NATURAL DISINFECTANTS AND DEODORISERS
By Wong Ee Lynn
A healthy human immune system can easily cope with normal household germs, and is in fact at greater risk from the chemicals used in many cleaning products.
In recent years, we have seen a boom in anti-bacterial products, from kitchen sponges to dishwashing liquid. Not only can disinfectants be health risks in themselves, many disinfectants contain chemicals, such as triclosan, which can affect the central nervous system of humans and other mammals, and cause organ damage. Health and environmental experts caution against anti-microbial products (sponges, toys, soaps, washcloths, aerosol sprays) because:
(1) They create a false sense of security and there is no evidence at all that they make a home safer or protect humans against illnesses and infections;
(2) They are likely to unfavourably alter the balance of microbial life in the home, leaving behind those that are more resistant to disinfectants and harder to kill;
(3) Surviving bacteria are likely to become resistant, and could make homes, like hospitals, a harbour for truly dangerous bacteria. In cases where you truly need a stronger disinfectant, e.g. in cleaning the cages and living areas of pets that have recently suffered deadly infections such as parvovirus, the best choice is a properly diluted solution of chlorine bleach.
However, most of our daily cleaning activities would not require the use of bleach. For general purposes, there are excellent natural disinfectants which include lavender oil, tea tree oil, grapefruit seed oil and other citrus extracts.
A basic list of products and tips:
1. Use cleaning cloths instead of disposable disinfectant wipes. Cotton material, e.g. old t-shirts, is best for cleaning and polishing, and can be tossed in for washing together with the rest of the laundry when dirty.
2. Instead of having various types of household cleaning agents, purchase an all-purpose biodegradable cleaner to use for most general cleaning, including mopping the floor, cleaning the bathroom and wiping down furniture. If the product is unscented, you can always add a few drops of pure essential oil, such as tea tree (antifungal) or peppermint and lavender (deodorising, antibacterial) to a diluted solution prior to cleaning.
3. White distilled vinegar is great for cleaning glass and windows and does not contain harmful ammonia.
4. Borax is a natural mineral product that kills bacteria and mildew. It can be used to soak nappies, whiten clothes, soften water and increase the effectiveness of plain soap It is also good for preventing odours and preventing mildew and mould growth, for example, in the bathroom.
5. Avoid all aerosol furniture polishes, especially those containing silicone. Experts recommend dusting with a soft cloth dampened with a little water. Good furniture does not need to be polished more than once a year, and you can use beeswax-based polish and other natural furniture polishes for this purpose.
6. Toothpaste can be used to polish and clean delicate metal jewellery.
7. You can make a metal/brass polish using a paste of white vinegar or lemon juice mixed with bicarbonate of soda.
8. If you have cats, clean the litter tray daily and wash the litter trays using soap and water at least once every few days, rather than purchase scented or antibacterial litter so that you can put off cleaning the litter tray.
9. Microwave your kitchen sponge (wet, not dry) for 2 minutes on high heat to kill germs at least twice a week, rather than buy antibacterial sponges.
10. Rather than purchase shoe sprays and powders, stuff your shoes with scrunched up newspaper (you can reuse the newspaper for each pair of shoes until they fall apart). The carbon in newsprint will deodorise your shoes, while the paper will absorb moisture.
11. Reduce the number of clothes you own that require dry-cleaning. Most of the clothes that require dry-cleaning can be safely washed by hand using a mild soap and gently hung out to drip-dry in the shade.
12. Instead of using fabric softener to add fragrance to your laundry, put herbal or floral sachets in your closet and clothes drawers instead, to help your clothes smell fresh. Alternatively, you can also put half-unwrapped bars of lemon or lavender scented soap in your closets as inexpensive and reusable deodorisers.
13. For clothes to stay white, use borax or oxygen-based bleach or hydrogen peroxide solution instead of chlorine bleach to whiten the clothes. Use natural indigo solution in the final rinse to brighten your whites.
14. Instead of antibacterial foam carpet cleaners, sprinkle the carpet with plain bicarbonate of soda. Leave for an hour or two for the soda to deodorise the carpet, and then vacuum. When more intensive cleaning is necessary, clean your carpet with a steam machine and plain water.
15. Use normal soap bars instead of antibacterial shower gels and creams. Soap bars use less packaging and weigh less, and are therefore more environmentally friendly to package and transport. There is no necessity to use antibacterial soap for your daily baths. The belief that soap bars harbour germs is a marketing ploy to create fear and thus sell antibacterial products. Our parents and grandparents did without antibacterial soap and no-one fell sick or died from using and sharing normal inexpensive soap bars.
16. Commercial air-fresheners work by masking unpleasant odours, coating your nasal passages with an oily film, or numbing your sense of smell with a nerve-deadening agent. Instead of using commercial air freshener sprays, gels and canisters, try these simple deodorising tips instead –
(i) Increase and improve ventilation. Open windows daily to clear stale air and toxic fumes. An extractor fan can help in the kitchen and bathroom.
(ii) Empty your rubbish frequently. When your rubbish bin is wet or dirty, wash it using a handful of soap powder/flakes, some water and an outdoor/bathroom broom. Put the rubbish bin upside down outdoors to air-dry.
(iii) Declare your home a no-smoking zone. Smokers will have to learn to regulate their habit, or smoke outdoors.
(iv) Grow indoor plants to improve air quality.
17. Do not use cut flowers to deodorise a room. To make flowers look and smell perfect, the floral industry uses more pesticides than any other agricultural business (since consumers do not, after all, eat flowers). They also use vast quantities of floral accessories (such as plastic wrap and ribbons), floral preservatives and non-native flowers. Purchase potted local plants instead.
18. Insecticides are poisonous and should be avoided because of their negative health and environmental effects. You are unlikely to have a problem with pests if you pay extra attention to cleaning and tidying, and block the entrances of pests (e.g. by installing mosquito screens and covering bathroom and kitchen flow holes at night). Food should be stored in airtight containers such as glass jars, or stored in the refrigerator, to avoid attracting pests. Don’t leave crumbs and unopened packages, and empty wastebaskets regularly. Essential oils such as that of peppermint, eucalyptus and citrus can repel ants and flies, while citronella oil will repel mosquitoes.
19. Instead of purchasing car air fresheners, put a bunch of pandanus leaves or lavender in your car to add fragrance and repel insects. Alternatively, put orange or lemon peel in a cup in your car to remove stale odours. Another simple air freshening method is to open one end of the packaging on a bar of soap (lavender scented soap works particularly well) and put the bar of soap in your car.
(Images reproduced from Wikipedia without permission but in accordance with the principles of fair use)