Updated March 2022
I was trying to decide what to do as my first post, and realized this would be a perfect combination of the blog title themes: Clean, green, and toxicant free.
This post may contain carefully selected affiliate links including Amazon Associates, that I may earn small amounts from. More info at the bottom of this page.
First, I’ll briefly address the common criticism about over-sanitizing, and people who say that germs are good for us. It’s true that our bodies contain lots of bacteria, our immune systems can ward off some of the bad stuff, and small exposures can help build immune systems. But in today’s world, we are inundated! Not only with bacteria and viruses, but also parasites, lice, and contagious skin conditions (“hand foot and mouth disease” and ringworm are examples). Some of that is definitely nasty and you don’t want or need it. On the other hand, misuse of antibacterial products can cause problems similar to misuse/ overuse of antibiotics, that actually lead to “superbugs” that are resistant to treatment. Here’s a few things around the house that are germy.
Here’s an article about How (and why) to protect babies from germs.
Why should we avoid toxicants in cleaning products?
According to This Report from the CDC, “One quarter (25%) of respondents reported at least one adverse health effect during the previous month that they believed had resulted from using cleaners or disinfectants, including nose or sinus irritation (11%); skin irritation (8%); eye irritation (8%); dizziness, lightheadedness, or headache (8%); upset stomach or nausea (6%); or breathing problems (6%). Respondents who reported engaging in at least one high-risk practice more frequently reported an adverse health effect than did those who did not report engaging in such practices (39% versus 16%).”
CLEANING VS DISINFECTING
Many people confuse Cleaning and disinfecting. A simplistic explanation is that Cleaning can remove bacteria physically, such as with the use of soap and wiping or better yet, rinsing away with water. Disinfecting is actually killing the bacteria, such as with chemicals.
Since so many natural/crunchy people talk about how they clean by mixing vinegar and baking soda, I want to say… don’t. The two form a chemical reaction that’s fun to watch but the end product creates… salt! And unless you have hard water, it’s not useful.
#mytoppick for a cleaning product is Branch Basics! It can be used for anything and is like having ONE cleaner to rule them all for hand soap, laundry, dishwashing (by hand or dishwasher), bathrooms, windows, wood, produce, carpets, floors, stains, even face/ body wash, and more. *Full disclosure is this Branch Basics link gets you $10, and also grants me $10 off my future purchases. I have no special relationship or affiliation with this company; this is a standard referral link available to all customers. More information about their EWG rating is at the bottom of this post. The biodegradable formula is just as safe for fish and plant life as it is for humans. Instead of selling one-time-use bottles, each reusable Branch Basics bottle replaces dozens of conventional spray bottles over its lifetime of use. And you conserve energy and save on shipping costs.
Thanks to Covid 19, society has gotten re-acquainted with the importance of hand washing, which can do so much to prevent sickness! I’m going to add some additional tips you may not have heard.
-Wash hands as soon as you come into the house, so you prevent spreading around germs from outside. #MyTopPicks for Foaming Hand soaps: Branch Basics or Moon Valley Organics unscented. Amazon Affiliates link: https://amzn.to/3FZOs81
-Also help wash babies and toddlers hands, such as right before leaving play dates or stores, since they have a habit of putting their fingers in their mouths before they get home. While hand washing we sing the ABCs or other songs to ensure we do it long enough. So it’s educational and fun too.
-Keep your nails and kids’ nails short by trimming frequently. Germs and parasites love to hide under nails, and the more surface area there is, the more potential there is for them to live and grow. If you do have longer nails, keep a nail brush at every sink and use every time you wash hands.
Other handwashing/ drying facts/tips:
-Those electric air hand blowers actually spread germs around bathrooms.
-Bars of soap can grow bacteria on the surface, but usually a quick rinse will get rid of them sufficiently.
-Refillable soap dispensers, especially commercial ones, have actually been found to be highly contaminated as well.
-Antibacterial soap is unnecessary. With proper 20 second thorough hand washing with any soap, bacteria will be removed. You do need some kind of soap to properly remove bacteria. Rinsing only removes some.
-Hand/ Dish towels: Change daily, wash and especially dry on high heat. Consider having one for each person.
Not as effective as washing hands with soap and water, but helpful until you can (another option to think about is keeping soap and a bottle of water in your car, to wash hands when you’re on the go).
Alcohol based hand sanitizers are most recommended. Do note that alcohol is a Volitile Organic Compound (VOC), so it’s best to use with as much ventilation as possible. Wait until it dries before touching anything, and avoid touching receipt paper afterwards, because your skin will be more susceptible to absorbing BPA (a hormone/ endocrine disrupter) from the thermal paper. Unfortunately, most commercial sanitizers contain toxic additives and fragrance.
#MyTopPicks for non-toxic hand sanitizers:
-Honest Free and Clear Hand sanitizer spray. Amazon Affiliates link I buy: https://amzn.to/33HUI7n
-Dr. Bronners hand sanitizer spray
-Regular 60% -70% isopropyl rubbing alcohol in a glass spray bottle. This might dry out your hands if used too often, but occasionally is fine. You could also carry lotion or oil to use after.
Those disinfecting wipes at grocery stores are pretty toxic. You could bring your own alcohol wipes or spray, or use a shopping cart cover, which I definitely recommend if you have a child sitting in the front of the cart.
#Hearsay: I read that alcohol may strip/ damage the top layer of skin, making it more vulnerable to bacteria. But I read this on a non-alcohol sanitizer product site, so for now I’ll stick to the heavier evidence that identifies alcohol as the most effective proven option. Still, it does align with the common sense not to over-use alcohol.
Kitchen Sinks are one of the most germ-laden places in the house!
Avoid letting dishes pile up in the sink. If you have a sanitize option on your dishwasher, use it, as it’s the best bet for killing germs.
For eco- considerations, dishwashers use less water than handwashing, but they do use electricity. The least toxic soap brands for hand washing or dishwashers that I’ve used are Better Life or Branch Basics* (which has opened new realms of convenience with options to use foam or spray for handwashing). Ecover powder (not tablets) is also a top recommendation I’ve seen for dishwashers, but I haven’t tried it.
Sponges one of the most germ-laden things in the house! I don’t use conventional sponges, as the material harbors a staggering amount of bacteria. The sponges I have found that are least toxic, natural and environmentally friendly, are sisal scrubby pads. #MoneySavingTip: I cut them in half to create double the amount. After using one, I immediately put into the dishwasher and I don’t use it again until after I run the dishwasher on sanitize cycle. The dishwasher method has proven effective, but note that the microwave part in this article is outdated.
Why I don’t microwave: Sponges are often made of plastic components, and heating plastic releases toxicants. Microwaving them can also lead to a soapy mist/ residue in the microwave. New research shows that microwaving is no longer recommended to effectively eliminate bacteria.
Other methods that can work are boiling, but I believe it was 5-10 min. The instant pot is also a cool idea, but would take even longer. Both of these use heat, so I would not use with anything containing plastic.
An alternative to sponges, especially if you don’t have a dishwasher, is using dishcloths / washcloths once only and then machine wash and dry. Let them dry thoroughly after using and then put in laundry pile. See laundry section below.
Bleach can be effective for both sponges (but would require several minutes of soaking, and the link above concluded this was less preferable than the dishwasher) and laundry, but I refuse to use it because of toxic fumes, and potential damage to fabrics.
#LessonLearned: Be careful to look deep into what products are made of. Especially if you are buying from a third party site like Amazon, see if you can find the original brand site for more information. While I was writing this post, I realized the walnut scouring pads I was buying through Amazon were partially made of recycled plastic! This is also an example of #WhenGreenIsToxic, because recycled plastic can contain contaminants from electronics and other things. THEN, the first sisal scrubbies I bought said 100 natural online, but the fine print on the box said they were treated with an anti microbial, which although I am a germaphobe, I avoid that kind of chemical additive because of toxicity. Then the next sisal I bought ended up having plastic fibers woven in. But I continue to use these because I figure given the ways I use these, they aren’t going to be adding toxicity anywhere because everything I use them on gets washed and rinsed. I also usually wear gloves with them. https://amzn.to/484RupI Amazon associates link.
Here is a more expensive product that would be less toxic. But it was very expensive and is no longer available. Amazon affiliates link: https://amzn.to/3rPbWrl
-Avoid spreading germs when cleaning. I use the sisal scrubbies to scrub down my sink with dish soap and Bon Ami, and then rinse and put straight into the dishwasher. Don’t use sponges that were used on dishes or sinks to wipe counters afterward.
-Germs often still remain in sinks even after cleaning with soap, so you may want to sanitize your sinks after. See the section below about disinfecting.
-Don’t wash veggies or soak dishes or bathe children in sinks unless you thoroughly sanitize and rinse first.
So about that belief about some germs being good? Well, poop/ fecal bacteria are not. They are the worst and you don’t want to spread those around.
-It IS possible to get infectious bacteria from sitting on toilet seats. Try carefully squatting over the toilet instead. You could use the paper liners, but those aren’t environmentally friendly, and can clog pipes, so dispose in the trash instead of flushing.
–Close the toilet seat when you flush. If you’re in a public place with no lid on the toilet, if possible, leave the stall, wash your hands, then flush (using a tissue or your shoe) and run out of the bathroom. The stalls near the walls have less germs. Alternatively, sometimes I choose stalls that appear to be used less frequently.
-Avoid spreading germs when cleaning. I once hired a house cleaner, and I gave her a bag of labeled supplies just for the nooks and crannies of the toilet bowl. After she cleaned the inside of the toilet bowl, I caught her using the same scrubby sponge over the the entire outside of the toilet, seat, and lid. She was also rinsing it in the sink and it was dripping on the counter and floor. Therefore, everything was contaminated! It was a germaphobe’s nightmare. I’m still on the hunt for a perfect toilet brush option, but for now the best re-usable brush option I’ve found is a silicone toilet brush. Unlike bristle brushes, there aren’t little spaces to harbor and fester bacteria (moisture/ wetness breeds bacteria, so ability to dry completely is important). Silicone brushes can also be more easily sanitized by soaking in peroxide or disinfectant.
Another nightmarish situation with a house cleaner is when I realized he was using dirty rags that he used previously at a different house! #LessonLearned: If you hire cleaning people, consider providing all the supplies and being extremely clear about germ protocols.
I haven’t looked into this deeply, but this product is an automatic toilet cleaner similar to the disinfectant technology Force of Nature.
As mentioned, many disinfectants contain toxic ingredients. Even the most non-toxic ones still have drawbacks, and there seem to be #NoPerfectOptions. Since cleaning is so much less risky than disinfecting, a tip from me is to clean first, and minimize the areas that you need to disinfect. For example, I prepare food on glass cutting boards or plates that get sanitized in the dishwasher, instead of putting food directly on the counter.
With any of these methods (besides water or steam), remember that after spraying or wiping it on, leave it for 10 minutes (I recommend leaving the room) to be fully effective, like any disinfectant. Avoid skin contact, use with as much ventilation as possibleh, and not when children are nearby.
#MyTopPicks for the Safest and least toxic disinfectants:
-Boiling water or steam. But boiling water isn’t always practical, and it’s recommended to boil 5 minutes rather than just pouring over once (though that will kill some germs). My steam mop (similar to the one in this experiment) has a hose attachment (which is plastic though), that can be used to steam surfaces, but again, not always practical. It works well for things like bathtubs. The mop is also great for sanitizing floors.
-Food grade 3% hydrogen peroxide. The regular kind in the brown bottle is much cheaper, but the stabilizers in that kind contain heavy metals (see photo below for more explanation.) The fumes may be irritate lungs, so use ventilation. Avoid getting on skin because HP is damaging.
–Force Of Nature.* This is one of the few products proven to kill Covid 19, along with peroxide and rubbing alcohol. It is an Electrolyzed water system that generates hypochlorous acid (not as scary as it sounds!) from just table salt, water and electricity. It basically contains a chlorine component that has comparable effectiveness to bleach without the toxicity. I saw one #hearsay comment that questioned how similar it was to bleach, but I was not able to find anything else anywhere to back that up, so until I do, I am using this product, especially since hydrogen peroxide is still hard to come by these days. I will admit, the product smells like chlorine, which is off putting because, usually you can trust your nose and if something smells toxic, it is. One person shared links such as this with me that say it is indeed chlorine, but the link is talking about the process rather than thus specific product. So if you do use this, be sure to have lots of ventilation just in case. Another person said “My husband has a PhD in chemical engineering and understands chemical processes way better than I do and we determined that hypochlorous acid is the least toxic option for truly disinfecting things. he would consider hydrogen peroxide to be similar in potential toxicity, with hypochlorous acid having slightly increased cleaning/disinfecting power.” This product can be used on any surface, but it’s recommended to wipe off metals, as it can be mildly corrosive. The #HardCoreNontoxic side of me questioned the salt ingredient because salt is pretty much always contaminated with heavy metals, but I was assured this was not a risk to worry about. *Full disclosure is the Force of Nature link gets you $10, and also grants me $10 off my future purchases. I have no special relationship or affiliation with this company; this is a standard referral link available to all customers.
-Rubbing alcohol. However, as I explained above, it’s a VOC, so I wouldn’t use a lot at one time without lots of ventilation (outside would be best).
Things that don’t disinfect as effectively:
-Vinegar. But, I still do use it for things like quick cleanups, and for cleaning things like showers. It may not kill the big bad things like ecoli, but unless you’re battling a known outbreak in your home, consider if you really need to be disinfecting on a hospital grade level all the time. But even vinegar’s fumes aren’t great to inhale, because they contain acetic acid.
If you are #hardcorenontoxic you might wonder if organic vinegar is necessary, because it is made from corn. From the different perspectives I read, some were reassuring that any contaminants like pesticides would be removed in the distilling process. The price of organic white vinegar is staggering, so an alternative if you do want to use organic, is the apple cider version, which is found at lower prices. Lemon juice has also been shown to kill germs.
-Grain /ethyl alcohol like regular vodka is not strong enough. Everclear or moonshine is an exception but isn’t usually cost effective compared with isopropyl.
Here’s where I’m going to #FactCheckMLMs:
-Norwex cleaning Cloths are microfiber, which may be good for wiping up microbes, BUT microfiber is made of petroleum and is basically plastic, that contributes to the serious problem of micro plastics in the water supply and ocean. Therefore it is not a truly green option. Also, it is important to realize that the cloth with silver fibers only help curb bacteria growth ON the cloth, but they don’t function as an everlasting disinfectant wipe; the cloth cleans but does not actually disinfect surfaces. A more green choice would be cloth made of natural, preferably organic fibers, such as cotton. According to Dr. Annie’s testing, cotton does almost as well as microfiber at picking up germs. Both do better than paper towels or disposable wipes.
–Thieves and On Guard essential oils can kill germs, but are NOT safe around kids (it doesn’t matter what brand or quality)! I know some MLMs claim they are, but I am going to trust the multitude of unbiased sources rather than companies that aggressively market oils for sale. This site explained it perfectly but now requires a sign in. This one isn’t about thieves specially but lists some of the ingredients of it.
More info about which products disinfect, from Dr. Annie.
Also, Dr. Annie says “ So, if you are in a pickle and have no cleaning products, wiping of the toilet with paper towel, toilet paper, and water is a lot better than nothing.”
Laundry and washing machines can be very germy! If your washer has a sanitize cycle, check to make sure your water heater is set to a high enough temperature. Adding hydrogen peroxide or vinegar to the wash will NOT kill germs because they will be too diluted (And vinegar doesn’t kill that many germs anyway, as explained earlier). Bleach will work, but is toxic.
If you want to use vinegar or baking soda in your laundry (for deodorizing or other uses), it’s recommended to use one OR the other in the rinse cycle. Mixing with detergent can cause the detergent to not work quite right.
I use EC3 products in the rinse cycle to help ward off mold spores on fabrics.
I wear gloves (If You Care brand is least toxic) when transferring clothes from washer to dryer. The most important thing to do to kill germs is dry on hot (and be sure it gets hot) for 30 minutes. Even then, some sources say some germs can still survive. I’ve read many articles about this. Here is just one.
I used to separate laundry by each person in the family to try to avoid mixing germs, but the research shows that germs linger in washers and dryers, so instead I switched to separating by fabric: 1. organic cotton 2. cotton and natural fabrics 3. polyester and synthetics. That is to try to minimize the contamination of the chemicals and synthetics from the non-organic fabrics onto the organic ones. It also makes using the dryer simpler since natural fabrics can handle higher heat for longer.
If you don’t have a dryer, sunlight also acts as a disinfectant if you dry them outside. Dr.Annie has posts about laundry and products and said there is a Lysol product and a norwex product that seem to work well together. Those don’t meet my toxicity requirements so I didn’t look further.
More about Oxiclean/ oxygen cleaners:
-For a whitening but not sanitizing (although some claim that sodium percarbonate does disinfect) bleach alternative, I have started making my own “Oxiclean” mixture with sodium percarbonate, such as this Amazon Affiliates link: https://amzn.to/38Z5cBf, and washing soda such as this Amazon Associates link https://amzn.to/3kQXRXn. I found this experimentthat showed the mixing ratio is about 65% to 35%.
-Meliora or Ecos oxobrite or Whole Foods 365 brand are Sodium Carbonate Peroxide (Sodium Percarbonate), and Sodium Carbonate (Washing Soda). These are likely the cleanest Oxiclean type of ready made products with no additives that I’ve found.
-Branch Basics is Sodium Percarbonate and baking soda. This one does not have washing soda.
-Baby Oxiclean is sodium carbonate, sodium carbonate peroxide, C12-15 alcohols ethoxylated. The baby version is the “cleanest” but still has additional ingredients (surfactants and/ or fungicides).
A thing to note is that companies do NOT have to list fragrance on the label at all. So it’s definitely possible things have fragrance even if not listed. That’s why making it myself is the best way to know there is nothing else added.
I have been using Bon Ami as a less toxic option instead of Bar Keepers Friend (which contains toxic glass oxide) but even Bon Ami May contain some lead. Even better alternatives are: Baking soda, Meliora unscented cleaning scrub, or Humble Suds. Those second two are basically soap and baking soda, which you could also make yourself.
Disclaimer: Ideally I would include more links to articles for this blog post, and will try to do someday; until then, feel free to google things for yourself if you want to look deeper, which I encourage. This is written mostly as “here’s what I do and why, based on research I’ve done in the past.” I’m trying to be helpful by sharing what I’ve spent quite a bit of time looking into.
-Another post with guide list from another blogger.
-Link to study: Connection between household chemicals and gut microbiome https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/11/201112080906.htm
-Link: Use of disinfectants has soared, sparking new examination of ingredients (includes quats)
-More information from Branch Basics, explaining their ratings on EWG: “All of our ingredients are rated a 1 on EWG’s Skin Deep database. We are aware of how EWG is rating a couple of our ingredients in their Healthy Cleaning Guide. We love EWG, but they are inconsistent about how they rate things. If you enter each of our ingredients in their Skin Deep database, they all receive a “1” – Their top rating. There is a debate on the ingredient sodium phytate and we are in conversation with EWG about this issue. Even EWG is conflicted – EWG Skin Deep rates sodium phytate as a 1.
We always recommend going to EWG Skin Deep to vet each individual ingredient in a product because is it rated for products that come in direct contact with the skin. It is one of the safest chelators – We are MADE SAFE certified which is the most stringent certification available and MADE SAFE vets each specific ingredient, not from the standpoint of general terms, but they investigate the actual manufacturer of every ingredient in a product according to toxicity, sustainability, bioaccumulation potential, persistance, and environmental concerns. Our sodium phytate is not sensitizing and does not contain genetically modified material, dioxine, phthalates, BSE-related material or CMR- material and is readily biodegradable. Sodium Phytate is made from Phytin/ Phytic acid is listed as food additive. We also went the extra mile and did third party testing for skin and eye irritation to prove the safety and quality, which we’re very proud of and even the chemists were surprised with the results. Right now we are engaging with EWG to do a more in-depth evaluation of our ingredients. For example, they are evaluating our chamomile as if it’s just a general chamomile, but we use a special chamomile that has 3 EU (European Union) Allergen certifications. We are working with EWG to resolve these inconsistencies.”
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