DIY Home: All-Purpose Cleaner


Cleaning is boring.

And probably the only thing more boring than cleaning is talking about cleaning and the cleaning products that go with it. I totally agree! But all boredom aside, it is important to know that many conventional cleaners contain a slew of chemicals that can negatively impact your and your family’s health.

According to the EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning, only about one in seven cleaning products tested earned a grade of A or B for low human and environmental toxicity and robust disclosure of ingredients. More than two-thirds fell short, receiving a D or F. Almost 75% of cleaning products contain ingredients which may have worrisome respiratory health effects. 25% of products scored moderate to high concern because they contain ingredients or impurities linked to cancer. 20% scored moderate to high concern because they contain ingredients associated with developmental, endocrine or reproductive harm. In addition, more than 10% of the products tested are corrosive (capable of permanently damaging eyes or skin) and 10% were rated moderate to high risk for skin irritation/damage and skin allergies. Lastly, almost 60% of cleaners scored moderate to high concern because they contain ingredients that pose a risk to the environment.

To give you specific examples, these are some of the chemicals that can routinely be found in the most common all-purpose spray cleaners available on the US market today:

2-butoxyethanol: Used as a solvent for resins, lacquers and varnishes. Causes liver and red blood cell damage in lab animals and is a confirmed animal carcinogen. Causes eye, skin and respiratory irritation. Has moderate acute toxicity to aquatic life.

Alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chlorides (C12-16):  Used as an antimicrobial/insecticide/fungicide. Poses a high risk for human health. Asthmagen. Causes reproductive toxicity in animals.

Ethanolamine: Buffering agent/pH adjuster. Has respiratory effects, general systemic/organ effects. Causes chronic aquatic toxicity, nervous system effects, skin irritation/allergies/damage.

Quaternium-24: Used as an antimicrobial, antistatic agent. Asthmagen. Can cause reproductive toxicity in animals.

Didecyldimethylammonium chloride: An antiseptic/disinfectant. Causes severe skin burns, eye damage and asthma.

Sodium hypochlorite: A disinfectant. Very toxic to aquatic life. Causes severe skin burns and eye damage.

FD&C Yellow 5:  A food-coloring additive produced from petroleum. Poses some concern for cancer, acute and chronic aquatic toxicity, general systemic/organ effects.

Fragrance: A non-specific ingredient. Can cause skin irritation/allergies/damage, acute aquatic toxicity, nervous system effects, respiratory effects, biodegradation. Often contains phthalates – very common industrial chemical compounds that are known endocrine disruptors linked to problems of the reproductive system, including decreased sperm mortality and concentration in men and genital abnormalities in baby boys.

And the list goes on and on! To make matters worse, even some cleaning products that are touted as “green” are not as safe as one would hope. Case in point: After further examination, I realized that the “non-toxic” multi surface cleaner I had been using actually contains phenoxyethanol (a controversial synthetic preservative I have been trying to avoid in my skin care products for years). Enough! Time to get my hippie on and finally create my own cleaning spray. And why not? Made with only three readily available ingredients, it is quick, cheap and effective!



  1. Put all of the ingredients in a sprayer bottle.
  2. Fill the bottle with warm water.
  3. Shake, spray, clean. Done! 

Teachable Tips:

  1. I use sweet orange oil for its uplifting scent but definitely want to try other varieties such as lemon, lavender, eucalyptus or tea tree.
  2. When I first started experimenting, I used a tablespoon baking soda but found that it was too much. It didn’t dissolve well and clogged up the sprayer. Reducing it to one teaspoon and using warm water instead of cold helps to mix the ingredients properly.
  3. These spray bottles are awesome! They are made out of glass which means they do not leach plastic chemicals into the cleaner (that would completely defeat the purpose, no?). The dark blue color protects the essential oils from damaging UV rays. And since the bottles come in a 2-pack, I feel inspired to post a recipe for another type of DIY concoction in the near future. I’m thinking glass and window cleaner but stay tuned!


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