Say no to synthetic cleaning powders and fluids that come loaded with harmful chemicals. You’ll find easy alternatives in your kitchen — think vinegar and juice of lemon!

So, we eat organic food, use herbal cosmetics, wear natural fabric and desist from mindless use of plastic. But, what about the synthetic cleaning fluids and powders we use at home? They pump in a cocktail of chemicals into the environment.

“Many of the constituents of these cleaning agents are corrosive and harm the human body too,” warns Sultan Ahmed Ismail, veteran environmentalist and director of Ecoscience Research Foundation.

Severe effects

Such products often have strong artificial colours / fragrances, besides bleaching agents, ammonia, acids, pesticides, harmful petrochemical derivatives and other notorious chemicals. Studies have shown that exposure to these chemicals could impact the skin, mucus membranes, soft tissue, internal organs and even the unborn; some of them have been linked to cancer too. Be especially wary of products that claim to give instantaneous cleansing effects, as they are likely to be loaded with these chemicals.

Fiddling about with such chemicals does seem counterproductive in a health-related endeavour such as household cleaning — especially when organic alternatives could do the job just as well. Branded organic cleaning products such as washing powders, detergents, dish washing powders and vegetable oil-based soaps might be expensive. It is easier to source organic cleaning agents from local grocery stores.

Easy to use

For instance, homemaker Malathi Rajagopal relies on an organic arsenal of vinegar, lemon juice, baking soda, soap nut powder, lemon grass oil, neem oil, and salt for household cleaning operations; they are not outrageously expensive either. Organic cleansing substances such as wood ash are tough to lay hands upon. Kavitha Ramakrishnan, an eco-conservation volunteer, sources it from farms in nearby villages. “If you don’t have wood ash, you can simply add more baking soda to the cleansing mixture. Likewise, activated microorganisms (Nature’s good microbes) do a great job when used in cleaning toilets or even clothes. But they are difficult to source, and can be substituted by undiluted vinegar,” mentions Kavitha.

When you stock these organic cleaning agents in easy-to-use spray cans and containers, they become very handy to use on an everyday basis. “You might even stick labels mentioning the name of the product and the date of purchase of the ingredient,” Malathi suggests. These organic substances are effective as cleaning agents, because it is in their nature to act on grime, grease and germs.

Effective, naturally

- Vinegar has naturally occurring acetic acid, giving it an antibacterial effect and helping it dissolve grease and deposits

- Citric acid in fresh lemon juice inhibits fungal growth, works against oily residues, removes stains and has a natural whitening / bleaching action

- Wood ash and charcoal have adsorbent properties, which make them effective cleaning agents

- Salt disinfects and its abrasive action aids in scrubbing

- Baking soda absorbs smells, reacts with fatty acids to form natural detergents and has an abrasive nature making it effective as a cleanser

- Soap nut contains saponin, a natural surfactant that makes it remove dirt and grease

The alternatives

Clothes: Dried and powdered soap nut powder makes for good washing powder

Stainless steel vessels: Mix one part each of soap nut powder and wood ash with a quarter part of baking soda. If ash can't be sourced, increase the proportion of baking soda

Clogged drains: Three tbsp each of baking soda and vinegar, pour down the drain. Leave it overnight and use a plunger to release the block

Ceramic ware: One spoon of lime juice/vinegar for a cup of water

Tiles/floor: Vinegar in (preferably warm) water. Adding neem oil/lemon grass oil to this mixture gives fragrance and deters germs too

Latrine/toilet bowl: Packaged activated microorganisms/undiluted vinegar

Mirror: Spray water with 10 per cent vinegar and wipe with a newspaper

Glass: Lemon juice for stains and lemon juice/vinegar in water for general cleaning

Wood: Wipe with a rag touched with lemon grass oil or olive oil

Brass: Tamarind or flour with vinegar and salt

Refrigerator interior: Wipe with a dusting of dry baking soda; wet cloth with water and wipe again

Refrigerator exterior: Wipe with a cloth dipped in baking soda solution in water, after squeezing the cloth

(Tip: Try to use hot water while cleaning, except when cleaning laminates/wood/plastic)