Am I helping the environment by using an "alternative" cleaner?
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.
Furthermore, judgments about the environmental superiority of one formulation over another require that all impacts of a product and its package be considered.
Mix-at-home recipes can have a surprising impact on the overall use of resources and energy over time. For instance, even a seemingly simple ingredient like vinegar is highly processed: it is produced from corn and typically grown with the aid of substantial quantities of fertilizers and pesticides, which in turn must be produced and have their own environmental impact during and after use. The corn is harvested, processed into corn syrup, then fermented, first into alcohol and then into acetic acid. Measuring the total energy used and wastes produced from the harvesting of ingredients to product disposal is known as "life-cycle inventory" (LCI). This assessment can reveal that "alternative" cleaners cost the environment much more in energy consumption and waste production than one might assume.
Of course, commercially formulated cleaners have impacts as well. These should also be considered. Just remember that the comparison is never as simple as it may seem.
Another factor to weigh in: because using homemade mixtures often requires extra "elbow grease," consumers tend to use more for each cleaning job. Using more product may mean greater environmental impacts. If consumers choose to follow a mix-at-home recipe, they should gauge whether the perceived environmental benefit is offset by having to use several ingredients rather than one product, using more or hotter water, or cleaning more frequently.
Will using mix-at-home recipes save me money?
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. Food for thought when figuring the ultimate costs of recipes.
Are mix-at home recipes effective at disinfecting surfaces?
Cleaning products help remove dirt and germs from surfaces, but only disinfectants actually kill disease-causing microorganisms.
The use of the term disinfectant is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Any product labeled as a disinfectant has undergone extensive testing of its germicidal properties. It must be registered with EPA and display the EPA registration number on the label.
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 EPA-registered disinfectants have been tested for their ability to kill germs.
In areas vulerable 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 a registered disinfectant according to the label instructions will ensure that germs are eliminated.