Most household cleaning products contain ingredients that are incredibly poisonous. When children or pets get into those cleaners normally kept underneath the sink or in the bathroom cabinet, they can cause serious poisoning and even death. Have a dog or cat who likes to lap out of the toilet? They could be ingesting chemicals that shorten their lifespan. Adults aren’t immune, either; due to accident or over-exposure, adults also experience lung and skin damage each year from exposure to the toxic chemicals that make up your average, everyday cleaning solutions.
Thankfully, there is a growing awareness amongst consumers that many cleaning products are hazardous for their family’s health, as well as for the environment. An easy alternative for your average hazardous disinfectant is regular old vinegar. As a disinfectant, vinegar is cheaper, safer, and better for the environment than most name-brand disinfectants. Here’s a look at why name-brand disinfectants are so harmful, and how you can use vinegar in their place.
Why Regular Disinfectants are So Dangerous
Most disinfectants include one or more dangerous ingredients. While we have the Food and Drug Administration to protect us against things we put into our bodies, there’s considerably less regulation controlling what we spray onto our toilet. A few of the dangerous chemicals in household disinfectants include:
Hydrochloric acid is an extremely potent acid that is often found in diluted forms in toilet bowl cleaners. Like most household cleaners, exposure to the fumes can cause coughing, choking, and inflammation of the respiratory tract. Prolonged exposure to potent hydrochloric acid fumes can even cause death. Just a swallow or two can cause nausea, vomiting, or death (Source: Lindane.org).
Few topics are more controversial than our society’s use of chlorine in household disinfectants, swimming pools, and even drinking water. Consider that chlorine was one of the very first agents used in chemical warfare – do you really want to use an agent like that to clean your bathtub? Research also suggests that people who swim often in chlorinated pools increase the likelihood of contracting cancer, allergies, and asthma (Source: Dr. Weil). Yet, many Americans use chlorine-based products to disinfect their counter tops and sinks.
A third common ingredient in normal disinfectants is ammonia. Inhaling ammonia fumes can cause immediate respiratory irritation, and even small amounts of ammonia on the skin or in the eyes can create chemical burns. If ammonia is accidentally mixed with bleach – an accident that can easily happen since few of us actually take the time to read warning labels on cleaning products — the resulting fumes can literally kill you. Why run the risk of having such a dangerous product in your home, especially if you have small children or pets?
How to Use Vinegar to Disinfect
Vinegar works because it contains acetic acid. Most store-bought brands of vinegar contain about 5% acetic acid, which kills most germs and viruses.
There are a variety of instances in which vinegar makes a great and safe disinfectant. Here are a few of them:
- With produce: A spray of vinegar followed by a spray of hydrogen peroxide will kill almost all of the bugs that cause food poisoning, including the dreaded E. coli and salmonella.
- Kill mold: Vinegar is an effective way to remove surface mold. Be warned that if the mold goes deep into your wall, floor, or carpet, vinegar might not take care of the problem – but neither will something like chlorine.
- On counter tops and surfaces: From the kitchen counter to the bathroom sink, vinegar is a great way to kill bacteria and viruses; undiluted vinegar kills 99% of bacteria and 80% of viruses (Source: Care2).
Oh, But the Smell!
Many people are skeptical when it comes to using vinegar as a disinfectant, not because they’re wary about the truth of the claims that vinegar kills germs, but because they can’t take the stinky vinegar smell. A good way to solve the problem is to add essential oil to your vinegar. A few drops of lemon oil can remove the stink and replace it with a nice lemony smell.
You can also try diluting the vinegar with water. Keep in mind that the more you dilute it, the less power it will have to kill germs. However, as a formula for just wiping up a counter or sink where there’s no major worry of germs (for example, you haven’t been slapping raw chicken around), diluted vinegar with a few drops of lemon oil will work just fine and leave your kitchen smelling lovely.