5 Ammonia-Free Cleaning Products
By Marilee Nelson |
Most of us are taught that ammonia is essential for a clean home.
After all, ammonia is one of the most common chemical ingredients in household cleaning products.
We were also (hopefully) taught not to mix ammonia or ammonia-containing products with bleach because it could poison us and everyone in our house (?!).
Despite the obvious dangers of ammonia, it is still marketed as safe and is used in most American households.
Thankfully, people are becoming aware of the dangers of chemical-based cleaning products.
And ammonia is one of the more dangerous and ubiquitous ingredients of concern.
In this article, you’ll learn:
- The lesser-known dangers of ammonia
- What types of products contain ammonia (it’s in more things than you think!)
- A simple way to check if your cleaning products are safe
- And the best ammonia-free cleaning products
What is Ammonia?
If you’ve become concerned about ammonia in cleaning products, you have every right to be.
Ammonia (NH3) is one of the most commonly produced industrial chemicals in the United States. It’s highly corrosive and toxic and causes tens of thousands of poisonings annually in the United States alone, especially in children and those working in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs).
It became a popular ingredient in cleaning products several decades ago because it’s an effective degreaser, shiner, and it works great on windows and mirrors.
It’s also the main ingredient in chemical fertilizer, with approximately 80% of the world’s ammonia going into fertilizer production (which means it’s getting into our food and water supply).
Ammonia is also commonly used in:
- Water purification
- Plastic manufacturing
- Explosives and weapons of war
- Animal feeds
- Dyes (including hair dyes)
- As a refrigerant gas
In other words: it’s everywhere…but that doesn’t make it safe.
Ammonia is also produced naturally by the human body, in urine, for example, and in nature.
However, chemically produced, concentrated ammonia is not the same as the ammonia your body creates and excretes.
So don’t be fooled if a product company tries to sell you on the idea that synthetic ammonia is “safe” because it exists in nature.
This popular marketing tactic, used by various industries (even those claiming to be “green” or “non-toxic”), is a manipulation of the truth.
To discover the disturbing truth about this chemical, one must only look up “ammonia toxicity” on the National Institutes of Health PubMed Database.
Ammonia exposure can result in the following:
- Coughing, and nose and throat irritation
- Immediate burning of the nose, throat and respiratory tract
- Irritation or damage to the mucous membranes
- Trouble breathing
- Bronchiolar and alveolar edema and airway destruction resulting in respiratory distress or failure (death)
- Skin or eye contact:
- Rapid skin and eye irritation
- Severe injury and burns to eyes and skin
- Blindness and irreparable eye damage
- Frostbite injury
- Corrosive damage to the mouth, throat, and stomach
- Liver and kidney damage
Regular or chronic exposure to low levels of ammonia, via cleaning products is very harmful to the lungs.
For example, per research published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, individuals who used ammonia daily for household cleaning for 20 years had decreased lung function, equivalent to smoking 20 cigarettes daily.
Also, people living on conventional commercial farms or in agricultural communities are at a higher risk of chronic exposure, due to the amount of ammonia used in agricultural products (including sprays).
The big takeaway: while we cannot always control the amount of ammonia in the environment, we can take proactive steps to limit our exposure at home by eliminating ammonia-containing cleaning products.
What Has Ammonia in it?
Regarding cleaning products, ammonia is a common ingredient in:
- Window cleaners
- Floor cleaners
- Tile cleaners
- Multi-purpose cleaners
- Pet stain removers
- Bathroom cleaners
- Disinfect sprays
So, many chemical-based cleaning products could contain ammonia.
What a great reason to toss those toxins and switch to ammonia-free, non-toxic cleaning products.
How to Check if Your Products Are Safe
Obviously, if a product lists “ammonia” on the label, you’ll want to avoid that product.
However, not all product labels are easy to read, nor are they always 100% transparent.
That’s where a tool like EWG’s (Environmental Working Group) Skin Deep Database is invaluable.
If you’re unsure if your favorite cleaning product is safe, simply type ingredients into the database and it will come back with an easy-to-read toxicity score. “1” being the least toxic and “10” being the most toxic.
Our advice is only to use products with all ingredients with a score of 1-2. Once you find an ingredient with a rating of 3 or more, that product should be tossed.
ThinkDirty is another excellent app for determining safe cleaning and personal care products. Look for a 0-3 rating for safest products.
Ammonia-Free Cleaning Products & Alternatives
Are you fired up to ditch the ammonia and switch to ammonia-free cleaning products? Good!
Let’s get into the best natural, non-toxic alternatives that degrease, de-grime, and leave your windows and mirror streak-free and squeaky clean.
(Wondering how to dispose of your ammonia-containing products safely? Click here for a step-by-step guide to How to Dispose of Cleaning Products Safely (and legally)).
1. Branch Basics
Branch Basics was designed to replace all household cleaning and laundry products (including those containing ammonia) with just one Concentrate diluted with water.
How does that work? It’s so easy.
You just take our Concentrate and dilute it with water, per instructions on the different spray bottles and our User Guide, to make different cleaners, including:
- Bathroom: a thick, sudsy blend ideal for deep cleaning bathrooms, toilets, really dirty dishes, and other big messes.
- All-Purpose: a perfect multi-purpose cleaner for surfaces, dishes, hand-washing, as a stain-remover for clothes and carpeting, and more.
- Streak-Free: possibly our most beloved product because it only takes one drop of Concentrate to make! Seriously. One drop of concentrate + water makes enough to last for months and months. And it works just as well (if not better) than ammonia-containing products.
- Foaming Wash: this is a luxurious hand soap and can also be used as a body wash, facial cleanser, make-up remover, baby & pet shampoo, and to wash dishes.
- Laundry: which replaces any laundry detergent for machine or hand-washing, soaking, and stain removal.
For extra cleaning and stain-fighting power, we also offer Oxygen Boost.
An all-natural, mineral-based powder that can be used as a laundry booster (a must-have for parents), scouring agent, and bleach alternative.
You can also create custom Branch Basics blends for other jobs, such as floors or carpet cleaning, by following the instructions in our User’s Guide.
To learn more about ammonia-free cleaning with Branch Basics, check out our Starter Kits.
2. Baking Soda + Vinegar
Baking soda and vinegar are incredible ammonia replacers.
Baking soda, aka sodium bicarbonate, is a fantastic natural scouring agent, whitener, brightener, deodorizer, and bleach alternative.
Distilled white vinegar is excellent for cleaning almost anything you usually clean with ammonia, including windows and surfaces.
It also has natural anti-microbial and disinfecting properties, especially when used with hydrogen peroxide (but they must be sprayed separately and stored in separate bottles!!)
It is important to be aware that vinegar contains ascetic acid and when sprayed is a lung irritant. If used as a spray make sure that there is good ventilation, you do not inhale when spray, and that no one with a lung condition or respiratory weakness is present
Learn more, including how to safely use vinegar with hydrogen peroxide in: 12 Uses for Sodium Bicarbonate (baking soda) Around the House and 12 Ways to Use Vinegar in Your Home.
3. Castile Soap
100% pure castile soap, such as Dr. Bronner’s and others, provides an all-natural base for many DIY cleaning products.
For example, mix castile soap with baking soda and water to create an effective soft-scrubbing cleaner.
A few drops of castile soap can also be combined with water and vinegar for mirrors and windows.
A quick online search with yield dozens of clever DIY cleaners with castile soap.
*Note: we would advise against any DIY cleaner that uses alcohol. Although alcohol is an effective antibacterial/antimicrobial agent (and works well on glass), it can also lead to the proliferation of superbugs. Thus, when DIYing, vinegar is a safer option.
5. Lemon Juice
The best things in life are often simple and practical. This is certainly true with lemon juice, another effective ammonia alternative (hence its use in many conventional cleaning products).
The citric acid and natural enzymes in lemon juice act as natural degreasers, stain removers, brightening agents, and bacteria-busting cleaners.
Lemon juice and zest can be added to various DIY, ammonia-free cleaning recipes using baking soda, vinegar, salt, castile soap, and water.
It can also be used straight on oil or grease stains, cutting boards, and to clean sinks and certain surfaces.
Get Started With Branch Basics Today!
Figuring out how to clean without ammonia can seem complicated, especially if you’ve relied on it for years.
Thankfully, you stumbled upon this article and now have everything you need to buy and/or make your own ammonia-free cleaning products.
Knowledge is empowering!
That is why we created Branch Basics; to share the power of pure through non-toxic products and educational offerings.
There’s so much we’d love to share with you about tossing the toxins and creating a healthier home.
We also have tons of info available in our Wellness Center (blog, podcast, and more).
Check out Starter Kits for everything you need to start cleaning ammonia-free today.
Marilee Nelson is an Environmental Toxins expert who has spent nearly 30 years advocating for the chemically-sensitive and chronically-ill. She is a Board Certified Nutritionist, Certified Bau-Biologist and Bau-Biology Inspector and specializes in Food As Medicine. She has helped thousands of families and individuals identify, heal and recover from toxic exposures and is on a mission to revolutionize the way American families view their health.