In the last few months, I’ve been experimenting with natural cleaning products and have made some discoveries.
I started out by taking Sally Fallon’s advice from Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats. Automatic dishwasher powder is, she says, “extremely poisonous.” Fallon recommends using half the recommended amount and putting it in the first-wash cycle dispenser only so that the dishes get two rinse cycles (the second wash cycle + the actual rinse cycle). I slosh a bit of powder into both soap compartments, but I don’t latch the door on either one. The dishes get rinsed twice, I use less soap, and it all still comes out clean.
However, the suggestion that I was using “extremely poisonous” products on the very equipment I eat off of was disturbing, so I looked around for other alternatives. I have bought and do buy products from "natural" cleaning brands like Seventh Generation, EarthFriendly, Caldrea, Ecover, Mrs. Meyers, Bi-O-Kleen, etc. But they are very expensive and still somewhat toxic.
The Kidsorganics page on "Natural Alternatives to Pesticides and Other Toxins" suggests using a mixture of one part borax and one part baking soda as an automatic dishwasher soap. I tried that, but it left the glassware rather filmy with a powdery residue.
My mother suggests using no soap at all, using only one wash cycle, and sloshing in one cup of white vinegar—which does get the dishes pretty clean if they are not too dirty to start with. Since I live in a state of water scarcity, I do not pre-rinse my dishes, and my dishwasher loads are extremely full to maximize the water use, so the vinegar idea doesn't always work for me.
So I am back to Fallon's recommendation of "less is more" until I hear of a better one.
The "Natural Alternatives to Pesticides and Other Toxins" page has some good suggestions for other aspects of the housecleaning—I now use a solution of white vinegar and water for nearly everything I wash—floors, counters, toilets, showers, mirrors. It is very economical—at $1.87 per gallon of vinegar, I am spending far less on cleaning products, and I also know that I have fewer toxins on the surfaces that surround me.
Ecocycle is another site I’ve found helpful for recipes for less toxic cleaners, as well as Charity Guide's page on natural cleaners.
I was also astonished to see that my very own government (well, a tiny branch of it) seems to agree with me:
Because Americans spend approximately 90 percent of their time indoors, it is crucial to make the home environment as safe as possible. Indoor pollutants have proliferated in recent years, often either because modern construction techniques and furnishings manufacturers utilize hazardous materials or because consumers do not know enough about the products they buy to make informed
But safe, nontoxic alternatives exist for nearly every real need around the home, and the search for them may help consumers distinguish between what they really do need, and what may be "luxuries" that could compromise their families' health.
What are these "luxuries"? For me, they are often perfumey things: synthetic air fresheners, room deodorizers, fabric softeners.