8 Reasons Why Homemade Cleaning Products Aren’t As Effective or As Safe As You Think
With the growth of eco-friendly and non-toxic cleaning products, homemade cleaning products have been rising in popularity as well. Today you can find several online posts and recipes with a search of the phrase “homemade cleaning products”, and these products can be made at a fraction of the cost.
At ViriClean, we’re all for supporting the use of natural products. We even use natural ingredients, like Vinegar, during our residential and commercial cleaning voyages. Vinegar is an amazing cleaner for getting rid of calcium and mineral deposits and the stubborn hard water found inside your toilet bowl.
However, the beautiful thing about chemistry is that you can take a powerful ingredient like Vinegar and combine it with another powerful cleaner like Citric Acid to impart added shine and double the cleaning power of your solution.
The downside of following advice found online about homemade cleaning products is that there are several bloggers who know very little, or nothing at all, about chemistry. These online writers frequently perpetuate myths like the fact that the bubbling action of Baking Soda and Vinegar provides a more powerful cleaning action than the individual ingredients would on their own.
The reality, however, is that Baking Soda and Vinegar actually react to form a less potent cleaner - table salt. This is the case with hundreds of other ingredients you might use around your home. Trust me when I say, there’s a reason why chemists spend years at school studying chemical reactions and chemical properties.
Here are ten things to keep in mind when making homemade cleaning products:
1. Homemade cleaning products are more prone to harboring bacteria, mold, fungus, and yeast
When I first started making my homemade cleaning solutions, I always thought I was being so much safer than the eco-friendly commercial cleaning product companies out there who, despite claiming to use only all-natural non-toxic ingredients, still listed preservatives on their list of ingredients. Boy, did I have a lot to learn!
The fact of the matter is that most eco-friendly cleaning solutions are made primarily out of water, and guess what lives on water? Not only humans, but so do thousands of other micro-organisms like bacteria, mold, fungus and yeast. In addition, micro-organisms thrive in solutions that have pH levels ranging from 1 to 10 (more on pH in the next paragraph), which most of our homemade cleaning solutions fall into.
If you’re making your own homemade cleaning products, make sure you’re using only distilled water, since tap or regular water is more prone to the growth of micro-bacteria and other harmful micro-organisms. Keep in mind, however, that no matter what kind of water you use or how careful you are during the production phase of your product, micro-organisms can present themselves as soon as within the first few days if you don’t use the right preservative or preservation method.
2. The pH level of your homemade cleaning product is more important than you think
The pH scale ranges from a 0 to a 14, with 0 being most acidic and 14 being most alkaline. Why is this important? Highly acidic or highly alkaline solutions can harm certain surfaces or even burn the skin at high doses. For example, distilled white vinegar is a highly acidic solution with a pH of 2.4, while chlorine bleach is a highly alkaline solution with a pH of 11 to 13. Highly acidic or highly alkaline solutions should never be used on delicate surfaces, like granite and marble.
The pH level of your product also determines how effective it is on certain cleaning tasks. Acidic products, like Vinegar, are more effective on inorganic deposits, like calcium. The hard water found on your shower tiles are a buildup of this common mineral. Alkaline products, like Baking Soda (ph of 9), are more effective on organic deposits, like the grease and bacteria found on your kitchen countertops.
If you’re set on making homemade cleaning products, I highly recommend purchasing an electronic pH tester. This will tell you whether your solution is more acidic or alkaline and what surfaces it’s most effective on.
3. The ingredients in your homemade cleaning product may be reacting and making your product less effective
As I mentioned earlier, there are several myths out there that different chemicals can be mixed together to create a more effective cleaner, like Vinegar and Baking Soda, when in fact, the combination of two ingredients like this results in a less effective solution like table salt. Heck, I used to be one of the biggest culprits and follow advice like this all the time!
There are hundreds of different chemicals aside from Vinegar and Baking soda that, when mixed together, react to form a less effective solution or result in the inactivation of one or both ingredients all together. In addition, certain ingredients are effective only within a limited pH range.
Make sure that if you’re mixing two chemicals or ingredients together, you’ve read the literature extensively or, better yet, you have a chemistry degree.
4. Homemade cleaning products don’t always smell good
I remember having guests over right after cleaning my bathroom with Vinegar. The strong smell of Vinegar was overpowering and I actually had one of my visitors say “what is that awful smell?”.
We all want to have a nice smelling home. Unfortunately, as effective as Vinegar can be, it can smell pretty awful (unless you've become desensitized to the smell!). There are, however, ways to make Vinegar smell better, like adding essential oils to it. Keep in mind, however, that by adding essential oils to the mix you’re also altering the pH level of the solution itself, therefore bringing you back to problem #2, “The pH level of your homemade cleaning product is more important than you think”.
Which brings me on to my next point…
5. Some homemade cleaning ingredients don’t dissolve well together
As much as we love adding essential oils to our homemade solutions, some ingredients just don’t mix, or dissolve well, together. For example, take essential oils and water. Oils are naturally hydrophobic, meaning that they will not dissolve in water and will instead form a layer on top of the water. You can shake the solution, which will momentarily combine the ingredients, but soon enough the oils will separate and float back to the top.
This is why emulsifiers are so crucial in chemistry. Emulsifiers are attracted to both the hydrophobic and hydrophilic (water-loving) ingredients in a solution and therefore help prevent separation of the ingredients. All you need is one good shake, and that’s it, your solution is mixed indefinitely (unless another reaction occurs).
6. Ingredients used in homemade cleaning products are highly sensitive to temperature changes
Ingredients that are commonly used in homemade cleaning products, such as popular essential oils, become inactivated or lose potency when exposed to temperature changes. Have you ever noticed that all essential oils are packaged in either dark or blue glass bottles? This is to prevent the sensitive oils from being exposed to light or direct sunlight.
When adding essential oils to your homemade cleaning products, I highly recommend using a dark amber glass spray bottle to better preserve the quality of your essential oil solution. Keep in mind that essential oils also break down the chemicals in plastic, which is another reason why I recommend using only glass bottles.
There are several other ingredients aside from essential oils that can become inactivated at high temperatures, and even ingredients that should be heated first before they can effectively be used as cleaners.
7. Buying commercial cleaning products is much more convenient
When you’re a mother of 3, working a full-time job, making dinner every evening, washing dishes, doing laundry, and attending your kids’ soccer matches once a week, your time can be better spent on other tasks than on doing research on how to make your own homemade cleaners. Likewise if you work long hours at a stressful corporate job.
Instead, I would recommend doing some research on companies that use eco-friendly and non-toxic cleaning products and sticking to only buying products from one or two of your favorites. This way, you can ensure your family is not exposed to the harmful toxins used in many commercial cleaners and you can spend the free time you have helping little Joe with his homework. Let the professionals take care of the research for you!
In future articles, we’ll discuss what things you should look for when choosing eco-friendly cleaning companies. We’ll also discuss safe and effective ways to use common household cleaning ingredients if you’re still not convinced and want to stick with what you have.
8. Last but not least…your homemade cleaning ingredients come packaged in more plastic
Larger cleaning companies have the advantage of being able to order in bulk, which means that even if the ingredients are packaged in plastic, they spend much less plastic than the individual plastic-packaged vinegar bottles you’re buying at the grocery store.
Yes, most cleaning companies just turn around and package their products in plastic bottles anyway, but you can help lessen our carbon footprint by choosing to buy from eco-conscious companies out there that choose recycled and biodegradable plastic. I do wish these companies would opt for glass packaging instead, like ViriClean does, but I admit that using this recycled and biodegradable plastic is a much more eco-friendly alternative than the plastic used to individually package ingredients like vinegar, baking soda, alcohol, and liquid soap.
Have you ever wondered why most eco-friendly cleaning companies list the ingredients they use on their cleaning products, and why most consumers don’t just use that list to make their own products and then never buy from those cleaning companies again? That’s because it’s not as simple as it sounds. Choosing the right concentration of these products and mixing them correctly requires extensive knowledge of chemical processes. Even with this knowledge, there are several trial and error tests that need to be completed before a product reaches a satisfactory level of performance.
We applaud anyone that has the time and patience to learn about chemistry, but for those of us who are too busy being working mothers, we recommend you save your time and effort on more important matters.
Don’t you wish you had paid more attention in chemistry class now?