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Everyone wants their home to be a sanctuary; a safe and healthy space where you can find nourishment, rest and relaxation. Keeping your space clean is an important way to maintain a healthy home that supports your health and wellbeing.
We clean our homes to reduce our exposure to contamination and chemicals, and to minimize harmful organisms. There are lots of organisms living inside your home, including yourself, your house plants and the millions of microbes that live on our bodies.
These small life forms are an essential part of life. Some microbes support our health by boosting our immune systems, protecting us from auto-immune disease, detoxifying our bodies and fighting off stress. While others can cause sickness and disease like bladder or ear infections, food poisoning, lockjaw and hepatitis A. We call the harmful variety germs, and they can include species of bacteria, viruses, fungi and protozoa.
Since germs can show up all over your home, how can you manage them naturally? For this post I focused on how to naturally clean and disinfect your home.
Topics in this post:
Hot spots for household germs
Lots of studies have looked at where the most germs are in our homes. (For instance, this rubber duck study will make you rethink what goes in the tub!) NSF International’s 2011 study showed that the 10 dirtiest household items are (from more to less dirty): sponges, dish rags, kitchen sinks, toothbrush holders, pet bowls, coffee reservoirs, bathroom faucet handles, pet toys, counter tops, stove knobs and cutting boards.
Most studies agree that:
- Moist areas are worse than dry areas (i.e. a biofilm of microorganisms can grow when water touches hard surfaces).
- Soft porous materials are worse than hard, cold surfaces (i.e. towels absorb water and germs).
How to manage household germs naturally
There are lots of chemical-based cleaning products to rid your home of germs. But sometimes the negative health impacts of these products can be worse than from germs! Chemical exposure can cause acute and chronic health issues such as asthma in infants and children, and chronic inflammation and worsened respiratory disease symptoms in adults.
You can manage harmful germs in your home naturally by cleaning and disinfecting with natural ingredients and non-toxic cleaning products. Cleaning helps to reduce the numbers of harmful germs and reduce the risk of spreading infection. While disinfecting kills germs on surfaces.
Key steps to a cleaner home
How you clean is as important as what you clean with. We often clean and disinfect too fast to let ingredients and products do their job correctly. Give that floor a thorough vacuum, and scrub tiles well. Leave disinfectants on surfaces for at least a few minutes (some product labels even recommend 10 minutes). In most cases, the longer, the better.
I like this process for maximum impact:
- Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Put on gloves to protect your skin from contact with ingredients and products.
- Thoroughly clean surfaces to remove germs, dirt and impurities.
- Disinfect the surfaces you just cleaned.
- Clean and disinfect your cleaning supplies (think sponges, scrubbers, etc.)
Essential natural cleaning ingredients
There are lots of common household ingredients that you can clean with. Our favourite cleaning and disinfecting ingredients are simple (and sometimes even edible!). I keep these cleaning agents on hand:
- Distilled white vinegar: Great for dissolving mineral scale and soap scum and inhibiting mold. Also useful for removing stains like rust, coffee or tea. Use a concentration of 5% or greater. Avoid using on marble, granite or stone countertops.
- Lemons: The citric acid in lemons breaks down dirt, stains, grime and buildup like rust and limescale. As an antibacterial and antiseptic, lemon reduces smells, mildew and mold too. It can even be used as natural bleach (for instance, people with lighter coloured hair can lighten their hair by squeezing on lemon juice before going into the sun).
- Baking soda: Sprinkle some on to clean, deodorize, brighten and cut through proteins, grease and animal messes. This gentle abrasive is great for scouring surfaces without scratching them. You can use it as a deodorizer and whitener for laundry too.
- Essential oils: Oils like tea tree, eucalyptus, lavender, lemon and lemongrass can cleanse surfaces, and purify and freshen the air. Tea tree is also naturally antimicrobrial, antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal. Eucalyptus oil also has disinfectant properties, and is known as being naturally antibacterial. Do not ingest or put essential oils directly on your skin, unless directions say it’s safe to do so.
- Castile soap: This 100% plant-based soap that cuts through grease, and can be diluted for cleaning all around the house.
- Salt: Use salt as a gentle scouring agent for tough to remove stains and spills. It can also enhance the cleaning and deodorizing action of other cleaning ingredients. Use salt crystals gently on materials that scratch easily. It’s safe to use on appliances, enamel, porcelain, wood, cast iron, brass, copper, glass and other materials.
Safer, non-toxic disinfectants
Disinfectants can tackle lots of different types of bacteria and impurities. As well as yeasts, fungi, viruses and mold spores. All disinfectants should be used in a space with good airflow and ventilation, no matter how natural or non-toxic they are. Disinfectants can be powerful and sometimes corrosive, so they’re not good to use for every type of surface or material.
For safer disinfectants, I like to use:
- Isopropyl (Rubbing) Alcohol: Use 70% concentrations (99% evaporates too quickly) to kill microbial bacteria, fungi and viruses on areas like kitchen counters, toilets, laptops and cell phones. Don’t use it on finished surfaces to avoid taking their varnish off. It also removes stains from some fabrics like ink, grass, grease or sap. But avoid using it with delicate or synthetic fabrics like acetate, rayon, wool and silk. Never mix isopropyl alcohol with bleach, or else you risk creating toxic and corrosive fumes.
- Hydrogen peroxide (3%): This non-corrosive disinfecting agent kills yeasts, fungi, bacteria, viruses and mold spores in areas like bathrooms and kitchens. Hydrogen peroxide is safe to dispose, and doesn’t have odor or respiratory irritation issues. However, it can cause serious eye damage if you come into contact with it, and there are some concerns with using it on brass, zinc, copper and nickel/silver plating.
While isopropyl alcohol and hydrogen peroxide will kill viruses, not all disinfectants are effective against all viruses. If you’re trying to target a specific type of virus (like COVID-19), I strongly recommend that you look at lists of approved ingredients and products provided by your local government and non-governmental organization.
Simple DIY recipes for home cleaning & disinfecting
Some of these natural and non-toxic ingredients can be used for cleaning on their own. And they can be combined into powerful recipes. It’s good to have some spray and pump bottles on hand (glass is best, but plastic will do) to make your own recipes whenever you want.
All Purpose Cleaner
This recipe is great for many household items, including counter tops (as long as they’re not marble, granite or stone). It can also be used for cabinetry, coffee and end tables, handles for doors, fridges, stoves, dishwashers, and more.
- ½ cup white vinegar
- 2 tbsp baking soda
- Tea tree and eucalyptus essential oils (10 drops each)
- Enough water to fill the rest of the spray bottle
- Pour vinegar into a spray bottle, and add baking soda. Wait for the foam to go down.
- Add essential oils, and fill the rest of the bottle with water.
- Put the spray cap on, and shake well before use!
Sponge, dish cloth & cleaning cloth disinfectant
Kitchen sponges, dish cloths and cleaning cloths are porous materials that trap germs, and need to be disinfected frequently. It’s also a good practice to disinfect them, and wash them in the dishwasher or washing machine on a regular basis.
- One part hydrogen peroxide
- One part warm water
- Pour equal parts hydrogen peroxide and warm water into a shallow dish.
- Soak sponges, dish cloths or cleaning cloths for 10 minutes, and then rinse thoroughly afterwards.
Cutting board cleaner
Cutting boards can also harbour harmful germs. The foods we bring into our kitchens (like vegetables and raw meat) can carry microbes from their production processes. Clean and disinfect your cutting boards with a two-step process.
First clean your wood or plastic cutting board:
- ½ a lemon
- (optional: coarse or kosher salt to scrub off stains)
- (Optional: Sprinkle some salt over your cutting board for tough stains).
- Cut a lemon in half, and rub it over your cutting board.
- Let sit for 10 minutes, and then rinse away.
Next, disinfect it:
- Hydrogen peroxide, enough to wet the cutting board
- Spray or pour enough hydrogen peroxide onto the cutting board so that the entire surface is wet. (If you soak your cutting board in your sink, make sure you clean the sink first too!)
- Let it soak for 10 minutes. Then wash the cutting board with dish soap and water, and allow it to dry. (To lighten tough stains, let the hydrogen peroxide soak in for several hours or even overnight.)
Kitchen cleaner & deodorizer
This simple two ingredient recipe is ideal for kitchen counters, sinks and faucets. As well as appliances like refrigerators, freezers and ovens.
- 4 tbsp (15 mL) baking soda
- 1 quart (0.9 L) warm water
- Pour baking soda into warm water, and mix with a utensil or a gloved hand.
To deodorize: Use the mixture or pour straight baking soda into drains and garbage disposals.
To shine and/or remove spots from appliances: Reduce the amount of water in the recipe to make a paste, and gently rub surfaces with the direction of their grain. Rinse off and dry.
Bathroom shower, bathtub, sink & toilet scrub
This mix is ideal for your shower, bathtub, sinks, and the back and outside of your toilet (a commonly overlooked spot). It cuts through soap scum and dissolves hard mineral deposits.
- 1 ½ cups baking soda
- ½ cup liquid Castile soap (unscented or scented with essential oils)
- 2 tbsp white vinegar
- 2 tbsp water
- 10 drops essential oil, if castile soap is unscented (tea tree or eucalyptus for their disinfecting properties)
- Pour vinegar into a spray bottle, and add baking soda. Wait for the foam to go down.
- Add liquid castile soap, water and essential oils.
- Put cap on and shake for 2-3 minutes before use.
Toilet bowl & seat disinfectant and cleaner
Start by disinfecting your toilet bowl. Pour ½ cup hydrogen peroxide inside the bowl and let stand for 20 minutes. Then, use a toilet brush to scrub the bowl clean with the following recipe.
- ½ cup baking soda
- ¼ cup vinegar
- 10 drops tea tree essential oil
- Pour baking soda and essential oil into toilet bowl.
- Add vinegar, and scrub bowl while the mixture is fizzy.
It’s also good to clean toilet seats regularly, every day or every few days. Just make the following toilet seat mixture, spray on toilet seats and let sit for a 3-5 minutes, and then wipe away.
- 1 cup white vinegar
- 2-4 drops essential oil (lemon, eucalyptus or tea tree are nice)
- Add vinegar and essential oil to a spray bottle.
Mold inhibitor spray (aka mold control spray)
There are lots ways to clean and remove mold and mildew, but wouldn’t it be nice to avoid it in the first place? Use this mold inhibitor to clean away mold and mildew. Once you’ve sprayed it on, just let the mixture sit. To stop mold and mildew from growing, don’t wipe it away.
- 80% white vinegar
- 20% water
- Tea tree essential oil (1 tsp per cup of vinegar/water mixture)
- Fill spray bottle about ¾ of the way full with vinegar, and then add water to fill the remaining 25% (leaving a 1” space at the top).
- Add 1-2 tsp of essential oil, and shake mixture Ill before use.
Floor cleaning can be fairly simple with the following recipe. For wood floors, add a protectant like olive oil, coconut oil, linseed oil or jojoba oil to add moisture and shine, and prevent floors from becoming dull.
- One part white vinegar
- Two parts warm water
- 5-10 drops of essential oil(s) (for scent and antibacterial properties)
- (If cleaning wood floors, add 2 tbsp of a protectant oil)
- Combine vinegar, water and essential oils in a bucket (add protectant oil when cleaning wood floors).
- Stir to mix before use.
Glass & mirror cleaner
This simple solution leaves a streak free shine. For windows, just spray on and let dry. Spray on paper towel or a soft cloth and then wipe for mirrors. My favourite streak free wipe is newspaper; it works perfectly every time!
- 2 cups water
- ½ cup white vinegar
- ¼ cup 70% rubbing alcohol
- (optional) 1-3 drops essential oil
- Combine all ingredients in a spray bottle, and shake to mix.
Conclusion: Clean and disinfect with simple non-toxic ingredients and recipes
Your day-to-day activities can build a healthy home that supports your health and wellbeing. The goal is to reduce harmful germs, while not completely eliminating helpful microbes. It can be as simple as using household ingredients and non-toxic products to clean and disinfect regularly.
I hope this list of 8 household cleaning and disinfecting ingredients and 9 DIY recipes helps you on your journey to a healthier home. If you know of any other great recipes, let us know!