Swap It: Alternatives to Ammonia

By Natalie Richoux and Leah Antovel

Nothing feels better than a house that sparkles from top to bottom after a good cleaning. Windows are shined, counters are wiped, tubs have been scrubbed and floors have been mopped. But how many of you have noticed the actual ingredients of your cleaners? One that should stand out on your radar and have you pause is ammonia. Ammonia has been a staple in a large amount of cleaners for everything from windows to floors, but it might be time to swap out those cleaners!

According to PHD-candidate Øistein Svanes, at the Department of Clinical Science, at the University of Bergen (UiB) and lead author on a study recently published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, found that individuals who used ammonia on a daily basis to conduct household cleaning and chores for 20 years had a decreased lung function equivalent to smoking 20 cigarettes a day. Additionally, the same study shows that individuals who use cleaning products containing ammonia are at a 40 percent increased risk of developing asthma.

Cleaners that contain ammonia have an irritative effect on the mucous membranes of the airways which can cause the mucous to breakdown and change the airways also causing a decrease in lung function and eventually leading to lung related diseases such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and asthma.

The most common household cleaners that contain ammonia are window and glass cleaners, multi-purpose cleaners, oven cleaners, floor waxes and toilet bowl cleaners. Due to the new information about the harms of ammonia, many companies are switching to alternative chemicals to still provide a cleaner that can get your house just as clean but without the detrimental effect ammonia has on individuals.

Mrs. Meyers and Windex have already launched vinegar-based products into the cleaning market. Mrs. Meyers makes a vinegar-based cleaning agent that can help you in the bathrooms to get rid of hard water stains, soap residue or mildew in your bathroom. All you do is apply a small amount directly to the area and then wipe clean, no rinsing is even necessary. Windex has launched their vinegar-based window cleaner that will get windows sparkling clean without any streaks (and using a coffee filter is great to keep lint from getting stuck to the window). Or, you can swap your entire cleaning regiment for a safe to use, ammonia free cleaning line from brands like Branch Basics or Norwex.

If you are not looking to swap your cleaners at this time, there are extra precautions you can take when using a cleaner with ammonia. Instead of spraying the chemical, either use a bucket to dip a cleaning cloth in or spray directly into the cloth instead of directly onto the surface. According to the same study published by University of Bergen’s Department of Clinical Science, the small particles that are released when sprayed can remain in the air for hours after cleaning and these small particles can travel deep into the lungs causing infection and decreased lung function. If it is not possible to use a bucket or spray onto a cloth, be sure you are using the product in a well- ventilated area or using a fan to disperse the concentration on ammonia. When cleaning, you should always wear gloves and mask regardless if using ammonia free products or not.

A clean home is a happy home, but getting that beautiful, shiny home can come with fewer risks to your health so, try swapping your cleaners and take precautions to protect yourself and your family when using cleaners in your house.

Baking soda and vinegar

This mixture is great for cleaning stainless steel appliances, or as a substitute for bleach-based bathroom cleaners.

Castile Soap

When mixed with water, this product can be used as an all-purpose cleaner.

Lemon Juice

The acidity in lemon juice is powerful enough to break down grime.

Olive Oil

Olive oil, when mixed with vinegar, makes for a versatile furniture polish. Olive oil and salt removes stubborn food residue on cast iron pans without scratching your cookware.

Essential Oils

Simply combine baking soda, water and your favorite essential oil to make your own fabric spray.