FAQs about Mix-at-Home Cleaners

Q: Do mix-at-home cleaners contain chemicals?

A: All cleaners, whether commercially formulated products or mix-at-home recipes, are composed of chemicals. These chemicals be food ingredients extracted directly from a plant or chemicals synthesized in a laboratory.

Q: Are the chemicals in mix-at-home recipes non-toxic?

A: All chemicals, including common table salt (NaCl), are toxic at some exposure. Toxicity is the level of exposure at which something can be harmful. Commercially formulated cleaning products are evaluated for both intended and unintended exposures, so that non-toxic levels of exposure can be clearly identified. Labels provide use directions and safety information that contribute to the safe use of the product.

Q: What does safety information have to do with grandma’s household cleaning recipes?

A: Nostalgia for “the good old days” shouldn’t take precedence over the important assurances that come with today’s commercially formulated cleaning products. These products undergo extensive safety and performance evaluations before they are marketed. The data from these evaluations enable manufacturers to stand confidently behind their products. That’s why their names, and often a toll-free phone number, are printed on cleaning product packages.

The individuals or organizations promoting “alternative” recipes should be able to support their recommendations. Consumers should be able to ask them, for example, whether the recipe has been tested under conditions where it will be mixed with the other “chemical” products used for cleaning; what treatment is advised if the mixture is accidentally splashed in the eye or swallowed; and whether the effect of the recipe on surfaces to be cleaned has been evaluated.

Things to Consider About Choosing a Mix-at-Home Cleaner

Has the recipe been tested for cleaning purposes?
Do you have complete directions for safe and effective use?
Are you aware of any safety precautions for mixing the recipe or combining with other products?
Do you know how to treat accidental exposures?
Are there any special instructions for safe disposal?
Is the recipe as cost effective as a commercially formulated cleaning product?

Q: How can I decide whether to use a homemade mixture or a commercially formulated cleaning product?

A: Considerations of safety and performance should come first when thinking about using homemade mixtures.

With mix-at-home recipes, responsibility for product label information falls on the person following the recipe. That means that the consumer should prepare a label that includes the names and amounts of ingredients; emergency treatment guidelines; safety procedures for mixing, combining with other products, usage, etc.; and complete directions for use. Poison control centres have extensive data on commercially formulated cleaning products, but may have difficulty handling accidental exposures to homemade mixtures unless they have information on the formula.

One final word on safety: Some recipes suggest that boiling water be used in combination with “alternative” ingredients. The practice of carrying quantities of boiling water from one location to another in a home, especially a home with young children, raises serious safety concerns.

Q: Am I helping the environment by using an “alternative” cleaner?

A: Probably not. The vast majority of commercially formulated cleaning products are water soluble, are disposed of safely down the drain into a municipal or home wastewater treatment system, and cause no harm to the environment. Extensive lab testing and “real world” monitoring, as well as compliance with applicable government regulations, ensure the environmental safety of cleaning products.

Q: Will using mix-at-home recipes save me money?

A: Some suggested “alternatives” may actually be more expensive to use than commercially formulated cleaning products. This is particularly true for food items which must be manufactured to a high level of purity. For example, cream of tartar, which is sometimes recommended as a metal cleaner, is 12 times more expensive per unit weight than aluminum cleaner. Consumers should compare unit prices, figuring the cost per job, and also note how often the job must be repeated. Something else to remember: some homemade mixtures may leave a residue that attracts new soil, so the job has to be done more frequently, adding to the cost.

Because “alternatives” are generally not as efficient as commercially formulated cleaning products, using them often requires extra effort. In addition to spending more time on cleaning, consumers may use more product and more hot water to get the job done, which can also mean extra costs; this is food for thought when figuring the ultimate costs of recipes.

Q: Are mix-at home recipes effective at disinfecting surfaces?

A: Cleaning products help remove dirt and germs from surfaces, but only disinfectants actually kill disease-causing microorganisms.

Disinfectants are reviewed and approved by Health Canada. Any product labelled as a disinfectant has undergone extensive testing of its germicidal properties. These products are regulated and approved by Health Canada, and they display Drug Identification Numbers (DINs) on their labels.

Studies have shown that mix-at-home recipes that are suggested as alternatives to disinfectants are less effective than commercially formulated disinfectant cleaners, both in reducing microbial contamination and in removing soil. In fact, most mix-at-home recipes have no disinfectant properties at all. Particularly when there are health-related reasons for using a disinfectant, such as on a cutting board that might be contaminated with Salmonella or on a surface that has been in contact with someone who is sick, consumers should recognize that only disinfectants that have been approved by Health Canada and given a DIN have been tested for their ability to kill germs.

In areas vulnerable to the spread of infectious diseases, such as kitchens, bathrooms and children’s play areas, it’s especially important to disinfect properly. The use of an approved disinfectant according to the label instructions will ensure that germs are eliminated.