Alternatives to Everyday Household Products


The disposal of household hazardous waste is a growing problem in many Illinois households throughout the state. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency defines hazardous waste as corrosive, ignitable, reactive or toxic. This definition pertains to products used in the kitchen, bathroom, garage, workshop, garden and also on the lawn.This site deals with the precautions of household hazardous waste and the alternatives citizens can use to reduce or eliminate the use and disposal of this type of hazardous waste found in nearly every household.

Air Fresheners and Deodorizers -do not really “freshen” the air but instead they deaden the sense of smell or counteract one odor with another. Open a window, use an exhaust fan, sprinkle baking soda in odor producing areas or set vinegar out in an open dish. Place open containers of baking soda in closets, bathrooms and refrigerators to absorb odors.

Bleach Alternatives– Instead of using bleach, use white vinegar as a laundry helper. One to two cups of vinegar added to the final rinse cycle will help eliminate soap residue. Vinegar also eliminates uric acid. Use one cup of vinegar when washing baby clothes. Another alternative is to use one part hydrogen peroxide to five parts water. Soak clothes in solution then rinse. Try using a non- chlorine bleach or washing soda to whiten clothes. Don’t buy lemon-scented bleaches as this could make bleach more attractive to children.

Carpet and Rug Cleaners– Mix ½ cup mild liquid dishwashing detergent with 1 pint boiling water and let cool. With an electric mixer whip the paste into a stiff foam. Apply it to the carpet with a damp sponge and rub gently. Work into 4 X 4 sections. Wipe off the suds with a clean cloth. To rinse, add 1 cup of white vinegar to 2 gallons of lukewarm water. Rinse each section and wipe the carpet as you go. Change the rinse frequently. Clean the carpet on a dry sunny day with windows open to speed drying. Do not soak the carpet; it may mildew. Test any shampoo first on an inconspicuous area to insure that no discoloration will occur.

Surface Cleaners
– Find a combination that works for you and always keep some ready in a squirt bottle. You’ll find that weak acids like vinegar and lemon juice are good at cutting grease. Mix 1 quart hot water, 1 teaspoon vegetable oil-based soap/detergent, one teaspoon borax and two tablespoons vinegar. Note: borax is used as a water softener to prevent soapy deposits.

Drain Cleaners
– Pour 1/4 cup baking soda down the drain, followed by ½ cup vinegar. Close the drain until the bubbling stops, then flush with a pot of boiling water.

Cleaners– To clean vinyl tile and linoleum, use 1/4 cup white vinegar, 1/4 cup washing soda, in 1 gallon warm water. For wood floors, damp mop with a mild vegetable oil soap and dry immediately. To clean painted or varnished floors, mix 1 teaspoon washing soda in one gallon hot water. Rinse with clear water and dry immediately. To clean polyurethane-sealed wood floors, mix 1/4 cup white vinegar in 1 gallon water. Dry immediately.

Glass Cleaner – 1/4 cup white vinegar/ 1 quart water. The pros use a squeeze of dishwashing liquid in a gallon of water. A quality squeegee is the pro’s secret to streakless windows.

Furniture Polish– Use olive oil, lemon oil, beeswax or a mixture of beeswax and olive oil. A mixture of two teaspoons lemon oil and 1 pint mineral oil in a spray bottle will work.

Mothball Alternative- Place cedar chips or sprigs of dried tansy around clothes; store clothes in cedar chest or cedar lined closet. Use aromatic herbs, such as dried lavender, equal parts dried rosemary and mint.

Oven Cleaner
– Mix 2 tablespoons liquid dish soap and two teaspoons borax in two cups of warm water. Apply and let sit for 20 minutes, then scrub. Or use a non-chlorinated scouring powder, like Bon Ami or a paste made with baking soda, salt and water. Avoid aerosol oven cleaners. Don’t use abrasive cleaning materials on self-cleaning ovens.

Shoe Polish– For leather shoes, apply olive oil, walnut oil, or beeswax to shoes then buff with a chamois cloth. To clean leather, rub equal parts of white vinegar and linseed oil into leather, buff. To clean dirt marks from suede, rub with an art-gum eraser and buff lightly with sandpaper, an emery board or a wire suede brush. Rub a dab of petroleum jelly into patent leather to give it shine and prevent cracking during winter.

Metal Polishes-Brass: Mix ½ teaspoon salt and ½ cup white vinegar with enough flour to make a paste. Apply thickly. Let sit for 15-30 min. Rinse well with water to avoid corrosion. Copper: Polish with a paste of lemon juice and salt.

Silver-Boil silver 3 minutes in a quart of water containing 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon salt, and a piece of aluminum foil ~or~ rub silver with a baking soda/water paste and a soft cloth, rinse and polish dry ~or~ rub with toothpaste. Use a toothbrush to clean raised surfaces. Be careful not to scratch surfaces. Be gentle and use a light hand.

Spot Remover– Dissolve 1/4 cup borax in 2 cups cold water, sponge it on and let it sit until it dries, or soak the fabric before washing in soap and cold water. This works well for blood, chocolate, coffee, mildew, mud and urine.

Toilet Bowl Cleaner- Disinfecting your toilet may be an exercise in futility. Any household cleaner can clean the toilet, even baking soda. Sprinkle baking soda into toilet and scrub with toilet brush moistened with liquid castile soap. Or mix ½ cup borax with 1 gallon water to deodorize. Let 1 cup borax sit in the bowl overnight.

Tub Cleaners- Mix together peroxide and cream of tartar to form a paste. Scrub stains with a brush. Another method is to apply straight vinegar in a spray bottle to remove soap scum. Use baking soda like a scouring cleanser. To remove mineral deposits around faucets, cover deposits with strips of paper towels, soaked in vinegar. Let set for 1 hour and clean.

Wood Polish- Polish unvarnished wood with almond, walnut, or olive oil. Work it in well and wipe off excess. Oily surfaces attract dirt. To clean and polish varnished wood, use a mild vegetable oil soap. Use linseed oil to revitalize old furniture. Wash painted wood with a mix of 1 teaspoon washing soda in a gallon of hot water, rinse with clear water. To remove water marks from wood furniture, rub toothpaste on spot and polish with a soft cloth.

Mosquito/Insect Repellant- Mix together 3 cups rubbing alcohol, 1 ½ cups red cedar wood shavings, and ½ cup eucalyptus leaves. Cover. Let stand for 5 days. Strain and store liquid in a spray bottle. Spray on skin.

Garden Pests- Mix together 1 tbsp. dishwashing detergent, and 1 cup vegetable oil, store. Add 1 to 1 ½ teaspoons of this to 1 cup of water and spray on plants.

Slugs/Snails/ Earwigs– A shallow dish of stale beer set out in the garden at night will attract and kill these pests.

Roaches and Ants- Sprinkle diatomaceous earth in areas where the insects crawl.

Fleas – To control fleas on dogs and cats, bathe animals every two to four weeks with pet shampoos containing insect repellent herbs such as rosemary, rue, eucalyptus and citronella.

Termites – Ask your exterminator to use organophosphates, such as chlorpyrifos.


Caution: Never mix products containing ammonia with chlorine bleach, toilet bowl cleaners, rust removers or oven cleaners. These products will produce poisonous gases when combined!

Environmental Tips for Consumers:

Using substitutes for commercial products is one way consumers can help with the problem of household hazardous waste. The following are some other ways:

If you buy household chemicals, buy the smallest amount possible, you can always buy more.

Avoid buying aerosols. Products in aerosol containers are often larger quantities than you need and the nozzles easily clog, leaving you with waste to get rid of. Buy pump sprays, creams and pastes instead.

Share leftover household chemicals with friends, relatives and others who can use up the product for its intended purpose.

Use it up! If you don’t have leftovers, you won’t have a waste to worry about.

If you can’t use it up and must dispose of it, be sure to do it correctly.

Using some of these alternatives may require more effort than their commercial counterparts. Others may not work quite as well or as quickly as the commercial products. But, by using less hazardous products, you’re helping to protect your health, and the environment.

Most of the products mentioned in this brochure can be purchased at your local grocery store, drug store, greenhouse, or herb store (look under Health & Diet or Herbs in the yellow pages).

Before using these recipes on valuable objects, always test a small area first as you would with any commercial cleaner.

The products listed in this brochure are often safer for your health and the environment. However, some may still present hazards if not used properly. In addition, Ogle County Solid Waste Management Department does not guarantee their effectiveness or that they will not damage your property. Use at your own risk.