Keep your home and family safe when using cleaning products by paying attention to these smart, practical tips.

February 23, 2016
Back Door Entry: Squeaky Clean

Do your research. Chemical allergies and economics have encouraged many people to use inexpensive common household products such as baking soda, salt, lemons, soap, bleach, and white vinegar to clean their homes. It's important to remember to do your research before making a new cleaning mixture. Unsure where to start? Many university Extension services offer well-researched information on cleaning products and methods.

Natural can still be toxic. Treat natural cleaning products with the same caution as you would commercial products. Use gloves and other precautions when using strong cleaners. To be safe, always open a window when mixing homemade cleaners —these can let off volatile odors too.

Commercial products can be safe to use. Keep in mind that a number of oxygen-based and sulfite-based products, when used correctly, can be safer to use and friendlier to the environment than chlorine bleach and ammonia. You can usually find the name "oxide" or "sulfate" on the labels of these products.

Use mild products where possible. Most hard-surface cleaning can be accomplished with mild products, such as vinegar, baking soda, or the correct commercial product. Save ammonia and bleach for tough jobs where they are really needed.

Read the label. Read labels to make sure you are using cleaning and disinfecting products for their intended purpose. Pay particular attention to labels that contain the words "caution," "dangerous," or "warning." These are progressively more serious terms to let you know the care that should be used.

Take special care with food-prep areas. Products designed to clean food-contact surfaces must undergo safety and effectiveness testing for their intended uses. It's important to use products on your food preparation surfaces that are nontoxic.

Some mixtures can be deadly. NEVER mix bleach and ammonia -- the mixture releases toxic gases. Shop for commercial products that are neutral pH, nonirritating, nonhazardous, biodegradable, and low in volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Relax a bit about bacteria. Don't overdo antibacterial soaps, but consider using them to wash your hands before and after handling raw meat, poultry, and eggs -- or when someone in your household is ill. If your family is healthy, the American Medical Association says that plain soap and water should suffice for hand cleaning.

Keep cleaning child-safe. Keep all cleaning products out of the reach of children and pets. If you use a bucket of water when cleaning, remember that they can pose a drowning danger to small children. Ensure that buckets are emptied and stored upside down when you are done.

Labeling is important. Keep cleaning products in their original containers, and label homemade cleaning products accurately. Always use clean, new containers for storing homemade products.

Clean up after cleaning. Always wash your hands after using cleaning products.

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