While there are many green practices worth adopting, switching to green cleaning products is one of those actions I advocate for both as a way of helping the environment but also of protecting our own health.
Why Switch to Green Cleaning Products?
A Safer Home
Each day, families are put to risk by household cleaning products found throughout their homes, most of which are unregulated and untested, and many whose toxic ingredients are not disclosed on labels. According to National Geographic, only about 30% of the roughly 17,000 chemicals found in household products, including those used for cleaning, have been sufficiently tested for their effects on human health. Healthier and safer cleaning products offer natural, non-toxic, and biodegradable alternatives that are just as effective as synthetic chemical cleaners.
A Safer Environment
The use of synthetic cleaners has adverse effects on air and water quality, as well as land-based environmental concerns. Many of the chemicals in household cleaners are harmful not only in their use, but also in their manufacturing process. For example, the first step in bleach production produces dioxin as a byproduct—a chemical that has been identified as a carcinogen and has been linked to birth defects and genetic changes. Natural cleaners are manufactured in a way to leave the smallest impact possible on the environment and the healthiest atmosphere in our homes.
How to be Green and Clean
Don’t Be Green-Washed
The search for truly green products may not be as easy as reading “organic” on a label. Many companies engage in greenwashing practices, including words such as “organic,” “eco-friendly,” “biodegradable,” and “non-toxic” on their labels to make products more appealing to consumers. Unfortunately, these claims are often unverifiable and meaningless. Look for products with full ingredient disclosure or third party certifications to ensure that product claims are substantiated. Independent groups such as Green Seal, Cradle To Cradle, the Leaping Bunny and the EPA’s Design for the Environment program analyze product ingredients and certify that those chemicals don’t pose harm to your health or to the environment. My rule of thumb is to buy products with less than 5 ingredients and with names that I can pronounce and recognize. I also look for products packaged in post-consumer recycled materials or that offer refills to further reduce environmental impact.
The Bleach Debate
It has been argued that because bleach breaks down into salt and water, it can be considered biodegradable and does not necessarily pose an environmental hazard. Bleach is a popular cleaning product because it is effective on a wide range of bacteria and viruses and has the added benefit of being cheap. However, despite the fact that bleach breaks down when released into the environment, it is an eye and lung irritant and mixing bleach with other acids (such as vinegar) can produce dangerous and potentially lethal fumes. Furthermore, the manufacturing process of bleach creates the known carcinogen dioxin as a toxic byproduct. It is best to find alternatives to bleach to ensure both a healthier planet and home.
Some Good Green Cleaners
- Better Life. This company was started by two dads, one a chemist, the other a greenie. This is the most effective green cleaning line I have used to-date and one that I use in my home for every surface. Buy in DC: ACE Hardware locations, Green Living Consulting. Online: Walgreens.com, Drugstore.com. Delight.com.
- BioKleen. Family-owned, with all products receiving a third party review. Order through Greenshops.com
- Ecover. Belgian company that started making eco-friendly products in 1980. In DC: Whole Foods, Yes Organic Market, Nora, Java Green, Brookville Supermarket. Online: HerbTrader.com
- Mrs. Meyers. Biodegradbale, phosphate free and made with essential oils. In DC: Ace Hardware, Bed Bath & Beyond, Container Store, Dean and Deluca, Greater Goods, Whole Foods, Frager’s Hardware.
National Geographic’s Green Guide also reviews and sells products that meet their environmental criteria.
Green Cleaning Recipes and Tips
The greenest way to clean is to make your own cleaning agents. This can save money and ensure that you know what is in your cleaning products. The following recipes can be made from things that are typically found in your kitchen cupboard.
Vinegar naturally cleans like an all-purpose cleaner. Mix a solution of 1 part water to 1 part vinegar in a new spray bottle and you have a solution that will clean most areas of your home. Vinegar is a great natural cleaning product as well as a disinfectant and deodorizer. Always test on an inconspicuous area. It is safe to use on most surfaces and has the added bonus of being incredibly cheap. Improperly diluted vinegar is acidic and can eat away at tile grout. Never use vinegar on marble surfaces. Don’t worry about your home smelling like vinegar. The smell disappears when it dries.
Here are some uses for vinegar in the rooms of your house:
Bathroom – Clean the bathtub, toilet, sink, and countertops. Use pure vinegar in the toilet bowl to get rid of rings. Flush the toilet to allow the water level to go down. Pour the undiluted vinegar around the inside of the rim. Scrub down the bowl. Mop the floor in the bathroom with a vinegar/water solution. The substance will also eat away the soap scum and hard water stains on your fixtures and tile. Make sure it is safe to use with your tile.
Kitchen- Clean the stovetop, appliances, countertops, and floor.
Laundry Room- Use vinegar as a natural fabric softener. This can be especially helpful for families who have sensitive skin. Add ½ cup of vinegar to the rinse cycle in place of store bought fabric softener. Vinegar has the added benefit of breaking down laundry detergent more effectively. (A plus when you have a family member whose skin detects every trace of detergent.)
Lemon juice is another natural substance that can be used to clean your home. Lemon juice can be used to dissolve soap scum and hard water deposits. Lemon is a great substance to clean and shine brass and copper. Lemon juice can be mixed with vinegar and or baking soda to make cleaning pastes. Cut a lemon in half and sprinkle baking soda on the cut section. Use the lemon to scrub dishes, surfaces, and stains. You can also put a whole lemon peel through the garbage disposal. It freshens the drain and the kitchen. Orange peels can be used with the same results.
Baking soda can be used to scrub surfaces in much the same way as commercial abrasive cleansers. Baking soda is great as a deodorizer. Place a box in the refrigerator and freezer to absorb odors. Put it anywhere you need deodorizing action.
Olive Oil/Lemon Juice
Mix together 1 cup olive oil and 1/2 cup lemon juice to create a homemade furniture polish. Mix together in a clean new spray bottle. To use, remember to shake before each application. Apply a small portion to your cleaning cloth. Spread the polish over the furniture, trying to polish evenly. Use another clean cloth to polish the surface dry.