What is Green Cleaning?
By: Kathy Sadowski, MS in Aromatherapy, RA, LMT, RYT
Green cleaning is the use of environmentally friendly ingredients that are also less harmful to humans and pets. They are low toxicity, noncarcinogenic, and do not bio-accumulate. Commonly used dangerous cleaners like ammonia and bleach can cause skin irritation, burns, and respiratory issues; fragrance chemicals can cause headaches, allergic reactions, and watery eyes; and some chemicals in cleaners can even be neurotoxic, hormone-disrupting, and cancer causing (Organic Consumer Association, 2016). There are much less toxic choices that are effective in cleaning and are often lower cost. First, essential oils have demonstrated in research to have strong antimicrobial capabilities, can deter pests like insects and rodents, and have the ability to enhance mood. Combined in recipes (see Appendix) with vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, witch hazel, and baking soda, healthier household cleaners can easily be made.
Essential Oils to Use with Green Cleaning
Essential oils can provide pleasant aromatherapy while having powerful cleaning and antimicrobial properties.
E. globulus (eucalyptus) is a disinfectant, stain remover, sanitizer, deodorizer, pesticide, antiviral, antibacterial, antimicrobial anti-fungal, and de-greaser (Petersen, 2015). As a pesticide, Batish, Singh, Kohli, & Kaur, (2008) discuss it for use in environmentally friendly pest control against bacteria, fungi, insects, nematodes, and mites. It has also been researched in use against house dust mites and allergens (Tovey, & McDonald, 1997). Further, there has been much research to demonstrate the antimicrobial benefits of eucalyptus essential oil. It was found both antibacterial and antiviral against respiratory microbes (Cermelli, Fabio, Fabio, & Quaglio, 2008 and Salari, et al 2006). The plant demonstrated antifungal capabilities via its 1,8-cineol constituent (Vilela et al, 2009). It had strong antibacterial capabilities against multidrug resistant bacteria via constituents of terpenoids aromadendrene and 1, 8-cineole (Mulyaningsih, Sporer, Zimmermann, Reichling, & Wink, 2010, and Cimanga et al, 2002). Petersen (2015) suggests that it is an effective sanitizer and deodorizer, and a stain remover that can dissolve sticky remnants.
Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) is antimicrobial, anti-fungal, antiseptic, bactericidal, and insecticidal, and is especially good for fighting mold and mildew (Petersen, 2015). As a strong antimicrobial, its constituents of 1,8-cineole, terpinen-4-ol, and α-terpineol have been shown to compromise the cytoplasmic membrane to destroy pathogens (Carson, Mee, and Riley, 2002). Further, it was found powerful against multiple pathogenic fungi in vitro (Nenoff, Haustein, & Brandt, 1996). Petersen (2015) recommends using it as a powerful antiseptic in the laundry by adding ½ teaspoon to the wash.
Citrus Limonum (lemon) can be used to clean silver jewelry (Petersen, 2015). It can also cut through grease stains, and is antimicrobial and antiseptic. As an antibacterial at has been effective against Staph. aureus, Staph. albus, E. coli, Ps. aeruginosa, Aerobacter aerogenes, Proteus vlugaris, and B. subtilis (Kivanc & Akgul,1986). It showed anti-fungal ability against Epidermophyton floccosum, Trichophyton mentagrophytes, and Microsporum gypseum via its C. limonum constituent (Misra, Batra, & Mishra, 1988). It also had insect repellent capabilities (Pavella et al, 2005). In addition, the lemon aroma is a known mood enhancer, shown to stimulate and improve focus (Ogeturk et al, 2010) and reduce depression (Komori, 2009).
Rosemarinus officinalis (rosemary) has scientifically demonstrated antimicrobial powers; it fights bacteria, mold and acts as a bug repellent. It is a stimulant, whose aroma is invigorating to the mind. It was shown to be antimicrobial against multiple species of bacteria and fungi (Kivanc & Akgul, 1986, Montes, Wilkomirsky, & Bellow, 1998, Svoboda & Deans, 1995, and Hill, Evans, & Veness, 1997). Another study showed it was anti-fungal against 37 species of fungi (Benhilali, Tantaoui-Elarki, Ismaili-Alaoui, & Ayadi, 1986). As a stimulant, inhalation improved cognitive ability by increasing alertness (Diego et al, 1998). It also reduced anxiety after inhalation (Burnett, Solterbeck, & Strapp, 2004). Rosemary could be used as both a room deodorizer and mood enhancer by adding a few drops in a diffuser (Petersen, 2015).
Cinnamom zeylanicum (cinnamon) is a strong antimicrobial and freshens the air with a stimulating smell. In a study by Deans & Ritchie (1987), 50 essential oils where tested and cinnamon came out third strongest against 25 bacteria. As an antibacterial, its cinnamaldehyde constituent has proven effective (Shan, Cai, Brooks, & Corke, 2007, Prabuseenivasan, Jayakumar, & Ignacimuthu, 2006, and Deans & Ritchie, 1987). It can also be used as an antifungal (Wang, Chen, & Chang, 2005, and Quale et al, 1996). Common aromatherapy blends for air purification will often include cinnamon.
Syzygium aromaticum (clove bud) is antimicrobial, antifungal, antibacterial, and insecticidal. Deans and Ritchie (1987) identified it as the most effective out of 50 essential oils in fighting 25 varieties of bacteria. It is also a powerful antifungal (Azzouz, & Bullerman, 1982). Additional studies have found it to be anti-microbial (Dorman, & Deans, 2000, and Cai, & Wu, 1996). It may also be an effective mosquito repellent (Trongtokit, et al, 2005).
Lavendula angustifolia (lavender) is an antiseptic, bactericidal, and fungicidal agent that is also an antidepressant and can help you sleep. Multiple research studies have demonstrated its use for depression and insomnia (Guillemain, Rousseau, & Delaveau, 1988, Hardy, Kirk-Smith, & Stretch, 1995, Goel, Kim, & Lao, 2005 Hirokawa, Nishimoto, & Taniguchi, 2012, Lewith, Godfrey, & Prescott, 2005, Chang, 2008, Akhondzadeh, et al, 2003, and Morris, 2002). Further, lavender has shown antibacterial and antifungal capability (Prabuseenivasan, Jayakumar, & Ignacimuthu, 2006).
Mentha piperita (peppermint) is an antiseptic and antimicrobial that is an aroma stimulant for fighting mental fatigue (Varney & Buckle, 2013) and reducing stress (Park, & Lee, 2004). It has been shown to be an insecticidal against mosquitoes (Barnard et al, 1999, and Ansari et al, 2000). It is also a powerful antimicrobial in the following ways:
- Via its menthol constituent (Iscan et al, 2002).
- Against coli, Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, S. faecalis, and Klebsiella pneumonia (Sharafi et al, 2101).
- Against common food poisoning bacteria (Aktug & Karapinar, 1986).
- Against 22 bacterial strains (Pattnaik, Subramanyam, & Krole, 1996).
- Against 15 strains of methicillin-resistant aureus – MRSA (Nelson, 1997).
- Against multiple strains of bacteria, Listeria monocytogenes, and filamentous fungi (Lis-Balchin, Deans, & Hart, 1997).
- Against multiple species of bacteria and fungi (Dorman & Deans, 2000).
- Against coli, P. aeruginosa, Schizosaccharomyces pombe, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, C. albicans, and Torulopsis utilis (Hill, Evans, & Veness, 1997).
- Against Helicobacter pylori, Salmonella enteritidis, Escherichia coli, and Staphylococcus aures (Imai et al, 2000).
- Against Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli (Mohsenzadeh, 2007).
- Anti-Viral – (Geuenichet al, 2008). In the destruction of influenza and herpes viruses in vitro (Balakrishnan, 2015). Against the herpes virus (Nolkemper, 2006, and Schuhmacher, Reichling, & Schnitzler, 2003). Against HIV (Yamasaki, 1998).
- Antifungal – Against fungal infections or to preserve food (Saharkhiz et al, 2010). Fungitoxicans for Aspergillus (Bluma, Amaiden, Daghero, & Etcheverry, 2008). High fungastatic activity (El-Naghy et al, 1992). Against Trichophyton mentagrophytes., rubrum., and T. tonsurans (Soković, et al, 2006). Against 17 plant, animal and human pathogens (Sokovic et al, 2009).
Pinus sylvestris (pine) can be used as an aromatic disinfectant, and is anti-bacterial, antimicrobial, and insect repelling (Petersen, 2015). As an antibacterial it has shown strength against Staphylococcus aureus (Bastide et al, 1987), and against bacteria like Proteus, Staph. aureus, and Strep. pyogenes (Bardeau, 1976). It proved antimicrobial against Klebsiella pneumoniae and Candida albicans (Chalchat et al, 1989), and was more effective than antibiotics in vitro against Staph. aureus, Escherichia coli, Proteusmirabilis, Staph. faecalis, and C. albicans (Valnet, Duraffourd, Duraffourd, & Lapraz, 1978). In another study, it was strong against Staphylococcus aureus, Staphylococcus epidermidis, Streptococcus agalactiae, Acinetobacter spp. and Streptococcus pyogenes (Karapandzova et al, 2011). In addition, it was fungicidal, improving indoor air quality (Motiejūnaitė, & Dalia 2004).
Other Green Cleaning Ingredients
Vinegar (acetic acid) is very acidic, creating a chemical reaction to break down grease and kill germs. It is also biodegradable (The Vinegar Institute, n.d.), and very commonly used to replace toxic window cleaners. In research, it has been found to be anti-microbial (Siddiqui & Ali, 2006, and Rutala, et al, 2000).), and effective against food-borne pathogenic bacteria like E. coli (Entani et al, 1998). It also showed antimicrobial activity for use in home disinfectants against human pathogens (Rutala et al, 2000).
Hydrogen peroxide is anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, and anti-mold as well as non-toxic (Using Hydrogen Peroxide, n.d.). It can replace bleach in cleaning (Bright, 1983). Otter et al, 2009, discussed using hydrogen peroxide vapor to decontaminate rooms in busy hospitals. Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana), is a natural astringent steamed from the leaves and twigs of this North American shrub. It also shows antimicrobial activity related to its tannin content (Djipa, Delmée, & Quetin-Leclercq, 2000). Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) is an abrasive that scrubs away stains and absorbs smells (Arm and Hammer, n.d.). Yam, et al (1996) identified it as a powerful abrasive cleaning agent that is not harmful to the environment and is water soluble. It is also an antimicrobial to be used as a home disinfectants against potential human pathogens (Rutala et al, 2000).
Toxicity of Synthetic Cleaners – Go Green with Green Cleaning!
Serious health issues have been linked to the use of cleaning chemicals. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are emitted by some cleaners in high levels, and have been assessed to cause throat, nose, and eye irritation, nausea, headaches, liver and kidney damage, nervous system issues, and cancer (EPA, 2016). The EPA also indicates that the indoor home has 2-5 times more dangerous pollutants in the air than outside, largely related to house cleaners (Worldwatch Institute, 2004). A 1995 study by Kumar et al, demonstrated a link between perfume scents and asthmatic symptoms. VOC chemicals to watch out for include formaldehyde, chlorine, hydrochloric acid, perchloroethylene, and butane (Cassingham, 2009). Further, the Canadian Lung Associated notates a link between cleaning chemicals and asthma (2012). According to the USA Poison Control Center, 10 percent of toxic exposures reported were caused by cleaning products (Worldwatch Institute, 2004). The Western Sustainability and Pollution Prevention Network reports that 6 percent of professional janitors are injured by cleaning chemicals each year related to eye and skin burns or breathing in toxic fumes (n.d.). Below is a list of chemicals to avoid in house cleaners:
- Alkylphenol ethoxylates are a surfactant that are estrogenic, causing endocrine disruption issues (Nimrod & Benson, 1996). They can be found in some laundry and all- purpose cleaners.
- Diethylene glycol monomethyl ether is a solvent also called DEGME or methoxydiglycol found in some heavy duty cleaners and may affect fertility and fetus development (ECHA, 2011).
- Formaldehyde can cause cancer and has been found in the following products: Comet, Pine-Sol, and SimpleGreen (EWG, 2007).
- Fragrances are complex chemical blends used to scent cleaning products, and are considered one of the top allergens in the world, triggering asthma attacks, diarrhea, earaches, headaches, and cardiac dysfunction (EGW, 2007).
- Glycol ethers such as 2-butoxyethanol can cause reduced fertility and low birth weight (Welch, Schrader, Turner, & Cullen, 1988, and Schuler et al, 1984). This chemical may be found in glass cleaners or all-purpose sprays.
- Monoethanolamide is a surfactant causing asthma that may be in some floor cleaners, laundry detergents, and all-purpose cleaners (Quirce & Barranco, 2010).
- Phthalates affect sperm count, cause allergies, and asthma (Gorman, 2007).
- 1,4-Dioxane is considered by the EPA a probable human carcinogen and is found in some laundry detergents (EWG, 2007).
More Green Cleaning Studies
- Sick Building Syndrome: A link between green cleaning and productivity was identified in a mega analysis of 17 studies demonstrating reduced symptoms of illness such as sick building syndrome, respiratory issues, and headaches (Ashkin, 2007). Bello, Quinn, Perry, and Milton indicate in a study that statistics demonstrated a higher incidence of asthma and skin issues among workers who used synthetic cleaning supplies (2009). Sick Building Syndrome is when a significant number of workers in a property experience acute health issues, often related to toxins in the building; INFORM is an organization that promotes an environmental ethic and published a detailed report on improving this issue: Cleaning for health, products and practices for a safer indoor environment (Culver, et al, 2002).
- In hospitals, poor air quality was linked to Reactive Airway Dysfunction Syndrome (RADS) via the use of cleaning products containing ammonia, chlorine, and other harsh chemicals (Massachusetts Nursing Association, 2007). In a 2011 study, healthcare professionals were considered at risk of developing work related asthma from exposure to cleaning chemicals (Arif & Delclos). Healthcare without Harm is a group of hospitals, medical professionals, and environmental health organizations working towards issues like less harmful chemicals in cleaning (Healthcare without harm, n.d.).
- In the household, a recent study showed a freshly prepared cleaner of vinegar, baking soda, and tea tree oil was a disinfectant against Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli, and may be an effective alternative to bleach (Goodyear et al, 2015). For surface cleaning, Rhoades et al found oregano essential oil to be a strong antimicrobial agent (2013). WebMD suggests in an article, using hydrogen peroxide instead of bleach in the laundry and to clean counters, as it also killed mold, sanitized, and removed stains (WebMD, n.d.). Bleach exposure has been linked to respiratory, skin, and eye irritation (Liskowsky, Geier, & Bauer, 2011), and more natural alternatives are less toxic. The Organic Consumer’s Organization provides valuable guidance for less toxic household cleaning via their article: How toxic are your household cleaning supplies (OCO, 2016).
Green Cleaning Summary
Green cleaning with less toxic household ingredients and essential oils can be as effective, but much less harmful than using synthetic cleaners. Essential oils have demonstrated antimicrobial, dirt busting, pesticidal, and mood enhancing capabilities. In combination with natural ingredients like vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, and witch hazel, simple household cleaning recipes can be made that are low cost and capable of cleaning without the health hazards of chemical cleaners. The harsh ingredients in some store bought cleaners have been shown to cause asthma, skin irritation, hormone disruption, and cancer. Organizations have formed to promote environmentally friendly and less toxic cleaning practices. Hospitals, hotels, schools, and other government buildings are seeing the benefits of improved health in using greener cleaning choices. An increase in the use of natural products to clean will likely happen as people become more aware that they are as effective, less dangerous to our health and the environment, and cost effective.
Green Cleaning Recipes
Recipe for All Purpose Green Cleaning Cleaner
- 3 drops cinnamon essential oil
- 3 drops peppermint essential oil
- 3 drops rosemary essential oil
- 3 drops lemon essential oil
- 1 drop of clove essential oil
- 1/2 cup of rubbing alcohol or witch hazel
- 1/2 cup of vinegar
- 1 teaspoon of dish detergent or liquid castile soap
- 1 Tbsp baking soda
- 3 cups of water
- In a large container with a sealing lid, such as a large beer growler, mix together every ingredient except the water and optional baking soda. Shake well.
- Then, add the water and optional baking soda.
- When adding baking soda, mix in the sink because of a volcano like fizz that happens when baking soda combines with vinegar.
- Use in a spray bottle as a general house cleaner. Discontinue use if any irritation occurs.
Green Cleaning – Daily Shower Cleaner
- 16 ounces of vinegar
- 16 ounces of water
- 2 Tablespoons of dish detergent or liquid castile soap
- 2 drops of eucalyptus essential oil
- 2 drops of tea tree essential oil
- 2 drops of lemon essential oil
- Mix together in a spray bottle and spritz shower as needed.
Green Cleaning – Lemon Lavender Carpet Freshener
- 1 cup of cornstarch
- 1 cup of baking soda
- 10 drops of lavender eo
- 10 drops of lemon eo
- Mix all ingredients in a bowl, sprinkle onto carpet, let set for 15 minutes, vacuum.
Green Cleaning – Laundry Stain Pretreating
- 2 cups white vinegar
- 1 cup hydrogen peroxide
- 1 cup water
- 2 teaspoons Eucalyptus globulus essential oil
- 2 teaspoons Dawn brand dish detergent
- 2 teaspoons of baking soda
- Mix ingredients together in a large spray bottle. Pretreat stains by spraying area before washing clothes.
Green Cleaning – Home-made Toilet Bowl Freshener
- 4 oz spray bottle
- 20 drops of essential oil
- 2 Tbsp of witch hazel or alcohol
- Mix essential oil with witch hazel, then add water to fill the bottle and shake well.
Green Cleaning – Sweet Floral Car Freshener
- 12 mL fractionated coconut oil
- 10 drops orange essential oil
- 25 drops lavender essential oil
- 10 drops benzoin essential oil
- Heat the benzoin oil in warm water so it can be dropped into the blend. Drop the essential oils into a 13 mL spray perfume bottle. Add in coconut oil. Shake and let the aromas blend for about two weeks before use. Squirt one squirt onto wood or cardboard and place in car for an air freshener.
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