup borax (a natural mineral that kills mold and bacteria) with
1 gallon hot water.
Add a few sprigs of fresh thyme. Steep for 10 minutes, strain and cool.
Store in a recycled plastic spray bottle.

Floor cleaner:

Mix 1 cup white vinegar with 2 gallons hot water.
For greasy floors, add 1/4 cup washing soda and 1 tablespoon vegetable-oil-based soap to the above mixture.

Window-washing fluid:

Mix 1 cup vinegar with 4 cups hot water.

Oven cleaner:

Make a paste of baking soda and hot water. Sponge onto stains and wipe clean.

Copper-pan cleaner:

Sprinkle surface of pans with coarse salt. Rub salt into stains with the cut half of a fresh lemon.

Wood furniture cleaner:

To remove water stains on wood furniture, dab white toothpaste onto the stain. Allow the paste to dry and then gently buff off with a soft cloth.

Removing mildew:

To remove mildew from bathtubs, bathroom curtains and tile, make a mixture of: one-half cup vinegar, one-half cup of Borax cleaning detergent and 2 cups of water. Pour it on the dirty areas and let it sit for a few minutes, and then scrub with a cloth. If mildew is still visible, use the mixture twice.

Clean the toilet bowl: Combine equal parts of baking soda, Borax cleaning detergent and white vinegar. Pour generously around the bowl and scrub with a brush. Or leave it over night if badly stained.

Removing crayon, pencil or ink from walls: To remove crayon, pencil or ink marks from the walls (without removing paint), take about 2 tablespoons of baking soda and mix in water. Dip a white wash rag in the solution and rub the marks away. Wipe away excess baking soda with the same cloth.

Furniture Polish:

Make your own furniture polish by combining one tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar with one- half cup of olive or vegetable oil. Take a soft cloth and polish.

Removing crayon, pencil or ink from upholstery: To remove pencil, crayon or ink marks from upholstery, use dry baking soda. Use a hairbrush or similar brush to rub baking soda and remove the marks.

Blood stains: To remove blood stains, combine one quart of Borax cleaning detergent with two cups of cold water. Rinse stained clothing item in cold water, and scrub in warm water with your hands. Then dip in solution and wash by hand.

Coffee and chocolate stains: To remove coffee and chocolate stains, mix one teaspoon of white vinegar in one quart of cold water. Sponge on stain and wipe clean.

Other hints:

Ironing Clothes: To get crisp results when ironing clothes, combine 1- 2 tablespoons of cornstarch in one pint of water. Pour into a spray bottle, shake and spray clothes before ironing.

Bug Control:

*To keep bugs out of flour, pasta, rice, pancake mix and other wheat products, put 2 to 3 bay leaves in the containers.

*Rather than pesticides, you might foil roaches by placing bay leaves around cracks in the room and leaving out dishes of equal parts baking soda and powdered sugar. The last resort is a mix of powered sugar and boric acid (a poison).

*For other pests, a soapy water spray can be an insecticide, and a shallow pan filled with stale beer will kill snails and slugs.

*To protect the family pet, alternatives to toxic flea collars include eucalyptus ointment, herbal baths and a pinch of brewer’s yeast or Vitamin B with dinner.

Removing Grease: To remove grease or hair from the drain, use equal parts of vinegar, salt and baking soda. Pour mixture down the drain and let stand for 15 minutes. Then pour boiling water down the drain.

You can just about clean everything with white vinegar.

Dishwashing Detergent Liquid Dish Soap

2 baking soda : Borax 2 c grated soap for hard water, 1:1 for soft 1 gallon water (Use vinegar in rinse cycle)

Laundry Starch

1 T cornstarch: 1 pint cold water

Laundry Detergent

2 bars Kirk’s Castile Soap (Zote, Octagon, Fels Naptha, handmade) grated
2 c washing soda
2 c Borax
2 T fragrance Oil (optional)
5 gallons water

Grate soap, soak in water over night. Melt soap over low heat. Dissolve soda & borax in another container in warm water. Combine soap and soda/borax mixture and stir briskly. Add FO and remaining water. It will gel up. From reading, some people put just one cup of each soda and borax. Also, others play with the recipe some to get it the way they like it. Some added one cup of liquid laundry soap to keep it from turning to gel as bad.

Multipurpose Cleaner Window Cleaner

1 t Borax * t liquid soap
1 t Washing Soda 3 T vinegar
2 T vinegar 2 c water
1 t liquid soap
2 c very hot water

Scouring Powder Soft Scrub

1 cup baking soda 1 2/3 c baking soda
1 cup borax * c liquid soap
1 cup regular salt * c water
2 T Vinegar

Stain Remover

1 cup ammonia
1 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup baking soda
2 T liquid soap 2 qts. water


Michelle’s suggestions:

What are you breathing, eating, using on your body and hair, putting into the environment and cleaning your home with? Think about it!

Even the most health conscious people I know still use chemical laden household cleaning products. And, you just might find that the main ingredient in your shampoo is carcinogenic. Knowledge is empowerment!


ALPHA HYDROXY ACID: – Skin irritant. An organic acid produced by anaerobic respiration. Skin care products containing AHA exfoliate not only dead skin cells, but the skin’s protective barrier as well. Long-term skin damage may result from its use.

ALUMINUM: – Skin irritant. Has been linked to Alzheimer’s Disease. Very commonly found in antiperspirants; it’s used to clog your underarm pores, so you don’t sweat… not a good thing to do! The leading cause of breast cancer is the use of antiperspirant. A Concentration of toxins that leads to cell mutations (a.k.a. CANCER.) Yes, ANTIPERSPIRANT. Most of the products out there are an antiperspirant/deodorant combination so go home and check your labels. Deodorant is fine, antiperspirant is not.

ANIMAL FAT (Tallow): – A type of animal tissue made up of oily solids or semisolids that are water-insoluble esters of glycerol with fatty acids. Animal fats and lye are the chief ingredients in bar soap, a cleansing and emulsifying product that may act as a breeding ground for bacteria<pBRONOPOL: – Acts by releasing nitrites, which combine with DEA to form nitrosamines. “One of the most expensive lines of cosmetics today, Chanel, often uses this chemical. So do many leading brands of baby products. And the Body Shop, whose product sales are built on a reputation of containing natural ingredients, also offers products containing this chemical. There are many safer yet equally effective products available,” states Dr. Epstein.**

BUTYLATED HYDROXIANISOLE (BHA) and/or BUTYLATED HYDROXYTOLUENE (BHT) – BHA and BHT are preservatives very commonly used not only in cosmetics and personal care products, but in food products. BHA is absorbed through the skin, stored in body tissues, and is an animal carcinogen, suspected human carcinogen, and a xenoestrogen.

COAL TAR DYES: = Carcinogens. Blue #1 and Green #3 to name only a few. According to Dr. Epstein, “These carcinogenic dyes are often contaminated with arsenic and lead.” Check your toothpaste label on the box it came in! These artificial dyes are in many other products as well.

COLLAGEN: – May suffocate the skin. An insoluble fibrous protein that is too large to penetrate the skin. The collagen found in most skin care products is derived from animal skins and ground up chicken feet. This ingredient forms a layer of film that may suffocate the skin. The molecular weight of any product must be 3000 to enter the skin, 800 to enter the cell, 75 to enter the blood stream. The molecular weight of most skin & hair products is over 10,000 therefore, is ineffective.

CRYSTALLINE SILICA: – Carcinogen. According to Dr. Epstein, “Crystalline Silica is present in some personal care products and toiletries. It’s been incriminated as a cause of lung cancer in both animal studies and human.”

DEA (Diethanolamine) and/or MEA (Monoethanolamine) and/or TEA (Triethanolamine) -Some alias names: Cocamide DEA, DEA-Cetyl phosphate, DEA Oleth-3 phosphate, Myristamide DEA, Stearamide MEA, Cocamide MEA, Lauramide DEA, Linoleamide MEA, Oleamide DEA, TEA- Lauryl Sulfate (“Diethanolamine and Cosmetic Products”, FDA Office of Cosmetics Fact Sheet, Dec. 9, 1999)

Ethanolamines are eye and skin irritants, causing contact dermatitis. DEA is easily absorbed through the skin, and accumulates in body organs, even the brain.”Animal tests show it causes damage to the liver, kidney, brain, spinal cord, bone marrow, and skin. Contact with the eyes can cause impaired vision”. (“Dangerous Beauty: Cosmetics and Personal Care P. Dingle and T. Brown, 1999

DIOXINS: – A potentially carcinogenic by-product that results from the process used to bleach paper at paper mills. Dioxin-treated containers sometimes transfer dioxins to the product itself. (see Sodium Laureth Sulfate). According to Dr. Epstein, “The Health Protection Branch of Canada has reported dioxin levels in the parts per trillion range in several samples of milk and cream packaged in bleached milk cartons manufactured in the United States. Dioxin has migrated from the cartons to the milk. Very likely U.S. milk products are similarly contaminated with dioxin. Dioxin’s carcinogenicity is up to 500,000 times more potent than that of DDT.”

ELASTIN OF HIGH-MOLECULAR WEIGHT: – A protein similar to collagen that is the main component of elastic fibers. Elastin is also derived from animal sources. Its effect on the skin is similar to collagen.

FLUORIDE – Possible carcinogen. Dr. Epstein states, “There have been several studies incriminating fluoride in bone cancer. The important point about this is that the public have been given no information on this and fluoride in toothpaste is particularly dangerous because kids swallow a significant amount of the fluoride, especially when toothpaste contains saccharin as many toothpastes do.”

FLUOROCARBONS: – Can produce mild upper respiratory tract irritation. A colorless, nonflammable gas or liquid commonly used as a propellant in hairspray.

FORMALDEHYDE: – Is used as a disinfectant, germicide, fungicide, and preservative. It is found in cosmetics and personal care products because numerous other ingredients release formaldehyde when they break down. Two of these formaldehyde donors used as preservatives are DMDM (Dimethylol Dimethol Hydantoin) and Imidazolidinyl Urea often sited as the second most common cause of contact dermatitis from preservatives. (A Consumer’s Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients, Ruth Winters, Three Rivers Press, 1999)

ISOPROPYL ALCOHOL: -Implicated in mouth, tongue, and throat cancers. A colorless, volatile, flammable liquid produced by the fermentation of yeast and carbohydrates. Alcohol is used frequently as a solvent and is also found in cleaning agents, cosmetics and personal care products, perfumes and rubbing alcohol, beverages and medicine. As an ingredient in ingestible products, alcohol may cause body tissues to be more vulnerable to carcinogens. Mouthwashes with an alcohol content of 25% or more have been implicated in oral cancers. Poisoning symptoms include flushing, dizziness, depression, nausea, headaches, and coma. Rubbing alcohol baths or sponges used to soothe a fever can lead to acute poisoning through skin absorption or inhalation. Package warning suggest using protective gloves, and using a well-ventilated area.

LANOLIN: – Highly contaminated with pesticides. According to Dr. Epstein, “Most lanolin samples, at least 50 to 60%, are contaminated.”

LYE: also known as Sodium Hydroxide or Potassium Hydroxide. A highly concentrated watery solution of sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide. Lye is combined with animal fats to make bar soaps, which may corrode and dry out the skin. It is found in toothpaste, eye drops, and other personal care products. The MSDS for it says “POISON! DANGER! CORROSIVE. May be fatal if swallowed, harmful if inhaled. Causes burns to any area of contact, reacts with water, acids, and other materials.” (MSDS Sodium Hydroxide #S4034)

Why is it included in toothpastes? The action of the lye helps remove stains and discolorations on teeth. This seems to be an extreme way to get whiter teeth! Sodium hydroxide is in drain cleaners and oven cleaners. You can buy lye – sodium hydroxide- in the plumbing department of your hardware store. All these products have the same warnings as that noted above, but there are no warnings about Sodium Hydroxide on toothpaste tubes.

PLEASE NOTE: Certain ingredients are only chemically stable in products if the pH (acid/base) is adjusted to the ideal pH. This is especially true of paraben preservatives used in personal care products. In addition, the parabens work as preservatives better in certain pH ranges. Often the amount of acid or base needed to adjust the pH is only drops per 100 gallons of product. The MSDS of these caustic substances are not reflective of just how safe they are after being diluted in hundreds of gallons of product. Literally, they are safer than water in these applications because they adjust the pH of the product to a neutral pH for the skin, thus decreasing the likelihood of skin irritation. There simply is no basis for criticizing the use of pH adjusters.

MINERAL OIL: – Smothers the skin. A derivative of crude oil (petrolatum) that is used industrially as a cutting fluid and lubricating oil. Mineral oil forms an oily film over skin to lock in moisture, but traps in toxins and wastes, and clogs your pores. It hinders normal skin respiration by keeping oxygen out. It can promote acne and other disorders, and slows down normal cell development, resulting in premature aging of the skin.

NITROSAMINE: – According to Dr. Epstein, “We’ve known since 1976 that DEA will react with nitrites which are present, as preservatives or contaminants, in personal care products, to produce a carcinogen known as nitrosodiethanolamine. This is found in virtually any cosmetic that contains DEA. Consumers have been exposed without any information and without any guidance whatsoever! In 1979 the FDA warned the cosmetic industry that DEA was dangerous because of this. The cosmetic industry ignored the warning! While over in Europe, strong action was taken to phase out the use of DEA.” Padimate-O (also known as octyl dimethyl PABA): Act by releasing nitrites which combine with DEA to form *nitrosamines. Found in cosmetics, especially sunscreens. “The most prudent consumers will prefer sunscreens without padimate-O,” states Dr. Epstein.

PARA-PHENYLENEDIAMINE DYES: – Carcinogenic when oxidized. According to Dr. Epstein, “These are dyes which are extensively used in permanent black and dark brown hair dyes which have been incriminated in a variety of cancers including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and multiple myeloma.”

PETROLATUM: – Smothers the skin. A petroleum-based grease that is used industrially as a grease component. Petrolatum exhibits many of the same potentially harmful properties as mineral oil.

PHTHALATES: – Phthalates are commonly found in cosmetic and personal care products, especially nail polish, perfumes, hair sprays, and skin lotions, as well as clothes, household cleaners and deodorizers, baby toys, garden hoses, shower curtains, insect repellants, toothbrushes, food packaging, aspirin, medical tubing and fluid bags, gum, candy, biodegradable tampon injectors, and prescription medications.


PROPYLENE GLYCOL: (PG) – PG is a strong skin irritant. A cosmetic form of mineral oil found in automatic brake and hydraulic fluid, and industrial antifreeze. In skin and hair care products, propylene glycol works as a humectant, which is a substance that retains the moisture content of skin or cosmetic products by preventing the escape of moisture or water. Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) warn users to avoid skin contact with propylene glycol as this strong skin irritant can cause liver abnormalities and kidney damage. May be harmful by inhalation, ingestion or skin absorption. May cause eye irritation, skin irritation. Exposure can cause gastro-intestinal disturbances, nausea, headache and vomiting, central nervous system depression.

Check out your body lotions, deodorant, hair conditioner, hair gel, creams, and many more products! Molecular weight of PG is 60. (Ingredients with molecular weight of 75 or lower enters our blood stream) Propylene glycol is also used as a solvent in acrylics, stains, inks and dyes, and in cellophane and brake fluid. It is used as a preservative in flavored coffee. PG can have an anesthetic effect.

Other side effects on animals exposed to PG include heart arrhythmia, stunted growth, decreased blood pressure, and even death. BG – Butylene Glycol – is now being used to replace PG in some personal care products, even though Butylene Glycol is the only one of the glycols that has not been able to even get on the GRAS List (Generally Recognized As Safe)

QUATERNIUM -15: – A formaldehyde donor Quanternium-15 is a preservative and anti-microbial and a severe cause of dermatitis. It is also a teratrogen (causes birth defects in animals) (“A Consumer’s Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients”, Ruth Winters, Three Rivers Press, 1999) According to Dr. Epstein, “This ingredient is generally safe, BUT will break down in the bottle, or tube, or on the skin to release formaldehyde for which the evidence of its carcinogenicity is literally overwhelming.


SODIUM LAURYL SULFATE (SLS): andor SODIUM LAURETH SULFATE (SLES): SLS and SLES are used as detergents, surfactants and foaming agents. These compounds can be found in almost any kind of industrial cleaning agent. They are even more widely used as major ingredients in cosmetics, hair conditioners, toothpaste, about 90% of all shampoos, other products that foam (including those made especially for babies), and in products designed to be left on the skin for an extended period of time, for instance, bubble bath.

SLS is rapidly absorbed and retained in the eyes, brain, heart, and liver, which may result in harmful long-term effects. SLS could retard healing, cause cataracts in adults, and keep children’s eyes from developing properly. In fact, studies have shown that washing your hair one time with a shampoo containing Sodium Lauryl Sulfate could put as many nitrates into your bloodstream as eating a whole pound of bacon. And that is just ONE application. Molecular weight of SLS is 40 (Ingredients with a molecular weight of 75 or lower enters our blood stream)

SLES is “Contaminated with a very potent carcinogen; dioxane and very easily absorbed through the skin,” states Dr. Epstein. SLES is the alcohol form (ethoxylated) of SLS. It is slightly less irritating than SLS, but may cause more drying. Both SLS and SLES may cause potentially carcinogenic formations of nitrates and dioxins to form in shampoos and cleansers by reacting with other product ingredients. Large amounts of nitrates may enter the blood system from just one shampooing!

Learn more great ideas for the environment…