Is Green Cleaning Safe for Pets?

My dog Banjo is the very heart of our family. A sweet, sweet boy who sits on my feet as I write, my everyday companion and best friend who is always happy, never judges, and loves a good romp as much as I do. I want him safe and healthy and on this planet for as long as possible. Toward that end, I religiously attend to his creature comforts, including safeguarding his environment.

When it comes to his bed, his food, and his toys, I take great care to make sure everything is as simple and earth-based as possible. This includes using green cleaners, laundry soap, and shampoo. Only recently did I come across information on how some “green” ingredients may not be so safe for pets.

Take essential oils, for example. Cats and dogs have a much keener sense of smell than we humans do. The strong scent of essential oils can irritate and nauseate them, particularly the scents of orange, lemon and peppermint. Essential oils may be included in multi-purpose cleaners, candles, shampoos and soaps. Similarly, any product with a strong odor—like dryer sheets, air fresheners, fabric softeners, perfumed soaps—can set off an unhealthy reaction in your dog or cat.

When shopping, always check the label for ingredients and warnings. Look for plant-based ingredients found in nature—not made in a laboratory. Stay away from products that include multi-syllable synthetic ingredients. If it says, “Keep out of reach of children,” that goes for pets, too.

If you make your own cleaners, check each ingredient for possible toxicity to pets and be sure to label the container with ingredients and warnings. Avoid using borax and boric acid in do-it-yourself cleaners and insect baits, even if an expert recommends it. It’s been controversial for years, but recent evidence is conclusive. Borax is unhealthy for animals in small doses, and is unsustainable, as well. Baking soda is a good substitute.

Because pets live close to the floor, and occasionally lick up spills and crumbs, it’s important to be especially careful with floor cleaners. A solution of hot water and distilled white vinegar is the simplest effective solution, and good for other surfaces, too, like countertops.

For carpets, distilled white vinegar and baking soda solve a multitude of pet-induced problems. If you’re in need of a deeper cleaner, using potentially harmful products, keep pets away from the work area until all surfaces are dry.

To ensure the health and happiness of your four-legged friends, always avoid using chemicals and essential oils on pets’ toys and bedding.

The author's dog, Banjo

The author’s dog, Banjo

Use Safe, Natural Ingredients

Best advice for anyone, but especially in a household with children and pets, clean with the basic five green cleaning ingredients—baking soda, distilled white vinegar, vegetable-based soap, salt, and lemon juice. Not only are these ingredients nontoxic, sustainable, and biodegradable, they’re inexpensive. You don’t need a cupboard full of commercial cleaners as long as you have these basic ingredients.

Here are a few tips for cleaning up accidents and odors, from Animal Planet (

  • Pick up poo and blot urine messes. Then scrub the area with club soda as soon as possible and let it dry. Sprinkle the area with baking soda and let stand to help control odors. Vacuum thoroughly after an hour or so.
  • If discoloration remains, apply a generous amount of lemon juice to the area and let it soak in for 15 to 30 minutes. When the stain is removed, rinse the area well and blot thoroughly. Alternatively, make a paste with lemon juice and cream of tartar, followed by the same rinsing and blotting technique.
  • After stain removal, deodorize, if necessary, by rinsing the area with a vinegar and water solution. Try to remove the odor completely or it will act as a signal for your pet to use that area again.
  • Clean a small spot of urine by applying straight vinegar with a sponge or rag. Let it dry, then spend some time giving your pet a refresher course in potty training.
Linda Mason Hunter


Linda Mason Hunter ( is a pioneer in America’s green movement. Her first book, The Healthy Home: An Attic-To-Basement Guide to Toxin-Free Living (published in 1989), was reviewed in The New York Times, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, and featured on “Good Morning, America,” CNN, MSNBC, Pacifica Radio, and the CBC, among others. She’s also the author of Green Clean, The Environmentally Sound Guide to Cleaning Your Home. Three Green Rats, An Eco Tale ( is her 13th published book and first work of fiction, for ages 6 to 12 “and precocious adults.” Linda can be heard daily hosting “The Green Zone” on on KFMG 99.1 FM, Des Moines’ award-winning low power radio station, streaming at posts from this author →