Once upon a time, people didn’t use commercial cleaners to get their homes spotless. They figured everything could be made spick and span using a hard scrubbing brush, some ashes from the hearth, and some water. But then again, once upon a time, people didn’t feel the need to bathe more than once a month, so maybe that’s not the best example to cite.
Today though, there are people who believe you still don’t need commercial detergents. They think anything and everything can be cleaned with the right combination of water, vinegar, and baking soda. We’ll look into that a little later, but first, let’s explore germ-killing ability.
Commercial cleaners claim to offer more germ-killing power. They include concentrated disinfectants and other chemicals that give you that extra sheen. Chlorine bleach is commonly used as a cleaning agent, and it is thought to eviscerate germs. It oxidises coloured stains, which essentially breaks up the colour component, making it ‘white’ and therefore invisible.
Bleach also contains concentrated acids that kill germs and bacteria. But inhaling bleach fumes can be harmful and even fatal to humans. Also, though not many manufacturers admit it, bleach doesn’t kill all germs. That’s why many claim they can kill 99.99%. It gives them plausible deniability.
Another interesting point is that it’s not actually necessary to kill every single germ or bacterium. As icky as it sounds, some germs are actually helpful. Our skin and hair are full of symbiotic bacteria that actually help our bodies, such as the kinds that digest food or destroy skin infections. And even the ones that aren’t helpful are largely benign, so our germophobia isn’t as life-saving as we believe.
Chemical cleaners contain phenols, phosphates, and phthalates, which while damaging to bacteria, can also harm plants and waterways when they are released into the environment. Hence, it’s a better idea all round to use green cleaners, even though they might entail a little more scrubbing than easy-peasy-bleach.
If you do decide to go green, there are lots of options you can use. We’ve already mentioned vinegar and bicarbonate, but you can also use borax and ammonia. Combinations of these natural, environmentally friendly products will clean every inch of your house. Let’s look at a few examples. For your mirrors, windows, and glassware, use white vinegar, crinkled up newspaper, and a lot of muscle power to get that clear shine.
For sinks and drains, don’t pour down a bottle of bleach. Instead, sprinkle some baking soda. If your drain is particularly troublesome, dump a few tablespoons, or even half a cup. Let the powder sit for a few minutes, then chase it down with some white vinegar. The mixture will make some impressive fizzing sounds and frothy bubbles as it dissolves the clogs away. For a finisher, pour some hot water to melt any leftover clumps. This mixture also works for sinks and toilet bowls.
For your taps and shower heads, white vinegar will dissolve stains, scum, and hard water deposits. Murky tiles in your kitchen and bathroom don’t require bleach. Make some baking soda paste and scrub your tiles with that instead. Plus, you won’t have to worry about toxic fumes and skin burns, though you will have to use more time and energy to get your tiles spotless, and they may not shine as much as you’re used to.
For your clothes, borax works well to freshen and whiten clothes, though it lacks the stain-removal power of chemical bleach. And for tougher forms of cleaning, you can always use ammonia. It’s a powerful cleaner but can be harmful in large, concentrated doses, so use it with care, and always have plenty of ventilation.
Ammonia and vinegar are natural cleaning products that do have germ-killing capabilities. They may not be as effective as chlorates and phthalates, but they’re safer and more healthy. They’re also good at getting rid of nasty smells. So yes, it is possible to get a germ-free clean without using commercial soap, but it’ll take a lot more physical effort. On the upside, you get a free workout in the process, which is always a win.