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:
- Commercial products are tested and created to meet strict government safety standards. Testing ensures that the chemicals are compatible and will remain stable over time.
- Alternative cleaners are not tested or held to any standards. Even some of the most common home-made mixtures may not be stable for storage and could even become breeding grounds for bacteria. Even some common home-made mixtures can be unstable by releasing gas and building up pressure in a closed container.
Packaging Safety and Compatibility:
- Child-resistant packaging on commercially produced products helps protect your family’s safety.
- Home-brewed products are not stored in child resistant containers, posing an unintentional exposure hazard to young children. Natural ingredients like Borax have been suggested for all kinds of household cleaning purposes, but it can still be harmful if ingested.
- Commercial products are manufactured with quality control procedures. That means that they’ve been checked and double-checked for proper ingredients in correct amounts, and they are packaged in safe and appropriate containers.
- Home-made mixtures are not quite as consistent. You may get a slightly different concoction – and slightly different results – every time.
Instructions for Safe Use:
- Commercially formulated cleaners include clearly written instructions and detailed precautionary information for safe use. Warning labels let you know about potential hazards and how to avoid them.
- Home-brewed cleaners, which are not professionally labeled, do not provide information about the product, its ingredients, or proper use and safety.
Home and Environmental Safety:
- Commercial cleaners are tested to make sure that they are compatible with items in your home. They have also been tested to ensure that they are safe for the environment during use and disposal.
- Untested homemade mixtures may have unforeseen consequences, such as damaging your kitchen counters or stripping the finish from your brand new wood floors. Their effect on the environment may be unknown.
- Labels on commercial products include first aid and medical information. The ingredients in these products are well-known to poison control centers, which are therefore able to give sound treatment advice. They even include 1-800 numbers for accidental ingestion or misuse.
- Unlabeled alternative products have no warnings or ingredient lists. Emergency treatment could be difficult, since poison control centers do not have product information ahead of time.
- Commercial products are carefully tested and evaluated for their effectiveness. In addition, products designed to address health issues (like antimicrobials, and pest management products) are subject to strict government-imposed efficacy testing requirements.
- Home brews are not evaluated by anyone, and are not as safely effective as commercial products. The lack of testing and standards can produce inferior results and even create unsafe conditions at home.
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.
|COMMERICAL PRODUCTS||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|