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Natural Cleaning

Home and Garden, Natural Cleaning

Toxic Cleaning Products To Avoid & Non-Toxic Alternatives

green cleaning products

I’ve got a great guest post today for you from Georgina at Ethical Consumer, on toxic cleaning products and the ingredients to avoid. As well as breaking down the problems with these toxic ingredients, Georgina offers some eco-friendly and non-toxic shop-bought alternatives, as well as natural alternatives to try that will make your home fresher and cleaner.  

An English person’s home is their castle.  And when it comes to our ‘castles’ we like to keep them clean.  The average Brit spends around 4 hours a week scrubbing and scouring to keep their home in tip-top condition.  Modern cleaning products claim to make this cleaning a doddle with the promise of a no-effort clean.  However, are these claims as squeaky clean as our houses?

Convenience at a Cost

Enter any large supermarket and you’ll see a large array of cleaning products. Each claims to make your life easier, clean your home better and save you time.  We’re used to modern convenience with our cleaning gadgets and we want short-cuts to save us time on our mundane chores.  However, how much thought do we give to the chemicals that we spray and squirt around our homes?

It can be alarming when we see the hazard labels on the cleaning products we use every day or week. Irritant, corrosive, oxidising, and toxic, are common sights on our cleaning product lables.  But if we use the chemicals correctly then they are safe, right?

Not according to recent research from Natural Resources Defense Council in California.  Their research discovered 45 different toxic chemicals present in household dust.  Chemicals such as phthalates and hormone disrupters affect reproductive systems and are linked to developmental problems in babies.  The source of these toxic compounds?  Household chemicals and personal care products.

Exposing The Dirty Truth Behind These Toxic Cleaning Product Ingredients

Image of a brown glass spray bottle with a blue text box that says the toxic cleaning product ingredients to avoid and non-toxic alternatives

At Ethical Consumer, we’ve produced reports on over 40,000 companies, brands, and products on all aspects of ethical behaviour.  For our household cleaning analysis, we ranked 41 popular household cleaners against 23 different criteria, one of those being toxic chemicals.

Unlike personal care or food and drink products, manufacturers are under no obligation to provide a detailed list of the ingredients in their cleaning products.  This lack of transparency makes it difficult for consumers to make informed decisions on avoiding toxic chemicals.  Although EU legislation stipulates that companies do need to list the full ingredients on their website.

Across our analysis, three main toxic chemicals emerged as the most concerning and ubiquitous.  Therefore our rankings focused on those.

The Toxic Cleaning Products Trio

Parabens

This additive is used for its antifungal and preservative properties, extending the shelf-life of cosmetics and cleaning products. As an indication of its toxic potential, five parabens have been already banned from cosmetics by the EU.  However, they are still found in many cleaning products.

Absorbed through the skin and through inhalation and ingestion, parabens have strong links to hormone disruption, reproductive toxicity, neurotoxicity, and skin irritation.  Breast cancer charities have highlighted their presence in breast tumours. Here they thought to increase the growth of cancer cells.

Triclosan

This pesticide is an antimicrobial agent used in many cleaning products.  It is known to affect thyroid hormone function by disrupting the regulation of metabolism and normal breast development.  It is also an irritant to the skin and eyes and may have a possible link to bacterial resistance.  Its use is already banned in soaps in the US.  Its use is restricted in many toiletries in the UK, yet its use is not prohibited in cleaning products.

Phthalates

A common chemical used in synthetic fragrances, phthalate toxicity is linked to developmental problems in babies.  A recent study cited a correlation between pregnant women with high levels of phthalates and children with markedly lower IQ levels.  And again, as an endocrine-disrupting chemical, phthalate is linked to an increased risk of breast cancer.

The good, the bad, and the toxic

Despite the mounting evidence of the harmful effects of these and other synthetic additives, the use of toxic, persistent compounds is widespread in our cleaning products.  Our ethical ranking table exposes the brands that continue to use these harmful chemicals.  It also provides ethical ‘best buys’ for those companies who ban their use and make the best eco-friendly cleaning products.

how toxic are household cleaners

The Toxic Cleaning Products

Sadly, some of the most popular cleaning products brands performed very badly in our toxic score chart. UK manufacturer Reckitt Benckiser who manufactures Vanish, Dettol, Windowlene, and Cillit Bang had no policy on removing triclosan, parabens, or phthalates from their formulations.  Even more shocking is that this lack of corporate responsibility comes after their disinfectant humidifier chemicals were found to have led to the death of nearly 100 people in South Korea.

Proctor and Gamble also performed badly.  This is in part, due to having no policy to remove these toxic parabens or phthalates from their cleaning products such as Viakal, Flash, and Comet.

Unilever, which produces brands such as Domestos and Cif, does not use phthalates. What’s more, they had a clear plan for the removal of triclosan.  However, they had no clear strategy to remove parabens from their formulas.

Colgate-Palmolive performed best in the big brand cleaning products categories. Here they had no toxic parabens, triclosan, or phthalates used in their cleaning products. However, they ranked low down in our scoring due to their poor policies in other areas.

The Good – The Best Non-Toxic Cleaning Products

A number of smaller brands performed well in our ranking.  For the best non-toxic cleaning products, Greenscents*, and Bentley Organic*, all offer organic and vegan products that also achieved our best rating for animal testing.  Bio-D*, Faith in Nature*, and Earth Friendly Products* are all vegan and cruelty-free.

All of these cleaning products had clear policies that confirmed that their products did not contain the toxic trio of parabens, triclosan, and phthalates.  This is as well as their focus on natural and organic ingredients, making them our top eco-friendly and health-friendly cleaning products.

Reducing Toxic Dust for a Cleaner Home

green cleaning products

There are a number of things that you can do to reduce toxicity levels in your home:

  1. Use fewer cleaning products.  Switching to microfibre cloths can reduce the cleaning products needed whilst providing a thorough clean.  What’s more, they’re washable and reusable too. Wash these in a microfibre catcher, to help reduce microplastics reaching our water.
  2. Check ingredients and make the switch to one of our non-toxic cleaning products.  Know what you are using by checking the ingredients on cleaning products and ditching brands that don’t make the grade.
  3. Make your own natural cleaners.  With just a few simple ingredients such as lemon juice, vinegar, and bicarbonate of soda you can make a whole host of natural cleaning products.  Check out this post on natural cleaning products to DIY for a plethora of inspiration.  You can also read more about homemade cleaning products in Wendy’s book – Fresh Clean Home.

Also, check out our guide to eco-friendly washing up liquid and laundry detergents to help you find the right products for you.

Home and Garden, Natural Cleaning

How To Clean A Washing Machine Naturally

Got a smelly washing machine? Here is my tried and tested technique on how to clean a washing machine effectively and environmentally friendly, without the use of harsh chemicals. Using vinegar and soda crystals, not only will it banish bad smells, but it will reduce limescale and mould too.

I have written so much about laundry in the 8 years I’ve been writing here at Moral Fibres. From how often you should wash your clothes, to how to wash striped clothes, and how to wash wool, to my natural stain removal tips, and more. So much more, that I bet you are thinking, how much more is there to know about laundry? Reader, hold my cup of tea, there is so MUCH MORE to know about laundry.

Like, for example, did you know that cleaning your washing machine is a key semi-regular household chore we should all be doing?

Firstly, I know that’s hard news to hear. As a family of four, I find that laundry is one of those never-ending tasks. You wash the clothes, you dry the clothes, and then you have to iron, and fold, and put the clothes away. And repeat into infinity. And then on top of that, we’re then expected to clean the very machine that cleans our clothes too? It’s enough to make you weep.

Why Do We Need To Clean The Washing Machine?

The thing is, it’s good practice to regularly give your machine a good old-fashioned deep clean. This is because cleaning your washing machine prolongs the life of your washing machine. And prolonging the life of a hulking great piece of machinery saves carbon as you’ll have to replace it less frequently. And not only that. Cleaning your washing machine makes your washing machine more efficient, meaning you lower the likelihood of having to re-wash clothes because they haven’t come out particularly clean. Saving carbon and water.

If the thought of helping the environment doesn’t make you want to clean your washing machine, then would talk of mould build up in your washing machine, that distributes mould over the very clothes you want to clean encourage you? Yup, thought it might. Sorry. I think this is an example of what they call tough love!

How To Clean A Washing Machine

how to clean a smelly washing machine

The good news is that it’s not tricky to clean a washing machine. You mainly need to tackle the detergent drawer, the drum, the seals, and the filter. I’ve set out my top tips, techniques, and natural cleaning products you need to clean your washing machine below, and how often it’s best to clean each area. If you’ve never cleaned your washing machine before, it might take you an hour. But once you’re in a regular routine, it can take as little as 15 minutes of your time.

1. Tackle The Detergent Drawer

For somewhere that you put laundry detergent, the detergent drawer is always one of the most disgusting parts of any washing machine. Especially if you use laundry liquid and/or conventional fabric conditioner. It can be mould central. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. Here’s how.

First off, remove your drawer from your washing machine. You may have to consult your washing machine’s instruction manual on how to do this if you haven’t done this before. If you’ve lost the manual, I always find eSpares user manual section invaluable for this.

Next, fill a sink with hot soapy water and give the drawer a good wash. An old toothbrush is great at getting into the nooks and crannies of the drawer. Once you’ve got all the gunk off, rinse it off, and give it a dry.

Before you pop the clean, dry drawer back in, if the drawer was mouldy when you pulled it out, then it’s best to give the cavity a good wipe down to help remove any mould in there. To do this, I spray a cloth with a vinegar cleaning spray and wipe as much as I can possibly reach.

Aim to do this every three months, or more frequently if you use laundry liquid and/or conventional fabric conditioner.

Wendy’s Top Tips

I prefer using laundry powder, because it leaves less gunk in your washing machine, meaning there’s less chance for mould to grow.

When it comes to fabric conditioner, I’ve got a whole lot more to say. If you want the shortened version, conventional fabric conditioner is the worst product you could ever possibly buy. The actual worst. Just stop buying it, it’s a total con.

The long version of this is first, it’s terrible for your clothes. Fabric conditioner essentially applies a thin, waxy coating to your laundry, which has to be water-resistant in order to survive the washing process.  This waterproof coating makes your clothes feel softer but lessens their ability to properly absorb water and laundry detergent.  This means your clothes won’t respond as well to washing and will be more likely to lock in bad odours.

Secondly, many brands of fabric conditioner are petroleum-based and full of animal fat (and therefore not vegetarian or vegan friendly). As they are fat-based, they can clog up your washing machine (especially if it’s a front-loading one) and your pipework. It happened to my parents, I know the upheaval this caused.

Fabric conditioner can also encourage the growth of mould in your machine.  Due to its fat content, when fabric conditioner is exposed to air and moisture, it becomes a breeding ground for bacteria and mould.  And because of the design of most machines, it means that the water-resistant softener is never quite washed out properly, leaving a residue that only encourages the growth of bacteria and black mould throughout your whole washing machine, contaminating your laundry.

The solution? Make your own fabric conditioner using white vinegar. It softens your clothes without residue, won’t block your machine or pipes, and won’t contribute to the growth of mould. Millilitre per millilitre, it’s also a whole lot cheaper too, and more environmentally friendly.

2. How To Clean The Filter

Cleaning the filter of your washing machine is the part of the cleaning a washing machine process that I hate the most. However, it’s a pretty important part, as the filter catches hair, lint, and any objects that got left in pockets before they went in the wash. As a result, bacteria can grow here, causing bad smells.

For Newer Washing Machines

Your washing machine filter is normally accessed via a flap on the front of your washing machine – near the very bottom. Open up the door. If your machine is a newer model then you’ll likely see a little hose with a cap on it. Pop a towel down, put down a bowl, and remove the cap from the hose. Pro tip – place the cap somewhere sensible where you will find it again afterwards. Voice of experience here! Once you’ve removed the cap, drain as much water out of your machine as possible. You may have to empty your bowl several times during the drainage process, so unfortunately this isn’t a job you can walk away from.

Once drained, keep the towel down because even though you think you’ve drained your washing machine of every single last drop of water, I promise that your washing machine will be tenacious and there will be more! Next, unscrew the cap of the filter, prepare for a small gush of water, and remove the filter. Remove any lint, hair, or objects from your filter.

For Older Washing Machines

If your washing machine is older and doesn’t have a hose, then you will need ALL the towels. Put these on the floor and be prepared for a large gush of water. The only consolidation is that once you are done cleaning your washing machine, you can wash your towels, and they’ll be cleaner than ever before!

Again, remove any lint, hair or objects from your filter.

For All Machines

Next, pop the filter into the kitchen sink and give it a good clean in warm soapy water. Again, your toothbrush will come in really handy for this job. Once clean, before popping the filter back in, I like to give the filter cavity a good clean. I spray some of my vinegar cleaning solution onto the toothbrush and give the cavity a good scrub.

Once done, make sure you screw the filter back on tight. Then make sure you replace the cap of your hose, if you have one.

Top tip: try to get into the practice of cleaning your filter every 8 weeks or so.

3. How To Clean The Drum of Your Washing Machine With Vinegar and Soda Crystals

There are lots of places in your washing machine’s drum for dirt, bacteria, and mould to harbour. Thankfully, it’s a really easy job to clean, without any effort.

To clean mould, bacteria, grease, and soap scum, from your washing machine drum, simply pour 500g of soda crystals into the drum of your washing machine and run a hot wash (at least 60°C). The soda crystals help dissolve any lingering soap scum that can harbour dirt, bacteria, mould, and bad smells.

If you have never cleaned your machine before, and especially if you have been an avid user of laundry liquid and/or of conventional fabric conditioner, you may have to repeat this step again.

To help beat limescale, once every 8 weeks or so, pour around 500 ml of vinegar (here’s where to buy white vinegar in bulk) into the drum of your machine and run it on a hot wash (again, at least 60°C).

I have a system where every four weeks I do a hot wash with soda crystals, and then four weeks later I run a hot wash with vinegar, and so on.

It’s really tempting to kill two birds with one stone and do a wash with soda crystals AND vinegar combined. Don’t do that! Vinegar is an acid, and soda crystals are a base. They’ll react and cancel each other out, producing weak salty water. And weak salty water never a washing machine particularly well.

Wendy’s Top Tip

Washing your clothes at low temperatures is great for the environment. However, it’s not always great for your washing machine, as colder temperatures don’t always clean away grease, mould, and bacteria effectively. I, therefore, wash my towels once a week at 60°C, to help keep my machine in tip-top condition.

4. Don’t Forget the Seals

If you have a smelly washing machine, then the chances are it’s coming from the seal of your washing machine. You see, the seal of your washing machine can harbour some nasty smells, as well as lint, bacteria, dirt, and pocket detritus.

The good news is that this is also an easy clean. Simply wet a cloth with vinegar, and wipe around the seal, making sure you work your way all around the fold. The vinegar will kill any mould on the seal. This method has the added benefit that it won’t harm your clothes if any residue has been left, as bleach would do.

To help prevent nasty smells in the future, leave your washing machine door ajar after every use to allow air to circulate.

5. Finally, The Body

Lastly, you may need to give the body of your washing machine a good wipe down. If you use laundry liquid or fabric conditioner, it can spill and run down the machine. If your washing machine is next to your dishwasher, it might get food splatters. Muddy sports clothes or kid clothes can leave marks as you put these in the machine. There are loads of reasons why the body can get dirty – I don’t judge!

It’s incredibly easy to clean the outside of your machine. Using a vinegar-based spray, or an all-purpose natural cleaning spray and a damp cloth, simply give the body a wipe down. If dirt has gathered in any crevices, use your old pal, the toothbrush, to give these areas gentle scrub.

And voila, job done! You can now bask in the glow of lovely clean clothes that will now come out of your machine, and the fact that you’re helping the environment too!

ps: if you’re in a cleaning frame of mind, then here’s how to clean a dishwasher too.

The ultimate guide to cleaning a washing machine the environmentally friendly way