Americans spend billions of dollars each year on commercial cleaning chemicals that promise to keep their homes fresh, sanitized, shiny and fragrant. While most people purchase and use commercial cleaning chemicals with the best of intentions, many of the substances have toxic side effects that can inadvertently harm our homes, our families and the environment.

When we scrub our floors and surfaces and send those bubbly cleaning fluids down the drain we can set up the perfect scenario for environmental damage. That’s because the cleaning fluids are treated along with sewage and other waste at water treatment plants and are then discharged into nearby rivers and streams. While some types of cleaning fluids are broken down during the treatment process, many of them aren’t and consequently contaminate rivers and streams. This causes damage to plants and wildlife, including fish.

Phosphates, which are commonly used in water softeners and laundry detergents, are another concern. When phosphates enter rivers and streams they become a sort of “fertilizer” that encourages the overgrowth of algae. When algae and other aquatic plants reproduce too rapidly the water’s oxygen supply becomes compromised which can kill fish and other organisms.  Although phosphates have been banned from laundry detergents, they are still used in some automatic dishwasher detergents.

Fortunately, it is easy to avoid these dangerous compounds because there are many inexpensive, easy-to-use natural alternatives which can safely be used to clean shine and disinfect your home.  Mix ½ cup vinegar, ¼ cup baking soda and 2 liters of water in a spray bottle and you will have a natural cleaner that can safely be used on most of the surfaces in your home.

Lemon juice is another natural alternative to harsh cleaning agents. It has a clean, fresh smell and can be used to dissolve soap scum and hard water deposits. Cut a lemon in half and sprinkle baking soda on the cut section and you have the perfect tool to scrub surfaces.  Lemon juice can also be used to safely clean copper-bottomed pots and pans. Just cut a lemon in half, dip it in some salt and clean the spots.

Baking soda can be used to scrub surfaces in much the same way as commercial abrasive cleansers. It is also a great deodorizer. Place a box in the refrigerator and freezer to absorb odors. Instead of using a commercial fabric softener, add ½ cup of baking soda to the rinse cycle of your washing machine. This acts as a natural softener and is gentler for children and adults who are allergic to the harsh chemicals in commercial laundry products.

Make a commitment to use only low-impact, natural cleaners in your home. You will save money while doing your part to help the environment. And that’s a win-win proposition.