Setting the Record Straight On Cleaners

     If you are searching for the best household cleaners, most likely you will see thousands of authors damning cleaners found in stores and promoting homemade cleaners using kitchen ingredients. Words get thrown around like “natural”, “non-toxic” and “safe” when it comes to your DIY recipes and “carcinogens”, “irritants” and “allergens” for department store cleaners. However, we must ask ourselves this question- is it true? Remember how fats used to be the black sheep of the food pyramid and avocados were equal to a heart attack in an instant? That story changed as soon as it was clarified that fats are a necessary part of your diet and helps with neural development, inflammation and heart health. The opinion about fats shifted so quickly that we got an avocado war we are hearing about today. It seems like the same situation can be applied when it comes to chemical ingredients in your go-to cleaner. In this article we will be busting some myths and stories that have been circulating the internet, to remove smokescreen and get you to make the right decisions in purchasing your products.

  1. Everything is made of chemistry.

All matter, including us, is made of chemicals. It is not the green slime that is usually seen in cartoons. It is your citrus peel, it is your vinegar, it is your shampoo and your baby food. Literally everywhere. To say something has chemicals and another has natural ingredients is a typical case of greenwashing. Your natural ingredients are chemicals. To illustrate an example without getting too boring and scientific, let’s pick a simple DIY, multi-purpose household cleaner recipe that is all-natural:

  1. Castile soap
  2. Baking soda
  3. Vinegar 
  4. Essential oil

Castile soap is made of a chemical called sodium salt of a fatty acid. It is made by taking plant oils, in the case of this soap, and mix it with sodium hydroxide (yep, another chemical). The result is a very soft soap that can be used to clean surfaces. Baking soda has a scientific name of sodium bicarbonate and is praised for having superb cleaning capabilities for everyday messes. Vinegar is a diluted acetic acid and essential oils are volatile mixtures of all kinds of chemicals that smell nice. The point here is that there is no such thing as “natural” versus “chemical”. It is one and the same thing. Don’t let yourself get greenwashed just because something is labelled natural. 

     2. The dose is the poison.

As our good old friend Paracelsus said, “All things are poison, and nothing is without poison; the dosage alone makes it so a thing is not a poison.". That is something that just had to be brought to attention. You can get dermatitis if you stick your hand into a cup of vinegar, much like you can get the same dermatitis if you stick your hand into a slush of baking soda. Our skin is mildly acidic, with a pH of 4-5 and if that pH is disturbed by something very acidic like vinegar or something alkaline like baking soda, you will get irritation, contact dermatitis or even burns. Therefore, natural ingredients can be harmful to your health as much as any other chemical if you do not respect the dosage. Canadian laws require cleaners to include a section where precautionary measures should be listed, such as, “do not ingest” or “use gloves” or even “corrosive”. DIY household cleaner recipes do not come with those labels so be critical of the source that suggests it. Ask questions on safety.

     3. Vinegar + Baking soda= money wasted

Cleaning power from home made ingredients comes from their pH value. Acidic substances are very good at removing grit, salt, rust and limescale. Basic or alkaline substances are good at removing oils, fats and proteins. 

If you take something acidic and mix it with something basic you neutralize the two ingredients. Same thing applies to baking soda and vinegar combo. When those two are mixed you get carbon dioxide (no cleaning power), salt (sodium acetate, with no cleaning power) and water (no cleaning power).  Result? Money down the drain. If you want to use household cleaners to clean your house do not neutralize them but rather use separately. 

     4. Do not think that multipurpose means ALL surfaces apply.

Let’s go back to our pH talk. You need a basic substance to remove oils and an acidic substance to remove grit, limescale and soap scum. Certain surfaces such as granite cannot have anything acidic touching it because the seal on it will eventually get dissolved and your granite will become more porous. Stainless steel appliances do not like acidic cleaners because if left unrinsed, they will rust. Yes, even stainless steel ones. Vinegar also degrades rubber so don’t stick it into your washer. On the other hand, baking soda cannot be used on aluminum because it will cause staining and cannot be used on marble because it is too abrasive. Therefore, when thinking of multipurpose cleaners, dig deep as to how many purposes it has because it certainly cannot tackle all.