Young man learning how to clean a kitchen countertop with gloves and cleaning solution.

What you should know about natural cleaners

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One benefit of the COVID-19 pandemic is that people became acutely aware of the need for basic cleanliness. Washing hands, wiping doorknobs and scrubbing countertops nearly became religious rituals. The sudden demand for cleaning products led to shortages on store shelves. But it also led to innovation, as millions of people turned to natural cleaners.

Natural cleaning materials hold some advantages over their manufactured counterparts. For starters, you don’t need a dictionary to explain the ingredients. Plus, natural materials are friendlier to people with allergies, may be less harmful if swallowed and less toxic to the environment.

Here are some things you should know if you are considering the use of natural cleaners.

Difference between cleaning and disinfecting

First, understand the difference between cleaning and disinfecting.

“Cleaning is the actual removal of soil or dirt. Disinfecting is the killing of germs and bacteria. Those are two different things, and you need to do both,” said Lori Grooms, director of Infection Prevention and Control for OSF HealthCare. “Sometimes, when you’re cleaning something, you can be removing germs and bacteria, but you’re not necessarily killing them. “

Not all natural cleaners kill germs, so you should still disinfect a surface after cleaning it.

“When you talk about protecting people against infection and disease, start by cleaning surfaces,” Lori said. “Dirt removal decreases the chances of coming in contact with contaminated items. Cleaning is always the first step when you want to disinfect.”

There’s also a difference between disinfectants and anti-bacterial agents. Disinfectants kill germs and viruses, along with bacteria. Anti-bacterial agents kill or inhibit bacteria.

“There are differences in the way they are intended to work,” Lori said. “Disinfectants are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and are used more for solid surfaces. Anti-bacterial substances are regulated by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and are more for use on people.”

Primary natural cleaners

The big three natural cleaners are baking soda, lemon and vinegar. They do different things.

“Baking soda is a cleaner and good deodorizer,” Lori said. “Vinegar by itself is good to cut grease, and when you pair it with baking soda, it creates a bubbling action that helps give you a little deeper clean. Lemon is an acid, so it not only cleans but also has some germ-fighting properties.”

Read labels and follow instructions

Bleach, rubbing alcohol and peroxide are cleaners that have ability to disinfect. But be careful. Read warning labels and follow instructions carefully.

“All three have a potential for misuse or overuse,” Lori said. “Just because something is good in one concentration doesn’t mean more is better.

“There are also risks involved with making your own cleaners. Some chemicals you don’t want to mix. And there’s always a risk of splashing and getting the product in your eyes or mouth. Protect yourself.”

Especially with bleach, make sure to cover your hands, arms, nose and mouth. Protect your eyes with glasses or goggles. And if you are working indoors, make sure the room is properly ventilated. Limit your exposure to fumes.

Lori suggested using natural materials to clean and following up with EPA-approved disinfectants when the killing of germs and bacteria is necessary.

“It’s personal preference, but we shouldn’t discount what we have available to us. There is a place for both,” Lori said. “But always be careful to know that, whatever you are using, you use it for the intended purpose.”

Clean, disinfect – and vaccinate

The national focus on cleanliness was one of several weapons used to fight COVID-19. It also helped greatly reduce the number of influenza infections and other diseases during the past 18 months.

“But cleaning and disinfecting are only one part of the strategies to prevent getting sick,” Lori said. “It’s still important that everyone who is eligible gets vaccinated and takes proper precautions, such as masking in public and hand hygiene at proper times.”

If you have not been vaccinated for COVID-19, schedule your appointment today. It’s our best shot.

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About Author: Kirk Wessler

After being a writer for OSF HealthCare for three years, Kirk Wessler retired in January 2022. A Peoria native and graduate of Bradley University, Kirk's experience included working for newspapers in Missouri, Texas and the Peoria Journal Star.

Kirk and his wife, Mary Frances, have five sons, four daughters-in-law and nine grandchildren. Kirk plans to spend his retirement on the golf course, mastering the guitar and traveling.

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