Dish Detergent: Eat It and Breathe It

OK, so I don’t really think you should eat or breathe your dish detergent, but you could be doing so already.

Dishwasher Detergent

It is common for some residue to be left on dishes coming from the dishwasher, and while the dishwasher is running, a great deal of steam is being put out into your home environment. If there are toxic ingredients in your detergent, guess what you’re ingesting and inhaling?

I switched from “standard” Costco brand dishwasher detergent to a natural one a few years ago when I read that cancer patients should have their dishes run through the cycle without detergent to avoid the tax on the immune system. Well, I didn’t think taxing the immune system was a good idea for the rest of us either. So I tried a dish powder from BioKleen. It worked OK. I switched to the Trader Joe’s brand for a better price, and I think that it may be the exact same product (TJ’s uses other manufacturers in some of their private label goods).

After months of using these cleaners, I noted a few things:

  • Pro: there was no bleach odor coming from the dishwasher while it ran.
  • Con: the glasses began to have a white residue build up on the outsides (bottoms), and sometimes had small granules of white powder on the inside.

I could scrub that white film off by hand (totally planning to do this when the kids leave for college . . .) but the granules inside? We might be eating that if I don’t wipe each time. So recently I switched to liquid dishwasher soap.

A friend who had just switched to the BioKleen liquid dishwasher soap warned me that it wasn’t getting her dishes clean, so I bought the Seventh Generation product which smells like grapefruit.

I think it is working well, although I noticed that I have to rinse and brush my silverware clean of stuck-on food, as there are no granules to act as an abrasive for scrubbing them off.

It also looks to me like this detergent may be slowly removing some of the white film from my glasses, but I may just be imagining it.

When you look for a detergent, make sure it is free of chlorine bleach, phosphates, and EDTA. All are toxic, both to your home environment/family and to everything living downstream from you.

Dish Liquid (for washing by hand)

Here’s some good news: of all the soaps and cleansers in our homes, the liquid dish detergent we use for washing up by hand is likely the least toxic if it does not have Triclosan in it (the FDA just recently stated that, based upon animal studies, there is valid concern that Triclosan can have an impact on the endocrine (hormonal) system). Otherwise, this can happily wait for replacement until you’ve run out of your current soap.

I have been quite happy with the BioKleen Dish Liquid. Lovely fragrance, cuts grease but doesn’t strip my hands, and foams up well. Get it at 15% off from; I get mine through my local food co-op/drop for greater savings.

Tip: In addition to washing up dishes and other kitchen surfaces, dish soap works well to get oil stains out of clothing (think butter and peanut butter stains on kid clothes). Dawn detergent is the BEST for this, as it is an awesome grease cutter, but it’s not a natural product, so if you use it avoid touching it to your skin. Use your dish liquid full strength on the stain, let set for half an hour, rinse in the sink, then launder. Dish liquid is far too foamy for washing machines, so never add it to your load or you may have a huge mess on your hands!

Clean Floors: Bliss to My Feet

I love it when my carpets are freshly vacuumed, and my hard floors are freshly mopped (as they are right now!). Bliss to my feet!

Clean floors are an important part of home health, especially if there are babies in the home who spend a good portion of their time on the floor. Those sweet little hands that crawl on the floor. . . they go right into the mouth, don’t they?

Shoe Removal

In addition to keeping floors much cleaner through the week, shoe removal contributes to a healthy home. Most parents are aware of the hazard of lead from paint, and its toxic effect to children. Since I’ve only lived in homes built after 1978 since becoming a parent, I did not pay much attention to these warnings. Then I learned that children can still be exposed to lead through roadside dirt that has been tracked into the home (roadside dirt generally has a high concentration of lead from exhaust residue which came before lead was banned from gasoline).

Of course, I don’t do a lot of walking along major roadsides. But it did get me thinking about what else might be coming in on my shoes. From the grocery store, and occasional public restroom, to the library and local farm for eggs and milk, my shoes go many places and must have an entire mini ecosystem of bacteria and filth living on them.

And so I began removing my shoes when I enter my home, and requiring my children to do the same. It did help that we moved to a home with new carpet around that time, and the No-Shoes-on-Carpet rule became so ingrained into my children that they are now self-appointed Shoe Police, ordering all to drop their dirty duds.

Large metal bins, placed both near the front and back doors, help contain the pile of little shoes and boots that now reside near the doors.

Cleaning Floors

  • Carpets: vacuum with a strong vacuum. For spots, first blot or scrub with plain water and a terry cloth rag (old wash cloth). If it doesn’t release, use a soap-based non-aerosol carpet/upholstery shampoo. I have had good results on both carpet and upholstery with Howard Naturals Upholstery Cleaner. Equal parts vinegar and water can neutralize urine odors.
  • Hard Floors: Sweep all loose debris from floors, then mop and wipe dry.

    • For vinyl, tile, and varnished wood floors, use 2 gallons warm water and 1 cup of vinegar.
    • For Linoleum floors, use 1/4 cup vegetable oil based liquid soap in 2 gallons warm water.

    I put the solution in a bucket, and wash the floor with a rag while on my hands and knees. I use an old bath towel to dry behind as I go. More difficult than a mop? Absolutely, but a mop is really just a filthy sponge that gets used and reused on floors without cleanings in between. If you have a mop where the cleaning rag can be removed and laundered between use, awesome! Since mine was the old sponge type, I chucked it in favor of a truly clean floor. I always have a laundry load of rags to launder together in hot water and oxygen bleach at the end of cleaning day.

Cloth Wipes for Diapering

Of all the baby care products which I believe commonly give the most toxic exposure to babies, disposable wipes top the list (it’s a close contest with lotion/chemical sunscreen).

I had carefully chosen every natural shampoo, soap, and lotion for my first two babies. So imagine my horror when my third baby was 6 months old and I finally turned over the Huggies wipes to read the ingredients. I discovered a list of chemicals I wasn’t comfortable with, including methylparaben, which I knew to be highly associated with breast cancer. And, whereas I only bathed my babies once or twice a week (thereby minimal exposure to baby shampoo), I wiped this concoction on their genitals several times a day! (Note: don’t be fooled by the “Natural Care” line from Huggies . . . the addition of Aloe and Vitamin E hardly makes up for the all the chemicals still in them.)

I looked into “natural” wipes, and these are an OK option if you can afford the price. I still buy Earth’s Best wipes or Seventh Generation wipes from for keeping in the diaper bag.  But I felt that these would be too costly for daily use, and on the raving recommendation from a friend, I plunged into cloth wipes.

Actually, I plunged into cloth diapering, but that is the subject for another post. Even with a paper diaper, cloth wipes are a huge step away from chemicals for your baby. And it’s really simple.

  1. You’ll need to obtain the wipes themselves. I purchased organic cotton flannel wipes, which are just a piece of flannel with the edges serged. A friend made nearly the same thing by zig-zagging inside a pinking-sheared edge, cut from an old receiving blanket. That is far more economical than the $1 each which I paid. I have 12 of these, and they work better than any disposable wipe I’ve tried, including Huggies with their thick texture. I also have some polyester terry “baby washcloths” in my stash . . . I don’t think they work quite as well, but I already had them, so they are a fall back. My latest addition has been Kissaluvs Terry Wipes, which are amazing for messy diapers. The thick cotton terry loop really does clean up really, really well. I have 6 of these. The number you need on hand will depend on how many you use per change, and how often you do laundry. With roughly 24, and doing laundry every 2-3 days, I’ve never run out.
  2. You’ll need a way to wet the wipe. When I first started with cloth wipes, I tried loading them into the old Huggies tub, and spraying them down with my wipe solution. However, they tended to get sour in the bottom of the container before I could use them. Now I keep the dry wipes in a stack at the changing table, and either wet one in the sink with warm water, or squirt one in my hand with my wipes solution. (I’ve also heard of spraying the bum directly.)
    I make my solution in a squirt-top bottle (most moms will have that peri-bottle that came home with them from the hospital) with water and lemon witch hazel. I fill the bottle nearly full with water, then squirt a little witch hazel in the top, shake, and the whole thing is a smell-great cleansing solution. (Note: witch hazel feels great on healthy skin, but if your baby develops a rash/broken skin it could sting; in this case, go to something more mild, like natural baby wash/shampoo in the water, or just plain water.)
  3. Since you aren’t disposing of these wipes, you’ll need to launder them. If you plan to use cloth diapers, process them right along with them. If you are using paper diapers, then rinse poopy wipes out in a utility sink before adding them into the load with underwear. To keep things sanitary, I wash our family’s underwear separate from kitchen towels and napkins. The underwear load (which would include your wipes, and any other baby clothes which have succumbed to a wet-through or blow-out) should have an initial wash cycle in cold, with half the detergent amount. This is to wash out the fluids/solids still on the fabric. Then a full wash cycle in the hottest water your machine will set for, with half the amount of detergent, and a scoop of oxygen bleach for sanitation. Line dry in anti-bacterial sunshine, or in the dryer on hot.

Bathroom Product Change-Out

This month, make it your goal to change over at least one of your bathroom chemicals to a non-toxic cleanser. This can be as easy as putting a “green” spray in your cart at the grocery store, or as resourceful as making your own.

When shopping for a pre-made cleaner, look for one with safe ingredients – and you’ll need to look up that product at the ewg database to kno. Although cleaning products labeled nontoxic, bio-based, chlorine-free, organic, phosphate-free, natural fragrance, and/or biodegradable sound great, they still may have nasty chemicals lurking in them.

Which product to begin with? I suggest changing the one you spray most often (and therefore are inhaling most). For me, this is my all-purpose spray. I used to be the Lysol Queen . . . no longer; now I clean with vinegar water or with fresh smelling All Purpose Cleaner from BioKleen. Read my series on How To Get a Really Clean Bathroom.

Alternately, you could assess which is your most toxic chemical by looking for Danger, or Caution warnings on the bottle. Of course, over time you’ll want to replace all your chemicals with non-toxic products, but if you replace just one spray cleaner or bottle marked Danger, you’re off to a great start!

What to do with the discarded cleanser? Contact the hotline of your waste management company; most have drop-off locations available for household toxic waste. Don’t be tempted to huck it in the trash or dump it in the toilet; both could cause toxic leaching into your drinking water for years to come.

How to get a Really Clean Bathroom (without asphyxiating yourself in the process)

Everyone knows how to clean a bathroom, right? Just grab your aerosol can of mega-disinfectant, spray everything in sight, wipe with a paper towel, swish the toilet with a brush, and shine the mirror with a fragranced blue liquid, and you’re done.

Perfectly clean. Or is it?

In addition to the sizable amount of grime left behind by this method, numerous toxic chemicals are left on the surfaces of your fixtures for hours or days. Not to mention all the dangerous vapors you had to inhale as you sprayed those products.

What if we cleaned our dishes this same way; some disinfectant spray and a paper towel for all the silverware and glasses after a party? Yuk, I’m not sticking that in my mouth. Although I never plan to put my mouth on my toilet, the same concept holds true: a soapy water wash is a cleaner clean.

It’s time for a new paradigm in bathroom clean.

A non-toxic clean:

  • Isn’t complicated, you’ll use items already in your kitchen
  • Can be much more affordable than using standard chemical products
  • Means you will remove the grime and odors, not cover them with disinfectants and fragrances

Read my post on Washing the Bathroom to get a blow-by-blow (albeit mundane) how-to on getting a really clean bathroom.

Step 1: Preclean Toilet

As the dirtiest part of the bathroom, the toilet should take first consideration on a precleaning. Your goal is to wipe up any gunk, hair, and yuk that you can SEE, before you come back and WASH the toilet in a few minutes. As you wipe, keep folding the paper towel to use an unsoiled area of the towel, discarding the towel when fully soiled.

  • Using the vinegar spray and paper towel, start with the top of the tank and the top of the lid (this is mostly dusting).
  • Move to spraying and wiping the area behind and around the lid bolts.
  • Then spray and wipe all around the outside of bowl including where it is bolted to the floor and the immediate floor around it.
  • Open the lid and spray and wipe the seat, under the seat, and top of bowl.
  • Lastly, spray into the toilet bowl all the surfaces not under the water, and wipe away any gunk you can see.
  • Throw the soiled paper towel(s) into the trash and flush the toilet.
  • Prepare for washing the toilet by sprinkling the toilet lip and inside of bowl with baking soda.

Go to Step 2: Preclean Vanity.

Step 2: Preclean Vanity

  • Before actually cleaning the vanity area, it is necessary to remove all the stuff that can makes its way onto the countertop; put away personal care products, medication, toothbrushes, and jewelry. Move candles and/or any other decorative items to a different area so they are protected and you can clean under them.
  • Next, spray the mirror and vanity with the vinegar water, and buff with a dry rag. If you notice streaks on the mirror, this is from the previous glass cleaners you have used which leave a film. You can add a small amount (1/8 tsp) of liquid castile soap or liquid dishwashing soap to your vinegar spray and this should help wash away that old film. Next time you make up your vinegar spray it should be unnecessary to add this.
  • Once the mirror has been shined, wipe the counter clean of dust, cosmetic spills, and hair, thoroughly rinse rag in the sink.

Go to Step 3: Wash Vanity and Sink.

Step 3: Wash Vanity and Sink

  • Respray vanity area and faucet with vinegar spray. Using your thoroughly rinsed rag, scrub counter and backsplash tiles, paying close attention to edges and ledges that collect dust, and to any areas with dried on toothpaste or other gunk.
  • Sprinkle about 1/8 cup baking soda in the sink. Add water as necessary to make a thick paste
  • Scrub all areas of the sink
  • Scrub and wipe all the areas around the faucets to remove gunk and mineral buildup, rinsing your rag as necessary
  • Next, pull the drain stopper out of the drain. If you have not cleaned it for awhile this will be disgusting, however, it must be cleaned, and next week it won’t be so filthy. Pull off any hair balls with attached muck, and flush down toilet. Use the soda paste in the sink to scrub away all the black muck on the stopper, rinsing periodically as you go. Scrub the top of the drain, and wipe around the inside of it an inch or so.
  • Rinse the entire sink and replace stopper.
  • Retrieve those decorative countertop items, wipe them free of dust, and replace.
  • If you have oversprayed or splatter the mirror with water, rewipe those areas with a dry cloth.

Go to Step 4: Mop Floor.

Step 4: Mop Floor

Note: this recipe is suitable for vinyl flooring. Check out cleaner recipes for tile, wood, and linoleum. If you have carpet in your bathroom, I highly recommend replacing it right away with a hard surface which will not harbor bacteria, biological waste, and dust mites. In the meantime, vacuum for dust and lightly spray with vinegar water to reduce urine odors.

Prepare a mop bucket with 4-6 quarts warm water and 1/2 cup vinegar.

  • Vacuum or sweep entire floor, removing the wastebasket and other items on floor.
  • Using a rag wet in the bucket solution and wrung out, wipe floor surface, starting at the bathroom door and working towards the toilet.
  • Continue to rinse the rag in the bucket as you clean, paying attention to the edges of the floor and baseboards as these are dusty areas. You may want to fold an old towel/rag for your knees to rest on, and to use to wipe up any water left behind.
  • The greatest amount of bacteria and grime will be in immediate area around the toilet, so it makes sense to finish with this area rather than spreading the grime around the bathroom.

Go to Step 5: Wash Toilet.

Step 5: Wash Toilet

  • With floor rag, wash the exterior of the toilet tank, continuing to rinse the rag in the bucket.
  • Pay attention to the area where the toilet is bolted to the floor. This make require multiple scrubbings to come clean. Wash as far as you can reach around the back of the bowl, and in all crevices.
  • The baking soda which you left in and on the toilet at the end of your precleaning will help to deodorize and scour away mineral deposits. Wash the entire inside of bowl, using the rag and soda to scrub under the lip where stains are not visible from overhead. Flush, holding tightly to rag to rinse it. Repeat soda scrubbing if necessary. For tough mineral deposits, a scouring stick will do the trick; removing the water from the bowl may be necessary to allow it to work effectively.
  • Once the cleaning rag has cleaned the toilet/toilet area, it is fully soiled, and should be laundered and disinfected before it is used again for cleaning. The solution in the bucket should be discarded and the bucket washed out.

Go to Step 6: Hydrogen Peroxide Spray.