These non-toxic alternatives to chemical-laden cleaners keep your house fresh and sparkling — and your dog safe and healthy.
Green is in! And that’s wonderful news for our four-legged friends, whose shorter life spans and proximity to the ground make them more susceptible to pollutants. One place we can make a really positive impact is the cleaners we use inside our homes .
According to the Ottawa Humane Society, household cleaners such as detergents, bleaches, disinfectants and floor cleaners are among the top products that can negatively impact canine health. Depending on whether they’re touched, inhaled or ingested, they can cause a wide range of problems, from skin irritation to respiratory issues, and over the long term, even genetic damage and cancer. Fortunately, you don’t have to use these products! Today’s market offers a growing number of safe non-toxic cleaners.
How to buy a cleaner
1. Read labels. When looking for a household cleaner that’s both safe and effective, it’s important to do some research – and make sure that research comes from a reliable source. “There is a lot of misinformation on the Internet about cleaners and disinfectants,” says Michelle Woolf, CEO of EMebKo Enterprises Inc./OdorTECH of Canada, makers of the NokOut odor eliminator and BioCleanz disinfectant. “Reading labels is important. Make sure the label says the product is safe for pets, and apply it as directed.” She adds that companies often change their ingredients and cautionary statements, so it’s important to check labels on a regular basis to make sure nothing has been altered.
2. Know what to avoid. The problem is, how do you determine what’s safe and what isn’t? Commercial household cleaners typically include a long list of unpronounceable chemical names and most of us have no idea what they are or what they do. To help, see the sidebar for a list of some of some ingredients to steer clear of, along with some safer alternatives.
3. Consider efficacy. Are “natural” non-toxic cleaners as effective as the “big guns” when it comes to killing germs? “It all depends on the efficacy you’re looking for and the germs you want to kill,” says Michelle. “One disinfectant is not equal to another and ‘natural’ does not necessarily mean not harmful. Some are better at killing certain germs, others may contribute to the creation of superbugs.
“In Canada, we have checks and balances to ensure disinfectants are as effective as they claim. A product claiming disinfection must be a Health Canada registered product with a DIN (Drug Identification Number). They must go through rigid tests to prove they can do what they claim, and must disclose any dangers associated with the product.”
Michelle recommends buying a cleaner that is not only labelled safe for pets, but is effective on a broad spectrum. “This gives you the best of both worlds, ensuring you are safe from dangerous germs, and your pets are safe from dangerous chemicals. Also remember that efficacy is only as good as the application in a real world environment, so follow the instructions on the label.”
How to make a cleaner
There are a variety of wonderful natural cleaning products on the market these days. If you have some time, you can even try your hand at making your own cleaners. All you need are a few simple ingredients that you probably already have on hand: baking soda, vinegar, lemon juice, salt and a few essential oils. There are loads of recipes for homemade cleaners online, but here are some basic guidelines to get you started. You may have to experiment to determine the combinations you like best. Be sure to write down your recipes so you don’t forget them!
There’s just one caveat when it comes to these cleaners, according to Michelle. “They may not be effective for certain strains of harmful bacteria and viruses,” she cautions. “For example, vinegar will not kill staphylococcus bacteria.” For basic cleaning and sanitizing, however, the following are great choices.
- Vinegar is a great all-purpose cleaning agent. It can be mixed with warm water (one cup of vinegar per gallon of water is a good combination) to wash counters, floors, tubs, porcelain sinks, faucets, and other surfaces. For extra sanitizing oomph in the kitchen and bathroom, add a few drops of pure tea tree or eucalyptus oil, both of which have disinfecting and antiseptic qualities. As your mother can probably attest, vinegar has also long been regarded as an excellent glass cleaner for windows and mirrors.
- Baking soda is mildly abrasive and has antiseptic properties. When mixed with vinegar, it froths up to form a good all-round cleaner. For a blocked drain, put in equal parts of baking soda and vinegar, wait awhile while the mixture works its magic, then pour in some boiling water to clear the blockage. A vinegar and baking soda mix can also be used to clean the toilet. Let it sit awhile before brushing and flushing.
- Lemon juice is antiseptic and antibacterial, has a fresh clean scent, and is good for imparting sparkle to surfaces. It can be used in place of vinegar to clean glass – four tablespoons in half a gallon of water should do the trick. A mixture of one part lemon juice to two parts olive oil makes an effective furniture polish.
- Salt is more abrasive than baking soda and can be added to cleaning mixtures when extra scrubbing power is required. It’s also good for polishing metal when combined in equal parts with vinegar and flour.
- Essential oils are a natural alternative to the synthetic scents found in many commercial cleaners, many of which can cause unpleasant reactions in both people and dogs. Some essential oils also have antiseptic, antibacterial or anti-fungal properties, which makes them ideal as cleaner ingredients. Along with tea tree and eucalyptus oils, you can use citrus, lavender, rose, cinnamon, geranium or rosemary oils. Keep in mind, however, that even essential oils need to be used with care. Your dog’s sense of smell is many times stronger than yours, so you only need to add a few drops to your cleaning recipes. Essential oils should always be diluted and not used neat, especially around pets. Also be sure to buy pure, high quality oils.