Women's Health Matters

Text Size
Jump to body content

Alternatives to Common Household Products

Do you find that you dread cleaning or doing laundry because the cleaners and detergents sting your eyes, make you wheeze or give you a headache? Next cleaning or laundry day, try setting aside your regular cleaners and detergents and try some homemade or alternative products instead. They are healthier for you and the environment. Another bonus is that they are gentler on your clothes and typically more affordable.

General Cleaning

Instead of cleaning products that contain harsh chemicals, try using:

  • White vinegar – to clean windows, counter tops, chrome, grease and floors
  • Baking soda – to absorb odours, and clean ovens, sinks and counter tops
  • Lemon juice – to clean windows, sinks and grease
  • Vegetable oil, lemon oil – as a furniture polish
  • Plant-based dish soaps
  • Borax – as a substitute for chlorine bleach. Borax should be used sparingly, as it too can be toxic in high doses
  • Washing soda – to whiten laundry and cut back on the amount of detergent needed

There are also a growing number of less-toxic products on the market. Canadian products that have been certified as safer for human health and the environment have an EcoLogo (three doves intertwined to form a maple leaf.)


  • To clean your oven, sprinkle with baking soda, spray with water and leave on for 12 hours, respraying the water periodically. Scrub until clean.
  • To open a clogged drain, use baking soda followed by boiling water or vinegar.
  • Try using herbs and spices or boiling a lemon instead of using commercial air fresheners.
  • For an all-purpose cleaner, use a 50:50 mix of water and white vinegar.
  • To save time, make your cleaners in advance.
  • Label all ingredients, and keep them out of reach of children.
  • Wear rubber gloves when cleaning. Even though products are environmentally safe, they may nevertheless irritate the skin of sensitive individuals.

Products to use sparingly or avoid:

  • Window and floor cleaners containing ammonia
  • Drain cleaners containing sodium hydroxide
  • Commercial air fresheners
  • Aerosol products
  • Anything with added fragrances or dyes



  • A mixture of one cup soap flakes, ½ cup borax and ½ cup washing soda as a laundry soap
  • Sodium perborate or hydrogen peroxide as a chlorine-free, natural bleach
  • ½ to 1 cup of white vinegar in the rinse cycle of your laundry, to soften clothes and remove odours and residual detergent (instead of fabric softener)
  • Less-toxic commercial laundry products – look for ones that have been certified as safer, and carry an EcoLogo

Other tips:

  • If you still want to use a “regular” detergent, try one that is scent-free.
  • Instead of dry cleaning clothes, try hand washing or "wet cleaning” (a relatively new procedure that doesn’t use perchlorethylene (PERC), a strong irritant, known to be a neurotoxin and carcinogen at higher doses)

Products to avoid:

  • Detergents with dyes, perfumes and chlorine
  • Chlorine bleach
  • Commercial fabric softeners
  • Dry cleaning (uses a chemical called PERC)

Personal Care Products


  • Shampoo – unscented shampoos with natural ingredients
  • Soap – unscented glycerine soaps or other unscented natural skin cleansers
  • Deodorants – mineral crystal stones or salts, or unscented commercial deodorants
  • Toothpaste – salt crystals, baking soda or tea tree oil toothpaste
  • Moisturizers – plain almond oil, olive oil or cocoa butter, or use unscented, hypoallergenic products
  • Dusting powder – cornstarch or French Clay powder (available in health food stores)

There are also many other non-toxic products on the market.

Products that may be irritating include:

  • Products with perfumes or dyes
  • Aerosol spray deodorants
  • Hairspray

Other tips:

  • For a natural hair conditioner, work a small amount of olive oil or jojoba oil into your hair until it is coated. Cover your hair with a shower cap and leave on for 30 minutes. Shampoo and rinse as usual.
  • For a homemade hair gel, try dissolving one package of unflavoured gelatin into two cups of hot water. Store in a glass jar in the refrigerator.


Jump to top page

Related resources

Air quality at home

Alternatives to common household products

Avoiding mould

Scent-free spaces

Avoiding pesticides

Discussion Groups

Share knowledge and talk about your environmental health-related experiences with other women.

Environmental Health Discussion Forum

Read personal stories

Read stories from other women and learn from their experiences.

Your stories

How you can help

Visit Women's College Hospital Foundation

  • A publication of:
  • Women's College Hospital