By Carole Majorossy, Middlessex County Dept of Solid Waste Management, August 1996

Over the past few years, as awareness of household hazardous waste has grown, so has the debate as to whether residents should be told to use “non-toxic,” home remedy alternatives.

Those who promote non-toxic alternatives will tell you that commercially produced home cleaning, pesticidal or herbicidal products can be dangerous to your health. Some products produce toxic fumes that may produce reactions such as headaches, fatigue, burning eyes, runny noses, and skin rashes. Another claim is that pesticides, for example, are stored in our body’s fatty tissues and can accumulate over time, causing long-term effects such as damage to the liver, kidneys and lungs, and can cause paralysis, sterility, and suppression of immune functions. Supporters of non-toxic alternatives say that home remedy solutions are less toxic to humans and the environment. 

On the other side, the Household Products Recycling and Disposal Council believes home remedy products may not be as safe to use because they have not been tested nor are they labeled with storage or first aid information. Commercial products must meet certain testing requirements of the EPA. The Council also states that commercial products work better than home remedy solutions, and a study contained in a 1994 publication (Journal of Environmental Health) supports this claim. The study found that compared to commercial cleaners, the alternative cleaners (borax, lemon juice, vinegar, ammonia, baking soda, and water), as a group, were “less effective in both microbial reduction and soil removal.” The article noted that if alternative cleaners were to be effective, the consumer had to be willing to work harder to get the same results. One problem with this study, however, is that all of the alternative ingredients were used independently instead of being mixed with other alternatives (i.e., salt with lemon juice) as is a more common practice.

At the ANJHHWC Annual Conference in May 1996, tests were done for Name Brand Products vs. Home Remedies. As it turned out, some commercial products worked better (oven cleaner), while other home remedies worked better (brass polish). In some cases, neither products worked well (grease stains).

So what is the answer? As usual, there is no clear answer. If you use name brand products, be sure to follow the instructions for use and finish all of the product to avoid disposal problems. Home remedy recipes are available, so if you choose this practice try the existing recipes, because these have been used before by others and will work better than experimenting on your own. They may also be cheaper to use.

Maybe in the future a more scientific study (than the one done at the ANJHHWC Conference) can be done to test the toxicity and effectiveness of the home remedies vs. the name brand products.


Date: 3/11/2005

commercial products claim to take out so many stains where home remedies only claim to take out a certain stain. How can one product do so much. each stain is different and it should take a different product to take it out. Some stains come out easier than others so what happens if you use a high strength cleaner on it? will it ruin the fabric. the home remedies seem more reasonable because they only claim to take out one kind of stain. Who wants to waste their money on commercial products when home remedies are cheaper, work just as well, and don’t put your health in danger.