Perhaps you’ve seen a recipe for a homemade cleaner where the author happily tells you it’s natural with *No Chemicals*. I think I might have used those same words back in the early days of this blog. But now I take a little more care with my words and usually use the phrase “no harsh chemicals” instead. Because guess what.
Almost everything is a chemical. Truly. Like Everything.
And when we share recipes for homemade cleaners we need to be honest about that.
What Is A Chemical?
Now I certainly don’t claim to be a chemist. In fact some of the comments on my post about regular vinegar vs. cleaning vinegar have made me realize lots of folks have much more science knowledge than I do. But I did learn from this helpful article on About.com, something I already suspected when I went in search of an answer to the question of “What Is A Chemical?”. That article had a short answer and a long answer:
“Short answer: Everything is a chemical.”
“Long answer: A chemical is any substance consisting of matter. This includes any liquid, solid, or gas. A chemical is any pure substance or any mixture. It doesn’t matter whether it occurs naturally or is made artificially.”
So things like water? salt? baking soda? Yup, they’re chemicals.
What’s not a chemical? Phenomena that are not made of matter. Light, heat, sound, and gravity are not chemicals.
So it’s not accurate to say our homemade cleaners have no chemicals because – yeah – everything’s a chemical!
What’s In A Name?
If you read a list of ingredients on a store bought cleaner (although they often can’t even be found on the label), you might see long, confusing, or unfamiliar “chemical” sounding words. When we make our own cleaners that don’t contain those ingredients we think “Yay, no chemicals!”. But we should remember that even friendly ingredients can have longer chemical names too. Here’s a sample:
Baking soda: Sodium Bicarbonate
Vinegar: Acetic Acid
Washing soda: Sodium Carbonate
Borax: Sodium Tetraborate Decahydrate
Salt: Sodium Chloride
Olive Oil: Consists mainly of Oleic Acid
Glycerin: Glycerol but can also go by Propane-1,2,3-triol
Tea Tree Oil: Melaleuca Oil from the leaves of the Melaleuca alternifolia plant.
So if we used some of those names in our recipes, it feels like a whole different game. It could easily sound like they were full of icky scary chemicals too.
Homemade Is Good
After doing this research, I’m even more convinced that I need to be mindful of how I describe homemade cleaners, and I’ll be avoiding the phrase “no chemicals”. BUT, I also know from experience and from using my homemade mixtures for several years now, that homemade is good. The substances or “chemicals” we’re putting in our mixtures when we make our own are much less toxic. There’s little to no danger of poisoning when you’re just using vinegar or baking soda. And I’ve really come to appreciate the absence of the strong smells that go along with so many store bought cleaners, and the homemade stuff has been much less drying on my hands too.
So yes, water and vinegar are still chemicals (H2O and CH3COOH respectively) but at least they are inexpensive and friendly chemicals that are safe for our homes and our families and that’s what motivates many of us to continue on with making our own cleaners
Want to start making your own cleaners but you’re not sure where to start? You can check out my list of 10 Cleaners you can stop buying and start making for some DIY inspiration.