Animals are family. We share our living space with them and we try to make that environment safe for everyone. Plus, they can be messy, they have accidents and don’t clean up after themselves, just like little kids. They need us to keep their environments healthy. I used to believe that clean meant safe, but unfortunately there’s a lot more to it than that.
The Pet Poison Helpline ranked household cleaning products as the sixth most toxic items for dogs. Cats are especially sensitive to phenols and even a small amount absorbed through the skin can be deadly.
There are an increasing number of studies being conducted today, showing direct links between household cleaners and illnesses in dogs and cats. Most people assume that this only relates to situations where the animals have ingested the chemicals directly, but this is not the case. Simple “normal use” exposure is enough to cause very significant damage over time. Paw pads are one of the only places on a dog’s body where they have sweat glands. This means they can absorb the chemicals not only by licking them or inhaling them, but simply by sniffing, walking and laying on the floor. Most of this kind of damage happens very subtly, over a long period of time, and by the time sickness occurs, it is too late to determine the exact cause. Lack of clinical signs early on mean by the time they are present, the animal is already extremely sick. In recent studies, animals that are affected develop some kind of metabolic disease (kidney, liver, or other organ system failure), cancer or some other diseases with similar severity. These diseases are often fatal and prevention means everything!
Another important thing to remember is that if your pet already has allergies, it could actually be these chemicals making them act up.
As concerned pet parents, it’s good to know to what to look out for in the products around the house. According to pet MD, this list is a good start:
- Phenols (which are typically found in cleaners with the word “sol” in the name)
- Phthalates (often used in scented products)
- Formaldehyde (found in general household cleaners)
- Isopropyl alcohol
- Perchloroethylene (found in rug and carpet shampoos)
- Glycol ethers
Watching out for all of this PLUS reading labels, can sound extremely overwhelming. I promise you, it’s not! An easy way to transition, is holding off on the commitment. Keep the cleaning products in your house but just do an experiment. The first thing I tried was just using vinegar… on everything! It was cheap and easy. After a week I figured I would know if this was something I could stick with. I am a germaphobe, keep in mind, so I was skeptical. Luckily it worked! I was surprised by the results and then graduated to making different things. It wasn’t over night, I just started changing things as they came along, and now I can finally say that I feel that my home is safe from BOTH germs and dirt AND toxic chemicals! Plus, now I can make things smell a little better too. Vinegar in particular can leave behind some unpleasant fragrance. I’ve learned just enough about essentials oils now to use them both as cleaning agents and for odor control. After all, it matters to me not only how clean but what my house smells like too!
Some of my favorite easy clean items include:
- Vinegar because it is a fabulous disinfectant. Almost any vinegar will work in a pinch, but I chose white distilled because I’m using it for cleaning only. The reason vinegar does this so well is because it contains acetic acid. It has antibacterial and anti fungal properties because it has a pH of 2.0. This kills bacteria and viruses so effectively, that in a study done in 2010 using vinegar vs lysol to kill the flu virus, the two had identical effectiveness. As a raw feeder, I worry about things like E.Coli and they also did a study using it to kill this on surfaces and sponges comparing it to bleach. Once again, the two were identical. It is also an organic compound that is biodegradable, and as we all know, it is completely safe to ingest. Dog’s may not like it, but it will cause them no harm. In household cleaners, it is usually mixed with water and the ratio is based on the task at hand. An example would be a cutting board vs the rest of the house. On the cutting board, I would use 100% vinegar undiluted, but for almost everywhere else a 50/50 blend is more than adequate.
The uses seem to be endless as it has also proven to be an incredible de-greaser, glass and mirror cleaner, wood and metal polish, soap scum remover, fabric softener, wood floor cleaner, ceramic, tile, linoleum or vinyl cleaner, odor eliminator, it can unclog drains, it loosens mineral deposits (lime and rust), stain remover, coffee maker cleaner, used in the kitchen and bathroom, outside, etc.
Citrus juices such as either fresh squeezed or store bought lemon, are often added to amplify and enhance these cleaning properties as well as improve the fragrance. They have natural enzymes that break down organic matter and very similar properties to vinegar in terms of cleaning. Rubbing half a lemon wedge on top of a cutting board for example, is an easy way to sanitize it. I read somewhere that citrus fragrances are also uplifting so maybe that’s why I love this smell so much!
*Note: Places where vinegar or citrus juice should NOT be used: On marble, terrazzo, travertine and limestone surfaces or floors because the acid may cause damage. Also, never mix vinegar with bleach! (Or bleach with ammonia) This creates an extremely toxic chlorine gas that is potentially fatal to inhale.
2. Baking Soda Also known as sodium bicarbonate, is another easy solution for so many things. For tougher cleaning jobs where something with abrasive qualities is needed, baking soda does an incredible job. Food bowls with dried on messes, countertops, etc. All you have to do is mix it with warm water and a little bit of salt to make a paste. Dry, it is also an incredible odor absorber, and many people keep an open box in their refrigerator just for this reason. I don’t have carpets any more, but it is my favorite pet odor absorber for rugs and fabrics that can be vacuumed. Simply let it sit for 30 minutes and after a vacuum run, the smells will be completely gone. (For tougher carpet stains, instead of baking soda, a vinegar paste can be made with salt. 2 tbs salt and 1/2 C white vinegar can be mixed into a paste, rubber in, left to dry and then vacuumed. If this doesn’t work you can try mixing 1 tbs of vinegar with 1 tbs of cornstarch and letting it dry for two days before vacuuming. These are much healthier solutions to carpet wash because it can be SO dangerous!)
Baking soda is also great to use under kitty litter and it can even be added to freshen up laundry! Plus, it’s edible so it can even be a great doggie toothpaste additive!
3. Coconut oil has very powerful disinfectant properties. It’s great for cutting boards because it also conditions wood. Mixed with baking soda it can remove upholstery stains. I use it to season cast iron and sanitize all wooded utensils. It does all this while moisturizing my skin!
4. Borax, Mineral oil and Castile soap such as Sal Suds (my favorite- this lasts FOREVER!) are some other common household items that are also considered safe.
5. Essential oils such as Lemon oil or Lavender oil are considered safe cleaning solution additives. They contain some disinfectant qualities and can improve scent. There are many others, but these are the two most common. I use them mostly to make my own laundry soap. This is important because everything my dog lays on and touches all day, has usually been washed.
Laundry detergent has a huge track record of causing problems for humans. Studies on this involving pets are scarce, but I’m pretty convinced that it’s even more dangerous to them. This is ALL simply related to them breathing in the washed fabrics. If ingested, it can actually be fatal. I make sure that all of my dog’s toys are rinsed in vinegar or washed with organic soap only, and I try to never buy pet products that were made in China, including beds!
A very simple recipe for homemade powdered laundry detergent is:
- 2 Tbs Sal Suds
- 1/4 C Baking Soda
Or a recipe from wellness mamma that I like a lot is:
- 1 bar of Dr. Bronner’s (or other natural fragrance-free soap bar) Grated with a cheese grater
- In a large bowl, mix 2 parts washing soda (sodium carbonate) – Arm and Hammer is a popular one, 2 parts Borax and 1 part grated soap or 1 C of each and one soap bar
- Store in a closed container and shake before use
- Use 2 tbs to 1/4 C per load
- 1 bar of Dr. Bronner’s (or other natural fragrance-free soap bar) Grated with a cheese grater
- Melt the grated soap in a pan with 2 quarts of water, stir until dissolved
- Add 4.5 gallons of hot tap water to a large bucket and stir in:
- 2 cups of Borax and
- 2 cups of washing soda until completely dissolved
- Pour melted soap into the bucket and stir well
- Cover and leave overnight
- Shake or stir until smooth and pour into containers for storage
- Use 1/2 C to 1 C per load
*Note: adding 2 Tbs of Sal Suds to these two recipes can help avoid buildup in the washing machine and
I ALWAYS add some white vinegar to the fabric softener compartment because it really works well for that! I also add a lambs wool dryer ball (dryer sheets are horrible!) for extra softness and static cling. You can add essential oils to these recipes, but I just put some on the ball.
I also make my own coconut oil soap that I use in this and to wash my dog with, but thats a separate topic 😉
*Even natural Fragrances and rooms sprays can very taxing to an animal. There are many homemade organic room sprays, without propellant and other added chemicals, that are a better option when lightly used. I prefer to use 100% organic beeswax candles with pure essential oils to accomplish this. The beeswax has air purifying properties and the essential oils are transmitted lightly but effectively. They don’t need to be lit all the time either. When I’m home I often use a candle warmer instead.
For years now, I have been using homemade cleaners for most things around the house, but my introduction to organic cleaners was a little different than most people’s. I started for effectiveness and then stayed for the health benefits! I was living in a house with white tile floors and struggling on a daily basis to keep them clean. I tried every product on the market, and nothing worked! I had a friend who did organic house cleaning for a living. She recommend that I try white vinegar and Sal suds wiped with a towel. I was blown away by the results! It worked so much better than anything I had ever bought and cost pennies per wash.
My reasons for using it now are completely different, but the effectiveness of it is what keeps me from looking elsewhere. Needless to say, my dog licks the floor. If I used a product with bleach for example, it would be extremely dangerous to her over time.
The idea of “going green” is becoming a lot more popular. For the most part, this is great but I’ve also noticed a lot of products entering the market with more creative “green” labels, and less reputable ingredients. As with everything that gets popular, it’s unfortunately something we have to pay attention to, especially considering the fact that many ingredients that are safe for people are not safe for animals as well. I like to buy organic soaps for example, because Castile is too harsh on my skin. I’ve tried and failed to make a good liquid soap, so I buy them where I get groceries. I’m busy and not interested in googling anything, so my rule of thumb is simple. If I don’t recognize it, I don’t buy it, period. Later on if I want to look up an item I will, but on the spot I won’t take a chance. I’ve made the mistake before of thinking that the front of labels were truthful. Most are somewhat accurate, but many had plenty of things in them that just made them expensive versions of chlorox. (Natural laundry soap was a biggest offender here.)
As far as the floor is concerned, I stick with my original formula.
1/2-1 tbs Sal Suds (any Castile soap is fine)
2-4 C distilled white vinegar
Added to a bucket of mop water
I make my own counter sprays just with vinegar and water or some lemon in a spray bottle. I aim for 50/50 but I honestly probably make them stronger now since feeding raw. For hand and dish soap, I usually just buy it from the store. Dr. Bronner’s or Mrs. Meyer’s are my favorite.
An easy dish soap from diy naturals is:
- 1 3/4 C boiling water added to a bowl with
- 1 tbs borax
- 1 tbs grated castile soap (dr. bronner’s is a great one)
- Add essential oils of your choosing
- Mix until combined and let cool for 6-8 hours before putting in a squirt bottle and using.
An easy hand and/or dish soap recipe from live simply is:
- Mix 1/2 C distilled water with 1 tbs white vinegar
- Add 1/2 C Sal Suds and 1 tbs jojoba, sweet almond, coconut, olive or other moisturizing oil and stir
- Add mixture to a dispenser
- Shake before each use
For my dog’s bowls, I use straight vinegar and sometimes baking soda.
I like DIY for quality control, but it can get very time consuming, so I really want to find brands I trust. Right now, its a short list that still a work in progress, but it includes:
Dr. Bronner’s, Mrs. Meyers, Thieve’s, Skout’s Honor, Green Shield, Planet Ultra, Better Life, The Honest Company, 7th Generation, Earth Friendly, Eco Care, Ecover Zero, Emma Eco Me, Planet Natural Detergent, and Gaia. Method and Green Works are ok and a bit easier to find.
We are still in the process of making the switch 100%. My focus started with what’s safe for my dog. Now I’m trying to slowly transition the rest of the house. In addition to this with winter coming, and closed windows, I worry about the air quality. We live near an airport so we’re getting a second air purifier. I also have a list of natural air purifying plants that I hope to share in a future post.
The product swapping can feel like a lot all at once, but over time it starts to become an easier way to live. I hope at least one of these recipes was helpful! Before next year I am hoping to have a lot more of my own recipes to share!
Just for laughs… dogs and vacuums! 😉