• Green Cleaning 101

    by Joe Walsh on September 26, 2011 · 4 comments


    In our last Article, Why Clean Green, we covered just a few of the frightening realities surrounding chemical cleaning products. After reading the article, some people commented that they knew that chemical cleaning was dangerous, but they just didn’t know how to kick the habit. Fear not! In this article we’ll present some of the most common routine housekeeping chores and how they can be tackled with some simple formulas you make yourself.

    The results will surprise you.

    An important note: when you do make your own cleaning products, be sure to label them, indicating what’s in them and what they’re for. And even though these formulas are natural, they still shouldn’t be ingested (drink the soap? Ewww!), so keep them out of the reach of children.

    First, your dish detergent, please.

    If you haven’t already switched to a plant-based dish detergent, do it now. Not only do we come in direct contact with our dish detergent and absorb its toxins through our skin, it gets washed directly down the drain, showing up in water and wildlife downstream.

    There are some fine dish detergents out there that use plant-based ingredients as their base, but BUYER BEWARE! Remember that claims of “Natural,” “Green” and even “Organic” on cleaning supplies are completely meaningless. There is zero regulation on using the words “natural,” “green” and “organic” in cleaning supplies (and many other things, for that matter).

    In Why Clean Green, you’ll find some online resources for you to perform your own research into ingredients for particular products. But today I’ll make it easy for you and just list some suggestions.

    The following dish detergents are readily available at your local natural grocery store (and now more often at traditional grocery stores), are actually, truly, eco-friendly and non-toxic, and in my experience are good substitutes for that bottle of chemical soup near your sink: Ecover Dishwashing Liquid, Citra-Solv Citra-Dish and BioKleen Dishwash Liquid.

    Pick one of these three and buy it. Then next time try another one of the three. I guarantee you’ll love at least one of them, and you’ll never look back.

    I Can See Clearly Now, The Streaks Are Gone

    Forget that blue cleaner you’re always turning to for glass cleaning. It’s got solvents that contain neurotoxins and hormone disruptors, and it’s probably got Ammonia in it, which is toxic and totally overkill for typical window and mirror cleaning. Use this simple formula instead.

    • 1/8 – 1/4 tsp plant-based dish detergent (see above!). Use less if it’s really sudsy, more if the water is beading on the glass
    • ½ Cup Vinegar
    • 2 Cups Water

    Combine all ingredients in a spray bottle. Shake. Spray on glass sparingly, and wipe clean with a lint-free cloth or newspaper. Yes, newspaper actually works! What a way to recycle. The drawback about newspaper is that the inks will get all over your hand and anything the wet paper touches, so you may need a cloth to catch used ones in.

    This formula dries streak-free. No petro-chemical solvents needed. Keeps indefinitely.

    If you don’t like the vinegar smell, you can 1) Wait 10 minutes, it will go away, or 2) Add a few drops of your favorite essential oil.

    Grease and Grime, Gone in No Time

    Grease is all over the home – think fingerprints, oils from pet hair, and food soil on the carpet, but of course we see the most of it in the kitchen. This simple formula will let you do away with the slew of kitchen cleaners that have accumulated under your sink.

    • ½ tsp plant-based detergent
    • 2 tsp baking soda
    • 2 ½ cups water

    Combine all ingredients in a spray bottle. Shake. Spray on surface and wipe clean with a cloth or sponge. For tougher jobs (like the stovetop), let soak for 5-15 minutes then come back to it and scrub clean with a light-duty scrubbing pad.

    This formula may leave a slight baking soda film, simply wipe away. Also a great deodorizer. Keeps indefinitely.

    Put That Bleach Away!

    Stains on your countertop. Discoloration in your sink. Grime in your bathtub. Many people think “bleach it!” No need. For 95% of the cleaning jobs in the home, baking soda will do just fine to whiten surfaces and remove stains. And the best part – it actually REMOVES the grime that causes the stains. Bleach just whitens it.

    To remove staining on countertop (not for use on natural stone!) or sink:

    1. Sprinkle 1-2 tbs of baking soda on the surface (more for larger surfaces).
    2. Spray with water (or the grease-cutting formula above) until damp and toothpaste-like. Don’t over-soak! The paste-y consistency is important.
    3. Scrub in circular motions with a sponge or light-duty scrubbing pad until stain comes out, repeating if necessary.
    4. Rinse thoroughly

    To remove grime from your tub or shower, follow the steps above except on vertical surfaces, sprinkle the baking soda directly onto the sponge or scrubbing pad.

    More Resources

    Give yourself a pat on the back. With just a few simple steps, you’ve learned to eliminate chemicals from some frequently-encountered cleaning chores. And hopefully, if you’ve been cleaning without chemicals, you picked up a tip or two.

    If your appetite for homemade cleaning formulas has been whetted, there are a few valuable resources that I’ve relied on heavily over the years to solve tough cleaning problems. Check them out for more detailed and situation-specific natural solutions that work:

    Better Basics for the Home: Simple Solutions for Less Toxic Living, by Annie Berthold-Bond

    Home Safe Home, by Deborah Lynn Dadd

    Naturally Clean: The Seventh Generation Guide to Safe & Healthy, Non-Toxic Living, by Jeffrey Hollender


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    { 4 comments… read them below or add one }

    Leanne September 27, 2011 at 7:22 pm

    Hi, thanks for this great info! I have been considering to try and make my own cleaners, but was unsure of how to do so. I also questioned whether they would clean as well as the off the shelf natural cleaners.
    Which leads to my question:
    What is your opinion and or knowledge of off the shelf natural cleaners like Seventh Generation? I have used them before and they work, but after reading your other article I have to question how safe they really are. Could you talk about the natural stuff that’s available at most stores?

    thanks so much,
    Leanne G.


    Joe Walsh September 28, 2011 at 10:08 pm

    Thanks for the comment, Leanne. Seventh Generation is an industry leader in creating safe, environmentally sound products. In fact I use a book on this subject written by Seventh-Generation’s CEO Jeff Hollender as a reference regularly. It’s listed in the resources at the end of the article.
    So while I’d generally trust Seventh Generation’s products, it’s always advisable to check all ingredients, especially if you or anyone in your household is sensitive to certain fragrances (even natural essential oils used for fragrance are irritating to some). As for the legitimacy of environmental claims made by other companies, check the Washington Toxics Coalition website, and also the Environmental Working Group’s website for info on specific products.


    Juliana September 29, 2011 at 1:49 pm

    Simple Green?


    Joe Walsh September 30, 2011 at 8:10 am

    Despite the name, Simple Green is not a “Green” product. They do not disclose all ingredients, and the product contains 2-BUTOXYETHANOL, a known carcinogen which is also suspected of causing reproductive problems, for which there is no completely safe exposure level.


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