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Health eTips is produced by the staff of the St. Charles County Department of Public Health. The department consists of three divisions - Environmental Health and Protection, Health Services and Humane Services - that provide a wide range of services focused on enhancing the well-being of this community.

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Mar 09

Eco-friendly Swaps to Clean, Protect Your Family

Posted on March 9, 2017 at 2:00 PM by Doug Bolnick


Natural items and substances like plants, oils and other environmentally friendly products can help clean your home or protect you and your garden from bugs. Working as effectively or better than chemically manufactured counterparts, these organic alternatives are often less expensive as well.

Natural Cleaning Products
The fresh feeling in your home that comes from a good cleaning can be diminished by the residue and harsh fumes that linger after using manufactured products. By using products with natural ingredients, you can rest assured that your cleaning routine is safe from harmful toxins.

Here are a few common products and their natural-ingredient swaps:
  • Air freshener sprays – Simmer a pot of water on the stove and add your favorite ingredients. Among the best combinations are: cloves and a teaspoon of cinnamon; a sliced lemon, several rosemary sprigs and a dash of vanilla; a sliced lime and two tablespoons of dried thyme; or a sliced orange, a teaspoon of cinnamon and a dash of grated nutmeg. Be sure to prevent the water from evaporating completely!
  • Ammonia-based window cleaner – Fill a jar with orange and/or lemon peels and cover with white vinegar. Set aside for three days to two weeks, and then strain out the peels. Dilute the vinegar infusion with water (mix 1/3 cup vinegar and 2/3 cup water) to use as an effective window cleaner. You can also add this infusion to a bucket of soap and water when mopping floors or disinfecting countertops.
Photo of a dog surrounded by natural cleaning products like vinegar, baking soda and citrus fruits.
  • Drain cleaner – Pour ½ cup of baking soda and ½ cup of white vinegar down the drain.  Allow this to rest for 10 minutes. Pour boiling water down the drain to wash it clean.
  • Furniture and floor polish – Combine ¼ cup lemon juice (one large lemon) with ½ cup of vegetable oil. Use a rag to polish the furniture with this mixture. Wipe off excess and allow to dry.
  • Metal polish – You can polish silver using toothpaste, warm water and a soft-bristled toothbrush. For dingy copper, rub the surface with ketchup and rinse clean. A soft scrub using water and baking soda paste will clean tough stains from stainless steel.
  • Toilet cleaner – Dump one cup of baking soda into the toilet bowl. Allow this to soak in the water for about one hour. Add one cup of white vinegar and a squeeze of lemon juice.  Allow this to rest for five minutes. Depending upon the dirtiness of the bowl, you may be able to flush immediately, or you may need to scrub with a toilet brush before flushing.

Plant-Based Insect Repellents
The strong scent of some plants repels bugs, while the floral beauty of others attracts insects that prey upon pests. Some plants work their magic on their own; with others, you may need to rub the leaves or flowers to release beneficial oils into the air.

Here are some uses for common herbs and flowers:
  • Basil – In addition to adding a tasty “something” to your tomato sauce, the oil in basil leaves helps repel mosquitoes and flies.
  • Catnip – Small pots containing fresh catnip will keep away mosquitoes and Japanese beetles, and snippets of dried catnip wrapped in cheesecloth will block ants in your kitchen. Your cat will love you for keeping it around the house as well!
  • Garlic – The distinct smell of planted garlic deters a host of insects, and a spray infused with garlic extract serves as a natural pesticide in your garden.
  • Lavender – Along with a relaxing scent and beautiful purple flowers, the oils in lavender leaves repel insects.lavender bush
  • Lemon grass – Growing up to four feet in height, this decorative plant contains citronella, which is a natural mosquito repellent.
  • Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus – This extract is approved by the Environmental Protection Agency as an effective natural mosquito repellent.
  • Rosemary – Traditionally planted and used in cooking, this herb will repel flies.

For more information on pest repelling plants, visit the Missouri Botanical Garden website.

Organic Gardening
Although it may take a bit of work, using natural methods to produce a bountiful harvest is a great way to show off your green thumb to family and neighbors.

Organic gardening requires a bit more focused effort than loading your plants with chemicals. First, you’ll need to research the growing characteristics of the plants you desire and choose an area of your yard that meets those needs. After planting seeds or transplanting grown plants into a weed-free area, water lightly to keep soil most, but not soaked. Use nutrient-rich soil and cover with a layer of compost to keep your plants fed and combat weeds. Pull any weeds that sprout by hand as a stress-relieving activity. You may also want to cultivate good insects like ladybugs and other friendly predators to minimize the impact of harmful pests.

Another step in becoming a successful organic gardener is to create a backyard compost pile to provide nutrients to your lawn and garden and to reduce waste.

Photo of a family garage with a man and kids storing chemical cleaning products
Disposing Hazardous Materials
If you do choose to use chemicals or other environmentally harmful materials, please take steps to dispose of those items safely. The Division of Environmental Health and Protection’s two Recycle Works locations operate a convenient Household Hazardous Waste disposal program for St. Charles County residents. There is a $15 fee for loads up to 50 pounds, with a supplemental fee of $1 for each pound of material recycled above 50. For a list of all Household Hazardous Waste materials accepted or to learn the hours and dates of the collection, please call 636-949-1800.

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