Household Toxins
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Household TOXINS




To download a list (revised Jan 25, 2002) of chemicals
known to the state of California to cause cancer and
reproductive toxicity, click HERE.      [.PDF -- 127 KB]


AIR FRESHENERS:   Most air fresheners interfere with your ability to smell by coating your nasal passages with an oil film, or by releasing a nerve deadening agent.   Known toxic chemicals found in an air freshener:
Formaldehyde:   Highly toxic, known carcinogen.
Phenol:   When phenol touches your skin it can cause it to swell, burn, peel, and break out in hives.   Can cause cold sweats, convulsions, circulatory collapse, coma and even death!!

AMMONIA:   It is a very volatile chemical, it is very damaging to your eyes, respiratory tract and skin.

BLEACH:   It is a strong corrosive.   It will irritate or burn the skin, eyes and respiratory tract.   It may cause pulmonary edema or vomiting and coma if ingested.   WARNING: never mix bleach with ammonia it may cause fumes which can be DEADLY.

:   Most formulas are designed to overpower the stain itself; they accomplish the task but not without using highly toxic substances.   Some include:
Perchlorethylene:   Known carcinogen that damages liver, kidney and nervous system.
Ammonium Hydroxide:   Corrosive, extremely irritable to eyes, skin and respiratory passages.

   Most products contain chlorine in a dry form that is highly concentrated.   The #1 cause of child poisonings, according to poison control centers.

DRAIN CLEANER:   Most drain cleaners contain lye, hydrochloric acid or trichloroethane.
Lye:   Caustic, burns skin and eyes; if ingested will damage esophagus and stomach.
Hydrochloric acid:   Corrosive, eye and skin irritant, damages kidneys, liver and digestive tract.
Trichloroethane:   Eye and skin irritant, nervous system depressant; damages liver and kidneys.


Petroleum distillates:   Highly flammable, can cause skin and lung cancer.
Phenol:   (see Air fresheners, Phenol.)
Nitrobenzene:   Easily absorbed through the skin, extremely toxic.

MOLD AND MILDEW CLEANERS:   Chemicals contained are:
Sodium hypochlorite:   Corrosive, irritates or burns skin and eyes, causes fluid in the lungs which can lead to coma or death.
Formaldehyde:   Highly toxic, known carcinogen.   Irritant to eyes, nose, throat, and skin.   May cause nausea, headaches, nosebleeds, dizziness, memory loss and shortness of breath.

Sodium Hydroxide (Lye):   Caustic, strong irritant, burns to both skin and eyes.   Inhibits reflexes, will cause severe tissue damage if swallowed.

Triclosan:   Absorption through the skin can be tied to liver damage.

Sodium or Calcium Hypocrite:   Highly corrosive, irritates or burns skin, eyes or respiratory tract.
Linear Alkylate Sulfonate:   Absorbed through the skin.   Known liver damaging agent.
Sodium Tripolyphosphate:   Irritates skin and mucous membranes, causes vomiting.   Easily absorbed through the skin from clothes.

Hydrochloric Acid:   Highly corrosive, irritant to both skin and eyes.   Damages kidneys and liver.
Hypochlorite Bleach:   Corrosive, irritates or burns eyes, skin and respiratory tract.   May cause pulmonary edema, vomiting or coma if ingested.   Contact with other chemicals may cause chlorine fumes which may be fatal.

- - - - - - - >    Other Nasty Things That Are Around Your Home

PESTICIDES:   Most pesticides have ingredients that affect the nervous system of insects.   Imagine what these extremely poisonous chemicals do to your body or your baby's.
Dimpylate:   Better known as Diazinon, extremely toxic.   Impairs the central nervous system.
Chlorinate Hydrocarbons:   Suspected carcinogen and mutantagen.   Accumulates in food and in fatty tissue.   Will attack the nervous system.
Organophosphates:   Toxic and poisonous.   If you can smell it, your lungs are absorbing it.

   Why put toxins on "man's (or woman's) best friend?"
Carbaryl:   Very toxic, causes skin, respiratory and cardiovascular system damage.
Chlordane:   Accumulates in the food chain, may damage eyes, lungs, liver, kidney and skin.
Dichlorophene:   Skin irritation; may damage liver, kidney, spleen and central nervous system.

LICE SHAMPOO:   Especially vulnerable are children.
Lindane:   Inhalation, ingestion, or ABSORPTION through the SKIN causes vomiting, diarrhea, convulsions and circulatory collapse.   May cause liver damage, stillbirths, birth defects and cancer.

Lice RX is a non-toxic alternative to pesticide based Head Lice Products.

Petroleum Distillates:   Associated with skin and lung cancer, irritant to skin, eyes, nose and lungs.   Entry into the lungs may cause fatal pulmonary edema, most marked danger.   Harmful or Fatal.


      If you're like most of us, you really don't give much thought to the products that you're using everyday.   After all, companies wouldn't sell products if they weren't safe...would they?   Besides that, there are government agencies looking out for our health and safety...aren't there?   Plus, we have laws on the books to protect us...don't we?

    Ø A product that kills 50% of lab animals through ingestion or inhalation can still get the "non-toxic" federal regulatory designation.

    Ø Of the 17,000 chemicals in household products, only 30% have been sufficiently tested for negative health effects; 10% have been tested for effects on our central nervous system; and nothing has been done to determine combined effects of these chemicals in our bodies.

    Ø There are no laws that require companies to include the exact ingredients on labels. And, chemical names are frequently disguised by trade names that you don't recognize so you may never know what's in the product.

In fact, the EPA found in one 5-year study that airborne chemical levels in homes were as much as 70 times higher inside than outside.

One 15-year study found that women who worked at home had a 54% higher death rate from cancer than women who worked outside the home.   The study concluded that the higher death rate was due to daily exposure to hazardous chemicals found in products we use everyday ... household cleaners, laundry detergents, personal care products and more.

A Carcinogen is a substance or agent producing or inciting cancer.   Today, cancer is the leading cause of death for women aged 35-74.   In 1901 cancer was considered a rare disease.   Statistics show that 1 out of 8000 persons had cancer.   TODAY, according to the American Cancer Society, 1 out of 3 people have cancer.   By the year 2010, 1 out of 2 persons will be touched by cancer.


              Create a Safe and Healthy Home
              Know your A B C's

              By : Dr. Joyce M. Woods

Dr. Joyce Woods worked as a medical/surgical nurse, public health nurse, nurse educator, nursing school administrator, occupational health consultant.   She holds Bachelor of Nursing, Bachelor of Arts (Specialist), Master of Education degrees, and has completed her Doctoral Degree in the area of "Indoor Air Pollution, and its Effect on Your Health"

Begin by thinking of your home as a toxic waste dump.   The average home today contains 62 toxic chemicals - more than a chemistry lab at the turn of the century.

    Ø More than 72,000 synthetic chemicals have been produced since WW II.

    Ø Less than 2% of synthetic chemicals in wide spread use have ever been tested for toxicity, birth defects or their mutagenic or carcinogenic effects.

    Ø The majority of chemicals have NEVER been tested for long-term effects.

    Ø An EPA survey concluded that indoor air was 3 to 70 times more polluted than outdoor air.

    Ø Another EPA study stated that the toxic chemicals in household cleaners are 3 times more likely to cause cancer than outdoor air.

    Ø CMHC reports that houses today are so energy efficient that "out gassing" of chemicals has nowhere to go, so it builds up inside the home.

    Ø We spend 90% of our time indoor, and 65% of our time at home. Moms, infants and the elderly spend 90% of their time in the home.

    Ø National Cancer Association released results of a 15-year study concluding that women who work in the home are at a 54% higher risk of developing cancer than women who work outside the home.

    Ø Cancer rates have almost doubled since 1960.

    Ø Cancer is the number one cause of death for children.

    Ø There has been a 26% increase in breast cancer since 1982. Breast cancer is the number one killer of women between the ages of 35 and 54.   Primary suspects are laundry detergents and bleach, household cleaners and pesticides.

    Ø There has been a call from the U.S./ Canadian Commission to ban bleach in North America. Bleach is being linked to the rising rates of breast cancer in women, reproductive problems in men and learning and behavioral problems in children.

    Ø Chemicals get into our body through inhalation, ingestion and absorption.

    Ø We breathe 10 to 20 thousand liters of air per day.

    Ø There are more than 3 million poisonings every year.   Household cleaners are the Number One cause of poisoning of children.

    Ø Since 1980, asthma has increased by 600%.   The Canadian Lung Association and the Asthma Society of Canada identify common household cleaners and cosmetics as triggers.

    Ø ADD/ADHD is an epidemic in schools today.   Behavioral problems have long been linked to exposure to toxic chemicals and molds.

    Ø Chemical and environmental sensitivities are known to cause all types of headaches.

    Ø Labeling laws do not protect the consumer - they protect big business.

    Ø The New York Poison Control Center reports that 85% of product warning labels are either inadequate or incorrect for identifying a poison and for first aid instructions.

    Ø Formaldehyde, phenol, benzene, toluene and xylene are all found in common household cleaners, cosmetics, beverages, fabrics and cigarette smoke.   These chemicals are known to be cancer causing and toxic to the immune and nervous systems.

    Ø Chemicals are attracted to, and stored in fatty tissue.   The brain is a prime target for these destructive organics because of its high fat content and very rich blood supply.

    Ø The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health has found more than 2500 chemicals in cosmetics that are toxic, cause tumors, reproductive complications, biological mutations and skin and eye irritations.

    Ø Fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, circulatory disorders, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's disease, irritable bowel syndrome, depression, and hormonal problems are diseases commonly related to chemical exposure.

    Ø Pesticides only have to include active ingredients on the labels, even though the inert (inactive) ingredients may account for 99%, many of which are toxic and poisonous.

Our homes should have a complete change of air 3 or 4 time a day.   New homes are built so air tight that it is impossible to get a complete change of air.   We should leave our windows open on each side of our house for better cross ventilation.

The Top three culprits according to Poison Control:
Household cleaners, bleach and medications.

Inert (or inactive) ingredients in products are protected by trade secrets and very dangerous.   In the work place Material Safety Data Sheets must accompany any product used.   The work place and the outdoors are considered "legal environments" while homes are not.   Thus, regulations for outdoor air pollution and toxins in the workplace are much more strict than in the home.

The ideal rate of humidity is between 35% and 45%.   Anything higher causes mold.   When we use humidifiers or dehumidifiers with standing water we are encouraging mold growth in the standing water.

The ideal temperature in the home is between 68 degrees and 72 degrees; anything higher makes chemicals more active.

When we shower, the hot water combined with the chlorine in the water can cause headaches.

Using aerosols can cause dizziness and headaches.

Steam from our dryer vents is extremely toxic, because of the chemicals from dryer sheets and residue from laundry soap and bleach.

Chemicals used to dry clean clothing are very dangerous and can cause cancer.   When you bring dry cleaning home, you should hang it outside for at least 3 days.   Dry-cleaning chemicals are the same cancer causing chemicals that are found in mothballs.

There are 4700 chemicals in tobacco smoke.

Chemicals from carpets and plastic have been found to cause kidney and liver damage.

More products that contain Formaldehyde:
    Ø   Antiperspirants
    Ø   Mouthwash
    Ø   Toothpaste
    Ø   Tupperware
    Ø   Baggies
    Ø   Permanent Press clothing
    Ø   Floor waxes and furniture polishes>
    Ø   Coffee
    Ø   Wax Paper
    Ø   Money
Some symptoms caused by formaldehyde are:    Allergies, cancer, immune system failings and asthma.

Products that contain Phenols:

    Ø   Acne medications
    Ø   Baking Powder
    Ø   Computers
    Ø   TV sets
    Ø   Mouthwash
    Ø   Sugar substitutes
    Ø   Wallpaper

Some symptoms caused by phenols (which are absorbed by lungs and skin) are:   Caustic burns, kidney and liver damage, hyperactivity and possibly even death.

Lysol® is even more dangerous than we thought.   Lysol® contains phenols and dioxin (Agent Orange).

When using chlorine, antiseptics or bleach in industrial settings you are required to wear impervious protective clothing including hard hats, boots, gloves, apron or coveralls, chemical goggles or full face shield.   You are required to use them only in well ventilated areas.

When using Easy Off® make sure all your skin is covered, wear protective clothing, do not breath in and don't get on your enamel (if this product will hurt the enamel on your stove, can you imagine what it will do to us).

Air fresheners desensitize the nerves in your nose so you cannot smell.

    1970 - NTA's were banned
    1980 - Lobbying by Proctor & Gamble brought back the use of NTA's in our products although they are extremely cancer causing.   What are they used for?   ONLY to make more suds in our laundry detergents so that you think your clothes are getting cleaner.

Our immune system is very powerful, like a janitorial system.   Giving our bodies good nutrition means our body can repair itself and be able to handle what we face in the world.

Household chemicals cause all kinds of problems that you would never suspect could be related to cleaning your home and clothes such as:   cardiovascular problems, panic and anxiety attacks, and bedwetting.

Eliminating the cause of the environmental illness is more effective and much less expensive than treating the symptom.

    Prevention:   80% - 90% effective

    Treatments:   50% - 60% effective

Fact Sheet: Safe Substitutes at Home:
Non-toxic Household Products

    This material was excerpted from:
    Safe Substitutes at Home: Non-toxic Household Products
    Gary A. Davis and Em Turner
    University of Tennessee - Knoxville Waste Management Institute
    Working Paper

The Household Toxics Tour

Toxic chemicals in the home can be eliminated simply by making thoughtful choices in the supermarket after educating oneself about where the hazards are in common consumer products. How can you determine what toxics you have in your home? Take this "toxics tour."

In the Kitchen

All-purpose cleaner, ammonia-based cleaners, bleach, brass or other metal polishes, dishwater detergent, disinfectant, drain cleaner, floor wax or polish, glass cleaner, dishwashing detergent, oven cleaner, and scouring powder contain dangerous chemicals. Some examples are:
    Ø   sodium hypochlorite (in chlorine bleach): if mixed with ammonia, releases toxic chloramine gas. Short-term exposure may cause mild asthmatic symptoms or more serious respiratory problems;

    Ø   petroleum distillates (in metal polishes): short-term exposure can cause temporary eye clouding; longer exposure can damage the nervous system, skin, kidneys, and eyes;

    Ø   ammonia (in glass cleaner): eye irritant, can cause headaches and lung irritation;

    Ø   phenol and cresol (in disinfectants): corrosive; can cause diarrhea, fainting, dizziness, and kidney and liver damage;

    Ø   nitrobenzene (in furniture and floor polishes): can cause skin discoloration, shallow breathing, vomiting, and death; associated with cancer and birth defects;

    Ø   formaldehyde (a preservative in many products): suspected human carcinogen; strong irritant to eyes, throat, skin, and lungs.
In the Utility Closet

A number of products are likely to contain toxic ingredients: carpet cleaner, room deodorizer, laundry softener, laundry detergent, anti-cling sheets, mold and mildew cleaner, mothballs, and spot remover all usually contain irritant or toxic substances.   Examples:

    Ø   perchloroethylene or 1-1-1 trichloroethane solvents (in spot removers and carpet cleaners): can cause liver and kidney damage if ingested; perchloroethylene is an animal carcinogen and suspected human carcinogen;

    Ø   naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene (in mothballs): naphthalene is a suspected human carcinogen that may damage eyes, blood, liver, kidneys, skin, and the central nervous system; paradichlorobenzene can harm the central nervous system, liver, and kidneys;

    Ø   hydrochloric acid or sodium acid sulfate in toilet bowl cleaner; either can burn the skin or cause vomiting diarrhea and stomach burns if swallowed; also can cause blindness if inadvertently splashed in the eyes;

    Ø   residues from fabric softeners, as well as the fragrances commonly used in them, can be irritating to susceptible people;

    Ø   possible ingredients of spray starch (aside from the starch) include formaldehyde, phenol, and pentachlorophenol; in addition, any aerosolized particle, including cornstarch, may irritate the lungs.
In the Living Room and Bedroom

Even the furnishings of the typical American home can be harmful.   Fabrics that are labeled "wrinkle-resistant" are usually treated with a formaldehyde resin.   These include no-iron sheets and bedding, curtains, sleep wear -- any woven fabric, but especially polyester/cotton blends, marketed as "permanent press" or "easy care."   More modern furniture is made of pressed wood products emits formaldehyde and other chemicals.   Carpeting is usually made of synthetic fibers that have been treated with pesticides and fungicide.   Many office carpets emit a chemical called 4-phenylcyclohexene, an inadvertent additive to the latex backing used in more commercial and home carpets, which is thought to be one of the chemicals responsible for "sick" office buildings.

In the Bath

Numerous cosmetics and personal hygiene products contain hazardous substances.   Examples:

    Ø   cresol, formaldehyde, glycols, nitrates/nitrosamines and sulfur compounds in shampoos;

    Ø   butane propellants in hair spray (replacing carcinogenic methylene chloride), as well as formaldehyde resins;

    Ø   aerosol propellants, ammonia, formaldehyde, triclosan, aluminum chlorhydrate in antiperspirants and deodorants'

    Ø   glycols, phenol, fragrance, and colors in lotions, creams, and moisturizers.
In the Studio or Hobby Room

Although legislation controlling many of the dangerous ingredients in hobby materials has recently been passed, exposure to certain art materials remains a health risk.   Dangerous chemicals and metals include:

    Ø   lead in ceramic glazes, stained-glass materials, and many pigments;

    Ø   cadmium in silver solders, pigments, ceramic glazes and fluxes;

    Ø   chromium in paint pigments and ceramic colores; Ø   manganese dioxide in ceramic colors and some brown oil and acrylic paint pigments;

    Ø   cobalt in some blue oil and acrylic paint pigments;

    Ø   formaldehyde as a preservation in many acrylic paints and photographic products;

    Ø   aromatic hydrocarbons in paint and varnish removers, aerosol sprays, permanent markers, etc.;

    Ø   chlorinated hydrocarbons (solvents) in ink, varnish, and paint removers, rubber cement, aerosol sprays;

    Ø   petroleum distillates (solvents) in paint and rubber cement thinners, spray adhesives, silk-screen inks;

    Ø   glycol ethers and acetates in photography products, lacquer thinners, paints, and aerosol sprays.
In the Garage

A number of dangerous substances are frequently present, including paint, paint thinner, benzene, kerosene, mineral spirits, turpentine, lubricating/motor oils, and gasoline.   Hazards among them include these chemicals:

    Ø   chlorinated aliphatic and aromatic hydrocarbons in paint thinner can cause liver and kidney damage;

    Ø   petroleum hydrocarbons, an ingredient of gasoline, motor oils, and benzene, are associated with skin and lung cancer;

    Ø   mineral spirits in oil-based paint are a skin, eye, nose throat, and lung irritant. High air concentrations can cause nervous system damage, unconsciousness and death;

    Ø   ketones in paint thinner may cause respiratory ailments; vary according to specific form of the chemical;

    Ø   ketones and toluene in wood putty; toluene in highly toxic, may cause skin, kidney, liver, central nervous system damage; may damage reproductive system.
In the Garden Shed

Pesticides, one of the most important single hazards in the home.   Around 1,400 pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides are ingredients in consumer products.   Combined with other toxic substances such as solvents, pesticides are present in more than 34,000 different product formulations.

On the Patio

Charcoal lighter fluid contains petroleum distillates.   Besides being flammable and imparting a chemical taste to food, some petroleum distillates contain benzene, a known human carcinogen.

Safe Substitues for Household Toxics

Until World War II and the zenith of the Chemical Age that followed war-related research, householders used a limited number of simple substances to keep most objects in the house clean, order-free, and pest-free.   Soap, vinegar, baking soda, washing soda, ammonia, borax, alcohol, cornstarch, and certain food ingredients were used to lift out spots and stains, deodorize, polish wood or metal, disinfect, scrub, repel pests, clean pets, wash and starch clothes, and to perform countless other household tasks.   Simple cosmetic preparations kept hair lustrous and skin supplied with the aid of ingredients such as eggs, oil, clay, vinegar, and herbs.

The garden was fertilized and pests were kept down with naturally occurring substances.   Weeds were weeded by hand.   Even though some natural pesticides, like nicotine and rotenone, were indeed toxic to humans, they were not persistent in the environment.   They degrade soon after application.   Pyrethrum, a pesticide derived from a variety of chrysanthemum which is nontoxic to mammals, controlled a wide spectrum of pests.   Although it is till widely used, it is usually mixed with other chemicals to increase its potency.

Buildings of the past were made with wood, brick, stone, glass, plaster, and cement.   Furniture was made of solid wood, oiled to keep it polished.   Rugs or carpets were made of wool or cotton.   Insulation was built in by making walls thick, and roofing was constructed from wood shingles or tiles of clay or stone.   Walls were plastered. Windows were made to be opened, so at least in good weather there was plenty of natural ventilation.

But toxic materials also were present in homes of the past.   Not knowing enough about their hazards, housewives used such chemicals as arsenic, lead, and mercury to perform certain household chores.   Interior and exterior paints were often made with lead; many American children are still living with the legacy of lead poisoning caused by eating chips of leaded paint.   Asbestos, called a miracle mineral when its fire-resistant properties were discovered, is now known to be a cancer causer that contaminates hundreds of thousands of residences, schools, and other buildings in this country.

We do not need to return to the ways of the past to avoid exposure to house toxics, but we can take some lessons from the past for a better future.   How can we do this?

But Safe Substitutes.   For example, search for a soap-based garden insecticide (at least one national brand is available) instead of chemically--based ones.   Appendix 1 for sources of safe substitutes.

When in Doubt, Leave it Out.   In cases where there is no effective safe substitute for a toxic product, reevaluate how important the goal really is.   Must you absolutely get rid of all insects in your garden, or can you live with some chewed-up leaves?   If the goal is absolutely imperative, such as ensuring that termites do not invade your house, it is important to educate yourself thoroughly.   You may have more healthful alternatives than your local pest company tells you.

Safe Substitutes in the Kitchen and Bath

One shelf of simple and relatively safe ingredients can be used to perform most home cleaning chores.   All that's needed is a knowledge of how they work and how different ingredients should be combined to get the cleaning power needed for a specific job.

Baking Soda is sodium bicarbonate.   It has a number of useful properties.   It can neutralize acid, scrub shiny materials without scratching, deodorize, and extinguish grease fires.   It can be used as a deodorizer in the refrigerator, on smelly carpets, on upholstery and on vinyl.   It can help deodorize drains.   It can clean and polish aluminum, chrome, jewelry, plastic, porcelain, silver, stainless steel, and tin.   It also softens fabrics and removes certain stains.   Baking soda can soften hard water and makes a relaxing bath time soak; it can be used as an underarm deodorant and as a toothpaste, too.

Borax is a naturally occurring mineral, soluble in water.   It can deodorize, inhibit the growth of mildew and mold, boost the cleaning power of soap or detergent, remove stains, and can be used with attractants such as sugar to kill cockroaches.

Cornstarch, derived from corn, can be used to clean windows, polish furniture, shampoo carpets and rugs, and starch clothes.

Isopropyl Alcohol is an excellent disinfectant.

Lemon Juice, which contains citric acid, is a deodorant and can be used to clean glass and remove stains from aluminum, clothes, and porcelain.   It is a mild lightener or bleach if used with sunlight.

Mineral Oil, derived from seeds, is an ingredient in several furniture polish and floor wax recipes.

Soap (NOT detergent) is made in several ways.   Castle soap can be used as a shampoo or as a body soap.   Olive-oil based soap is gentlest to the skin.   An all-purpose liquid soap can be made by simple dissolving the old ends of bar soap (or grated slivers of bar soap) in warm water.

Steel Wool is an abrasive strong enough to remove rust and stubborn food residues and to scour barbeque grills.

TSP is trisodium phosphate, a mixture of soda ash and phosphoric acid.   TSP is toxic if swallowed, but it can be used on many jobs, such as cleaning drains or removing old paint, that would normally require much more caustic and poisonous chemicals, and it does not create any fumes.

Vinegar is made from soured applied juice, grain, or wine.   It contains about 5 percent acetic acid, which makes it a mild acid.   Vinegar can dissolve mineral deposits, grease, remove traces of soap, remove mildew or wax buildup, polish some metals, and deodorize.   Vinegar can clean brick or stone, and is an ingredient in some natural carpet cleaning recipes.   Use vinegar to clean out the metallic taste in coffeepots and to shine windows without streaking.   Vinegar is normally used in a solution with water, but it can be used straight.

Washing Soda or SAL Soda is a sodium carbonate decahydrate, a mineral.   It can cut stubborn grease on grills, broiler pans, and ovens.   It can be used with soda instead of laundry detergent, and it softens hard water.   These items are available from drug and chemical-supply stores.

For common household tasks, try these nontoxic strategies using the above ingredients:

Freshen air by opening windows and doors for a short period; distribute partially filled dishes of vinegar around the kitchen to combat unpleasant cooking odors; boil cinnamon and cloves in a pan of water to scent the air; sprinkle 1/2 cup borax in the bottom of garbage pails or diaper pails to inhibit mold and bacteria growth that can cause odors; rub vinegar on hands before and after slicing onions to remove the smell; use bowls of potpourri to give inside air a pleasant scent.

All-purpose cleaner can be made from a vinegar-and-salt mixture or from 4 tablespoons baking soda dissolved in 1 quart warm water.

Disinfectant means anything that will reduce the number of harmful bacteria on a surface.   Practically no surface treatment will completely eliminate bacteria.   Try regular cleaning with soap and hot water.   Or mix 1/2 cup borax into 1 gallon of hot water to disinfect and deodorize.   Isopropyl alcohol is an excellent disinfectant, but use gloves and keep it away from children.

Drain cleaner.   Try a plunger first, though not after using any commercial drain opener. To open clogs, pour 1/2 cup baking soda down drain, add 1/2 cup white vinegar, and cover the drain.   The resulting chemical reaction can break fatty acids down into the soap and glycerine, allowing the clog to wash down the drain.   Again, do not use this method after trying a commercial drain opener -- the vinegar can react with the drain opener to create dangerous fumes.

Floor cleaner and polish can be as simple as a few drops of vinegar in the cleaning water to remove soap traces.   For vinyl or linoleum, add a capful of baby oil to the water to preserve and polish.   For wood floors, apply a thin coat of 1:1 oil and vinegar and rub in well.   For painted wooden floors, mix 1 teaspoon washing soda into 1 gallon hot water.   For brick and stone tiles, use 1 cup white vinegar in 1 gallon water and rinse with clear water.

Metal cleaners and polishes are different for each metal -- just as in commercial cleaners.   Clean aluminum with a solution of cream of tartar and water.   Brass may be polished with a soft cloth dipped in lemon-and baking-soda solution, or vinegar- and-salt solution.   Polish chrome with baby oil, vinegar, or aluminum foil shiny slide out.   Clean tarnished copper by boiling the article in a pot of water with 1 tablespoon salt and 1 cup white vinegar, or try differing mixtures of salt, vinegar, baking soda, lemon juice, and cream of tartar.   Clean gold with toothpaste, pewter with a paste of salt, vinegar, and flour.   Silver can be polished by boiling it in a pan lined with aluminum foil and filled with water to which a teaspoon each of baking soda and salt have been added.   Stainless steel can be cleaned with undiluted white vinegar.

Oven cleaner.   Sprinkle baking soda on moist surface and scrub with steel wool.   Or use Arm & Hammer Oven Cleaner, declared nontoxic by Consumers Union.

Scouring powder can be made from baking soda or dry table salt.   Or try Bon-Ami Cleaning Powder or Bon-Ami Polishing Cleaner.

Toilet bowl cleaner can be made from straight bleach (do NOT mix with any other substance except water), baking soda and vinegar, or borax and lemon juice.

Tub and tile cleaner can be as easy as rubbing in baking soda with a damp sponge and rinsing, or wiping with vinegar first and following with baking soda as a scouring powder.

Window and glass cleaner is easy with these tips: to avoid streaks, don't wash windows when the sun is shining.   Use a vinegar-and-water solution, cornstarch-vinegar-and-water solution, or lemon-juice-and-water.   Wipe with newspaper unless you are sensitive to the inks in newsprint.

Safe Substitutes for Laundry Products

Detergent is specially adapted to clean synthetic fabrics, and it has the added advantage of not leaving soil residues even in hard water.   However, detergents are generally derived from petrochemicals, and people sensitive to these compounds may find it hard to tolerate detergents or the fragrances they are scented with.   In addition, most detergents contain phosphates, which build up in streams and lakes and upset the natural balance in waterways, causing blooms of algae which deplete the dissolved oxygen fish need to live.   Some detergent may even contain naphthalene or phenol, both hazardous substances.

An effective alternative to using detergents is to return to soap.   Soap is an effective cleaner for natural fabrics, leaving such items as diapers softer than detergent can.   For cotton and linen, use soap to soften water.   A cup of vinegar added to the wash can help keep colors bright (but DO NOT use vinegar if you are using bleach -- the resulting fumes are hazardous).   One-half to three-quarters of a cup of baking soda will leave clothes soft and fresh smelling.   Silks and wools may be hand washed with mild soap or a protein shampoo, down or feathers with mild soap or baking soda.

For synthetic fabrics or blends (including most no-iron fabrics), there are biodegradable detergents on the market that do not contain phosphates, fragrances, or harsh chemicals.   They are often imported from Europe and are available at health food stores or by mail order.

Safe Substitutes for Personal Hygiene and Cosmetic Products

We use cosmetics and hygiene products for a fairly narrow range of reasons: to keep skin moist and supple; to clean hair without stripping it of natural oils; to eliminate unpleasant body or mouth orders; to prevent skin oiliness and clogged skin pores; and simply for the pleasure of relaxing and pampering ourselves with body-care or facial-care treatments.   The following ingredients can help achieve these purposes without the use of toxic additives, synthetic fragrances, or artificial colorings:

Moisturizers and conditioners: egg yolk, milk, yogurt, safflower oil (for light moisturizing), olive oil (for dry skin or hair), water, oatmeal, jojoba oil.

Astringents/after shaves: witch hazel, diluted isopropyl alcohol.

Deodorants: baking soda, white clay, deodorant crystals.

Toothpastes: baking soda, salt.

Soaps cleansing agents: castle soap, olive-oil based soap.

Perfumes:   Essential oils provide nontoxic fragrances that can be used to scent shampoo, bath soaks, or even, in the case of peppermint, to flavor toothpaste.

Although it's easy to make healthful alternatives to many cosmetic and hygiene products, any natural-foods store has a fairly wide selection of shampoos, moisturizers, toothpastes, after shaves, soaps, and bath products that do not contain the harmful ingredients in many commercial preparations.

Safe Substitutes for Art and Hobby Materials

There are some nontoxic choices that can be made when buying art or craft supplies, but because some techniques require certain materials, minimizing exposure may be the best you can do.

In painting and print making, ready-mixed water-based paints or inks can be used.   If you must be exposed to paint dust, use toxic dust respirator approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).   Ventilate the space thoroughly whenever using any kind of solvents, whether in painting or in lithography, intaglio, or photoetching.   Solvents also should be avoided while pregnant.

Enamels are usually lead-based, and can contain other toxic metals such as cadmium and nickel.   Use lead-free-enamels whenever possible, and make sure kilns are vented outside.

In pottery as well, outside vented kilns are important, as is a careful choice of materials -- most potters know to avoid lead glazes and lead frits, but many don't know that flint, feldspars, fluorspar, and some compounds containing barium, lithium, manganese, or nickel can also be toxic.   Children should avoid the pottery studio, as they are more highly susceptible to the toxics used in pottery than are adults.

Photography presents a number of toxic hazards which are difficult to avoid.   Minimize exposure to photo chemical by using gloves, mixing chemicals in a mixing box with holes in the sides for gloved hands, and providing adequate ventilation.   The Health and Welfare Office of Canada suggests at least 10 room air changes per hour.   Children under 12 should avoid the darkroom.

Safe Substitutes for Pesticides in Home and Garden

Against pests in the home, the best offense is a good defense.   The first step is to make the house -- especially the kitchen -- unattractive to insects by cleaning up food spills immediately, keeping hard-to-reach areas reasonably clean, and removing clutter that can hide pests.   Store foods attractive to pests, such as flour, in the refrigerator.   Water attracts pests, so leaky faucets and pipes should be promptly repaired.   Doors and windows should be well screened.   Cloths should be regularly cleaned and aired, and properly stored in paper or cardboard boxes sealed against moths.

A number of nontoxic substances can be used to repel insects.   Generally, they are highly fragrant or volatile herbs or spices.   Powdered red chill pepper, peppermint, bay leaves, cloves, citrus oil, lavender, rosemary, tobacco, peppercorns, and cedar oil can repel various types of insects.

Insects can be trapped and killed without resorting to dangerous chemicals: Generally a poison nontoxic to humans is mixed with a food that insects find attractive, and spread in the infested area.   Examples are oatmeal (attractive) and plaster-of-Paris (poisonous), and cocoa powder and flour (attractive) and borax (poisonous).   Old-fashioned flypaper -- not a hanging strip of insecticide -- is an effective trap.   For specific house pests, try these solutions:

For ants: sprinkle powdered red chill pepper, paprika, dried peppermint, or borax where the ants are entering.

For beetles: Kill manually when you see them.

For cockroaches: Mix by stirring and sifting 1 ounce TSP, 6 ounces borax, 4 ounces sugar, and 8 ounces flour.   Spread on floor of infested area.   Repeat after 4 days and again after 2 weeks.

For fleas: Feed pet brewer's yeast in powder mixed with food or by tablets.

For moths: Air clothes well in the sun; store in airtight containers, and scatter sachets of lavender, cedar chips, or dried tobacco in with clothing.

For rats and mice: Again, prevention may be the best cure.   Holes in exterior or interior walls should be closed off and storage spaces kept orderly.   Garbage should be kept tightly covered.   To catch rodents, the most efficient system is the oldest: a cat.   Next best are mouse and rat traps.

For termites: Any wooden parts of the house should be at least 18 inches off the ground, as subterranean termites cannot tolerate being exposed to air and light.   They have to build easily visible mud tunnels to get at available wood.   However, most existing houses have only about an 8-inch clearance between wooden parts and the ground, which makes the wood vulnerable.   Metal shields may help discourage termites, but they cannot prevent infestations.

To treat existing termite infestations, there are a few nontoxic alternatives: the "Extermax" system, available in California; and the use of a particular species of nematodes to eat them, a system available from N-Viro Products, Ltc.

For gardens: In hardware stores, look for new brands of safer insecticides that use soap-and water solution to get rid of aphids, or pyrethrum for a number of applications.   As more and more people understand the hazards of organic chemicals in the home, market pressure will encourage the introduction of safer products.

Several naturally derived pesticides exist which, in some cases, are less toxic to humans than the organophosphates, carbamates, or organochlorines now widely used.   Nicotine is the most toxic, poisonous both to humans and to other mammals, as well as to birds and fish.   It is not available commercially for home gardeners because of its hazards.   Rotenone, moderately toxic to humans, kills a wide range of insects; however, it should never be used near a waterway, as it is very toxic to fish.   Ryania kills only a few species, including the European corn borer, codling moth, and cranberry fruit worm.   Pyrethrum is relatively nontoxic to humans and only slightly toxic to aquatic life, so it may be the best choice for home gardens.   Sabadilla controls lice, leafhoppers, squash bugs, striped cucumber beetles, and chinch bugs.   It has low toxicity to wildlife, but it may be toxic to bees.

For lawns: Herbicides are most often used to kill "unsightly" weeds in gardens and yards, and by lawn care companies to maintain the perfect appearance of turf around homes and on lawns and golf courses.   Basically, the safe alternative to herbicides is simple: pull weeds by hand.   There are no really safe herbicides.

Safe Substitutes for the Patio

A simple and much more effective alternative exists for the charcoal lighter fluid used to start the backyard barbeque.   A metal, chimney-pipe cylinder, which holds the charcoal above a burning piece of newspaper and relies on the air flow under the charcoal to quickly bring it to glowing hot, is available at most discount stores.   It readies the charcoal for cooking much more quickly without the chemical taste and fire hazard of lighter fluid.

The Safe Home of the 21st Century

Because Americans spend approximately 90 percent of their time indoors, it is crucial to make the home environment as safe as possible.   Indoor pollutants have proliferated in recent years, often either because modern construction techniques and furnishings manufacturers utilize hazardous materials or because consumers do not know enough about the products they buy to make informed choices.

But safe, nontoxic alternatives exist for nearly every real need around the home, and the search for them may help consumers distinguish between what they really do need, and what may be "luxuries" that could compromise their families' health.

Disclaimer:   Any mention of a brand name or company is for the reader's convenience and does not constitute endorsement by TVA.

Last Updated: November 13, 1995


Larry W. White
Orange TKO Industries


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