Once you have properly disposed of a hazardous household product -- oven cleaner, drain opener, weed killer -- consider NOT replacing it. Because the good news about hazardous household products is that most of them are unnecessary. Although paint, motor oil and anti-freeze are inescapable ingredients of modern life, almost all other household toxics are not. You can easily replace them with safe, cheap alternatives.
White vinegar, salt and baking soda are the non-toxic household's best friends. Used in various concentrations and proportions, these products can clean just about anything. They cost a lot less than commercial products, too. Try a few of these recipes and you might find that you never need dispose of a toxic cleanser again.
* For a mild all-purpose cleaner, mix a gallon of hot water, a half cup vinegar and a tablespoon of baking soda. For a stronger mixture, dissolve double the ingredients in the same amount of water.
* Tub, tile and toilet can be cleaned with baking soda and a sponge or a brush. To wash mirrors and windows, mix vinegar and water in a spray bottle and use with clean rags.
* To open a clogged drain, pour a half cup of baking soda down it, chased by a half cup vinegar. Cover the drain if you can, and let it sit for 15 minutes. Then flush it with a kettle full of boiling water. Prevent clogged drains by always using a drain sieve and by giving the sink the above-prescribed treatment whenever you're feeling especially virtuous.
* Spilled something in the oven? Sprinkle the spots with salt right away. When the oven cools -- or whenever you get around to it -- wet the spill and scrub it with baking soda and a brush.
* Replace your furniture polish with a fragrant mixture of one part lemon juice to two parts olive or vegetable oil. An equal mixture of salt and vinegar makes a fine brass and copper cleaner. Be sure to rinse the objects thoroughly afterward. Use a paste of baking soda and water instead of silver polish. Be careful not to scratch your silver, and rinse when you're done.
* Laundry detergents are a problem for a number of reasons. They often contain ingredients that break down more slowly in the environment than soap does. And they often contain phosphates, which are powerful fertilizers. Small amounts of these cause explosive growth of algae in lakes and streams, clogging the water with more matter than the natural system can handle.
Try switching to plain soap flakes such as Ivory Snow or White King. Or if you are hooked on a certain detergent, try using less of it. After all, the manufacturer wants you to use as much as possible. It may be that half the recommended amount gets your clothes just as clean.
* Borax powder can replace bleach for most jobs, including whitening clothes and cleaning mildew.
* Commercial air fresheners may be the easiest products to replace. These work by masking smells with chemicals, by coating your nasal passages with an oily film, or by deadening nerves to diminish your sense of smell. Not my nasal passages, thank you. Instead, place a dish of baking soda in your fridge and next to the garbage to absorb food odors. Grind half a lemon in the disposal if that starts to smell. An open bowl of lavender or other fragrant flowers and herbs will make the whole house smell sweet.
If "homemade" is an adjective that sends you screaming to the nearest McDonald's, you may not have read this far. If for some reason you have stuck with us, here is a commercial alternative to toxics that might be for you: "green" products.
A number of companies sell products that are relatively non-toxic. Bon Ami is one such product (please don't eat it, however). Ecover sells a whole line of household soaps and cleaners that are reasonably non-toxic and biodegradable. You can buy them in most health food stores, or you can order them through Seventh Generation, a "green" mail-order outfit in Burlington, Vt. This alternative is more expensive than going the homemade route, but either way, though you may be sick of housecleaning, cleaning your house won't make you sick.
Resources: Washington Toxics Coalition, 4516 University Way NE, Seattle, Wash. 98105. Send a stamped, addressed envelope for a list of their fact sheets.
For a comprehensive guide to household waste, send $3 to Household Waste, Issues and Opportunities Concern, Inc., 1794 Columbia Road, NW, Washington, D.C. 20009. A discount for bulk orders is available.