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Using natural cleaning processes to reduce potentially harmful pathogens in the home

Application - This module is designed to raise learners' awareness about the environmental hazards associated with the use of conventional cleaning products and their natural alternatives.

Learning Objectives

After this session, learners should be able to:

  1. Understand the key aspects of hygiene within the home 
  2. Identify and understand the environmental hazards associated with the use of  conventional cleaning products
  3. Demonstrate and feel confident to make informed decisions about the selection of cleaning product use and purchase
  4. Demonstrate how, where and when to use bicarbonate soda and vinegar in the kitchen, bathroom, eating areas, laundry and bedrooms

Learning outcome 4.1

Understand the principles of hygiene and cleanliness within the home


We clean to keep our homes hygienic and tidy. A tidy home helps us to find our favourite t-shirt and child’s toy quickly, but what are the benefits of a hygienic home?  A hygienic home is described as one that is not contaminated by harmful levels of pathogens such as bacteria, fungi (mould), parasites and viruses.

Moulds are microscopic fungi that are in the same family as mushrooms. They thrive in areas that are wet and dark - they cannot survive in dry conditions. Moulds are adapted to grow rapidly and reproduce quickly through microscopic spores.

Bacteria are one celled animals that surround us in our daily lives, they sit in our stomach for digestion and are dispersed throughout the air. Although some bacteria are harmful (see below) many bacteria are beneficial to human health and vital in a healthy ecosystem.

Did you know?

  • Harmful micro-organisms are microscopic, one-celled animals. Some of the most common harmful bacteria include Escherichia coli, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Enterobacter spp., Pseudomonas spp., Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococci spp. These bacteria are the common causes of food poisoning.
  • Over 230 moulds have been identified in the home. Some moulds have been linked to causing allergic reactions and illness.

To reduce our exposure to pathogens we need to prevent the development and reproduction of potentially harmful types. Three factors that allow pathogens to grow and reproduce are:

  • warmth,
  • water and
  • nutrients.

By removing these three elements it is possible to reduce the build up of pathogens within the home.

Chemical cleaning products have been developed to kill and remove pathogens through chemically attacking the structure of the pathogen’s cells. Some examples include:

Bleach: is a chlorinated liquid that is highly reactive and destroys the pathogen’s cells and breaks them down.

Solvents: used in common spray and wipes to breakdown greasy and oily stains. The solvent also dries quickly.

Surface pastes (eg. Jif): soapy mixture with abrasive added to increase contact and disrupt pathogens from the surface.


Activity 4.1: Discuss with the group their most commonly used cleaning products at home. Ask them why they use them and how often. List the chemicals used on butcher’s paper.


Resource 4.1: Case study – Microfibre cloths study conducted by Dr. Peter Dingle from Murdoch University found all microfibre cleaning cloths to be capable of reducing bacteria (B. subtilis and E.coli) without the use of antibacterial cleaning products.

Learning outcome 4.2

Identify and understand the environmental hazards associated with the use of conventional cleaning products


There is a huge diversity of cleaning products available on the shelves of supermarkets and stores. Removing and assimilating these chemicals can often cause added strain upon a natural, functioning ecosystem. The most effective way of reducing the impact of these chemicals is by eliminating and reducing their use within the home.


Washing powders and detergents

The elements that are of concern in washing powders and detergents are phosphates, nitrates and sodium. Nitrates and phosphates are essential elements that assist plants and algae to grow. When deposited into waterways they can promote the rapid growth of algae in the waterways.  The algae then clog the waterways and eventually die. The resulting decay of the algae removes the oxygen from the water resulting in fish and insect death throughout the waterway.

Did you know?

The most important label to look for when selecting a washing powder is the NP label. This label has been developed to show laundry detergents that have standardized low levels of both nitrogen and phosphates.

NP label

Chlorinated cleaning products – sodium hypochlorite and hypochlorite

Chlorine chemistry gave rise to solvents, pesticides and many other useful but toxic chlorinated compounds. A prime characteristic of chlorinated chemicals is the strength of the bond created between chlorine and other atoms. Once bonded with another atom, the molecular toughness of chlorinated compounds means they last a long time in the environment and are very difficult to break down.

Chlorinated bleaches are highly toxic and in concentrate form can cause death of important insects within waterways and can kill bacteria that are vital in the breakdown of human waste in sewage treatment plants.

Part 3: Resources and handouts

4.2: Labmark assessment of laundry liquids and powders

Air pollution

Sprays and air fresheners

Spray and wipes are basically a mixture of water, solvent, colouring and fragrance. Solvents can contribute to the overall load of VOCs within the indoor environment. VOCs from aerosols and sprays react with the air to form ozone. Although most people associate the word ozone with the upper atmosphere (the ozone hole) in this situation the ozone created contributes to the ground-level pollution or smog that is often seen hovering over Sydney in the early morning.  Ozone is the main air pollutant that Sydney metropolitan area regularly exceeds in the national air targets.

Soil pollution

All items we put in our garbage bins are disposed of at large landfills.

Did you know?

Most household chemical cleaning products are considered to be household hazardous wastes and should not be disposed in the regular garbage. There are special collections held throughout Australia to collect and dispose of these products safely.


Activity 4.2: Use a range of common cleaning products and discuss their ingredients with the participants. Facilitate a discussion with the group about how the different ingredients can contribute to adversely damaging the local water, air and soil.


Resource 4.2: 5-6 common cleaning products that indicate their key ingredients.

Find out more

For information on Household Hazardous waste collections held throughout NSW check out Household Chemical Clean Out.

Learning outcome 4.3

Demonstrate and feel confident to make informed decisions about the selection of cleaning product use and purchase

Reading the label is crucial in making informed decisions about the purchase and use of chemicals in the home. 


Activity 4.3: Discuss the most common cleaning products that the participants use. Facilitate their discussion to explore why and how they use them in their homes. What barriers would they need to overcome to reduce or eliminate using them in their homes?


Resource 4.3: A4 laminated sheets of the active ingredients and solvents of three common cleaning products.

Learning outcome 4.4

Demonstrate how, where and when to use bicarbonate of soda and vinegar in the kitchen, bathroom, eating areas, laundry and bedrooms


Chemical cleaning products can be replaced with safer, natural alternatives. The three essential items are microfibre cloths, bicarbonate of soda and vinegar.

Microfibre cloths are made up of extremely thin synthetic fibers. The fibres are so small that they can trap and hold dust, dirt, grease or grime. The fibers also generate a static electricity between themselves that also acts to hold the material within the cloth. By rinsing in hot water the fibres will lose their ability to be static and release the dust, dirt, grime or grease.

Bicarbonate of Soda is a commonly available mineral full of many cleaning attributes; it neutralizes acid-based odours in water, and adsorbs odours from the air.

It can be used as a gentle nonabrasive cleanser for kitchen counter tops, sinks, bathtubs, ovens, and fiberglass. It will eliminate perspiration odours and even neutralize the smell of many chemicals if you add up to a cup per load to the laundry. It is a useful air freshener, and a fine carpet deodorizer.

White vinegar is acidic and will neutralize alkaline substances such as scale from hard water and fats and oils. Acids dissolve gummy buildup, eat away tarnish, and remove dirt from wood surfaces.


Activity 4.4: Demonstration of natural cleaning processes - Wet microfibre cloth in the bucket and squeeze to leave slightly moist. Sprinkle the bicarbonate of soda directly onto the cloth. Wipe the cloth over the area. Replace the cloth in the bucket and rinse. Using a dry cotton cloth dry the wet surface area.


Resource 4.4: Make Your Own Safer Solutions Cleaning Kit 

Bicarbonate of soda in flour dispenser
Vinegar in spray bottle
Microfibre clothe
Dry cotton clothe
Access to kitchen or table surface or bathroom

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Workshop Resources

Workshop checklist
A3 Home Floor Plan
Domestos Ad
Louie the Fly & Friends
Mr Clean picture
Chlorpyrifos label
Domestos and Homebrand Caustic Oven Cleaner
A3 poster, Know where it Goes
IPM Risk Ladder
A4 picture of ladder

...more resources