Interior Cleaning

5 Chemicals You Can Cut from Your Cleaning Routine (and What to Use Instead)

Clean your home in a healthier way by swapping out these harsh substances.

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When deep cleaning rises to the top of a chore list, a lot of potent products that haven’t been used in a while may be called into action. Much like the effort that’s put into seasonal decluttering and organizing, it can be a good idea to take stock of your stash of products and narrow it down.

Conventional cleaning products often include some ingredients that can harm the environment and human health. Here are five chemicals you may want to cut out, and healthier alternatives for a cleaner clean all around.


Often found in cleaning products to provide a pleasing scent, phthalates are known endocrine disruptors, which are chemicals that can cause cancerous tumors, birth defects, and various developmental disorders. Research shows that exposure to phthalates mainly occurs through inhalation, followed by skin contact. Opt for fragrance-free products and add in a few drops of essential oils instead. Lavender essential oil provides a calming scent, while lemon essential oil offers a fresh smell and the boost of a natural brightening agent as well.

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Popular in window, kitchen, and multipurpose cleaners, 2-butoxyethanol helps dissolve substances such as grease and dirt. The widely used chemical can cause sore throats when inhaled, while large amounts of exposure have been linked to breathing problems, low blood pressure, lowered levels of hemoglobin, liver and kidney damage, and more health issues. Opt instead for a homemade cleaning solution with a base of vinegar, water, and essential oils. This homemade window cleaner is a great option. Be sure to use this vinegar solution on non-porous surfaces only.


Another popular chemical that may be harming your health, ammonia is typically found in various cleaning products for its ability to break down grease and grime and evaporate quickly, leaving your surfaces streak-free. Direct exposure can cause skin and eye irritation, while inhalation can burn the respiratory system. EWG (Environmental Working Group) gives ECOS All-Purpose Cleaner a top score as a healthy alternative. For a DIY approach, add rubbing alcohol to a vinegar-water cleaner to make it evaporate quicker for fewer streaks.


Along with its presence in household tap water, chlorine is common in scouring powders, toilet bowl cleaners, mildew removers, and laundry whiteners. Chlorine is a skin irritant, a respiratory irritant, and can even be a serious thyroid disruptor. A healthier alternative for cleaning toilet bowls and showers is a combination of baking soda and liquid dish soap. Here’s the full recipe, and directions on how to use this alternative to make your bathroom sparkle.

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Sodium Hydroxide

Found in conventional oven cleaners and drain openers, sodium hydroxide can cause severe burns if it touches skin or gets into the eyes. Inhalation can cause a sore throat as well. A safer alternative for unclogging drains is the use of a snake tool. To clean the oven, sprinkle baking soda over the surface until covered, then spray the baking soda with white vinegar until it’s wet and bubbly. After about 20 minutes, wipe clean.