Environmental Help List
Less-Toxic Alternatives to Household Products and Problems

Air Fresheners/Deodorizers

  • Leave open boxes of baking soda in refrigerator, closets and bathrooms.
  • Saturate cottonball with pure vanilla; place on a saucer in refrigerator or car.
  • Set out white vinegar in open dishes to destroy odors.
  • Set out potpourri in open dishes.
  • Simmer cinnamon and cloves.
  • Burn scented candles.
  • To clean garbage disposals, grind used lemons in the disposal or pour in baking soda.
  • For carpets, mix 1 part borax to 2 parts cornmeal; sprinkle liberally on carpet and vacuum after an hour.
  • Sprinkle baking soda in the bottom of cat box before adding kitty litter.
  • Sprinkle baking soda in the bottom of garbage cans to control odors.


  • Mix vinegar with salt and water for a good surface cleaner.
  • Dissolve baking soda in water for a general cleaner.
  • For washing dishes by hand, use ½ cup baking soda with a mild dishwashing liquid to help cut grease and food.
  • For automatic dishwashers, choose a detergent with the lowest phosphate content listed on the package.
  • Wash painted wood with 1 teaspoon of sodium carbonate, or washing soda, in a gallon of hot water. Rinse with clear water.
  • Clean coffee pot surfaces with a mixture of warm water and baking soda or vinegar. Clean the interior of coffee pots with white vinegar according to manufactures, directions.
  • Use a non-chlorinated scouring powder with a nylon scouring pad or powder with a nylon scouring pad or fine steel wool as a kitchen degreaser.
  • Always use mild, biodegradable detergents.
  • Look for naturally-derived or glycerin-based soaps.
  • As a disinfectant, use ½ cup borax in a gallon of hot water.
  • To inhibit mold and mildew, do not rinse off borax mixture.

Glass Cleaners

  • Combine a quart of water with ¼ to ½ cup of white vinegar, 1 to 2 tablespoons of lemon juice or 1 to 2 tablespoons of rubbing alcohol; spray on surfaces and wipe clean with soft, lint-free cloth.

Oven Cleaners

  • Use a non-aerosol oven cleaner that does not contain lye.
  • Sprinkle salt on spills when they are warm, then scrub.
  • Mix 2 tablespoons liquid soap, 2 teaspoons borax and a quart of warm water; leave on oven for 20 minutes then scrub with fine steel wool or a non-chlorinated scouring powder.
  • Scrub spots with a baking soda, salt and water paste.
  • Mix 3 tablespoons of washing soda with a quart of warm water.
  • Dip a wet sponge in baking soda to clean glass oven doors.
  • Prevent spills by using oven liners (such as foil), or trays.

Mildew Cleaners

  • Scrub mildew spots with baking soda or borax, or sponge with white vinegar.
  • Scrub area with a paste of lemon juice or white vinegar and salt.
  • To clean mildew from shower curtain, machine wash with ½ cup soap and ½ cup baking soda; add a cup white vinegar to rinse cycle.

Upholstery, Rug & Carpet Cleaners

  • Use a non-aerosol, soap-based cleaner.
  • Clean spills immediately with club soda.
  • Mix a quart of water, a teaspoon mild liquid soap, a teaspoon borax or TSP (trisodium phosphate) product and a squeeze of lemon juice or splash or vinegar; apply with a damp cloth or sponge and rub gently; wipe with a clean cloth and allow to dry.
  • To clean red wine spills, rub a thick layer of salt on the spill, then sponge up after the spill has been absorbed.

Scouring Powders

  • Use baking soda or salt.
  • Use a non-chlorinated commercial scouring powder.

Toilet Bowl Cleaners

  • Scrub with a solution of ½ cup borax in a gallon of water for cleaning and disinfecting.
  • Clean frequently with a solution of baking soda and water; sprinkle baking soda around the rim; scrub with toilet brush as needed.

Tub/Tile Cleaners

  • Use a non-chlorinated scouring powder or baking soda.
  • To clean grout, combine 3 cups of baking soda and a cup of warm water and scrub into the grout; rinse well with water.
  • Use ½ cup of borax to a gallon of hot water for cleaning and as a disinfectant.

Drain Openers

  • To unclog a drain, pour ¼ cup of baking soda down the drain, followed by ½ cup of white vinegar. Let sit for a few minutes, then pour a kettle of boiling water down the drain to flush.
  • Pour ¼ cup of salt down the drain followed by boiling water, to help keep drains unclogged.
  • Pouring boiling water down the drain once a week can keep it from getting blocked.
  • To prevent clogged drains, always use a drain strainer.
  • Use a mechanical snake or plunger to unclog the drain.

Laundry Products

Chlorine Bleach

  • Use non-chlorine dry bleach or washing soda to whiten clothes.
  • Use ½ cup borax per load of laundry to whiten and brighten colors and to remove spots.
  • Reduce bleach in half and add ¼ to ½ cup baking soda per load.


  • Use a synthetic detergent without adding fabric softeners or bleach.
  • Use products that contain washing soda. Washing soda brightens fabrics and costs less than bleach.

Fabric Softener

  • To freshen and soften clothes, add a cup of vinegar or ¼ cup baking soda during final rinse.
  • To reduce "static cling" in synthetics due to tumble drying, dampen hands when folding.
  • Use non-perfumed fabric softener sheets rather than liquid fabric softeners.


  • Soak heavily soiled items in warm water with ½ cup washing soda for 30 minutes.
  • Rub soiled areas with mild liquid soap.

Spray Starch

  • For regular fabrics, dissolve 2 tablespoons cornstarch in a pint of cold water; store in a spray bottle.
  • For delicate fabrics, dissolve a packaged unflavored gelatin in 2 cups hot water; store in a spray bottle. To test solution, tip corner of fabric into solution; if fabric becomes very sticky when dry, add more water


Floor Polish/Wax

  • To clean vinyl floors, combing ¼ cup TSP, ¼ cup borax or ½ cup white vinegar with a gallon warm water and apply with mop to remove dull greasy film.
  • To clean wood floors, damp mop with a mild vegetable oil soap; dry immediately.
  • For painted or finished wood floors, combine a teaspoon of washing soda and a gallon of hot water; wash floors with a rag dampened with mixture; dry immediately.
  • Wood floors sealed with polyurethane can be cleaned with ¼ cup white vinegar added to a gallon of water; dry immediately.

Furniture Polish

  • Polish unfinished wood with mineral oil.
  • To clean and polish finished wood: (1) Use a mild vegetable oil soap. (2) Combine 1 part lemon juice with 2 parts vegetable or olive oil and polish with a clean, soft cloth.
  • Wash painted wood with a teaspoon of washing soda in a gallon of hot water; rinse with clear water.

Metal Polishes

  • To polish brass: (1) Use Worcestershire sauce or scrub with toothpaste. (2) Pour on tomato ketchup, let sit and wipe dry. (3) Use water in which onions have been boiled.
  • To polish brass and copper, use a lemon juice and salt paste.
  • To polish silver: (1) Soak silver about 5 minutes in a quart of warm water containing a tablespoon of baking soda, a tablespoon of salt and a piece of aluminum foil. (2) Rub with toothpaste or baking soda and a soft cloth, rinse and polish dry.
  • To polish chrome: (1) Wipe with apple cider vinegar, rinse with water, then dry. (2) Shine chrome fixtures with baby oil and a soft cloth, a piece of aluminum foil (shiny side out), or newspapers.

Shoe Polish

  • Avoid products containing trichloroethylene, methyle chloride, nitrobenzene and mineral spirits.
  • For leather shoes: (1) Apply olive oil, walnut oil or beeswax to shoes then buff with a chamois cloth. (2) Polish black or tan leather shoes with lemon juice then buff with a clean cloth. (3) To clean leather, rub equal parts of white vinegar and linseed oil into leather; buff with soft cloth.
  • To shine and protect patent leather shoes, rub with a dab or petroleum jelly.
  • To clean dirt marks from suede, rub with an art-gum eraser then buff lightly with sandpaper or an emery board.

Spot & Stain Remover

  • To remove blood stains: (1) Immediately clean stain with cold water; dry with towel; repeat if needed. (2) Rub with cornstarch or cornmeal and water paste; let dry in sun; brush off. (3) If stain persists after cleaning with soda or cold water then pour hydrogen peroxide directly on stain; rinse with water; wash as usual or apply mixture of ¼ cup borax and 2 cups water; rinse and wash.
  • To remove chocolate or coffee stains, soak in cold water, rub with soap and a mild borax solution, rinse, then wash in the hottest water the fabric will stand.
  • To remove grease: (1) Apply paste of cornstarch and water; let dry then brush off. (2) Cover with baking soda or cornmeal; let dry and brush off. (3)Sponge spot on suede with a cloth dipped in white vinegar; dry, brush off. (4) Scrub spot with toothpaste.
  • To remove ballpoint ink, sponge with rubbing alcohol, rub with soap, rinse and wash.
  • To remove lipstick, rub with cold cream or shortening to dissolve color; rinse area with solution of washing soda and warm water to remove grease; wash in soapy water as hot as fabric will stand.
  • To remove perspiration stains, sponge stain with a weak solution of white vinegar or lemon juice and water.
  • To remove rust stains from clothing, moisten spot with lemon juice, sprinkle with salt and expose to sunlight. To remove rust stains from white washables, cover the stains with cream of tartar, gather up the ends of the article so that the powder stays on the spot, dip the whole thing in hot water for 5 minutes, then wash as usual.

Insect Bites 


  • The pain can be soothed by a thick paste of baking soda and water.
  • Half an onion applied to a bee sting helps stop the pain and swelling.


  • To ease the pain and itching of chigger bites, rub with a moist aspirin tablet.


  • To treat insect bites, rub on apple cider vinegar to relieve the itching. A paste made of baking soda also helps.
  • To prevent insect bites, avoid wearing perfume, bright colors and flowery print clothes or bright jewelry.


  • Soak bites in salt water or apply a paste of salt mixed into lard or cold cream.



  • Trace a line of ants to find out where they are entering the house and then seal it off. You can also try pouring a barrier of any of the following at the place where ants enter the house: cinnamon, cream of tartar, red chili pepper, salt, dried mint or sage, or cucumber peelings. Also try that old gift perfume you don’t like. Some perfumes may kill or repel ants.
  • For heavy ant infestations, mix a tablespoon of sugar and a tablespoon of borax with 2 tablespoons of water to make a thick syrup. Soak cotton balls in mixture and place the cotton balls on something flat so that ants can get to it. Place it in the middle of the ant infestation. Ants will eat it and take it back to the nest. Slowly but surely, the numbers will diminish. Have patience. Keep well out of reach of children and pets.
  • Attach bands of sticky, adhesive materials around base of plants and trees to deter ants, which can carry and colonize aphids. Ants like the sweet secretion of aphids and protect them from natural enemies.
  • Border gardens with bone meal.
  • Mix 2 tablespoons boric acid, 2 tablespoons sugar and a cup of water. Soak paper towels, place on dishes, and set out for ants. Keep away from children and pets.
  • Mix 4 ounces of mint jelly with 2 level tablespoons of powdered boric acid. Cut small squares of masking tape and dab mixture on tape. Stick on floors behind cabinets and appliances. Take precautions for children and pets.


  • Some soap sprays are effective insecticides. They must be sprayed directly on the insect in order to penetrate its body. Mix a teaspoon of liquid soap in a gallon of water. Try different soaps; some may be more effective than others. Use aphids, mealybugs, whiteflies, earwigs and scales.
  • Crush colonies on plant tips, or prune them off.
  • Introduce ladybugs or lacewings, natural enemies of aphids.
  • Plant garlic, chives, petunias and nasturtiums to repel aphids, but be aware that some plants (garlic, for instance) may inhibit the growth of certain vegetable plants.


  • As a first step, vacuum! Remove the vacuum bag and seal the "catch" in a tightly closed bag. Dispose of it.
  • Flea preparations come in different formulas for use on your pet, in the house, or in the yard. Select products that contain two types of ingredients: low toxic adult flea killers such as pyrethrins plus insect growth regulators (IGRs) to kill the flea eggs, larvae and pupae. Pyrethrins have a boosted effect in combination with a chemical enhancer such as piperonyl butoxide. Read the label for directions on use.
  • Consult your veterinarian before choosing products, since pet tolerance for insecticides varies according to the species, age and skin condition of the pet.
  • Select insecticides for the yard that are time-released for longer effect.
  • To find out how toxic a specific insecticide is call 1-800-858-7378 (National Pesticide Network) or 1-800-TDA-REGS (TX Dept. of Agriculture).


  • Prevent their development in organic wastes by keeping kitchen garbage in tightly closed containers. In warm weather, the average garbage pail can attract and allow reproduction of 1,000+ flies a week.
  • Sprinkle dry soap into garbage cans after they have been washed and allowed to dry; it acts as a repellent.
  • Use fly swatters, flypaper strips or fly traps.
  • Place screened enclosures over cabbage plants to protect against the fly that breeds the cabbage maggot.
  • Plants tansy near your kitchen door or where flies tend to cluster. Other fly repellents include oil of clove and mint sprigs.
  • Set a sponge in a saucer and soak it with oil of lavender to repel flies.
  • Shape a piece of paper into a cone and insert it into the neck of a baited jar. Flies can get in but not out.
  • A pot of basil set on a window sill or table will help reduce the number of flies in a room.


  • Rub citronella oil on exposed areas or burn citronella candles.
  • Do not eliminate such natural predators as dragonflies or the praying mantis.
  • Other natural repellents are pennyroyal, mint rubbed on the skin or tansy planted near a door. Basil plants also repel mosquitoes.
  • Eliminate pools of stagnant water.


  • Destroy all forms of the moth by dry-cleaning or washing garments; kill moth eggs by running clothes through a warm dryer. Store in sealed bag/box.
  • Chicago-area weavers and spinners use ½ lb. rosemary, ½ lb. mint, ¼ lb. thyme, ¼ lb. ginseng and 2 tablespoons cloves. Mix and put in cheesecloth bags for use similar to sachet. Helpful when fresh.
  • Hang or place fresh sachets of any of the following with stored clothes: dried lemon peels, dried lavender, bay leaves, whole cloves, cedar chips, dried rosemary and mint or whole peppercorns.
  • Wash pantry shelves periodically to deter "flour" moths. Sprinkle with bay leaves, rosemary or cloves. Keep all flours and condiments in sealed containers.


  • Sprinkle cracks and dark place with a boric acid formulation.
  • Set out dishes with equal amounts of oatmeal flour and plaster of paris, or equal amounts of baking soda and powered sugar, or equal amounts of borax and brown sugar. Keep out of reach of children and pets.
  • Starve them; seal all food in jars with rubber rings or inner liners in the cap; rinse food completely off dishes that may stand out overnight; do not leave pet food out overnight.
  • Caulk cracks; close off all gaps around pipes and electric lines where they enter the house by using screening or cement.
  • Place bay leaves around cracks in room.

*from http://www.ci.round-rock.tx.us/public-works/lestoxic.html

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