Cleaning Without Aggravating Allergies

It has been impressed upon me that what we use to clean our houses should be as safe for us as what we put in our mouths because what we live around will be absorbed into our bodies weather we notice it or not.

In all of the stores in my town there are huge aisles of nothing but cleaning products. It seems like you need a special product to clean almost every item in your home anymore. My problem with this is that most of these products are not that different from each other and contain the same ingredients. It doesn’t help that those are not very healthy ingredients and that some of the fragrances contain oils. I’m not sure if inhalation of oils makes me sick but I do know that a lot of cleaning products send me into an an allergic fit when I come into contact with them. Unfortunately, only active ingredients have to be listed on ingredient labels and because products contain lots of unlisted ingredients there is no way for me to be sure that anything I buy is going to be okay for me.  Fortunately I don’t have to experiment anymore, I have found home made products that work just as well if not better in some cases.

This is not to say that I buy no products from the cleaning aisle, there are a few that don’t seem to set off my allergies that I continue to use because I have not found anything that works better. Dish detergent is one of them, surfactants really work, and every substitute I’ve tried, has so far failed to successfully clean my dishes. This includes regular soap, even with additions of borax and baking soda. Which I use with my dish soap when scrubbing off thick grease on dishes. I buy Ecover dishwasher pellets and Bioclean dish soap. (I use vinegar as a rinse aid in my dishwasher.)

I use Dr. Bronner’s Liquid Castile Soap to wash my machine wash laundry. I used to use an unscented detergent by BioClean which was fine for my allergies but did not work as well as soap for making my clothes clean. For my hand wash I use Forever New or bar soap that I buy at craft fairs. I will share a bit more about how I use these two soaps when I talk about laundry later in this post. Update As Trudy points out in the comments, commercial soaps do not clean as well as homemade. I’m not sure why that is. 

Barkeep’s Friend is my other store bought cleaning product. I use it to polish up my stainless steal pans, because when used daily, even with regular washing, pans tends to grow a build up that needs to come off and I have yet to find anything that does as good of a job of cleaning it off as Barkeep’s Friend. I do not use it daily or even weekly, it’s just to clean off the build up when it gets out of hand and keep them in good condition.

I also use Barkeep’s Friend to clean my toilets and shower, I probably could use a home made cleaner for my shower and toilets but I find that Barkeep’s Friend is so effective that I haven’t bothered with anything else. The same company makes a smooth top stove cleaner which is very nice that I use daily on my stove.

Other than that I pretty much use a few very simple household items to clean with. I like them for many reasons:

  1.  They work
  2.  They don’t make me sick
  3.  They are a lot cheaper than most store bought cleansers.

The Players

Hydrogen Peroxide works for many sanitizing or bleaching situations.

Vinegar great for disinfecting surfaces, killing weeds (in tandem with direct sunlight) and softening clothes. It is also edible in small amounts. It is mildly acidic so mixing it with anything basic like baking soda will neutralize its cleaning power. Apparently the same neutralization will happen when mixed with Dr. Bronner’s Liquid Castile Soap.

Baking soda is a good abrasive and its mildly basic pH makes it invaluable for cleaning everything, dishes, clothes, floors, tubs you name it. See below about borax for adding extra cleaning power. Remember that anything acidic like vinegar will neutralize its cleaning power.

Borax is great for dishes and laundry. Mixing borax and baking soda together in a 1:1 ratio helps boost the cleaning power of both.

Washing soda is as good as oxy-clean for cleaning out underarm stains and smells.

Citric acid works for cleaning the dishwasher, clothes, drains, and removes the smell of mildew. When hot it helps with calcium and mineral deposits.

Tips

Hear are some specific tips I have found useful for specific situations in my home.

For Laundry: Both dryer sheets and laundry detergents are some of the most perfumed of  cleaning products. I will often have to air out used clothes for several months before I can wear them because perfumes that clothes are laundered in super saturate the fabric, and when I wear them the heat of my body makes the scents leach out into the air around causing me to breath them in and have allergic reactions. The scent will often stick to my wash machine or even other clothes they come in contact with.

I wash my clothes using soap instead of an unscented detergent. *Not commercial soap! For some reason commercial soap does not clean very well and will often ruin clothes with residues.  Even though unscented detergents are fine for me I have been happier with the cleaning properties of soap, especially for hand washing. Using soap and water I have managed to remove stains that would never have come out using detergent. To each load I add baking soda, borax and washing soda, and then to the rinse I add vinegar. Baking soda, washing soda and borax work in tandem to remove smells and stains. The vinegar works as a fabric softener helping with softness and static when the clothes come out of the dryer.

Pre-treating laundry: When a shirt is particularly smelly I sprinkle washing soda directly on damp underarms and scrub. I know when it is working because it gets hot and if the item is smelly the smell will intensify briefly before fading.

Stains: Depending on the stain homemade soap can be your best option. Make bar soap into a lather and rub it directly on the stain before rinsing with cold water. This will often remove it. If homemade soap doesn’t work, hydrogen peroxide is another good option. You can pour it directly on grass stains, see below for use on blood. I’ve also used washing soda sprinkled directly on a dampened spot and scrubbed in to good effect.

For blood: A damp ice cube rubbed on fresh blood and blotted will often remove a small stain. Soaking in ice water with salt will often remove larger amounts of fresh blood. Stubborn blood stains can be soaked in hydrogen peroxide. Fresher blood comes out better than older blood, especially if the blood has dried.

For grease: I have yet to discover anything that will pull out grease stains completely. Although a 1:1 mix of borax to baking soda will help if applied immediately. I recently read this blog post about how to remove old grease stains and I wonder if the reason my attempts have been unsuccessful is that I didn’t rub in the baking soda borax solution in well enough and did not use soap directly afterwords to wash the spot. I have yet to try her method of removing old grease stains. I am going to soon and will hope it works.

For cleaning counters: Nothing really substitutes for scrubbing and I use water and dish soap most of the time, but for stains I will use a 1:1 mix of borax and baking soda applied to the dampened surface. The surface needs to be damp so the powder can soak up the water and do its job properly. Once it is dry again I scrub it off. This is mostly successful but for the rare times that it doesn’t work I use barkeeps friend in a paste.

For sanitizing counters: I’ve been told that using vinegar to scrub down your counters removes 99% of germs and if you then dry the counters and scrub with hydrogen peroxide that will get the last 1%. I do know that vinegar is a pretty effective cleaning agent all by itself.

For stuck on syrup: Sugar is amazingly sticky and once it has dried on it is difficult to remove. I used to work in places with soda fountains and the soda would splash up and dry onto every nearby surface. The best way to remove it was to rub an ice cube directly on the sugar to dissolve it, (water alone doesn’t have the same saturating properties for some reason) then the sugar would clean right off.

For calcium deposits: Hot vinegar will dissolve any kind of build up. The microwave works great for heating it up but a pan on the stove would work too. Any kind of metal part for sinks or showers that has deposits on it can be soaked in the hot vinegar for five to fifteen minutes, at which point it usually scrubs right off. This tactic will work on plastic but is less successful, because the plastic is often never the same and will not appear new or clean again.

For showers and tubs: Hot vinegar works better than cold vinegar for removing soap scum but it is a little difficult to keep hot. Still it works cold too its just takes more elbow grease.

Clogged drains: Citric acid in hot water often helps. Be careful not to crack your toilet bowl with too sudden of temperature changes. Generally toilets are fairly cold. Warm the bowl slowly before adding hot water.

For the dishwasher: I run 1/4 cup of citric acid through my dishwasher every three weeks. Vinegar also works but not as well.

For the clothes washer: I run 1/4 cup citric acid dissolved in two cups of hot water in an empty load every three weeks to keep down the mildew.

Cat throw up: It particularly annoying when cats throw up on your rug. We have a lot of experience with this. To prevent stains I have found that it is best to start by scooping up as much of the physical lump of throw up as possible without moving the fabric of the rug at all. That will mush the particles into the carpet. At that point if the spot is dry, I dampen it with water and sprinkle on baking soda. If it is wet I simply sprinkle on the baking soda. Then I let the whole mess dry, depending on how damp the spot is I may need to add more baking soda to thoroughly soak up stomach acids. The stomach acids are what, in conjunction with food colorings, stain the rugs. Once the spot is completely dry, I vacuum up as much of the now clumped baking soda as I can. Sometimes it sticks but I don’t worry about it the next step will remove it. I then spritz the spot with water and use a paper towel to scrub up as much of the physical throw up/food/hair and other debris that were left as possible. At this point the carpet should be clean, if it still not I add more water and baking soda and allow to dry again. Then I repeat vacuuming and the water and paper towel scrub until the stain is gone. Then I use a brush to distribute the carpet fibers. Usually there is little sign the cat sicked up left.

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One Response to Cleaning Without Aggravating Allergies

  1. Trudy says:

    Great post! I would just add that although homemade soap bars work well on stains, I’d be really careful of using most commercial “soap” on my clothes (or my person!) 🙂

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