Safe Cleaning Alternatives Why be worried about chemicals in cleaning products?

Healthy School Environments for Child Care and Preschool Settings 2009
Safe Cleaning Alternatives
Why be worried about chemicals in cleaning products?
Of the 85,000 synthetic chemicals in commercial use today, only a small
fraction has been individually tested for toxicity. i It is important to bear in
mind when choosing cleaning products that a wide variety of toxic or hazardous
chemicals are routinely used as ingredients for cleaning products.
Industrial strength cleaning products and room deodorizers that are commonly
used in schools can be hazardous to children, especially those with asthma,
and also employees, especially the cleaning staff who handle the chemicals directly.i
What is the difference between sanitizing and disinfecting? ii
• A sanitizer does not totally remove all microorganisms from a particular surface, but does
remove 99.99% of specific germs in tests.
• A disinfectant destroys or irreversibly inactivates microorganisms.
How to choose safer cleaning alternatives for health and the environment:
According to the Healthy Schools Network, there are a few different ways to get information about the
chemicals found in cleaning products.i
• The first is by getting the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) on products, which can be
obtained by contacting the manufacturer. These sheets provide information about the specific
chemicals within products.
• Warning labels on the products must show the following information: name(s) of chemical(s),
physical appearance/characteristics, and health hazards.
In order for a disinfectant to work properly, it must contain some toxic properties. However, we can
minimize the risk of exposure by choosing some safer alternatives.
• Choose Environmentally Preferable Products (EPP) to protect human health and the
environment. These products are found to be less polluting and have less of an impact on
health. ( Go to for examples)
• Choose products that are readily biodegradable (easily breakdown biologically) and do not
have to be disposed of as hazardous waste.i
• Choose products that are non-irritating and do not list any short term or long term health
• Choose products that contain little or no Volatile Organic Compounds
(VOCs). VOCs are generally toxic and can cause irritation of eyes, ears, nose
and throat.iii
• AVOID flammable products, as well as products likely to have other
dangerous reactions.
• AVOID aerosol or spray cans.i
• Choose products that can be used for many different tasks (soap and water,
and baking soda).
Children’s Environmental Health Network
Children at Risk
Healthy School Environments for Child Care and Preschool Settings 2009
Children are growing and developing at fast rates. They are more sensitive to different chemicals as
they breathe, eat and drink more than adults do for their body weight. Children are also more likely to
place objects in their mouth and crawl on floors, which make them more vulnerable to accidents
involving cleaning supplies. Children are exposed in three ways:
Inhalation: Children breathe in the different chemicals of cleaning supplies including dust,
fumes and vapors which can damage their sensitive, developing lungs.
Skin Contact: Through touching cleaners, children may have skin irritation and burns.
Ingestion: Children are more likely to accidentally drink or place products into their mouth, as
they are unaware of the dangers.
Tips on Keeping Child Care and Preschool Settings Clean and Healthy
Remember to WASH HANDS for 15 seconds (under nails, between fingers, and on both sides of
hands) before and after eating, after using the restroom, and after touching a public space.iv
Place floor mats near each entrance of buildings to limit dirt and germs carried indoors.
Keep eating and drinking to assigned areas.i
Do NOT allow providers and/or teachers to bring in cleaning supplies from home.
• When cleaning:
o Always read and follow the label instruction for each cleaning
o Use cleaning products when children are not in the area. Cleaning
products are not persistent in the environment; therefore, after the
product has been washed away and stored properly, it poses a much
smaller risk of exposure.
Open your
o Provide proper ventilation of the cleaning area, including possibly
windows when
windows, vents, and fans.
o Do not mix products/chemicalsi
o Wear protective gear (gloves/ mask) as suggested on the product's label.
• What needs to be cleaned:
o Clean countertops, floors, and handles on doors and cabinets
daily or whenever needed.v
o Vacuum daily when children are away from the building.
o Clean blankets and other sleeping materials as well as children’s
cubbies at least bi-weekly. Remember DO NOT share these
items among
o Wash diaper containers daily.
Safer Cleaning Alternativesvi
Baking Soda
o Extinguish grease fires
o Deodorize carpets, refrigerators, upholstery, drains
o Can be used as a fabric softener, toothpaste and deodorant
o Stain removal
o Inhibits growth of mold and mildew
o Boosts cleaning power of detergents
o Can be used to kill cockroaches
Children’s Environmental Health Network
Healthy School Environments for Child Care and Preschool Settings 2009
Window cleaner
Furniture polish
Shampoo for carpets and rugs
• Lemon Juice
o Clean glass
o Remove stains from aluminum and clothes
• Soap (NOT detergent)
o Castile soap: shampoo and body soap
o All purpose liquid soap: dissolve bar soap in warm water
• Vinegar (5% acetic acid)
o Dissolves mineral deposits, grease, mildew and deodorizes
o Clean metallic taste in coffee pots
o Clean windows
Common Day Care/Household Tasks
• All Purpose Cleaners: There are two different ways to create an all-purpose cleaner.
The first is to mix vinegar and salt to create a cleanser. Another practical all-purpose
cleaner can be made by dissolving 4 tablespoons of baking soda in 1 quart of warm water.
• Toilet Bowl Cleaner: Mix baking soda and vinegar together to clean toilet bowls.
Additionally, a mixture of lemon juice and borax can also be used.
• Window and Glass Cleaners: Create a vinegar and water solution or a lemon juice and
water solution. Wipe area with newspaper to prevent streaking.
Pest Removal: Ants: Sprinkle powdered red chili pepper or borax near entrance way.
Cockroaches: Stir and sift 1-ounce trisodium phosphate (toxic if swallowed), 6
ounces borax, 4 ounces sugar, and 8 ounces flour. Spread this mixture onto
floor near infestation. Repeat after four days. Reapply after 2 weeks.
The National Library of Medicine: the Household Products Database – search by product or
chemical for information on common household products
Healthy Schools Network -
Safer Cleaning Products: _cleaning _guide.pdf
The Green Cleaning Network: Safer Cleaning Products Alternatives
ToxTown: National Institute of Health -
Seventh Generation,
Phone: 802.658.3773
Green Seal: List of Green Seal certified products –
Healthy Schools Network (1999, 2006). Guide to Green Cleaning: Healthier Cleaning and Maintenance: Practices and Products
for Schools. Available at Accessed on 1 March 2007.
Environment Protection Agency. Available at Accessed on 27 August 2007.
Etzel, R. 1999. American Academy Of American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Handbook of Pediatric Environmental Health.
The Soap and Detergent Association. Hand Hygiene. Available at Accessed on 27 August 2007.
American Academy of Pediatrics, American Public Health Association, and National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child
Care (2002). Caring for Our Children: National Health and Safety Performance Standards: Guidelines for Out-of-Home Child Care
Programs, 2nd edition. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics and Washington, DC: American Public Health
Association. Also available at
Davis, G. and Turner, E. “Safer Substitutes at Home: Non-Toxic Household Products.” University of Tennessee-Knoxville Waste
Management Institute. Available at Accessed 27 August 2007.
Children’s Environmental Health Network