A common non-toxic cleaning ingredient that may not be so harmless

How Safe is Borax?

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For years people have recommended Borax as a safe and natural cleaning solution as an alternative to harsher traditional cleaners. It's also used a lot for other things like a non-toxic pest solution, to clean carpets, and even as an ingredient in slime for kids(1). But is Borax actually safe? Some say it is completely safe and others swear you should never use it. So we decided to do the research and figure out if Borax is a product we should be using in our everyday lives. We found that there are some issues associated with it, but there are ways it could be used safely in particular circumstances with the right precautions.

Keep reading to learn more about Borax and it's safety, as well as some alternatives you can use instead!

What is Borax?

Borax, or otherwise known as sodium borate, is a natural mineral mined from the Earth that is most commonly found as a white powder. It's most notably characterized as being a good emulsifier, preservative, and buffering agent (2). It's also known for being a great disinfectant, getting rid of stains, whitening clothes, and neutralizing hard water (2, 3). Because of these properties Borax is often found in common household products like laundry detergents, soaps, and degreasers. It's also found in topical medicine, food preservatives, pesticides, and other industrial uses because Borax can inhibit the growth of bacteria and mold, increase resistance to heat and chemicals, kill insects, and helps balance acidity (4).

Is Borax safe?

Since it is considered a natural product, it pops up in a lot of DIY recipes for various tasks around the house. However, just because it is deemed as natural that does not mean it is considered safe. Borax comes in many forms but you're most likely to handle it in its powder form for cleaning or for doing laundry. As a powder, borax has been known to be a skin and eye irritant because it can easily travel through the air and be inhaled or get in the eyes of anyone close by. Borax has also been associated with reproductive issues, endocrine disruption, and developmental issues from exposure to any of its forms (3). It's worth noting that most of these health problems were found in rats that were exposed to pretty high doses of Borax (2), so this probably means that the average person won't come into contact with enough Borax to be very dangerous, but you should still take caution when handling it in your everyday life.

It's also important to look at some of the other uses for a product when determining it's safety. In the case of Borax, one common use is as a pesticide. To kill certain pests, Borax is found as either a powder, which sticks onto the insect's body and then they ingest it from cleaning themselves, or it is mixed into food bait that the insects ingest directly. The Borax will build up in their system inhibiting their metabolism and reproductive system causing them to die. Borax is also really good at breaking down and destroying the exoskeletons of some insects because the powder is very abrasive to them (5).Obviously insects like ants are much smaller and more fragile than us, however, it is slightly concerning that Borax, a product we use relatively often in our homes, has the ability to be used as a pesticide as well.

Not only is Borax used as a pesticide, it is also used as cooling agents, adhesives, anti-freezing agents, building materials, and so many other industrial uses (2). Most of these chemicals and products are usually not associated with good human health so it is something to keep in mind when using Borax to clean around the house.

How to use Borax safely

Borax has been known to have some negative health consequences when exposed in high levels over time and lethal if ingested at high doses in animals and humans (6). Because of this it is best to limit our exposure which means that it's probably okay to be using it every once in a while, but we do not recommend using it for all of your cleaning and household purposes. If you are planning to use Borax for different tasks around the house, we found some ways you can stay safe and avoid any health issues.

  1. Keep the area where you are using Borax well ventilated by turning on a fan or opening a window.
  2. Wear long sleeves and pants to prevent any Borax from getting on your skin because it could cause irritation.
  3. If you spill any Borax on your clothes make sure to take them off right away and wash them. This goes for spilling Borax on anything, clean it up right away!
  4. Use glasses or even goggles to prevent any Borax dust from getting in your eyes.
  5. Try to keep the Borax far away from your face so you don't breathe it in. Avoiding dust is the best thing to do!
  6. Keep the Borax container tightly closed when you're not using it.
  7. Try to not use it everyday, just every once in a while.
  8. Vacuum up the floor of anywhere you used Borax in case any dust settled onto the ground.
  9. Do not ingest any Borax because it can be lethal at certain doses. This goes for children as well, keep the box out of their reach at all times (2).

Alternatives to Borax

As we mentioned, a lot of DIY cleaners and laundry detergents call for Borax. Because it can be a skin and eye irritant we wanted to give you some alternatives you could use instead if you are concerned about using it in your homemade products. We included some other homemade cleaners you can use instead, as well as some store bought all-purpose cleaners that we love!

  • Vinegar: Distilled white vinegar is a great disinfectant and deodorizer, making it a great alternative to Borax's disinfectant qualities. (7)
  • Baking soda: It is a natural and safe deodorizer, as well as, a mild abrasive that can help scrub off tough messes and stains. (7)
  • Non-chlorine bleach: Non-chlorinated bleach is a much safer alternative to the traditional bleach and is a great disinfectant.
  • Washing soda: Washing soda is a popular cleaning additive that is great for removing stains, dissolving grease, softening water, and getting rid of unpleasant smells.
  • All purpose cleaners: Instead of making something at home, check out some of the eco-friendly all purpose cleaners we love!
  • Here is a great recipe for kids slime without Borax!

Sources

  1. https://www.onegoodthingbyjillee.com/uses-for-household-borax/
  2. https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/1303-96-4#section=Uses
  3. https://pharosproject.net/chemicals/2006849#hazards-panel
  4. https://www.borax.com/boron-essentials/shelter#:~:text=U.S.%20Borax%20products%20increase%20building,railway%20ties%20to%20automobile%20frames.
  5. A. Fotso Kuate, et. al. Toxicity of Amdro, Borax and Boric Acid to Anoplolepis tenella Santschi (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) 109-152. International Journal of Pest Management. https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/18234674.pdf#page=109
  6. http://npic.orst.edu/factsheets/archive/borictech.html#fate
  7. https://www.zmescience.com/medicine/what-is-borax-and-is-it-safe-432432/

Laundry isn't our favorite thing to do, but unless you're super fancy and have someone else do your washing, it's just a part of life. The one good thing about doing laundry is that fresh laundry straight out of the dryer. The smell, the softness, the warmth… it's basically happiness in fabric form! The many different types of laundry detergent scents like spring meadow and mountain breeze seem like an added bonus too. But, have you ever wondered how companies actually make these scents? It turns out laundry detergent scents can have hidden health hazards. Read on to learn more about laundry fragrance and our non-toxic alternatives!

Reasons to Avoid Fragrance

One of the best parts of laundry detergent is it's smell. That clean, fresh scent is so popular that people try to recreate it in candle form! As much as we love scented laundry, traditional products can be pretty harmful. Companies can use dozens (or hundreds!) of different chemicals to create their fragrances. According to the International Fragrance Association's Transparency List, there are approximately 3,000 fragrance ingredients that can be used in consumer goods worldwide. And since the FDA does not require approval before a chemical goes onto the market, it's impossible to say that all of these fragrance ingredients are safe to use. Oftentimes some of those chemicals are phthalates. Phthalates can help fragrance last longer but they're also known endocrine disruptors with harmful health effects.

Companies also don't have to tell you exactly what goes into their fragrance formulations. Since fragrance is considered a trade secret, companies can hide the exact chemicals they use. You'll only see "fragrance" listed on the ingredient list, despite there being tons of chemicals that go into it. Luckily, some states are taking steps to undo the mystery around fragrance ingredients. In California, manufacturers will soon have to disclose all fragrance and flavor ingredients in their products and any known health hazards associated with those ingredients.

On top of everything else, some fragrance ingredients can trigger migraines or skin irritation in people with sensitivities or allergies. They may not even know which specific ingredient they're sensitive to because of the trade secret rules! Babies and children are especially susceptible to fragrance sensitivities.

Non toxic Ways to Get Clothes Smelling Fresh

First off, we really need to redefine what "clean" smells like. All our lives we've been trained to believe that clean = really strong fragrance. Who else has been overwhelmed by scent when they walked down the laundry aisle?! Clean clothes can be clean and just smell like warm clothes without the super flowery scent. And all those synthetic fragrances are often there to just cover up odors. They don't actually remove funky smells and grime on your clothes.If you're looking for a way to really deep clean clothes, check out our laundry stripping article.

That's a good place to start to get really clean clothes without funky odors.

If laundry stripping seems like too much work, there are also a ton of easy ways to help your clothes smell fresh without added chemicals. Below are some of our favorite ways to add scent to your laundry that are natural but also smell amazing!

  1. Create a mixture of 2 cup of salt with 20 drops of essential oil in a jar. Scoop 2 tbsp directly into your washing machine with your laundry and run the cycle like normal.
  2. Add a drop or two of essential oil to a wool dryer ball. This will help keep clothes soft and smelling fresh! If you don't have a dryer ball you can also use a damp washcloth.
  3. Vinegar is a great way to neutralize odors! Just put some vinegar into your fabric softener tray and it'll work to remove any funky scents.
  4. Switch to non toxic laundry detergent, dryer sheets, and fabric softeners that use safe scents. Our roundups offer a ton of product recommendations!
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Home

Non-Toxic, Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Swiffers

Or convert the Swiffer you already have into a non-toxic, planet-friendly option

Who hasn't had a Swiffer before? The promise of an easy-to-use and affordable sweeping, mopping and dusting solution is hard to say no to! While Swiffer products are quite convenient and user friendly, have you ever thought about how much trash those single-use pads generate and what toxic chemicals might be used in their cleaning solutions? Well we're here to give you the low down. If you already have a Swiffer, we have some tips on how to use your Swiffer in a more environmentally conscious way with non-toxic ingredients. And if you don't have one, but want some just as convenient recommendations on mopping and dusting we have you covered too.

Why You Might Want to Think Twice About Swiffers

Ever take a big whiff when you bust open your new package of refillable Swiffer wet pads? Well, sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but those flowery and attractive smells contain fragrances and other harmful ingredients, which often carry phthalates, asthmagens (1) and other chemicals of concern. When these fragrance chemicals vaporize into your household, they can trigger asthma attacks, and aggravate sinus conditions; they can disrupt hormones, cause headaches, eyes, nose and throat irritation, and produce neurotoxic symptoms, like loss of coordination, and forgetfulness (2).

Other ingredients in Swiffer products have also been found to aid in developing resistance to antibiotics over time (3). This means that germs like bacteria and fungi start building the capacity to defeat the drugs that are designed to kill them. When this happens, this can require extended hospital stays, more follow-up visits to the doctor, and other costly and toxic treatment alternatives (4). It's not just humans that are impacted either, these products are also very toxic to aquatic animals (5,6). Makes us think twice about using them all around the house!

Not only is it a good idea to steer clear of these chemicals, but can we talk about the trash? Easy disposal of these toxic, non-biodegradable products, like the refill pads, has resulted in an exuberant amount of unnecessary waste and has nearly destroyed our environment (7). Refillable Swiffer pads are made from polyester which is derived from fossil fuels (8), and are contributing to the degradation of our ecosystems and wildlife (9). These persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are harmful toxins that will continue to corrode our environment for centuries, as they occupy landfills and slowly leak toxins into soil and water over time (9). What a mess!

The good news is that there are simple alternative methods you can start using that are more protective of our health (and the planet's) well-being. Plus, since you don't have to purchase refill pads, they are great for your budget too. There are even easy hacks to turn the Swiffer product you already have into a non-toxic option.

How to Make Your Swiffer Non-Toxic and Earth-Friendly

Get a reusable washable microfiber pad and ditch the single-use ones. Microfibers are extremely effective at capturing germs and small particles (10). These microfiber mop pads work for both the Swiffer sweepers and WetJet. Here are some we like:

Just throw that bad boy into the washer after you're done using it and it's ready to be used the next time you need it. And if you want a completely free way to do this, you can even try using an old fuzzy sock and wrap that around the bottom of your WetJet and voila, you're all ready to start moppin'.

If you have an old washcloth you can also place that into the corners of the holes of your traditional Swiffer to secure the cloth. You'll want to make sure to dip the cloth into your cleaning solution before you attach it to the mop and/or you can add the cleaning solution to a spray bottle to spray the surface as well.

DIY Your Own Safe and Effective Cleaning Solution

If you've got the Swiffer WetJet, make sure the refill bottle is thoroughly cleaned out with soap and water, then go ahead and add your preferred non-toxic cleaning solution. There are several ways you can create your own safe and effective floor cleaner, but here are some of our favorites:

  • Add ½ tsp of liquid soap to each gallon of water
  • Add ½ cup vinegar to every gallon of water

When the floors are really dirty use liquid soap solution to really mop up that grime and dirt. If things have been more chill around the house, use the vinegar solution. We've heard that using the vinegar on hardwood floors is not a problem, but you should check what type of finish your floors have, and do a test sample somewhere out of sight just to be sure.

Convenient, Non-toxic, and Budget Friendly Swiffer Alternatives

If you don't own a Swiffer, bless your heart. Here are two of our favorite Swiffer alternatives for getting your floor clean.

Steam Mops

Another green alternative you can use is a steam mop. Steam mops work by heating up the water to really high temperatures inside it's chamber and dispensing it as steam, which is then dispersed through a cloth or pad. The steam helps to loosen up the dirt and grime from your floors, and the high temps help to kill germs and bacteria on hard surfaces. No harmful chemicals needed!

Steam mops are typically safe to use on vinyl, ceramic, and porcelain tile floors, but you may want to double check with your flooring brand to make sure using steam won't void your floor's warranty. You should also never use steam mops on any unsealed, peeling or unfinished floors, and although manufacturers claim it is safe to do so, use caution with any wood or laminate flooring.

Spray Mops

Spray mops are super convenient and easy to use on all types of floors, including hardwood and laminate flooring. Plus, no need for any buckets or wringing! Just add your washable/reusable microfiber mop pad and pre-made non-toxic solution to the dispenser and you are ready to have at it!



References:
  1. https://zsds3.zepinc.com/ehswww/zep/result/direct_link.jsp?P_LANGU=E&P_SYS=2&P_SSN=11337&C001=DISC2&C002=ZCAL&C003=E&C013=AF7231E
  2. https://noharm-uscanada.org/issues/us-canada/fragrance-chemicals
  3. https://www.ajicjournal.org/article/S0196-6553(18)30424-3/pdf
  4. https://www.cdc.gov/drugresistance/about.html
  5. https://www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners/5288-SwifferSweeperWetMoppingClothsOpenWindowFresh/
  6. https://www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners/2819-SwifferWetJetMultiPurposeCleanerOpenWindowFresh/
  7. https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/realestate/2005/05/21/disposable-wipes-no-throw-away-issue/22e091b2-7bc9-4b01-a9c3-6ca1c00f9cfc/
  8. https://www.cmu.edu/gelfand/lgc-educational-media/polymers/natural-synthetic-polymers/index.html#:~:text=Synthetic%20polymers%20are%20derived%20from,polyester%2C%20Teflon%2C%20and%20epoxy.&text=Examples%20of%20naturally%20occurring%20polymers,%2C%20DNA%2C%20cellulose%20and%20proteins.
  9. https://sciencing.com/environmental-problems-caused-by-synthetic-polymers-12732046.html
  10. https://archive.epa.gov/region9/waste/archive/web/pdf/mops.pdf
COVID-19

Safer Cleaning and Disinfectant Use During Coronavirus at Home

plus DIY disinfectant and cleaning recipes and when and how to wash hands or use hand sanitizer

We've created a one stop shop for all your questions on using safer disinfectant at home to reduce COVID-19 transmission. Please share with your family and friends. We hope they are useful!

You can download the entire PDF with links here with both toolkit and sample email:

Because Health Safer Disinfecting at Home During Coronavirus.pdf

safer cleaning and disinfectant use during coronavirus at home


hand washing and hand sanitizer during coronavirus


DIY cleaners, disinfectants, and hand sanitizers during coronavirus

Home

Installing a New Floor? Here's How to Pick a Healthier Option

Everything you need to know to tackle that DIY floor project like a pro

You and your floors spend a great deal of time together. But what happens when you're ready for an upgrade? Goodbye old floors, helloooo shiny new ones! With seemingly endless flooring options, choosing the right material might seem a little overwhelming. One aspect of flooring that you may or may not have thought about is how it affects your health. Turns out that some materials are better for your health than others, and it really depends on the various components that go into flooring products. To help you choose the healthiest flooring for you, we've got a guide that will help you on your shopping journey.
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Home

Don’t Let Old Lead Paint Ruin Your DIY Plans

Change up your decor while staying safe

Summer always feels like a great time to tackle a few DIY projects. Long days and warm weather inspire us to be renovation weekend warriors! But if your building was built before the 1980s there's probably a good chance lead paint is somewhere in your home. Whether you're installing shelves, hanging a gallery wall, mounting a new tv, or installing curtain rods, lead paint can complicate renovation projects even if it's under layers of newer paint.

But don't worry! It's easy to keep yourself protected while giving a room a much needed makeover. We have some tips for how to do a DIY project safely even if you're disturbing hidden lead paint.

Why Lead Paint and Renovations Can Be a Problem?

Lead paint was especially popular up until 1978, before stricter paint safety regulations were put into place. The older the house the higher the probability lead paint was used; if your house was built before 1940, there's an 87% chance it contains lead-based paint (1)! There's no way to visually tell if your paint has lead in it; you'll need to buy a special testing kit to know for sure. You can usually pick these up at any hardware store. Many times, lead paint isn't removed- it's simply painted over by layers of newer paint. And this is generally safe, but if the paint is peeling, cracking, or chipping it could be exposing the lead paint layers. Or if you're doing a DIY project that involves drilling into the wall or that disturbs the hidden layers of lead paint in some other way, then it could lead to lead dust in your home.

Lead is especially problematic for children and babies. There is no known level of exposure that is safe. Lead exposure can lead to developmental issues, brain and nervous system damage, and learning problems (2). Lead paint in a home that is disturbed during a home renovation or DIY project can lead to children being exposed.. In fact, one study looking at home renovation and lead paint found that "children whose housing underwent interior renovation had a 12% higher mean B-Pb (blood lead level) by two years of age compared with children whose housing units were not renovated" (3).

What To Do

So what do you do if you suspect your home has lead paint but you have projects you want to complete? We have some tips

1. Have a dust cloth down for DIY projects. Disturbing the paint by drilling, hammering, etc. will create dust that contains tiny paint particles. Quickly vacuum (using a vacuum with a hepa filter!) up any dust that forms and then go over the area with a damp cloth to pick up any additional dust particles.

2. If you're doing a big job that will kick up a lot of dust, remove all furnishings from the room. This includes things like rugs, furniture, picture frames, and clothing. That way you can clean everything up afterwards easily. If you can't remove something, make sure it's completely wrapped up and sealed in plastic.

3. If you're tackling a big project like knocking out walls or a complete room redo, you might want to call in the professionals. Many companies specialize in lead paint abatement and will remove problematic paint in the safest way possible. Lead abatement can get pretty expensive, which is why we recommend it when you're already tackling a big home reno project.

4. Wash areas with lead paint weekly with an all-purpose cleaner. This includes walls, window sills, door frames, and decorative trim. Also make sure to clean the floors, since dust may accumulate there. Weekly cleaning is especially important if the paint is chipping or peeling, or if children under 6 live in the household.


References
  1. https://www.epa.gov/lead/protect-your-family-exposures-lead
  2. https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/features/leadpoisoning/index.html
  3. https://ehjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1476-069X-12-72
COVID-19

A Complete Guide to Non-Toxic Cleaning and Disinfecting During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Protect yourself from the novel coronavirus in the most non-toxic way possible

Updated May 21, 2020

We don't know about you, but the outbreak of the new coronavirus this year has us doing a lot of cleaning. And it seems like we're going to be doing this for quite a while. Having cleaning on the brain makes us wonder: What's the best "natural" or "green" way to clean that still gets rid of the coronavirus causing the pandemic? What's the difference between cleaning and disinfecting? What products are safe to use but also effective at preventing transmission and infection? Are there non-toxic disinfectants? We answer all of your novel coronavirus cleaning and disinfecting related questions below.

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Roundups

Baby Safe, Non-Toxic Paints for Your Nursery

Cute colors without toxic fumes or chemicals

Decorating a nursery is one of the best parts of waiting for a little one. Whether you're painting just one accent wall or the entire room in just the perfect shade, it's important to pick a paint that not only looks good, but is baby safe. Paint fumes and chemical additives can linger and baby's systems are especially vulnerable and sensitive. Luckily, there are safer paints on the market so that you can feel good about using them so close to where your baby will sleep (we hope!).

Best Practices While Painting

First things first- how to paint. Who paints a room and how the room is painted is super important in protecting your health. If you're currently pregnant, ask your partner or a friend to do the painting for you. You definitely don't need to be exposed to paint fumes while you're still growing a little person. You're doing enough as is! Also make sure there are no toddlers around while painting. Although having a little helper would be really cute, toddlers are in a critical developmental period and are especially susceptible to the negative effects of paint fumes. Plus you probably don't want anything with wet paint on it to become a messy toy!

It's also critical to ventilate as much as you can while painting. Have all windows and doors open and a fan running if possible. Even a box fan in the corner will help! When you're not using the paint (whether it's a small break or overnight), keep the lid sealed securely on the container. This will prevent emissions from escaping while the paint isn't in use.

What to Look for in a Nursery Safe Paint

Now that you know how to paint, which paint should you use? There are a ton of paints on the market right now that all boast different features. Who knew there were so many different paint finishes?! But here's what you really need to be on the lookout for:

  1. Low or Zero VOCs. VOCs are toxic gasses that are released from solids or liquids. Basically they are released when paint dries. You know, the weird new paint smell? Well VOCs can irritate your eyes, nose, and throat but repeated and long term exposure can cause cancer and damage to the liver, kidney, and central nervous system (1). Also, some colors of paint have more VOCs than others, particularly darker pigments, so generally lighter colors have less VOCs.
  2. Look for APE- free paints. Alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs) are a group of chemicals that are suspected endocrine disruptors (a.k.a these little guys mess up how hormones should normally work in the body) (2). You don't want those around babies or children or when you're breastfeeding. APE-free paint can be found easily, so just ask or look on the label. The ones we recommend are APE-free.
  3. Avoid paints that are advertised as antimicrobial. Many paints contain a preservative, but paints that are advertised as antimicrobial may have other additives that are really just not necessary and there are no standards for efficacy (like does it actually kill harmful germs? And for how long?) It might sound good, but in reality they are also harmful to humans and don't do much (3).

Our Baby Safe Paint Recommendations

Our recommendations will take the guesswork out of choosing a nursery-safe paint brand, although you'll still have to pick the color! These paints are all low or zero VOCs and are free of APEs. The Benjamin Moore Natura, ECOS paint, and AFM Safecoat paints are more traditional latex paints that have great user reviews. We also included 2 options for milk paint, which are made from milk proteins and pigments. Milk paints are a bit more work to use, but are easy to use once you get the hang of it and you can create antique or smooth finishes. They are also great for painting nursery furniture. No matter which paint brand you pick, you can feel safe about using these in a nursery. Just think, in a matter of months you'll have a sweet little one in a picture perfect nursery. So exciting! Let the nesting begin!


Non toxic nursery paints including ECOS, Old Fashioned Milk Paint, Benjamin Moore, AFM, and Real Milk Paint.


a) ECOS paint

b) Old Fashioned Milk Paint

c) Benjamin Moore Natura

d) AFM SAFECOAT® ZERO VOC

e) Real Milk Paint


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