A Consumer Guide To Safer Alternatives To Hazardous Household Products, Part 2

Revision April 1992

Take Me Shopping
Original Edition Written by
Alicia A. Flynn & Rory E. Kessler

Hazardous Waste Management Program
Office of Toxics and Solid Waste Management
Department of Planning and Development
Santa Clara County


This booklet recommends using specific materials and techniques in the home as substitutes for commonly-used household products that are potentially harmful to humans and the environment in general. These alternative products and techniques have been collected from a wide variety of sources. Some have been carefully tested. Others are traditional recommendations that have been passed down for generations without formal testing. You will probably discover that most of them are going to save you money. If one recommendation doesn't do the job or seems like too much work, don't give up. Try another.

As we begin to understand the importance of keeping hazardous products out of our homes, more and more attention will be focused on safer ways to maintain our homes. Watch for new products and ideas.

This is an important and exciting period. We are all starting to recognize that each of us must take responsibility for the impacts caused by products that we buy.

This booklet is brought to you by:

Santa Clara County Hazardous Waste Management Program

Santa Clara Valley Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Program


Every attempt has been made to assure that the information contained in this publication is accurate. The County of Santa Clara, the Santa Clara Valley Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Program, the City of San Jose, and the California Integrated Waste Management Board assume no responsibility and disclaim any liability for any injury or damage resulting from the use or effect of any product or information specified in this publication.

This document was prepared as a result of work sponsored by the California Integrated Waste Management Board (Board). It does not necessarily represent the views of the Board, its employees, or the State of California. The Board, the State of California, its employees, contractors, and subcontractors make no warranty, express or implied, and assume no legal liability for the information in this document; nor does any party represent that the use of this information will not infringe upon privately owned rights.

Santa Clara County Household Hazardous Waste Disposal Program

Table of Contents


The Nevada County Hazardous Waste Task Force plus DOS, and EH, wish to thank the following individuals and organizations for the use of their publications in the preparation of this booklet:

Return to the Table of Contents


What Are Hazardous Household Products?

Hazardous household products are products purchased for use in the home, containing ingredients that, because of their chemical properties, have the potential to harm people or the environment. Typical hazardous products include:

Even though easily purchased at the local store, a product can still be harmful to you, your family and the environment. Many household products contain chemicals that are poisonous, corrosive, flammable, and/or chemically reactive. Many have not been tested for potential long-term health effects on humans.

Households with small children must be especially careful about the hazardous nature of a product. In the hands of a curious child, products that are reasonably safe when used as directed can cause grievous harm. In 1990, 11% of calls to Poison Control Center involved a child and a cleaning product.

Improper disposal of these products can endanger the health of your family, the community, sanitation workers, and the environment. See page 58 for information on how to dispose of these products properly.

Return to the Table of Contents

Becoming a Less-Toxic Consumer

First of all, know that you can make a difference! This booklet was developed to help you make that difference by becoming a consumer of less-toxic products.

As an informed consumer, you can have an impact on the amounts and types of household products produced. By shopping for less-toxic or non-toxic products, you send a message to manufacturers which encourages them to produce safer alternatives to hazardous household products. If your local store doesn't stock products that are recommended in this booklet, talk to the store's manager and ask him/her to consider selling the product. For suggestions on where to find some hard-to-find products, contact the offices listed in Additional Resources, p. 63.

Vote with Your Dollar!

Return to the Table of Contents

How to Use This Booklet

Use this booklet when you make up your shopping list. Better yet, take it with you when you go shopping. Then, if you require additional information, you can simply thumb through the guide until you find what you need.

This booklet is designed to help you identify and shop for safer substitutes to hazardous household products. It includes information on less-toxic or non-toxic alternative products and techniques, safe handling, storage and disposal of the hazardous products you do buy, and who to contact for additional information.

Read this booklet with a pen in your hand.

Here is a brief summary of what you will find inside:

Remember the Earth in Your Shopping List

Buy Non-Toxic Products

Return to the Table of Contents

Reading Product Labels

Federal law requires that most hazardous household products include specific types of information about the product on their labels.

The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) regulates labeling of products which contain pesticides.

The Federal Hazardous Substances Act (FHSA) regulates labeling of all other hazardous products.

Most product labels tend to advertise the virtues of the product rather than emphasize information on product safety. The consumer must know what to look for and how to read the fine print on a label.

Reading a Pesticide Label

When pesticides are registered they are subjected to tests that examine the acute or immediate hazard associated with that product. The signal word on the label can give you a general indication of the level of toxicity (lethal dose) of the product:

Look for the following information on pesticide labels. See the sample label on the next page.

  1. Brand Name
  2. Common Name of Primary Chemical(s)
  3. Ingredients Statement - Every pesticide label must name and list the percentages of all active ingredients (i.e. the ingredients that kill the pest). Manufacturers are now required to list several inactive, inert ingredients that have hazardous qualities (e.g. petroleum distillates).
  4. Type of Formulation - Label tells what form the product is in (e.g. powder).
  5. Pests Registered Against - Label includes a list of the pests the pesticide has been proven to be effective against in California registration tests.
  6. Child Hazard Warning
  7. Net Contents
  8. Directions for Use - The label must tell you how to use the product within its legal requirements and for best results. Watch for special directions for use on vegetables.
  9. Warning statements and signal words - This section includes recommendations on protective clothing and equipment and on precautions to take to avoid exposure of children and pets. May contain warnings about toxicity to fish. Includes the signal words (see discussion on previous page) that indicate relative acute toxicity to humans). Labels do not indicate any long-term or chronic hazards (e.g. cancer or birth defects) of the chemicals contained in the product. Many products have not been tested for their long-term effect on humans.
  10. Misuse Statement/Liability
  11. Registration and Establishment Numbers - Every pesticide must be registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Labels must contain the registration number (EPA Reg. No. XX) and an establishment number (code for the manufacturer) (EPA Est. No. XX).
  12. Name and Address of Manufacturer -Manufacturer can be contacted for additional information. The manufacturer can supply you with more detailed information about product constituents in their "Material Safety Data Sheet."

Sample Pesticide Label

Directions: Spray thoroughly on infested plant parts. Repeat as necessary. Household pests (Roaches, Ants, Flies): 2 Tablespoons per gallon of water. Spray on area frequented by insects. Avoid contamination of food, dishes, utensils and waster. Repeat as necessary. Vegetables (Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Kale, Beans, Peas, Potatoes):

1 Tablespoon per gallon water. Do not apply to Broccoli and Peas within 3 days of harvest and to Brussel Sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower or Kale within 7 days of harvest. Do not apply to Beans within 1 day of harvest. Use up to harvest on Potatoes.

CAUTION: Harmful if swallowed. Do not breathe vapor or spray mist. Avoid contact with skin and hands. Wash hands thoroughly after using. Avoid contamination of food. Keep children and animals away from treated areas until the areas are dry. If poisoning occurs, call a physician immediately. Note to Physicians: Emergency Information - call (123) 456-7890. Atropine is antidotal. Do not use, pour, spill or store near heat or open flame. Food utensils such as teaspoons or Tablespoons should not be used for food purposes after use with pesticides. Do not reuse container. Dispose of container when empty. This product will kill fish. Keep out of any body of water. Do not contaminate water by cleaning of equipment or disposal of wastes. Apply this product only as specified on this label. This product is highly toxic to bees.

NOTICE: Buyer assumes all responsibility for safety and use not in accordance with directions.

Product 1223344 EPA Reg. No. 0000 EPA Est 111-22-3

Chemico Chemical Company, 100 Main Street, Beaverton, MD 54321

Tranziapon Insect Spray
CAUTION: Keep out of reach of children

Net Contents 8 fl. oz.
Store in a cool, dry place. Read entire label. Use in accordance with label cautions and directions. Keep original container. Do not put concentrate or dilute into food or drink container.

Active Ingredients by wt. Tranziapon* -49%
Derivative Solvent -34%
Inert Ingredients -17%
3 Ditransudate of cismercapto pontificate

Makes up to 24 gallons
Diluted spray kills insects: Aphids, Red Spider Mites, Flies, Mealy-Bugs and Scales.

Return to the Table of Contents

Alternatives & Safer Substitutes

This section is divided into general product categories:

Each subsection contains recommended alternatives and safer substitutes for specific types of commonly-purchased products.

It is important to note that some of the recommended materials may not be non-toxic but rather are less-toxic, safer alternatives to products that are believed to be hazardous.

To make it easier to find the recommended pest control and cleaning products, brand name examples are included. The examples have been collected, primarily, from five documents written by recognized experts in their respective fields. These source documents are preceded by an asterisk on the lists of books found on pp. 64 and 65.

No endorsement of named products is intended, nor is criticism implied of similar products that are not mentioned.

Return to the Table of Contents

Automotive Products

For ThisTry This
Air ConditioningIf your air conditioning system needs a charge of freon (a chlorofluorocarbon Freon Recharge (CFC)), the system is leaking and is contributing to the depletion of the earth's ozone layer. Don't add more freon. Get the leak fixed.
Find a garage that has the equipment to recover and recycle freon.
Buy a car without air conditioning. Almost all car air conditioning systems use freon. Substitutes are being studied.
AntifreezeHave your antifreeze changed at a garage that recycles antifreeze. Call and ask.
Don't drain your used antifreeze into the street. What goes into the storm drains flows directly into our creeks and on to the Bay with no treatment. See page 17 for more info on antifreeze.
Drain your used antifreeze into a drain pan. Collect the 2 gals. that were in your radiator plus 2 additional gals. of flush water. This will capture most of the metal particles (toxic to fish) that were in your radiator fluid. Take to an HHW Disposal Program. See p. 58.
Change your antifreeze regularly to prevent corrosion in your radiator.
RadiatorChemical flushes, which contain very chemical corrosive chemicals, have been shown to flushes sometimes cause more damage in your radiator than help. They may loosen up mineral deposits that have been protecting weak, corroded spots in the radiator.
Install a simple back flushing system to allow you to really flush your radiator well with just water.
Ask your mechanic.
DegreasersNever hose down oil and grease spills. To absorb grease and oil spills on concrete surfaces, sprinkle cornmeal, sawdust, or kitty-litter; allow to sit for several hours, then sweep into a plastic bag and place in the trash. (Professional garages always have an absorbant material on hand in case of fluid spills.)
Grease on handsWear gloves to keep hands clean. This becoming standard practice in some professional garages.
Use citrus-based hand cleaners.
Rub greasy hands with baby oil. Then clean with soap and water.
Motor oilAlways recycle used oil! If your neighborhood has curbside pickup of recyclables like aluminum and newspapers, you probably have curbside oil pickup.
Call your garbage company.
Or, contact local recycling centers to see if they accept used oil.
Or call 1-800-553-2962 for a list of service stations and other businesses that accept used oil.
Have your oil changed professionally. They will recycle the oil.
Fix your car's oil leak! People who would never think of pouring oil down a storm drain or into a creek, allow their car to leak oil onto the street.
Do not use waste oil on roads to control dust. Most of that oil will end up being washed into our creeks.
Re-refined, recycled oil is now becoming available. Ask your retailer.
Support the recycled products market.
Oil FiltersDrain filters into your used oil pan for 24 hrs.
Place filter in a plastic bag. Your city's curbside oil program may accept filters. Call your garbage company. Or, take to a disposal program, see p. 58.
The metal will be recycled.
Transmission & Brake fluidFix leaks.
Some automotive fluids can be recycled.
Keep fluids separated and take to a disposal program, p. 58.
Car batteriesEasy to recycle, see p. 17 for info on batteries and p. 66 for a list of battery recyclers.
Clean battery terminals with a paste of baking soda and water.
GasolineWalk, bicycle, or use public transit.
Limit your use of fuel by driving a fuel-efficient car and keeping it tuned, by carpooling, and by planning vehicle trips efficiently ("cold engine" starts really pollute).
Consider modifying your engine to use propane, methanol or natural gas. They burn cleaner than gasoline. And pumps are scattered throughout the Bay Area.
Or buy an electric car - the car of the future. Contact California Energy Commission for info: (916) 324-3298.
Avoid having to dispose of old gasoline. Stored gas can go stale after 6 months. Stale gas can make starting an engine very difficult or even impossible. (If uncontaminated, gas can be used up, a cup or so at a time, by adding to tanks of fresh gas. Or see p. 58 for disposal programs.
BoatsUse up or transfer gas before storing the boat over the winter.
Lawn mowersBuy only enough gas to do the job for the next month-even 1/2 gal. at a time. Storing gas in mower can damage carburetor parts in a few months.
Next time, buy a manual push mower. There are no fuel costs, no pollution, no noise, and you get exercise!
Windshield Washer SolutionUse plain water, or water with a touch of liquid soap. A dilution of 3:1 (water to fluid) of the average ready-to-use commercial windshield washer fluid is adequate freeze protection for most of California (i.e. down to 20 degrees F.) (Commercial products contain methanol to prevent freezing, and a detergent. This alcohol contributes to air pollution and is dangerous if swallowed.)
Do not use a vinegar mixture. May damage the windshield washer pump. See more on glass cleaners, p. 20.
Washing the CarTake cars to a commercial carwash. Their wastewater either goes to a wastewater treatment plant or is recycled at the carwash.
If you wash the car on the street, use only water. If you need to use soap (e.g. to cut grease), use one that has been shown to biodegrade quickly (see p. 17). Empty your bucket into a sink or toilet, not the storm drain. Whatever goes into the storm drain goes directly into our creeks with no treatment. Chemicals in soaps and detergents are highly toxic to fish and other marine life.
Wash cars on your lawn or a dirt area so that water can return to the groundwater supply, not run off into the storm drain. Also, the chemicals in your soap or detergent could be filtered by the soil and biodegrade in the soil into less harmful substances.
PolishesTo polish chrome, apply a paste of baking soda and water with a sponge or soft cloth; after a few minutes, rinse clean and dry.
DegreasersUse water-based detergents or citrus-based degreasers. Avoid products which contain methylene chloride (known to cause cancer in laboratory animals). Never use gasoline to clean auto parts. Gas contains benzene(known to cause cancer in humans). Evaporating gas contributes to air pollution.
Kerosene or diesel fuel may be adequate for your degreasing needs (less flammable and less dangerous to store than gas; doesn't evaporate as fast as gas; recyclable (see p. 58).
Steam clean your engine at carwashes equiped with coin-operated steam cleaning equipment.

Safe Handling

Gasoline - Because of its flammable and toxic characteristics, gasoline can be one of the most dangerous products found around the house. Gas contains benzene, a chemical known to cause cancer in humans. Avoid breathing gas fumes and never use gas to clean auto parts or hands. Avoid storing any type of fuel. If you must, only use containers specifically designed for this purpose and leave a couple of inches for vapor expansion. Store the container in a secure, well-ventilated area of the garage or storage shed, away from the hot water heater, with its pilot light, or other potential source of heat, sparks or flame and where children can't get at it.

Used motor oil - Used oil has been found to cause cancer in laboratory animals. Keep hands as clean as possible while working on the car.

Solvents - Auto part degreasers are usually composed of solvents that evaporate quickly. The fumes are often toxic and very flammable. Never smoke while using degreasers. Use outside, ideally, or in well-ventilated areas with open windows and a fan.

Car batteries - Be careful not to spill the fluid that's inside the battery. Sulfuric acid found in batteries is extremely corrosive; just a small amount can burn skin and cause blindness if splashed in eyes. Sulfuric acid also gives off ignitable gases (so don't smoke near the battery). The lead in improperly disposed of batteries can contaminate groundwater supplies and surrounding soils. Lead affects the human central nervous system. Always turn in old vehicle batteries when purchasing new ones or give/sell used batteries to a battery recycler (see p. 66).

Antifreeze - Though highly toxic, ethylene glycol, the main ingredient in antifreeze, has a very sweet smell and taste which is attractive to small children and pets. Clean up any spills immediately and never leave antifreeze in open, unattended containers. Antifreeze going down a storm drain carries the ethylene glycol and metal fragments (esp. lead) from your engine into creeks and on to the Bay. Both ethylene glycol and these metal particles are toxic to fish.

Shopping List of Safer Alternatives

Return to the Table of Contents

Cleaners, Polishers, & Deoderizers


The right tool makes a big difference! Buy vegetable-based or citrus-based soaps instead of petroleum-based soaps/detergents. Oil is a limited resource.

For ThisTry This
Surface CleanersFind a combination that works for you, and always keep some ready in a squirt bottle. You'll find that weak acids like vinegar & lemon juice are good at cutting grease.

Mix: 1 quart hot water, 1 tsp vegetable oil-based soap/detergent, 1 tsp borax, & 2 tbl vinegar.
Note: vinegar is used here as mild acid to cut grease; borax is used as a water softener, esp good in areas with hard water, to prevent soapy deposits.
Or, mix 1/2 cup vinegar in 1 quart of warm water.
Or, dissolve baking soda in hot water for a general cleaner.

Use vegetable oil-based soaps/detergents.

Automatic dishwasher:
Automatic dishwashing detergents have a very high level of phosphates.

Products with Drain OpenersPut a strainer on all drains.
Pour boiling water down the kitchen drain once a week to keep it grease free.
Toss a handful of baking soda and 1/2 cup vinegar down the drain. Cover the drain, sealing in the carbon dioxide gas bubbles as they agitate your clog loose. Let sit 15 min. Rinse with 2 qts. boiling water. Follow with plunger.
Most bathroom sink clogs are caused by hair. Prevent with a good sink strainer.
Use a metal snake to unclog stubborn drains. A snake is a great investment.

Roots in drains:
Do not use copper sulfate-based root control products for drains blocked by roots. This product releases copper into the Bay (toxic to marine life).
Have drains cleared by a professional who uses mechanical root removal techniques or non-metalic, foaming herbicides.
Have breaks in sewer lines repaired to prevent further entry of roots.

Glass Cleaners1/4 cup white vinegar / 1 qt. water.
The pros use a squeeze of dishwashing liquid in gal. water.
A quality squeegee is the pro's secret to streakless windows.
Oven CleanersMix 2 tbl liquid dish soap & 2 tsp borax in 2 cups of warm water. Apply and let sit for 20 min., then scrub.
Or, use a non-chlorinated scouring powder, like Bon Ami. Or use a baking soda, salt, and water paste.
Clean glass oven door with Bon Ami. Use razor blade or spatula for tough spots.
Avoid aerosol oven cleaners. Easy-off brand has a non-caustic formula with no lye (sodium hydroxide).
Don't use any abrasive cleaning materials on self-cleaning ovens.

Periodically clean the oven with baking soda and water.
Protect oven floor from spills. Always place a cookie sheet or foil pan under pans to catch drippings.

Mildew RemoversScrub mildew spots with borax/water with a nylon scouring pad. If plaster wall is penetrated by mold, leave a borax/water paste on the wall for a couple days. Vacuum off.
Or, try scrubbing mildew with a vinegar and salt paste, if problem is not severe.
To clean mildew from a shower curtain use a mixture of 1/2 cup borax/1 gal water
Or, try vinegar full strength, then rinse.
Or, machine wash curtain, with a towel. Add 1 cup vinegar to rinse cycle.

Wash grout often enough so mold can't get established.
Always air out damp areas.
Seal grout after cleaning by painting grout with a water sealer.
To inhibit mold and mildew, wash area with 1/2 cup borax/1 gal. hot water.
Or, use a very dilute bleach solution of 1/4 cup to 1 gal. water. Keep a small squeegee in the shower.

Rug, Carpet & UpholsteryRegular vacuuming will keep dirt from getting ground in.
CleanersClean up spill right away. You knew that...
Pour club soda on a spill and blot.
Use a non-aerosol, soap-based cleaner.
Mix 1 qt. warm water, 1 tsp. vegetable-oil-based soap/detergent, 1 tsp. borax, and a splash of vinegar; apply with a damp cloth or sponge and rub gently; blot.
Toiletbowl CleanersUse mix of 1/2 cup borax /1 gal. water to clean and deodorize.
Let 1 cup borax sit in the bowl overnight.
Coat stains in toiletbowl with paste of lemon juice and borax. Let sit about 20 min. and scrub with bowl brush.
Clean frequently with a solution of baking soda and water; sprinkle baking soda around the rim.
Avoid solid toilet bowl deodorizers that contain paradichlorobenzene (there is evidence that it causes cancer in laboratory animals)
Some toiletbowl-cleaning products contain acids (read labels). If acids are mixed with a cleaner containing chlorine (like bleach), toxic chlorine gas is released.
Tub & Sink CleanerUse baking soda like a scouring cleanser. Use non-chlorinated cleanser (e.g. Bon Ami). Very effective and doesn't dissolve as fast as baking soda.
Try fine grain wet/dry sandpaper (400 grit) to remove pot marks in porcelain sinks (gentler than common scouring cleansers).
Chlorinated cleansers may still be necessary to remove stubborn stains in porcelain.
Caution: chlorinated cleansers contain bleach which can react with other cleaners that contain ammonia or acids, to form dangerous gases.
To remove mineral deposits around faucets, cover deposits with strips of paper towels, soaked in vinegar. Let set for 1 hour and clean.
Note: Hard water means the water has a high mineral content (e.g. calcium, magnesium, iron, etc.). This often results in whitish mineral deposits left on faucets, shower doors, drains, windows. Vinegar, a weak acid, can dissolve many of these deposits.

Safe Handling

Shopping List of Safer Alternatives

Laundry Products

For ThisTry This
Laundry DetergentsUse detergents that don't contain phosphates. Liquid laundry detergents do not have phosphates. Fortunately, non-phosphate detergents have been shown to clean very well.
See an analysis of the effectiveness of laundry cleaners in Consumer Reports, Feb 1991.
Some laundry compounds have been shown to contain fewer polluting metals than others (see examples in the shopping list). Use simple laundry soap. Cleans better if a water softener like borax, washing soda, or baking soda is added to prevent soap scum residue.
Or, consider installing a water conditioner in your home. Softens hard water; lets soap work better.
Use products which contain "washing soda." Washing soda brightens fabrics, costs less than bleach and is safer to have around.
Chlorine BleachUse non-chlorine dry bleach or washing soda to whiten clothes.
Use hydrogen peroxide-based liquid bleaches. Hydrogen peroxide breaks down to water and oxygen in wastewater.
If you use chlorine bleach, try using half the recommended amount and add 1/4 to 1/2 cup baking soda per load.
Limit use of bleaches where possible.
Don't buy lemon-scented bleaches. Makes bleach attractive to children. See Safe Handling, p. 22.


For ThisTry This
Floor CleanersTo clean vinyl tile and linoleum, use 1/4 cup white vinegar, 1/4 cup of washing soda, in 1 gallon warm water.
Remove scuff marks on linoleum with toothpaste.
To clean wood floors, damp mop with a mild vegetable oil soap and dry immediately.
For painted or varnished wood floors, mix 1 tsp washing soda & 1 gal. hot water; rinse with clear water. Dry immediately.
To clean polyurethane-sealed wood floors, use 1/4 cup white vinegar in 1 gal. water. Dry immediately.
Shoe PolishFor 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 with soft cloth.
To shine and protect patent leather shoes, rub with a dab of petroleum jelly.
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.
Avoid products containing trichloroethylene (TCE), trichloroethane (TCA), methylene chloride, nitrobenzene (chemicals seen to cause central nervous system problems; liver damage, if swallowed). If you use conventional shoe polish, use in well-ventilated area.
Furniture PolishPolish 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 tsp washing soda in a gallon of hot water; rinse with clear water.
To remove watermarks from wood furniture, rub toothpaste on spot and polish with a soft cloth.
Many furniture polishes contain petroleum distillates-very dangerous if swallowed.
Metal PolishesBrass: Mix 1/2 tsp salt and 1/2 cup white vinegar with enough flour to make a paste. Apply thickly. Let sit for 15 min-1/2 hr. Rinse thoroughly 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.

Chrome: Wipe with vinegar, rinse with water, then dry. (Good for removing hard water deposits.)
- Or, shine chrome fixtures with baby oil and a soft cloth. (Good for removing soap scum off faucets.)

Stainless steel: Clean and polish with a baking soda/water paste or a cleanser like Bon Ami.

Dry cleaningRemove the plastic bags from fresh dry cleaning and air the clothing out before hanging in your closet. This will limit your exposure to perchloroethylene, the solvent used in dry cleaning.
Hand wash, where possible. Ask questions about cleaning options when you buy the clothes. Consult U.C. Extension Home Economist for fabric care information - (408) 299-2635.
Buy clothes that don't require dry cleaning (e.g. washable rayon or silk)
Fabric SoftenerTo freshen and soften natural-fiber clothing, add 1 cup vinegar or 1/4 cup baking soda during final rinse. To reduce "static cling" in synthetics, line dry clothes. Or remove clothes from the dryer while they are still slightly damp.
Fabric softener sheets are safer to have in your laundry room than a liquid or aerosol softener (less chance of product being swallowed or getting into eyes or lungs accidentally).
PresoakSoak heavily-soiled items in warm water with 1/2 cup washing soda for 30 minutes.
Spot/StainUse your regular laundry detergent as a Remover booster. Make a paste from a powder detergent or pour a liquid detergent directly on a stain. Rub into stain with toothbrush. Then launder as usual. See Spot/Stain Removers, p. 29.

Shopping List of Safer Alternatives

Spot & Stain Removers

For ThisTry This
StainsAvoid products with 1,1,1-trichloroethane on Fabrics (TCA) or napthalene.

Blood: Immediately clean stain with club soda or sponge with cold water; "bleach" with 1/4 cup borax in 2 cups water. Sponge with cold water and rinse. - Or, saturate with hydrogen peroxide. Let sit a couple of min. and wash. May bleach out color, so test first.

Chocolate and coffee: Soak in cold water, rub with soap and a borax solution, rinse, then launder. If necessary, rub with a borax/water paste.

Fruit stains: Soak in cold water 30 minutes; rub soap into remaining stain; then wash; "bleach" with lemon juice and sunlight, if needed.
- Or, soak in vinegar.

Grease: Apply paste of cornstarch and water. Brush off when dry.
- Or, cover spot with baking soda or cornmeal. Let absorb the grease and brush off.
- Or, scrub spot with toothpaste.
- Or, sponge grease spot on suede with a cloth dipped in white vinegar; dry, brush off.

Ink: Tough to get out. Try saturating stain with milk.
- Or, sponge stain with alcohol.
- Or, apply cream of tartar and lemon juice paste. Set for 1 hr.

Lipstick: Rub with cold cream or shortening to dissolve color; rinse area with solution of washing soda and warm water to remove grease; wash in soapy water.

Oil: Rub white chalk into stain before laundering.
- Or, scrub spot with toothpaste.

Stains Perspiration: Pretty tough, but try on Fabrics sponging stain with a weak solution of white vinegar or lemon juice, and water.

Rust stains from clothing: Moisten spot with lemon juice, sprinkle with salt, and leave in the sun for a couple of days.
- Or, try a "waterless" auto mechanic's hand cleaner.

Tea: Stretch fabric over a basin and pour boiling water over the stain; wash as usual.

Wine: Blot with paper towels to absorb wine. Then apply either club soda, rubbing alcohol, borax or white wine (!) to blot out the stain.

StainsRub with moist baking soda, cornstarch on Porcelain or salt.

Tougher stains: Make a paste using 3 tbls borax and 1 tbl of lemon juice; scrub with nylon scouring pad and rinse with water.

Shopping List of Safer Alternatives

DishesPhosphates contribute arsenic to the Bay (toxic to marine life). Choose a detergent with low phosphate content (read labels and see examples in our shopping list). Unless your water is very hard, you should get good results using half the recommended amount in your dishwasher.
Sprinkle a handful of baking soda over the dishes instead of filling the open dispenser with detergent.

Camping: Never wash with soap directly in a lake or stream. The chemicals in soap are toxic to fish and other marine life. Wash in buckets or pots and use soap that biodegrades quickly. Drain wash water onto the ground, well away from the water's edge.

Disinfectants: Soap and hot water is sufficient for most of your household cleaning needs.
For the occasional disinfecting job (e.g. to kill germs on your meat cutting board; to wash down shower stall floor to prevent spread of athletic's foot fungus; to prevent mold growth in damp areas) mix:
1/4 cup liquid chlorine bleach in a gal. of water. The U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services recommends this dilution of bleach for disinfecting in health care and dental settings.
Any container holding a bleach solution should be child-proof and well-labeled.
Hydrogen peroxide (sold in a 3% solution) is effective against viruses.
Keep surfaces dry. Bacteria, viruses, mildew, and mold generally cannot live without dampness.
Borax has been shown to have disinfecting qualities. Mix 1/2 cup in 1 gal. water. (Note: Borax has not been through EPA's stringent testing that qualifies a material as a disinfectant.)
Note: Disinfecting your toilet may be an exercise in futility. Any household cleaner can clean the toilet, even baking soda.

Shopping List of Safer Alternatives

Air Fresheners & Deodorizers

For ThisTry This
Air FreshenersIf there is an odor, address the problem directly by cleaning or removing the cause.
Open doors and windows.
Improve ventilation.
Use a stove fan when cooking.
Leave baking soda in open containers in refrigerator, closets, and bathrooms.
Most air freshener products either mask the odor or contain chemicals that desensitize your nose. They also contain chemicals that contribute to air pollution.
Avoid products that contain paradichlorobenzene (evidence that it causes cancer in laboratory animals).
Air fresheners/disinfectants don't disinfect the air when sprayed into the air. They are disinfectants only when sprayed on surfaces.

To scent the air:
Set out potpourri in open dishes.
Simmer cinnamon and cloves.
Burn scented candles.

DeodorizersFor carpets, sprinkle a mix of baking soda, borax and cornmeal liberally on carpet. Wait an hour or overnight. Vacuum.
Sprinkle baking soda in the bottom of cat box before adding kitty litter.
Sprinkle borax in the bottom of garbage cans to inhibit the growth of odor-producing molds and bacteria.

Return to the Table of Contents

Paint Products

For ThisTry This
PaintUse latex (water-based) paint instead of oil-based paint. Oil-based paints contain a high percentage of solvents which contribute to air pollution. You are exposed to solvent fumes while the oil paint dries.
Calculate amount needed carefully. Patronize stores that will give you expert help. Many paint stores will take back unopened cans. Ask them.
Give good left-over paint to a community organization that can use it-use your imagination. If you have 5 or more gals of same color, call (408) 299-7300 to donate it to organizations the County has become aware of that want paint.
For disposal of waste paint, see disposal programs, p. 58. Your old latex will be recycled into new latex.
Use whitewash for barns, basements, and fences instead of paint. (A simple mix of hydrated lime & water-a less-toxic alternative to white paint.)
Air out newly-painted bedrooms before people sleep there again.
Brush CleanersClean brushes immediately after use. Wash out latex paint over a sink, not outside, in the gutter.
Work mechanic's "waterless" hand cleaner into brush and wash with soap and water.
Clean paint brushes hardened with dried oil-based paint by soaking in hot vinegar.
Paint ThinnersAvoid using oil-based paints which require solvent thinners for cleanup.
Pour off clear thinner for reuse after particles have settled out.
Wrap particles in newspaper and throw in trash.
Chemical Paint StrippersTo strip paint, use a heat gun, a paint scraper, or a sanding block with course sandpaper (wear safety goggles and a mask).
Note: Stripping lead-based paint is dangerous and should be done by a professional. Inhaling the dust or vapors can cause lead poisoning.
Water-soluble paint strippers are available that contain less-hazardous ingredients.
Avoid strippers containing methylene chloride and trichloroethylene (TCE) (evidence that these cause cancer in laboratory animals); benzene (known to cause cancer in humans); 1,1,1-trichloroethane (TCA) (irritant to eyes and tissues), xylene (toxic by drinking or breathing); or toluene (known to cause birth defects).
For disposal of old and unwanted stripping compounds, see p. 58.
Spray PaintsDon't use aerosols. Aerosols make it more likely that the user will breathe in the paint. The aerosol propellants contribute to air pollution.
Wood PreservativesDo not use old products which contain pentachlorophenol (PCP) (evidence that it causes cancer in laboratory animals), creosote, tributyltin oxide, or folpet.
Do not burn wood treated with wood preservatives. You'd be releasing the chemicals into the air. Old, treated, scrap wood can be taken to a landfill for disposal.
Water-based preservatives are available that can seal wood and protect it from water rot and insects.
A water sealer or polyurethane can prevent wood rot. Use types of wood (such as redwood and cedar) that are naturally resistant to insects and wood rot.
WoodBuy "pressure-treated" lumber. Preservatives have already been applied. Eliminates the need to handle wood preservatives and exposure to toxic chemicals.
If untreated wood will be in contact with soil, you may need to use an arsenic-based product. Arsenic is more toxic than copper, zinc or boric acid preservatives.
Wood StainsUse finishes derived from natural & Finishes sources, such as shellac, tung oil, and linseed oil.
Use water-based stains.
Try the new less-toxic wood working compounds that are becoming available.

Safe Handling

Shopping List of Safer Alternatives

Return to the Table of Contents

Personal Hygiene Products

For ThisTry This
Deodorants & AntiperspirantsUse non-aerosols such as solids and roll-ons.
Try baking soda as a powder.
Fingernail Polish & Polish RemoverFingernail polish contains a high percentage of solvents. If you use nail polish, apply it in a well-ventilated room.
Only patronize salons that are well-ventilated.
Nail polish remover is basically acetone, a solvent strong enough to dissolve furniture finish and some plastics. It evaporates quickly. Avoid fumes by only using in well-ventilated areas.
Poisonous if swallowed. Can cause blindness if splashed in eyes.
Hair SpraysUse non-aerosol pump sprays or styling gels.
Note: Aerosol hair sprays are a surprisingly significant contributor to air pollution.
Shaving CreamUse shaving soap and a lather brush instead of foam products in aerosol containers. Even aerosols that do not contain CFCs anymore, contain gases like butane that are both flammable and contribute to air pollution.
Give shaving soap a try.
ThermometersUse an electronic thermometer instead of one containing mercury.

Shopping list of Safer Alternatives

Return to the Table of Contents

Pesticides & Fertilizers

Insect Control

AntsIn the house: Keep counters, floors and pet feeding areas clean. Remove and clean up whatever the ants are after.
Follow the ant trail and find out how they're getting in. Wipe up ants & ant trails w/soapy water.
Caulk openings where they enter the house. Petroleum jelly in the cracks or duct tape can be a quick, temporary fix.
Apply diatomaceous earth or silica gel into cracks. Apply a fine dusting to entry points that can't be caulked.
Or, apply boric acid dust into cracks where ants emerge. It is a poison, so be sure it is inaccessible to pets and children.
Apply a pyrethrin-based insecticide to entry points. Very effective as a repellent.

Indoor Plants Note: Insects seem to always find stressed and weakened plants.
Plants become stressed:
- if there is water in the saucer all the time.
- if plants are over-fertilized
- (insects love fast, fragile new growth).

In the yard: Ants are generally beneficial in the garden (e.g. they attack termites and eat flea eggs), so limit your control efforts to problem areas.
Ants will protect aphids from their natural enemies and carry aphids to other plants. To prevent ants from climbing, apply a sticky, adhesive material (like Tanglefoot) to a band of nursery tape, tin foil, or plastic wrap wrapped around the base of the plant (band should be 12" wide for trees; as wide as possible for bushes), several inches above the ground.
Place ant baits in problem areas. Look for boric acid ant baits or hydramethylnon baits. Less-toxic than arsenic.
If an ant nest is a problem because it is near your house, you can destroy it with boiling water, insecticidal soap, a pyrethrin solution or diatomaceous earth.

Ash White FliesThe whitefly that appeared in large numbers throughout the Bay Area during summer and fall '91 was the ash whitefly.
Pesticides won't help. Use of pesticides won't even put a dent in the population, while killing some of the whitefly's natural enemies.
Encarsia partenopea wasps, a tiny, sting-less wasp, a predator of the ash whitefly, is being released in affected communities in California. Things should be back in balance in a couple years. (May be difficult to order these wasps.)
Be sure plants get enough water while under attack. White flies suck plant fluids.
Use commercially available non-toxic whitefly traps or make your own traps by painting a piece of cardboard bright yellow, coat with a sticky product like Tanglefoot or a mix of petroleum jelly and detergent. Hang near infested plants.
Safe for Encarsia wasps who are not attracted to yellow.

Greenhouse: The common whitefly that we usually see in our gardens and greenhouses is the greenhouse whitefly. Insecticidal soaps will help if you catch the problem early. Encarsia formosa is a predator of this whitefly. (Commonly available from suppliers-see Directory of ..., p. 64.)

Insects on Indoor Plants Gently sponge or spray leaves with soapy water, then rinse.
Use insecticidal soaps.
Horticultural oils are very effective against scale.
Take infested indoor plants outside for a couple of days (if not too cold) to let your yard's predatory bugs take care of your pest problem.

CaterpillarsHand pick, if possible. (It has been reported that tomato hornworms glow at night under a "black light.")
Apply products containing Bacillus thuringiensis (B.t.) an effective and popular product. Must be applied to the leaves when the caterpillars are eating. Safe to mammals and other insects, but will kill butterfly caterpillars, too, so be sure to target only the pest caterpillar-infested plants.
Garden InsectsIt is easier to figure out how to control the in general pest if you know what it is. Bring a sample of the bug and the damage it is causing (in a sealed container) to a nursery, to County Agricultural Commissioner's Office, or to the U.C.Cooperative Extension Office (p. 63).
Introduce frogs, toads and lizards into your yard.
For small infestations, handpick or spray with full-force spray of water.
To protect local beneficial insects like green lacewings and lady bugs, avoid using conventional pesticides. To attract and keep beneficial insects, grow a variety of flowering plants for year-round blooming. They need nectar, too.
And you can buy beneficial insects. See p. 64 for Directory.

Less-toxic products to consider first:
- dehydrating dusts (e.g. diatomaceous earth and silica gel) See info on p. 46.
- horticultural oil sprays (dormant oil in winter; and summer or supreme oils for the rest of the year)
- insecticidal soaps
- biological pesticides (e.g. Bacillus thuringiensis)
For severe infestations, use less-toxic insecticides (e.g. pyrethrin)
Generally gauge the toxicity of a pesticide by the signal words on the label. See discussion, p. 8

FliesSuccessful fly control requires eliminating fly breeding areas rather than trying to control adult flies after they emerge. Keep kitchen garbage containers tightly closed. Clean regularly. Sprinkle dry soap or kitty litter into bottom of container. Rinse out your recyclables.
Check your yard for:
- garbage cans with loose lids,
- fruit rotting under trees,
- pet waste not collected daily,
- compost piles that are not turned at least once a week and where decomposing food is not covered with dirt or black plastic.
Screen windows and doors.
Use fly swatters, flypaper (streamers), traps with pheromones (sex attractant) or meat-baited traps.
MosquitoesScreen windows and doors.
Remove all standing water near your house (tires, wading pools, bird baths, vases, barrels). Critical step!
Stock ornamental ponds with mosquitofish (about 2 1/2"; free from County Vector Control, p. 63).
Use Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (a non-toxic, biological control) in ponds. Kills the larvae in the water.

Encourage mosquito predators: birds, frogs, turtles, ants, spiders, dragonflies, bats, praying mantids.

Repellents: Use citronella oil insect repellents. Burn citronella candles or oil at outside gatherings. While not proven, some people find that mosquitoes find them less attractive if they take B vitamins.
Don't wear any strong smelling products like lotions, deodorants, hair spray, sun tan oils. They attract mosquitoes.
The more-toxic mosquito repellent should be applied to clothing, not to skin. (Test fabric first to see if it will stain.) Yellow porch lights don't attract flying insects.

MothsClothes: Destroy all stages of clothes moths by cleaning garments before storing.
Hang clothes in the sunlight and beat them to dislodge moth larvae and eggs, before storing.
Store clothes in sealed bags.
Vacuum closets thoroughly.
Cedar repels moths.
Note: mothballs contain paradichlorobenzene (evidence that it causes cancer in laboratory animals) or naphthalene (toxic by breathing).
RoachesClose openings into house (e.g. gaps around pipes and electrical work, door moulding, cracks in walls, etc.) with caulking, screening, weather-stripping.
Seal all food containers.
Clean dishes nightly, or, if you don't, be sure they're sitting in a basin of soapy water.
Do not leave pet food out overnight.
Apply boric acid dust into cracks and places where roaches hide, like under the refrigerator. Apply only in out-of-the-way places where pets and children can't touch it. Roaches will avoid piles of boric acid, so use a fine dusting. This is a proven, less-toxic roach control product.
Apply fine dusting of diatomaceous earth or silica gel to roach walkways. These dusts dehydrate and repel roaches.
Place bay leaves in the pantry, cupboards and on shelves to repel cockroaches.
Use non-toxic roach traps (like Roach Motels¸) to monitor the change in the population.
SilverfishSilverfish feed on paper, glue, starch and some fabrics. They like warm and damp areas. Their presence can be an early indication of wood rot.
Dry out damp areas.
Vacuum to eliminate any food source in carpets and cracks. Follow advice under Roaches above.
Snails and SlugsMinimize breeding spots-shady, cool, moist spots in the garden like an ivy patch, agapanthus, lilies, ice plant, wood pile, empty flower pots, etc.
Hand pick-safest and surest method. Snails are active at night. With a flashlight, check traps (see below) 2 hrs. after sunset or in early morning. Kill snails by smashing or drowning in soapy water. (Dead snails will attract flies if not covered with dirt or collected in a bag). Use copper barriers (see below) to protect plants. If infestation is severe, judicious use of a metaldehyde snail bait may be needed. Be sure that pets can't get at it, e.g. place bait inside flattened tin cans (that snails can enter but your pet can't "nose" into) in the garden section with the most snail damage. The bait can attract and poison dogs. It is also toxic to birds, so place bait carefully.

Traps: Propped up, overturned clay pots, boards, or black plastic sheeting. Sink shallow pans, filled with stale beer, in the ground, with the rim even with ground level. Remove dead snails regularly. Yeast in the beer attracts snails.

Barrier: Copper stripping (2"+) mounted around raised planting beds keeps snails and slugs out of the protected area. (Snails won't cross copper.) Be sure to capture all snails already in the area. Bend sharp edges under to protect children and pets.

TermitesIf you suspect you have termites, have the type identified; p. 63 for experts.

Prevention: Subterranean termites need water, so keep water away from the perimeter of the house.
Keep area under and around the house free of decaying wood. Wood (house frame or firewood pile) should not be in direct contact with soil.
Build with borate-treated wood.
Watch for and destroy any termite-built earthen tubes (pencil width) in basement and foundation area. These are a sure sign you have subterranean termites.

Treatment: Hire a professional who uses some of the following less-toxic techniques:
Sand barrier around the house.
Heat or cold treatment for drywood termites.
Silica gel (dust) applied in attic.
Use of less-toxic pesticides like pyrethroids, borax, and methoprene.
Contact the Bio-Integral Resource Center for more info: (510) 524-2567.

WaspsUse non-toxic wasp traps (basically Yellow jackets plastic boxes wasps can't get out of).
Trap wasps by suspending a piece of raw meat 1/2 inch over soapy water in a 5-gal. bucket.
If you find a wasp nest, contact County Vector Control, for information on wasp baiting. 299-2050.

Shopping List of Safer Alternatives

Fungus & Weed Control

For ThisTry This
Fungus ControlChoose varieties that are tolerant of or resitant to the fungi in our area.
Plant roses in full sun, at least 3 ft. apart for good air circulation.
Avoid overwatering.
Remove and carefully dispose of dead or diseased leaves and flowers. Do not add them to the compost pile.

To control powdery mildew on roses: spray both sides of rose leaves with: 2 tbl mild liquid soap, 2/3 tsp baking soda in 1 gal water. Spray in the morning, weekly.
Spray leaves at the first sign of powdery mildew with an antitranspirant (e.g.Wilt-Pruf or Cloud Cover) as a preventative (not registered as fungicide, but has been reported to be effective).
Or use sulfur-based fungicides, the least toxic of the conventional fungicides). They generally have low toxicity to humans (but sulfur has been known to cause a skin rash when used by persons wearing short-sleeves in hot weather, so cover up).

Weed ControlPull weeds out with roots, or cut off weeds just below the surface with a hoe, minimizing soil disturbance (Note: Soil disturbance stimulates dormant weed seeds.) Kill weeds before they begin to flower and produce seeds! To kill the roots and seeds of weeds and the insects in a selected area, cover area for 4-6 wks. in the summer with clear plastic sheeting (1 mil thickness is fine), seal w/soil at edges. Wet soil thoroughly before laying plastic. Remove plastic before planting. (Clear plastic heats sub-surface soil better than black.)
Cover areas of garden you want weed free with woven black garden fabric before you plant. You can spread bark over it and it won't disintegrate like black plastic. Garden fabric lets water drain through while preventing weeds from growing.
Cover bare areas of garden with 5" of mulch. The mulch made from eucalyptus contains a chemical that prevents seeds from germinating.
Or, cover bare areas with living groundcover like grass, vetch, annual rye grass, or crimson clover to crowd out weeds. Improves the soil also.
In lawns, sprinkle grass seed in bare areas after weeding to prevent weeds from returning.
Mow your grass to 2", no shorter. Discourages weed growth. Mow weekly. Encourages dense growth of grass shoots. Crowds weeds. Use commercially available soap solution/weed killers.
Weeds can develop resistance to chemical herbicides (weed killers). If you use herbicides, limit use and paint or squirt product directly on individual weeds.
Give herbicides enough time to work. Don't overapply. Control runoff of herbicides. Do not apply weed killers if rain is forecast. Runoff goes directly into our creeks. Herbicides may be toxic to the wildlife in and around our creeks.
Moss:Soap-based moss killers are available. Some gardeners have been known to use bleach to kill moss in gardens. We do not recommend this practice. Yard runoff into the storm drain or creeks could be hazardous as bleach is very toxic to fish and other marine creatures.

Shopping List of Safer Alternatives


For ThisTry This
Soil AdditivesStart a back-yard compost pile or a Fertilizers worm bin!!
Compost adds valuable nutrients to the soil and improves its consistency.
And composting is the best way to dispose of kitchen and yard waste. Why throw away a valuable resource? See p. 65 for books on composting.
Use organic soil amendments such as peat moss, blood meal, bone meal, horn and hoof meal, fish emulsion, manure.

Shopping List of Safer Alternatives

Return to the Table of Contents

Pesticides & Pet Care Products

For ThisTry This
Pantry MothsPlace herbs that have insect-repellant qualities on pantry shelves or even in stored grain. U.S Dept. of Agriculture has found this to be effective.
Try bay leaves, coriander, dill, cinnamon, lemon peel, black pepper.
Vacuum and wash down pantry shelves to kill eggs.
Dust shelves and cracks with a dehydrating dust.
If moths persist, try non-toxic, sticky, meal moth traps with pheromones.
Store grains and flours in pest-tight containers (e.g. a glass jar with a rubber seal and a metal spring clamp; zip-lock type bags are not adequate).
Freezing newly purchased bulk grains for a week will guarantee no new moths.
AphidsAphids almost always arrive before their predators. Don't panic. While you're waiting...
Crush dense colonies at plant tips.
Spray off with a strong stream of water.
Spray with insecticidal soap.
Mix 1 tbl dish soap/detergent & 1 cup vegetable oil. Add 1 tsp of this mix to 1 cup water and spray on aphids (works on mites, too). While not registered as a pesticide, this mix has been successful at a local Botanical Garden. Try solution on a few leaves first.
Oil may harm vegetable plants in the cabbage family.
Introduce green lacewings to your garden. They stick around longer than imported lady bugs. Green lacewings love perennial bunch grasses growing in the shade. They appreciate a source of nectar and pollen in the winter (e.g. fennel and calendulas).
See p. 64 for Directory of Producers...
Control aphids by controlling ants if ants are seen in aphid-infested areas. See ants.
Don't fertilize plants with high nitrogen fertilizer in early spring. Aphids love the fast, new growth. Use a slow-release fertilizer like fish emulsion.
Flea ControlIt is important to note that fleas can never be completely eradicated from your pets, or your home as long as you have pets. The key is to control infestations through a combination of these alternatives:
In the house:
Vacuum house frequently (every day, at the beginning of your flea program-esp. carpet edges at the wall and pet bedding).
Remove, seal, and dispose of the vacuum bag outside the home and away from pets.
Leave vacuum bag in the sun for a day to kill fleas (will keep fleas from escaping into your yard from the trash).
Clean pet bedding regularly.
Steam clean the carpet; kills adults, the larvae and some eggs. The heat will trigger some of the eggs to hatch, so be prepared to vacuum soon after steam cleaning.
Apply a dusting of diatomaceous earth or silica gel to pet bedding, under furniture and around house's foundation. Dehydrates adult fleas.
Use Precor (methoprene), an "Insect Growth Regulator." "IGRs" interrupt the reproductive cycle of fleas. It prevents the flea larvae from maturing. Low-toxicity to mammals. Precor has recently become available by itself, without the more toxic adult flea killers. Pyrethrin/methoprene is a least-toxic combination of IGR and adult killer. Pyrethrin-based flea products are reported to be the least-toxic of the most commonly used conventional flea control products. Common forms found, in order of increasing toxicity: pyrethrums, pyrethrin alone or with inerts, pyrethrin with piperonyl butoxide and inerts.
Caution: Pyrethrin is often mixed with more-toxic ingredients.

On your pet:
Use a flea comb specially designed to remove fleas from pets (esp. cats who hate baths); drop fleas into soapy water.
Wash pet with an insecticidal flea soap, a pyrethrin/methoprene flea shampoo, or a citrus oil shampoo or dip containing limonene or linalool.
Begin regular baths when pets are young so they can get used to the idea.
Pyrethrum powders can be used directly on pets. Avoid getting powder into pet's eyes, nostrils, mouth. Wear a dust mask. When cats clean themselves, they will ingest some, so don't over apply, and powder only when necessary.
While not proven, many pet owners find it helpful to feed pets vitamin B pet suppliments. Or sprinkle pet's food with brewer's yeast (nutritional yeast). Or mix raw garlic into pet's food. Seems to make the pet less attractive to fleas, and these additives are certainly good for the pet's general health. Discuss with your veterinarian. Best to introduce the pet to these additives when young.
Experiment with natural flea repellents such as: eucalyptus, citronella, cedarwood, pennyroyal, and black walnut leaves. While herbal repellents are not registered as pesticides, some pet owners swear by them. Find them in "essential oil" flea dips or herbal flea collars. Herbal repellents are most useful once the flea population is under control.
Avoid using conventional flea collars (a constant, low-level exposure of your pet to a toxic substance). If you use them, limit use to periods of serious infestation.

In the yard:
Spray insecticidal soap outdoors in areas where fleas are concentrated. A walk with white socks will reveal the target areas.
IGRs are not effective outdoors; they breakdown in ultraviolet light.

DeodorizersSprinkle litter box with baking soda before adding kitty litter.
If pet wets the carpet, absorb as much moisture as you can, right away, with paper towels. Then either:
- Sprinkle a mix of 1 part borax to 2 parts cornmeal on the spot. Vacuum up after 1 or 2 hours.
- Or, apply a mix of 2 cups white vinegar in a gal. of water, and gently blot the stain.
Both borax and vinegar could slightly bleach the carpet, so try on an inconspicuous area first.
To discourage pets from wetting that spot again, sprinkle with dried pennyroyal.
Animal DeterrentsTo keep cats from clawing furniture:
(1) Purchase a scratching post or make one from carpet scraps.
(2) Rub the herb rue on upholstery they claw. Rue is a bitter herb which cats detest.
Avoid deterrent products containing paradichlorobenzene (there's evidence that it causes cancer in laboratory animals).

To keep cats or dogs out of your yard:
Blend 3 cloves garlic, 4 hot red peppers, and a few drops of detergent in water. Mix into a bucket of water and sprinkle solution around the edges of your yard.

Shopping List of Safer Alternatives

Return to the Table of Contents

Miscellaneous Products

For ThisTry This
BarbequeUse a metal charcoal starter (10" tall, Lighting Fluid hollow, metal cylinder with holes; has a handle).
No need for liquid starter.
Very effective. Lights briquettes in 15 minutes.
Find in supermarkets and hardware stores.
BatteriesBuy solar-powered devices (like calculators and radios) and avoid using batteries.
Use rechargeable nickel-cadmium batteries. They only hold a charge 1/3 as long as an alkaline, but they can be recharged approximately 1000 times (saves money!). Ni-cads are now sold with a life-time warranty (e.g. Millennium, Inc). It's best to completely drain Ni-Cads before recharging.
If you must use alkalines (typically for infrequent uses like smoke alarms) buy low- or no-mercury brands; recently available.
Change all batteries in a device at the same time. The weakest battery determines the power.
are concerned about the mercury, cadmium and silver in waste batteries getting into our drinking water or into the Bay.
Spa chemicalBuy a spa with an ozonator. Ask your spa supplier. Eliminates the need to handle toxic spa chemicals.
Swimming poolConsider a chlorine generator for chemicals your pool. Allows you to use and store a salt (inexpensive, non-toxic) instead of toxic chlorine pool chemicals. Good investment. Used by local junior colleges.
Ask your pool supply store. Investigate ozonation.
Avoid copper-based algaecides.
Chlorine usually is adequate.

Safe Handling

Pool chemicals

Photographic chemicals:

Return to the Table of Contents

General Information

General Safety Advice

Always use caution when handling any hazardous household product. Many products on the market today contain toxic chemicals which can cause severe damage, even death, if ingested or splashed onto skin or into eyes. While exposure to some chemicals may not have an immediate, obvious effect on your health, there may be long-term health effects - many that are still not understood.

Store all hazardous household products in a secure place away from children and pets; store away from potential sources of heat, sparks or flames. Avoid storing flammable materials such as fuels.

Follow product instructions precisely.

Store products in their original containers. Should it become necessary to store a product in a different container, always clearly label the container with the product name and proper instructions. Never store in containers that resemble food containers.

Avoid contact with skin and eyes. Wear gloves and eye protection when handling hazardous products, and make sure the area you are working in is well ventilated. "Well ventilated" means work outside or, if inside, have windows open and use a fan that creates a cross breeze that draws vapors away from you.

Do not wear contact lenses while working with products that contain hazardous substances. Lenses can absorb chemical vapors.

Return to the Table of Contents


Do not dispose of hazardous household products:

These illegal disposal methods can endanger your health, the health of others, and the environment.


Santa C

Return to the Table of Contents


What Are Aerosols?

Aerosols are pressurized containers which contain active ingredients (such as pesticides or paint) and propellants. When placed under pressure, propellant gases liquefy and take up less space. When pressure from an aerosol container is released (usually by pressing a nozzle with your finger), the propellant returns to its gaseous state, dispersing the active ingredients into the air.

Many household products are packaged in aerosol containers. Examples include disinfectants, furniture polishes, hair sprays, oven cleaners, pesticides, room deodorizers, spray paints, and tub and tile cleaners.

Why Are Aerosols a Problem?

Many of these products contain toxic materials. When the contents of a container are released, the active ingredients are often dispersed beyond the intended target into the air. Because the particles released are so small, they are easily inhaled into the lungs and quickly absorbed into the bloodstream. A mis-directed spray can also cause serious eye injuries and skin irritations.

Another major concern is the explosive quality of aerosol containers. Not only are the contents under pressure, many propellants are highly flammable. Don't smoke while using aerosols!

A few types of aerosol products are still allowed to contain chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) as the propellant (e.g. tuner cleaner, sold by electronic parts stores, and a few products used in the medical profession). CFCs are a problem because they react with and reduce the earth's ozone layer. The ozone layer protects the earth's surface from harmful ultraviolet radiation. Increased radiation can accelerate the development of skin cancer, skin aging, and eye damage. Read labels. Watch for mention of chloro... in the ingredients.

Most of the aerosol products now sold contain non-CFC propellant gases (such as butane and propane) in place of the outlawed CFCs. However, these gases are also a problem because they are flammable and they contribute to air pollution.

What Are The Alternatives?

Avoid using aerosols. Instead, use alternatives listed in this booklet or purchase non-aerosol products. Many household products previously packaged in aerosol cans are now available in other dispensers, such as pump sprays. As a last resort, purchase aerosol products which state on the container that they do not contain CFCs. If you use aerosol products, work outside, if possible, or, if indoors, be sure that your work area is well-ventilated.

Return to the Table of Contents

Septic Systems

How Does a Septic System Work?

Rural homes which are not hooked up to a public sewer system use an underground septic system to treat wastewater discharged from the home.

A septic system generally consists of a holding tank and a leachfield. The holding tank separates out the solids, which are broken down by beneficial bacteria. The liquids pass through the holding tank and into a leachfield where it is dispersed underground. Soil filters the liquid and beneficial bacteria chemically break down remaining waste products.

Problems Caused by Hazardous Products

If products containing hazardous chemicals are poured down a sink or toilet on a septic system, they can kill the beneficial, digesting bacteria in the tank and disrupt the system.

Also, chemicals that cannot be broken down by the system's bacteria can pollute the soil and the surrounding groundwater when the liquid is dispersed by the leachfield. This is of great concern because half of the water that we drink in this county is groundwater.

Do not dispose of the following products down the drain if you have a septic system

Do not use "septic tank cleaning solvents" that contain methylene chloride or 1,1,1-trichloroethane (TCA). These "scum-dissolving" products typically don't work and may harm the septic system and pollute groundwater.

What Are The Alternatives?

If you have a septic system, avoid purchasing and using household products which contain hazardous substances. Instead, use the alternatives listed in this booklet.

Return to the Table of Contents


Local Contacts Santa Clara County:

Return to the Table of Contents

Additional Resources

Here are a few resources to get you started. Many more excellent books and pamphlets are becoming available every day. For more info, visit your local library.

Pesticides-Agencies and Organizations

Pesticides-Books and Pamphlets

*Sources used for brand name examples; see discussion, p.11.

Hazardous Products & Alternatives

Home Composting

Sources used for brand name examples; see discussion, p.11

Used Auto Battery Recycling

The following is a list of companies which accept used vehicle batteries for recycling. Auto parts stores in California are required by law to accept used vehicle batteries with the purchase of a new battery. For more information, contact the following companies or your local auto parts store.

Bayland Battery Corporation
800 Faulstich Court
San Jose, 453-3522
City Metals and Salvage
11665 Berryessa Rd. (X Commercial)
San Jose, 452-0777
LMC Corporation
1800 S. Monterey Rd. (X Tully)
San Jose, 294-8443
Montgomery Ward Automotive
879 Blossom Hill Rd. (X Santa Teresa)
San Jose, 224-2357
Montgomery Ward Automotive
444 N. Capitol Ave. (X McKee)
San Jose, 272-6258
San Jose Battery Exchange
670 Stockton Ave.
San Jose, 947-1726
Sears Automotive Center
2180 Tully Rd. (X Quimby)
San Jose, 238-1122
Western Recyclers
91 E. 4th St. (X Depot)
Morgan Hill, 779-1781

Return to Table of Contents.

Important Phone Numbers

Emergency 911

Poison Control Center
Santa Clara Valley Medical Center
Nurse on duty, 24 hrs.
(408) 299-5112 or 1-800-662-9886

To report improper disposal of hazardous materials call:

Emergency 911

If the dumping is going on right now.

Toxic Tip Line (408) 299-8477
Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office
Environmental Protection Unit

Waste Alert 1-800-69-TOXIC California EPA

Household hazardous waste disposal:

County HHW Disposal Program (408) 299-7300

For additional information on programs in your city, please refer to the local contact numbers on page 62.

Return to the Table of Contents

Return to the top of this document

Last Updated: April 7, 1997