A recent blog post by the Environmental Working Group challenges the long-standing and widespread green cleaning image of borax. Bottom-line, EWG no longer recommends cleaning your home with borax.
Like me, EWG recommended using borax in recipes for homemade cleaners in the past because it's effective, versatile, affordable, and eco-friendly compared to petroleum-based ingredients and chemicals in conventional cleaning products. Alternatives are less toxic, but they are rarely totally benign.
Anything that cleans, kills. Ever treated dandelions with a dose of vinegar? Sterilized canning jars with boiling water? Under many municipal bans on pesticide use, borax is often allowed as a low-risk pesticide. The Georgia Strait Alliance's Toxic Smart Solutions factsheet says "while borax is also one of the least hazardous domestic cleaning products, it is not without an environmental impact. It contains a higher level of arsenic that most other products (30 parts per million) which is why it's also an effective ant killer."
Doing the best I can to clean up my act, I'm testing a new borax-free recipe of my all time favorite liquid laundry soap (I'll let you know if it works). For everything else, I can think of borax-free alternatives. (I was revising my old green cleaning recipes anyway.)
Here are some green cleaning ingredients, listed from least- to less-toxic:
Least-toxic green cleaning ingredients
Baking soda: is well-known for its deodorizing properties — you probably have a box in your fridge. But baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate, not only deodorizes, it also tackles dirt and grease. Use it on its own or boost its cleaning power with a little liquid castile soap and vinegar to tackle everything from everyday spills to grimy build-up. Baking soda is also non-abrasive, which is great to scrub sinks, tubs, and toilets.
White vinegar: also known as acetic acid, is a great disinfectant and deodorizer. The strong smell disappears once it dries. It's also my favourite addition to the dishwasher rinse dispenser. (Check out 1001 uses for white vinegar.)
Lemon: a mild acid, lemon juice is known for its bleaching properties. It also has natural disinfectant and antibacterial properties. Cut a lemon in half and rub it onto a wooden cutting board, then wipe clean. Take the other half, place it in a bowl and microwave for one minute. Use this lemon-half to rub down the inside of your microwave. Let sit for a few minutes and wipe clean!
Olive oil: obtained from the olive tree. For furniture polish, add two tablespoons of olive oil and one tablespoon of white vinegar to a spray bottle of warm water. Shake, spray on furniture, and wipe. (Learn more ways to clean with olive oil.)
Less-toxic green cleaning ingredients
(use with caution, less frequently, or only for heavy-duty jobs)
Washing soda: also known as sodium carbonate, washing soda is more caustic, with a higher pH than its cousin, baking soda. But it's just as versatile: softening water, removing stains and cutting grease-the only downside is it can be hard to find. Check your local health food store or organic grocer.
Borax: also known as sodium borate is an alkaline mineral salt. It's a naturally occurring compound, but even things from nature can be harmful (like asbestos or mercury). Handled with respect, borax can be added to your cleaning arsenal. Mix solutions in your kitchen, away from food, and clearly label your finished product.
Not unlike conventional cleaning products, homemade or store bought green cleaning solutions should be stored safely away from children and pets.
What are your favourite green cleaning recipes?
P.S. Read more FAQs about green cleaning
Lindsay Coulter, Queen of Green