Saturday, April 14, 2012

Green Cleaning

A long time ago I quit using conventional cleaning products and opted for greener more eco-friendly options from companies that demonstrate environmental responsibility.  Some of my favorites have become Seventh Generation, Ecover, Method and Mrs. Meyers.

I would like to start making my own green cleaning products.  So, this post is a culmination from my research towards that end, in case any of you would also like to start making your own.

This information was taken straight from the Healthy Child blog (with a few modifications of my own):

Getting started - a few items you will need-

  • Buy a few high quality spray bottles that you can use many times. Bottles with ounce measurements on them are especially useful for measuring and mixing.

  • Be sure to label your mixtures to avoid confusion.

  • Liquid soap means castile soap, a mild soap once made from olive oil, but now may include other vegetable oils as well. Coconut oil soaps are another good alternative to petroleum-based soaps.  [My disclaimer - be very careful in choosing products with palm oil, as currently Indonesian rainforests are being wiped out to obtain palm oil.  I avoid it at all costs.  This link will soon be home to a blog post regarding this.]

  • Vinegar means distilled white vinegar, available by the gallon at your supermarket. Note that while vinegar has a slight scent while wet, when dry, it leaves no odor.

  • Washing soda and borax are minerals related to baking soda, but are stronger and more caustic. Though natural, both washing soda and borax can irritate skin, so use gloves. Borax can be toxic when swallowed, so keep it out of children's reach at all times. Both of these items can be found in your supermarket's laundry aisle.

  • Also buy hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, olive oil, flaxseed oil, lemon juice, and some sponges and microfiber cloths.


  • Countertops: For a "soft scrub," mix together baking soda and liquid soap until you get a consistency you like. The amounts don't have to be perfect. Make only as much as you need, as it dries up quickly.

  • Ovens: To clean extra-greasy ovens, mix together 1 cup baking soda and 1/4 cup of washing soda, then add enough water to make a paste; apply the paste to oven surfaces and let soak overnight. The next morning, lift off soda mixture and grime; rinse surfaces well.

  • Microwave ovens can be cleaned with a paste of 3-4 tablespoons baking soda mixed with water. Scrub on with a sponge and rinse.

  • Cutting boards: Disinfect them by spraying with vinegar and then with 3% hydrogen peroxide (available in drug stores). Keep the liquids in seperate spray bottles and use them one at a time. It doesn't matter which one you use first, but both together are much more effective than either one alone.

Kitchens are one place where disinfecting is recommended for other select items like utensils and countertops.


  • Tub and tile cleaner: Mix 1 2/3 cup baking soda, 1/2 cup liquid soap and1/2 cup water. Then, as the last step, add 2 tablespoons vinegar (if you add the vinegar too early it will react with the baking soda). Immediately apply, wipe, and scrub.

  • A good all-purpose disinfectant: 2 teaspoons borax, 4 tablespoons vinegar and 3 to 4 cups hot water in a spray bottle. For extra cleaning power, add 1/4 teaspoon liquid soap to the mixture.

  • Toilet bowl: Pour 1 cup of borax into the toilet before going to bed. In the morning, scrub and flush. For an extra-strength cleaner, add 1/4 cup vinegar to the borax.

  • Drains: Prevent clogged drains by using hair and food traps. To de-grease and sweeten sink and tub drains, pour 1/2 cup of baking soda down drain followed by 1 cup vinegar; let bubble for 15 minutes; rinse with hot water. You might have to repeat the whole procedure more than once or leave the baking soda and vinegar to "cook" overnight.


  • General dusting is best done with a damp cloth. Dry dusting simply stirs up dust and moves it around. Also, try 1 teaspoon olive oil per 1/2 cup vinegar. Mix together in a bowl and apply with a soft cloth.

  • Furniture polish: Mix olive oil and vinegar in a one-to-one ratio and polish with a soft cloth. Or look for food-grade linseed oil, often called omega-3 or flaxseed oil, rather than the type found in hardware stores to finish furniture. Linseed oil sold for furniture use often contains dangerous petroleum distillates to speed evaporation.

  • Windows: Put 3 tablespoons vinegar per 1 quart water in a spray bottle. Some recommend using half vinegar and half water. For extra-dirty windows try this: 1/2 teaspoon liquid soap, 3 tablespoons vinegar and 2 cups of water. Shake well. The best way to get streak-free windows? Use newspaper instead of paper towels to wipe them.


  • Brass, copper, bronze and aluminum: To remove tarnish, rub metal with sliced lemons. For tough jobs, sprinkle baking soda on the lemon, then rub.

  • Sterling silver: Put a sheet of aluminum foil into a plastic or glass bowl. Sprinkle the foil with salt and baking soda, then fill the bowl with warm water. Just soak your silver in the bowl and the tarnish will migrate to the aluminum foil. Finally, rinse, dry and buff your silver with a soft cloth.


Vinegar and baking soda are great room fresheners. Vinegar deodorizes, while baking soda absorbs odors. A simple recipe of 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon vinegar (or lemon juice) and 2 cups hot water in a spray bottle can be spritzed in the air to remove odors. Zeolite, like baking soda, absorbs odor. Set out either in bathrooms and closets.


  • Vacuuming is an important part of floor maintenance. We recommend using a machine with a HEPA filter, which traps very small particles that are otherwise blown back into the room in the vacuum's exhaust. Consumer Reports, which ranks appliances, has found that some vacuum cleaners without HEPA filters were also effective. No matter what kind of vacuum cleaner you use, be sure to pass over carpet several times and more in heavy traffic areas.

  • Linoleum: For extra grease-cutting, try this formula: 1/4 cup washing soda with 1 tablespoon of liquid soap, 1/4 cup vinegar and 2 gallons hot water. Put the washing soda in the bucket first and add the liquid ingredients — this way the soda won't splash out. Caution: Do not use this formula on waxed floors! For an extra polish, combine 6 tablespoons of cornstarch per cup of water in a bucket.

  • Disinfect floors: Add 2 gallons of hot water to 1/2 cup of borax. (Put the borax in the bucket first, then add water to avoid splashing.)

  • Wood floors: Vinegar is a natural disinfectant, and it pulls dirt from wood. After a large party, I used 1 cup vinegar per pail of hot water to clean my wood floors — the smell disappeared immediately. You can also use it on other types of floors — it's a gentle yet very effective floor cleaner.

  • Carpeting And Rugs: Regular vacuuming will help keep carpets their cleanest. Sprinkle baking soda over the surface of the carpet and let it stand for 15 – 30 minutes before vacuuming to soak up and eliminate odors. Healthy Child recommends against the use of chemical carpet cleaners because of health concerns associated with their ingredients.  If you want to steam clean your rug, use plain water and make sure it dries thoroughly.


  • Laundry brightener: Add 1/2 cup of strained lemon juice to the rinse cycle.

  • Fabric rinse: Add 1/4 cup of vinegar to the washing machine's rinse cycle to remove detergent completely from clothes, eliminating that scratchy feel. This will not leave your clothes smelling like vinegar!

  • Detergent booster: To reduce the amount of laundry detergent you need to use, add baking soda or washing soda. These minerals soften the water, which increases the detergent's power. For liquid detergent, add 1/2 cup of soda at the beginning of the wash. For powdered detergent, add 1/2 cup of soda during the rinse cycle.

  • Bleach: Use hydrogen peroxide instead of chlorine bleach.

  • Dry cleaning: Many delicate "dry clean only" items can be washed at home by hand. In general, it's best to use cool water and a mild liquid soap. Squeeze or wring gently and lay flat to dry.


If you discover mold and mildew in your house, first find the source of moisture and stop it. It's pointless to clean mold if it's only going to return!

  • To clean mold: Remember to wear gloves and a facemask, since mold spores can be inhaled. Use a stiff brush, a non-ammonia detergent and hot water to scrub mold off of non-porous surfaces. Use a stiff bristle toothbrush to get in between tiles. You can also use a paste of baking soda and water. Don't rinse.

ALL cleaners, whether homemade or store bought, and cleaning ingredients should be kept safely away out of the reach of children and pets in locked cabinets or high places.

Clean and Green (Library Journal, 1990), by Annie Berthold Bond.
The Safe Shopper's Bible (Macmillan, 1995), by David Steinman and Samuel S. Epstein.

Be careful about being TOO clean.  Many "cleaning" products will clean you right into toxicity.  From Healthy Child's "The Top 10 Toxic Products You Don’t Need", three of them deal with cleaning products:
Air fresheners: Most air fresheners mask odors with a synthetic fragrance or numb your sense of smell with chemical anesthetics. But, they do nothing to eliminate the source of the odor. Also, aerosol air fresheners spew out tiny droplets of chemicals that are easily inhaled into the lungs. Instead, ventilate well and choose natural deodorizers, such as zeolite or baking soda, which contain minerals that absorb odors.

[Here is a good article on How to Freshen Indoor Air Naturally.  Also, plants do a great job of this.]

Drain, oven and toilet bowl cleaners: Yes, three products instead of one, but they all fit under the category of cleaners - and these are the three nastiest. Corrosive or caustic cleaners, such as the lye and acids found in drain cleaners, oven cleaners and acid-based toilet bowl cleaners, are the most dangerous cleaning products because they burn skin, eyes and internal tissue easily.

* To clean extra-greasy ovens, mix together 1 cup baking soda and 1/4 cup of washing soda, then add enough water to make a paste; apply the paste to oven surfaces and let soak overnight. The next morning, lift off soda mixture and grime; and rinse surfaces well.
* Prevent clogged drains by using hair and food traps.
* To de-grease and sweeten sink and tub drains, pour 1/2 cup of baking soda down drain followed by 1 cup vinegar; let bubble for 15 minutes; rinse with hot water. You might have to repeat the whole procedure more than once. This same mixture can be used prior to scrubbing your toilet bowl to deodorize and scour away grime.


Dry-cleaning: Okay, it's a service and not a product per se, but the chemical used to do it, perchloroethylene, has been linked to cancer as well as nervous system, kidney, liver and reproductive disorders. Even bringing dry-cleaned clothes home is risky. EPA studies have found that people who reported visiting a dry-cleaning shop showed twice as much perc in their breath, on average, as other people. EPA also found that levels of perc remained elevated in a home for as long as one week after placing newly dry-cleaned clothes in a closet. A Consumers Union study found that people who wear freshly dry-cleaned clothes, like a jacket and shirt, every week over a 40-year period, could inhale enough perc "to measurably increase their risk of cancer" - by as much as 150 times what is considered "negligible risk." Try wet-cleaning, CO2 technology, or even hand-washing.

Some of us, however, just plain want to buy premade cleaning products, and as I mentioned earlier, there are great products out there if this is your preference.  Another article from Healthy Child tells us what to look for in these products:

Look for Cleaners with One or More of the Following:

1. List of ingredients. I like the ingredients listed right on the package, but I also think it's fine if the package tells you how to easily access the full ingredient list online. If you have a favorite cleaning product that doesn't list its ingredients and want to investigate how toxic it might be, consult the Household Products Database (published by the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services). Click HERE and enter your cleaner in the "Quick Search" in top of left sidebar or click on a Category.

2. No fragrance. If the ingredient list includes "fragrance," don't buy it. "Fragrance" is a trade secret, so companies don't have to disclose the individual ingredients, which means that any product with "fragrance" has one or more undisclosed ingredients. Note that "unscented" does not mean there is no fragrance. If you trust the company to not use toxic ingredients (such as phthalates) in its products, you might still consider purchasing a product with fragrance. However, I don't purchase products with fragrance period, just on principle. I think companies should disclose all ingredients used, and that means no fragrance.

3. No toxic chemicals. Check the ingredient list for harmful ingredients. Healthy Child Healthy World recommends avoiding nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs), triclosan, ammonia, chlorine bleach, DEA, TEA, hydrochloric acid, sodium hydroxide, and sulfuric acid.. Here is another longer list of Hazardous Ingredients (published by Harvard's Green Cleaning Program) you can consult to see what kinds of things to avoid.

4. No scary warnings. "DANGER" is the strongest warning and any product featuring this warning should be avoided all together as safer alternatives almost always exist. "DANGER: corrosive" is used on products such as oven cleaners, drain cleaners, and some toilet bowl cleaners. "DANGER: harmful or fatal if swallowed" shows up on solvent-based cleaners. A less strong warning is "CAUTION," which even less-toxic or "green" cleaners often have. If you want completely harmless cleaners, you should probably be making your own.

5. Directions on label do not say "clean with potable water after using on a surface that comes in contact with food." Many years ago I noticed that this little tidbit was on my bottle of 409 cleaner, which I sprayed all over my kitchen counters and table. Was I rinsing the counters and table after cleaning with 409? No. Even after noticing this warning, I rarely rinsed these surfaces with water after cleaning with 409, even though my counter tops and table constantly came in contact with food. Maybe you are diligent enough to always rinse your counters and table with water after using a household cleaner, but I know I'm not, so I don't buy any all-purpose cleaner that includes this instruction.

6. Specific, verifiable claims about eco-friendliness. There's a lot of greenwashing going on these days. Specific and quantifiable claims which can be proven or disproved are more meaningful than vague, feel-good terms. Look for "phosphate-free" rather than "environmentally-safe," "phthalate-free" rather than "non-toxic," and "90% post-consumer content" rather than "eco-friendly packaging." Even better is a claim backed up by a third party (see next item). Many of the terms used on products -- green, natural, pure, biodegradable, eco-friendly, environmentally-friendly, non-toxic -- at this point are still unregulated and potentially meaningless.

7. Meaningful Eco-label. There are now a few third-party certifications out there for cleaners, including the EPA's Design for the EnvironmentEcoLogo, and Green Seal. You will have to look at the individual certification standards to decide if each is "green" enough for you. You could also consult Good Guide, which rates products according to Health, Environment, and Society (cleaners are under the category "Household").

8. Not tested on animals. Look for the Leaping Bunny logo.

9. Eco-friendly packaging. Look for cleaners with packaging that is made from recycled materials and recyclable. Cleaners that are concentrated and can be diluted are also good because they reduce packaging, energy for transportation, etc.

10. Trusted source. If you don't feel like doing a full-scale investigation whenever you need to purchase a cleaner, it can be nice to find a few brands (or stores) you trust and stick with those. I have been happy with the ingredients and effectiveness of Seventh Generation and Biokleen products. I've also posted about my favorite kitchenbathroom, and laundry cleaners. If you purchase your cleaning products at Whole Foods or another store with its own more-stringent standards for ingredients, you will avoid the most toxic cleaners.

Additional Resources:

She mentions "greenwashing".  It is for this reason that I advocate against buying mainstream companies' "green" cleaners, like those from SC Johnson, Unilever, Johnson and Johnson, etc.  These companies are not inherently green (AND they test on animals), but are trying to get on the bandwagon and swindle consumers.  I am very careful to buy from companies who I believe in, and these I do not!  For a great way to check up on the companies you buy from, check out this post.  There is also a link included there with information for contacting these companies to demand they change their ways.

I hope you find something useful here in deciding to green your cleaners!

No comments:

Post a Comment