My mother was from the bleach generation.
A little bit of bleach cleans everything better.
Our toilet cleaner had bleach in it. Our kitchen spray.
The wipes she used to clean up spills.
Makes sense. You want to kill bacteria. Bleach kills bacteria. Therefore, you use bleach.
I carried on the family tradition. I put a drop of bleach in my vases before filling them with water and cut flowers. I filled my kitchen sink with water and bleach and let my stainless steel silverware soak for extra shine. I sprayed bleach on the caulking around my bathroom windows. Bleach was great. It did everything.
I became a parent.
When you see your child crawling around the floor, putting everything in her mouth, your views on cleanliness change considerably.
The World Health Organization lists bleach and other household cleaners as one of the top poisoning agents for kids in high-income countries.
Kids accidentally swallow bleach so often that it’s the most common type of call received by poison control centers for children under the age of six.
Even if you’re vigilant about keeping your household cleaners locked away, the fumes and residues created by cleaning products can affect your child’s health.
One study found that using bleach can increase your child’s risk of developing asthma by up to 40%, while another study found that using ANY cleaning spray regularly (especially if you use air fresheners as well) can increase your own risk of asthma by 30 to 50%.
To make matters worse, my daughter was fascinated by cleaning.
She wanted her own spray bottle to help. She thought it looked like fun.
There was no WAY I was going to let her handle household chemicals.
Simply being in the bathroom while I cleaned could cause her harm, whether by inhaling the fumes or touching a wet spot where a puddle of cleaner remained.
Not to mention the fact that bleach can extremely hazardous when combined with other cleaning products.
Use a toilet bowl cleaner containing ammonia and add a splash of bleach to be on the safe side, and you create a toxic gas that at best will burn your throat and at worst can kill you. (One man died by trying to clear a clogged sink with a combination of drain cleaner and Comet, which contains bleach.)
What was I going to do?
I had a small child. I needed to clean. I didn’t want to discourage her natural desire to help out and learn essential life skills in the process.
So I did some research.
I discovered you can make your own household cleaners with food-grade ingredients like vinegar and baking soda. You could even throw in some essential oils for extra antibacterial power.
I bought plastic bottles from the dollar store. I bought a huge jug of white vinegar and a massive box of baking soda. (In some stores, you can even find these items in the cleaning aisle.) And I started mixing.
My homemade spray cleaner, which I use on my countertops, is 1 part vinegar to 2 parts water. I add in tea tree oil and lemongrass essential oils for an extra boost.
My homemade window cleaner is 1 part vinegar to 4 parts water.
Baking soda on its own works great to clean most things, from the inside of your fridge to a greasy oven, but if you want a soft scrub you can add hydrogen peroxide to it.
Just for my daughter, I made a bottle of “air freshener” with pure water and her favorite essential oils. She goes around the house spraying it everywhere—except on electronics and wood, of course!
And that’s just the beginning.
You can make just about every type of household cleaner imaginable, from dishwashing detergent to carpet freshener, using inexpensive non-toxic ingredients.
I must admit, though…
I didn’t throw away my bleach-based cleaning products.
I do use them occasionally, when we’ve all come down with some bug.
But I now know they can do more harm than good. We don’t need industrial-strength cleaners in our little home. We just need something that gets the job done.
Do you have a favorite natural cleaning recipe? Share it with us below!
 Karyn Siegel-Maier, The Naturally Clean Home: 150 Super Easy Herbal Formulas for Green Cleaning (Storey Publishing, 2008) 19.