Commercial vs. Home-Brewed: The “Dirt” on Alternative Cleaners
If you’ve been channel surfing recently, you’ve probably seen all kinds of do-it-yourself shows. From customizing your ride to building your own swimming pool, it seems like you can make almost anything yourself these days. But what about cleaning products? It’s a fact that cleaning dirty surfaces in your home requires safe and effective household cleaning products. Fortunately, the shelves at your local grocery store are filled with thousands of products that do just that. If you need to clean it, you’ll find a product that was specially formulated to get the job done.
The recent do-it-yourself trend is inspiring many people to “brew at home,” avoiding commercially produced household cleaners in favor of home-brewed products that they believe are safer for the environment or less expensive. Everyone wants to save money, and it feels good to do something healthy for the planet, but are homemade alternatives really the answer?
Let’s review the facts…
What is an Alternative Cleaner?
An alternative cleaner is a cleaning product that is not commercially produced. Usually, these products are made at home using ingredients that are supposedly safer or more effective than the ones you find on store shelves. But, despite what you may have heard, “safe” and “unsafe” has more to do with how you use a product than what is in a product.
Some alternative cleaners use common household ingredients like baking soda, vinegar, or lemon juice. While vinegar and lemon juice certainly don’t pose a threat to you or your family, these ingredients are not quite as effective as commercially produced cleaners or as convenient. First you have to mix your own concoction in an unmarked container versus using a ready-to-use product with use directions. Next the resulting mixture may produce an odor, require you to work harder or use more of the product to accomplish the same result as a commercially formulated product, and may leave a sticky residue behind. Your alternative product may be simpler but it is not as effective or as convenient as a commercial product.
Other types of homebrewed cleaners can create potentially unsafe circumstances in your home. It is never a good idea to use commercially produced cleaners to create your own “super cleaners.” Even if you dozed a little during chemistry class, you probably remember learning about chemicals and their properties – what they are made of, what they do, and how they react with other chemicals. You probably also recall being warned about unsafe combinations. The same goes for cleaning products. For example, if you mix a bleach-based cleaner with an acid-based cleaner (like tub and tile cleaner), you will create chlorine gas, which can make you sick or even kill you.
Commercial cleaners are made of many different chemicals, and experimenting with them should be left to the experts, who know what’s safe to combine.
Let’s compare the facts and see how commercial products and the alternatives measure up.
Formula Safety and Stability:
Packaging Safety and Compatibility:
Instructions for Safe Use:
Home and Environmental Safety:
Understanding Your Alternatives
Many alternative cleaners are not as effective as store-bought cleaners, and some of them may become unstable over time. If you need a do-it-yourself project, try repainting a room in your house or building something in the backyard. Or you could always clean something. But remember that a healthy environment starts with responsible use of ANY product.
Below is a side by side comparison chart to help you understand the differences between Commercial Products vs. Home-Made Alternative Products.
|Must meet Federal and State Safety Regulations||Not subject to any safety regulations|
|Labels contain all use directions and precautions for safe use||Labeling is not present and/or does not reflect use or precautions for safe use|
|Product ingredients are known to poison control centers who can readily advise consumers in the event of accidental ingestion
|Ingredients and their combination may not be known to poison control centers so that consumer advice may not be accurate nor easily communicated in the event of an accidental ingestion|
|Child-resistant packaging and closures are provided where needed||Packaging is not usually tested nor provided with child-resistant closures|
|Packaging is tested extensively for formulation compatibility and resistance to damage from the point of manufacture to consumer use||Packaging is not tested for formulation compatibility nor damage during transport and use|
|Product formulations are stable and undergo extensive testing for stability and shelf life||Products may degrade in the package and are generally not tested for stability nor shelf life|
|Preservatives and antimicrobial agents are often added to prevent bacterial growth in the final product||Antibacterial agents or preservatives are not added to prevent bacterial growth or chemical reactions due to the presence of bacteria|
|Final products undergo extensive performance testing for their intended use and when used as directed will not harm the surfaces or goods on which they are used||Valuable possessions and surfaces can be harmed as products are not generally tested for performance and may not have any use directions|
|Quality is carefully monitored and manufacturing standards are known||Most consumers are not sufficiently knowledgeable to control quality|
|Products are evaluated extensively for safety and environmental compatibility||Product safety and environmental compatibility is not tested and often not known|