Cover Image
close this bookIdeas for Action : Save, Recycle and Do Not Pollute (IIRR, 1992, 146 p.)
close this folderConsumer guides
View the documentGuide to environment-friendly shopping
View the documentCommonly used household-products which are dangerous and safer alternatives
View the documentEcotourism
View the documentGetting to know chlorofluorocarbons- (CFC) and their alternatives
View the documentHerbal medicines from nature (Department of Health-Approved)

Commonly used household-products which are dangerous and safer alternatives

Over 55,000 chemicals are contained in commonly used convenience products and over 1,000 more come on the market each year. Most are untested and unregulated. Many present serious health threats and leave their mark on the environment for several generations. The use of household or garden pesticides, for example, can increase the chance of childhood leukemia sevenfold, according to research studies.

Many cleaning products commonly used in our homes may be hazardous to our health and to the environment.

Some common home toxics are: ammonia-based cleaners, disinfectants, window cleaners, floor cleaners, shoe polish, furniture polish, metal polish with solvent, car wax with solvent, paint brush cleaner, wood preservative, varnish.

Look at labels for key word, like poison, danger, warning and caution.

Luckily, with home products, we can choose to reduce our exposure to many hazards. Making your own cleaners is the best and often cheapest alternative to hazardous cleaning products. Here is a list of some recipes for home cleaners that would not harm the earth.

Safe household products

Here are a few inexpensive common household basics that are effective and safe for many cleaning needs. They can replace most formulated brand items that are hazardous and overpriced:

Baking Soda: Common baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) is an all-purpose cleaner that removes odors and can be used as a polish, for cleaning teeth, even as an antacid. It is mildly abrasive, noncorrosive and safe to ingest. Baking soda is a strong cleaner that can be used on the oven, greasy clothes, car engine and as a foot bath.

Beeswax: You-can add melted beeswax to mineral oil to make a natural and durable furniture polish.

Borax: Ordinary powdered borax is effective as a light cleaner and for removing odors and preventing the growth of mold. You can find it in the supermarket laundry section. It is harmful if swallowed, however; keep it out of the reach of children.

Calamansi juice: At full strength or sometimes diluted, calamansi juice is an excellent cleaner and grease cutter-used by itself or in combination with other ingredients.

Mineral oil: A safe and odor-free petroleum oil, it works well as a wood and furniture polish. Mildly laxative c if ingested in small quantities, it can also be used to clean greasy hands. It is available in pharmacies.

Puresoap (Perla): blade without additives, bar or flake soap is gentle, effective cleaner for many -uses.

Vinegar: Common white vinegar is excellent at cutting grease, removing odors and preventing the growth of mold. Vinegar acts as an antiseptic: cleans mildew (add salt), toilet, windows, floors and kills ants.

Dishsoap: is a mild cleaner, can be used for: dishes, woolens, bathroom tub, tiles and toilet, windows, floors and-your car.

Cooking oil can be used to polish leather, wood, floors and furniture (add vinegar for furniture).


The Problem: Replace ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), anew generation of propellants which contain butane, isobutane and propane that laboratory studies show to be harmful to the heart and central nervous system.

The Solution: Do not buy aerosol cans.. If a spray is necessary, get a pump dispenser. (And you can save old pump dispensers to use when mixing your own cleaners.)

All purpose cleaners

The Problem: Many contain ammonia (which attacks your lungs? and chlorine (which forms cancer-causing compounds). Mixed together, they form a deadly chloramine gas.

The Solution: You can make your own light-duty cleaner by mixing 1/4 cup of liquid soap (such as Murphy's Oil Soap) or borax in a quart of hot water and adding a tablespoon of white vinegar or lemon juice to cut grease. Mix two teaspoons of borax and one teaspoon of soap in one quart of water for a cleaner you can store in a spray bottle.

Air fresheners

Commercial fresheners work by masking smells, coating nasal passages and deadening nerves to diminish the sense of smell;

· Find sources of odors and eliminate them; keep house and closets clean and well-ventilated; grow lots of house plants.

· To absorb odors, place two to four tablespoons of baking soda or vinegar in small bowls in the refrigerator and around the house and pour 1/2 cup of baking soda in the bottom of trash cans.

· For natural fragrance, boil sweet herbs and spices and allow the aroma to fill the air.

· Use ammonia only when other cleaners would not do the trick. Ammonia cuts heavy grease and grime,, but can be dangerous. Fumes irritate eyes and lungs and can be harmful to people with respiratory problems. Always provide good ventilation. Never mix ammonia with bleach or commercial cleansers; deadly fumes may form.


The Problem: Most contain highly toxic chemicals-such as ammonia, chlorine, cresol and phenol, whose fumes can even leak through the container.:

The Solution: Baking soda on a damp sponge will clean most surfaces, nooks, and crannies; an open box in a refrigerator deodorizes the air inside for up to three months. Use white vinegar or fresh lemon juice either full strength or diluted half and half with water. Another effective disinfectant is 1/2 cup borax mixed in one gallon hot water.

· For a hospital-quality disinfectant, use 1/4 cup of borax dissolved in 1/2 gallon of hot water. Keeping surfaces clean and dry reduces the need for disinfectants.

Scouring powder

The Problem: They contain chlorine, detergents and tale.

The Solution: Buy a chlorine-free brand such as Bon Ami (made of feldspar and soap) or make your own mix of table salt (or baking soda) -sprinkled on a sponge that has been moistened with equal parts of water and vinegar. You can also apply liquid soap to a surface and sprinkle with dolomite powder. Scour with steel wool. For safe bleaching add a pinch of sodium perborate.

· If available, buy powder without chlorine, colors, detergents, or talc; or scrub with a sponge or fine bristled brush, soap and one of the following: baking soda, borax or table salt.


The Problem: It contains chlorine, detergents, synthetic dyes and fragrance and hydrogen peroxide; Particularly dangerous if you mix it with ammonia.

The Solution: There's no single "magic" product. In some cases (such as cleaning wood surfaces), you can use lemon juice or vinegar. In other cases, washing with natural soap and drying clothes in sunlight make bleaching unnecessary.

- Substitute 1/2 cup of borax per washload to whiten whites and brighten colors. If needed, occasionally use powdered, nonchlorine bleach.


Add 1/3 cup of washing soda to water before placing clothes in machine and substitute soap flakes or- powder for detergent. Detergents are made from artificial chemicals and are not biodegradable.- When-making the initial switch from a detergent to a soap laundry cleaner, wash items once with washing soda only. This will eliminate detergent residues that might otherwise react with -soap to cause yellowing of fabrics. Add 1/2 cup of borax for additional cleaning powder. If you have hard water, use a phosphate-free detergent.

Dry cleaning

· Buy items you can wash or clean on your own. Most dry cleaning solvents, such as perchlorethylene, are toxic. If you must dry clean, air out clothing thoroughly before bringing indoors.


- Soak heavily soiled items in warm wafer with 1/2 cup of washing soda for 30 minutes. Rub soiled areas with liquid soap.

Spray starch

· Dissolve two tablespoons of cornstarch in one pint of cold water in a spray bottle. Shake before each use For delicate fabrics, dissolve one package of unflavored gelatine; or add two tablespoons of granulated sugar to two cups of hot water. Dip corner of fabric into solution to test if fabric becomes sticky when dry add more water:

Silver polish

· Submerge silver in water containing aluminum (foil) and salt. Wait a few minutes, remove and wipe dry. Tarnish should be gone.

Copper and brass polish

· Rub with tomato juice.

· Make a paste of calamansi juice and cream of tartar. Apply, leave on for five minutes and then rinse;

Ideas for Action:

A Technology Information Kit November 23 - 28, 1992