What is an All-Purpose Cleaner?
In general, an all-purpose cleaner is a bottled liquid cleaning agent that is concocted from ingredients that are harsh enough to remove dirt, grime, and stains, but gentle enough not to damage a wide array of surfaces, such as carpet, plastic, linoleum, porcelain, stainless steal, laminate, glass, or finished wood.
Despite a common all-purpose purpose, the application method varies from brand to brand. Some all-purpose cleaners are more convenient to use than others, employing a simple “spray, then wipe” technique; others often require a more laborious process of diluting, applying, waiting, scrubbing, and rinsing. Regardless of which method, all-purpose cleaners are both practical and convenient. Time and time again, they have proven to be the go-to household cleaning product of choice, especially in the United States.
Why Make Your Own All-Purpose Cleaner?
Oftentimes, what you gain with convenience, you lose in safety. This seems to be true of most store-bought cleaners. Unfortunately, the most popular all-purpose cleaners contain the following toxic ingredients:
- Phtalates – These are well-known endocrine disruptors, of which men are particularly susceptible. According to researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Harvard School of Public Health, their collaborated 2003 study revealed that men who exhibited higher levels of phthalate compounds in their blood had a commensurating sperm count reduction. In other words, inhalation and physical contact with all-purpose cleaners containing phthalates–often referred to as “fragrance” on the labels–could lead to organ-threatening chemical absorption, infertility, and possible birth defects (considering the remaining sperm has damaged DNA).
- Perchloroethylene (PERC) – According to the chief scientist of environmental protection for the New York Attorney General’s office, PERC is a neurotoxin, which is loosely defined as a poison that affects the nervous system. It has also been classified as a probable carcinogen by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
- Triclosan – A strong irritant to skin and mucous membranes (such as eyes and lungs), triclosan also promotes the growth of drug-resistant bacteria, disrupts endocrine (hormonal) function , weakens both cardiac and skeletal muscle, and is assumed to be a carcinogen.
- Quarternary Ammonium Compounds (QUATs) – QUATs are another promoter of drug-resistant bacteria. They are also one of the leading causes of contact dermatitis–a red, oozing rash commonly in the form of blistered, scaly skin and often coupled with a severe “burning itch.” QUATs are suspected to cause respiratory disorders, as well. There is some concurrent evidence that suggests they are behind the development of asthma.
- 2-Butoxyethanol – A set of extremely potent solvents, which are chemical compounds that dissolve, soften, melt, and extract other compounds. 2-Butoxyethanol contributes to narcosis (a stupor-like state), pulmonary edema (excess fluid in the lungs), and severe liver and kidney damage. It also just happens to be the most common ingredient in all-purpose cleaners.
- Ammonia – This is another leading ingredient in all-purpose cleaners because it evaporates quickly and doesn’t leave streaks like other cleaning components. Unfortunately, it is an irritant to the skin and mucous membranes, especially the lungs. Inhalation is the usual means by which people are affected. Generally, the elderly and those with asthma are the most susceptible to its fumes. Although, professional cleaners–housekeepers most-notably–who use ammonia frequently in their cleaning routine, report suffering from chronic bronchitis, as well as the development of asthma. To make matters worse, if mixed with bleach, ammonia emits an intensely poisonous gas. (Considering most people aren’t natural-born chemists, it is safe to assume that many good-intentioned souls have made such a mixture in an attempt to destroy mold.)
- Chlorine – This toxic substance presents itself regularly in everyday environments. It’s in our tap water and in far too many cleaning products. Not only is it an acute respiratory irritant, it’s also a possible disruptor of thyroid function.
- Sodium Hydroxide – Sodium hydroxide is mainly found in all-purpose cleaners tailored toward bathroom, kitchen, and plumbing. Customarily known as lye, this substance is tremendously corrosive. If it comes in contact with the skin or the eyes, a severe chemical burn will occur. Inhalation has an equally unhappy ending.
Shall I Go On?
I didn’t think so. Are you ready for something safer?
What You’ll Need
Distilled Water (or boiled)
Washing Soda (no, it’s not the same as baking soda)
Liquid Castile Soap
Essential Oils (optional, but more effective against mold if included)
Glass Spray Bottle
All-Purpose Cleaner Recipe
- 1 tsp borax
- 1/2 tsp washing soda
- 1 tsp liquid castile soap
- Essential oils
Top Anti-Fungal Essential Oil Combinations (For All-Purpose Cleaning)
4 drops peppermint – 4 drops rosemary – 6 drops wild orange
4 drops lemon – 4 drops lavender – 10 drops wild orange
4 drops clove – 4 drops cinnamon bark – 6 drops lemon
6 drops lemongrass – 6 drops tea tree oil (melaleuca)
4 drops clove – 4 drops lavender – 6 drops lemon
4 drops thyme – 8 drops lavender
10 drops lemongrass
- Glass spray bottle for storage (about 16 oz.) – Do not use plastic!
- Place borax, washing soda, and liquid castile soap in the spray bottle.
- Add 2 cups of warm water. (Note: Warm water allows for the borax to integrate better into the mixture.)
- Add your chosen essential oils. (Note: Borax is a natural anti-fungal agent so, while essential oils will make this even more potent, this recipe is still an effective mold-killer without them.)
- Cover the bottle and shake gently but well.
Go spray some mold!
About the Author: Amanda Demsky is the mother and personal chef of two boys, the domestic technician of a three-bedroom desert home, and occasionally, a freelance writer and editor. Feel free to follow her on Twitter @fullquiver777