Cleaning, and the products we use to clean, is a bigger consideration than ever. And while much of the focus has been on disinfecting to reduce the transmission of the novel coronavirus, cleaning in general — how, how often, with what products — is a thing people are spending more time thinking about, especially when it comes to safety.
Cleaning products can protect you from disease, but they can also sicken you if they contain toxic chemicals or other irritants. If you’re concerned that the products you use to clean your home aren’t safe, and are considering switching to more natural cleaning products, here are expert tips on how to do so without sacrificing quality or busting your budget.
Why make the switch to natural cleaners?
Natural cleaners offer a number of benefits — some of which may surprise you. The biggest benefit of switching to natural cleaning products is reducing exposure to toxic chemicals in the home. “Think about it: We’re spraying these cleaners all over our homes, inhaling and touching whatever is in the mixture as we spray it — and long after it’s been applied to every surface,” says Kate Kordsmeier, who runs the holistic living and wellness blog Root and Revel.
Cindy LeBow, the founder of Great Green Cleaning and Disinfecting Services, learned this from experience; she made the switch to natural products to protect her staff of housekeeping professionals. “I found that toxic cleaners would make my staff sick, burn their skin, hurt their lungs and eyes and cause allergic reactions,” she says.
The benefits of switching to natural cleaners extend beyond human exposure to toxic chemicals. Reducing your household’s use of products that include synthetic colorants and fragrance, phthalates, ammonium, etc. — as well as avoiding disposable products like dusting wipes or single-use mopping pads — means reducing the damage conventional cleaning products do to the environment.
And, despite a reputation for costliness, switching to natural cleaners can actually save you money by reducing the number of total products used to clean the home. “We have been trained to need a plethora of chemical-filled products for different cleaning purposes,” says Jordan Berry and Cindee Black, founders of the organic cleaning line Black and Berry Living, “but it’s unnecessary, because natural cleaners can tackle multiple cleaning jobs.”
Natural cleaning pitfalls and how to avoid them
While there are many good reasons to switch to natural cleaning products, there are drawbacks: They can be more expensive than traditional products, and many people find they simply don’t clean as well. “Not all natural brands perform as well as the chemical combinations in conventional brands, and the ingredients can come at a higher cost,” Kordsmeier says.
She suggests reading product reviews to find out which ones people like best, and shopping at places like Amazon, where those products can often be found at affordable prices. Using the right tools for the job can also boost the efficacy of natural cleaners. Switching to reusable microfiber cloths (which remove buildup like soap scum and grime better than cotton rags or paper towels), using scrub brushes on tough jobs and giving the products time to do their job can all help to make cleaning with natural products more effective.
The experts we spoke to all agreed that it’s important to read the labels on products that claim to be natural but that actually contain toxic ingredients. “Don’t get fooled by ‘greenwashing’ — if a product has [artificial] colors and perfumes, just don’t use it,” LeBow says, even if the product is branded as natural or green.
How to make the switch to natural cleaners
When it comes to switching to natural cleaners, simplicity should be the goal. “Keep it simple — you only really need a handful of products. Don’t overwhelm yourself. Don’t spend a ton of money,” LeBow says.
Berry and Black echo the advice to keep it simple, especially when it comes to ingredients, adding, “Read labels and pick a product with ingredients you understand.” To make it easier to easily identify quality products, they suggest finding a brand that you trust and sticking with its entire range to take the guesswork out of shopping.
Kordsmeier encourages people looking to make the switch to natural cleaners to consider going the DIY route. “If you really want to do it on the cheap, I recommend making your own cleaning products,” she says.
Best natural cleaning products
These are the products and brands the experts we spoke to named as their favorite natural cleaners — the ones that they reach for over and over to tackle messes in the kitchen, bathroom, laundry room and beyond.
“We use Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds for almost everything,” LeBow says. “It’s a great general cleaner — window cleaner, stainless cleaner, leather cleaner, grease cutter, floor cleaner and more.”
Dr. Bronner’s 4-in-1 Organic Sugar Soap ($13.49; amazon.com)
Berry and Black also recommend the Dr. Bronner’s products. “We are big Dr. Bronner’s fans! They are a trusted brand that never disappoints,” they say. They like the 4-in-1 soap that can be used as hand soap, shampoo, body and face wash.
Smart Sheep Wool Dryer Balls ($16.95; amazon.com)
Kordsmeier uses wool dryer balls instead of dryer sheets, which contain chemicals and fragrances that can cause respiratory and skin irritation. “I made the switch years ago to wool dryer balls and have never looked back!” People who are allergic to wool can opt for dryer balls made of PVC.
Grab Green Natural Bleach Alternative Pods ($13.60, originally $16; amazon.com)
Kordsmeier avoids using chlorine bleach entirely, but for brightening up whites, she uses these bleach alternative pods alongside her regular laundry detergent.
Bar Keepers Friend Multipurpose Powdered Cleanser ($7.97; amazon.com)
LeBow calls Bar Keepers Friend her “favorite scrubbing powder.” She uses it for scouring grout, and for restoring stained and scratched metal pots and pans to their former beauty.
White vinegar is a staple of DIY cleaning product recipes like the ones Kordsmeier offers on her website, and, as LeBow notes, “plain white vinegar kills mold more effectively than any other product.”
Bioesque Botanical Disinfectant Solution ($19.89, originally $20.98; amazon.com)
Bioesque is an EPA-approved, hospital-grade botanical-based disinfectant with notes of lemongrass and thyme. “We use this for all deep-touch cleaning and disinfecting,” LeBow says.
All Purpose Cleaning Concentrate, Set of 2 ($6.95; grovecollaborative.com)
Kordsmeier chooses to DIY most of her cleaning products, using inexpensive ingredients like white vinegar and Sal’s Suds, but she said that the subscription-based brand Grove Collaborative makes plant-based cleaning concentrates that “work like gangbusters.” This two-pack includes all-purpose cleaner and tub and tile cleaner. You can also buy a cleaning concentrate kit that includes all-purpose cleaner, glass and tile cleaner, a spray bottle and a microfiber cloth.
Dry Rite Microfiber Cloths ($10.95; amazon.com)
LeBow emphasized the importance of using good-quality microfiber cloths for cleaning. “Microfiber alone can remove over 98% of organic matter from a surface with just water,” she explains.
Amazer Scrub Brush, 2-Pack ($8.99; amazon.com)
Think how much easier scrubbing your tub, shower and sink will be with these scrub brushes.