top of page

Making household cleaning animal-friendly

by Catherine Owsianiecki Reprinted with permission of Animal Wellness Magazine, © 2006,

Faye had just finished shining up her coffee table with a brand name furniture polish when she was shocked to see her beagle, Mitchell, put out his tongue to lick at a droplet of residue on the edge of the table. “Luckily, I was right there to stop him, but it made me wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t seen what he was doing,” she says. Then and there, Faye decided to start looking into safer, more natural alternatives to all her household cleaning products.


The problem with commercial cleaners

According to the ASPCA Complete Guide to Pet Care, poisoning is the most common emergency among pets, and household cleaners like bleaches, detergents and polishes are some of the most dangerous culprits. Studies have shown that exposure to toxic levels of household chemicals can also result in genetic damage and cancer.


In addition, household cleaners can affect indoor air quality, and considering that our animals spend most of their time inside, and are closer to surfaces such as floors, rugs and upholstery, they are more susceptible to the negative impact of these substances. On average, indoor air can be up to 20 times more polluted than outdoor air, while an EPA study revealed that 900 chemicals are commonly found inside the home. Household cleaners are a major contributor to these figures.


“There’s no one ingredient or product that we advocate for or against,” says Dana Farbman, CVT, of the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC). “They all pose dangers to pets if they are not used according to label directions or if a significant accidental exposure occurs.” If you must use a commercial household cleaner for one reason or another, it’s vital that you follow label directions to the letter. “If, for example, a label directs you to keep pets out of an area until the cleaning products have dried thoroughly, you need to adhere to that to avoid the potential for any issues.”

Dana warns that cats can be particularly sensitive to chemical compounds containing phenols. “If you are going to use a disinfectant spray with a phenolic compound to deodorize your cat’s litter box, you may want to wipe the litter box with a damp cloth afterward to remove any significant residue,” she says.


Products that contain corrosive agents, like bleaches, oven cleaners and anything with a high acid or alkaline content, can cause irritation if they come into contact with an animal’s skin. They can also harm mucus membranes if they are lapped up or inhaled. Dana warns that exposure to corrosives can be life- threatening if it causes enough irritation to lead to the ulceration or perforation of the GI tract. If a cleaning product is potentially corrosive, it will generally say so on the label. You should also watch out for anything that states it can cause severe skin irritation. “Of course, if any product label directs you to keep children away, it is safe to assume that the same goes for your pets,” says Dana.


Taking a safer route

Fortunately, you do not have to sacrifice a sparkling clean home for the health of your best friend. For animals guardians who would like to completely avoid the hazards of toxic cleaners, there are lots of safer, more natural alternatives available on today’s market.


When choosing a product, check for a list of ingredients to make sure it’s as natural or non-toxic as it claims. Truly natural cleaning products will contain agents such as botanicals, citrus extracts, and vegetable-based soaps. Companies like Nature Clean offer everything from kitchen and bathroom spray cleaners to chlorine-free dishwashing liquids, toilet bowl cleaners, and cleaners for windows, floors, carpets, tiles and upholstery – in short, everything you need to keep your house looking its best without resorting to harmful chemicals. Enzyme-based cleaners are another good alternative. The enzymes in these products help break down grease, soil, urine and odorcausing substances into water-soluble components.


Companies such as Natural Chemistry offer a range of enzyme-based cleaners including products designed to remove stains and odors left by animals on bedding, carpets and other household surfaces.


“These are healthier and more environmentally responsible alternatives to harsh detergents and emollients such as sodium laurel sulfate,” says Karyn Maier, author of The Naturally Clean Home. Not only are they non-toxic and far less irritating to the skin, but they’re also biodegradable and much easier on the earth than commercial products.


Making your own cleaners

Debra Lynn Dadd, author of Home Safe Home, recommends that animal guardians consider making their own cleaning products from natural ingredients like baking soda, soap, and vinegar. “I use vinegar as an all-purpose cleaner and wash my windows with half-and-half vinegar and water,” says Debra. “I did a price comparison and found that commercial window cleaners cost ten times more than my homemade solution. So you can save a lot of money while using cleaners that are much safer for your pets.”


Homemade cleaners are very easy to make, as the following recipes from Eartheasy, a website that offers all kinds of ideas for sustainable living, will show.


All Purpose Cleaner

Mix 1⁄2 cup vinegar and 1⁄4 cup baking soda in 1⁄2 gallon water. Store and keep. Use for removal of water deposit stains on shower stall panels, bathroom chrome fixtures, windows, bathroom mirrors, etc.

Oven Cleaner

Moisten oven surfaces with sponge and water. Sprinkle several layers of baking soda and let set for one hour. Rub gently with fine steel wool for tough spots.


It’s important to recognize that any cleaner, natural or not, should be stored beyond the reach of children and animals. Nearly any ingredient, or combination of ingredients, can be harmful if swallowed, or if contact is made with the eyes. Even citrus-based cleaners can irritate the skin or cause central nervous system depression if ingested. But using products made from more natural ingredients is certainly the better way to go, as Faye can testify. “You need to do a bit of homework to make sure you’re sourcing the right products, but it’s worth the effort,” she says. “It makes me feel better knowing I’m not exposing Mitchell – and the rest of my family – to a lot of toxic chemicals. I think it’s a wise move for anyone to make.”



Catherine Owsianiecki is a freelance writer and the editor of the Harford Tattle Tale, the newsletter of the humane society of Harford County. she lives in bel air, Maryland with Tasha, a yorkshire terrier, and einstein, a lop-eared rabbit

Animal-Friendly Cleaning

bottom of page