In the spirit of continued green living, I hope to share a series of posts about my efforts to make our household more Earth-friendly. Please note I’m not an expert in this area, just an average housekeeper and mother trying to change up some things; if you have recommendations or information to share; please feel free in the comment section. Learning is the important focus here!
When we had V, we started babyproofing, and while babyproofing, I became concerned with all the toxic chemicals that were present in our home. From makeup, to medicines, to cleaners, they were everywhere. After happening upon a copy of Green Babies, Sage Moms, I learned that many of the household products we use are not only dangerous because of possible ingestion, but also that many of the ingredients and fragrances contained in these products are inherently toxic, linked to cancers, asthma, and neurological disorders. I hope to post on the topic of health care products soon, as we made some major changes in that area, but this post will focus on the changed cleaning routines we implemented. After reading this book, I went through a massive sweep of our house, discarding any cleaner or personal product that could be replaced by a healthier, more Earth-friendly alternative. For me, protecting the Earth goes hand in hand with protecting my family; when I do the latter, I’m often choosing the healthier alternative for the former.
You can find many green cleaning options if you do a little research. I chose to replace our cleaners with some simple alternatives that I use for almost every cleaning job in the house: white distilled vinegar and baking soda, neither of which is toxic to small children. I also tore up old shirts which I use along with cloth diapers as cleaning rags; I wash these and reuse. I’ve eliminated massive use of paper towels and Clorox wipes by reusing rags and cloths, though I probably wash a load or two of cleaning rags per week. A tip is to squeeze water out of cleaning rags and let them dry over the edge of a plastic clothes basket before putting in the basket, so you don’t end up with a wet, molding mess until you accumulate enough rags for a load. For the kitchen, instead of germ infested sponges, I primarily use brushes that can be thrown in the dishwasher to clean, and dishcloths that I wash and reuse. I do own a kitchen sponge, but only for the tough jobs that require some vigorous scrubbing. A note for either dishcloth and sponge users: wash your cloths out, do not let them sit saturated with dirty water, balled up and festering in the sink or soaking in a dirty dishpan (man, that skeeves me out and I see so many people doing this!) Also, use a rag per job; do not use your toilet rag to then wipe the countertops, or vice-versa. One area, one rag is my rule for minimizing the spread of germs. Start from cleanest area (top of toilet tank, toilet seat) and work to dirtiest (behind the seat, around the rim under the lid).
For toilets: I sprinkle baking soda then spray with a 50-50 percent vinegar-water solution that I keep in a spray bottle. I let it sit and froth and bubble, then scrub. I disinfect the seat and outside of the toilet with the vinegar spray and a rag which I wash and reuse. Do not premix the baking soda and vinegar solution. Apply them separately immediately before use.
For showers, tubs, and stainless steel kitchen sinks: I use baking soda and spray vinegar here as well. For mold or mildew problems, you can use “Natural Enzyme Based” Earthworm Mold and Mildew Treatment.
For countertops: Vinegar will stain marble countertops. I use Seventh Generation Disinfecting Multi-Surface cleaner with an active ingredient of Thymol (from Thyme oil). I also use hot soapy water on a clean rag. Remember, if your rag is dirty, you are spreading germs. Frequently change out your rags and dishcloths.
For dishes: For handwashing, I use Ultra-Palmolive Pure and Clear which has no dyes or fragrances or Baby-Ganics’ Dish Dazzler. Incidentally, Baby-Ganics makes a great line of cleaning products that are “naturally non-toxic” and great to use around children. I’m still on the lookout for a good dishwasher soap; I find that some of the less toxic choices leave a film on my dishes. Any suggestions?
For stinking kitchen sink drains, you can use lemon juice. I also grind up old orange or lemon peels in my dish disposal to clean out the scent. Citrus oils are good natural cleaners, and I know there are some products that are citrus based, though I haven’t used them.
For laundry: I use a few products: Allen’s Biodegradable Liquid Laundry Detergent, which is fragrance free, gentle, and recommended for washing cloth diapers, Ecos (without fragrance), and a good old fashioned cup of baking soda. I have read that you can use baking soda alone, 1 cup per load, and that will be sufficient. We tried this for a while, and our clothes were clean, but I’m struggling to let go of the concept of detergent for ultra dirty toddler wear. Try it out and see what you think!
For floors: We have really old, stick-sheet linoleum floors, but they are easy enough to clean. For a while, I was hand-washing using aforementioned Palmolive dish soap and a bucket of hot water, but I found a new gadget that makes my life SOOO much easier in between serious de-griming efforts. It is the Rubbermaid Reveal push mop. It has a canister you can fill with your own cleaner (I use vinegar) and a washable, reusable pad (goodbye, fume-filled, wasteful, Swiffer mop). This is great for every day touchups and quick mopping. Nothing beats the hands-knees-rags clean, but this will eliminate most of the spills and splatters that come along with kids and cooking in the kitchen. Also, for rubbing shoe scuff marks off of the floor, besides the old tennis ball trick, you can use an old ripped up sport sock and rub the spot right off without any cleaner.
Dusting and polishing: There is a good recipe in the Green Babies, Sage Moms book for a furniture polish made from vegetable or olive oil and lemon juice. I’ve made it and used it; the only issue is it doesn’t keep well, so only make enough for that use. I tend to use damp cloths for dusting, which I wash after use.
For windows and mirrors: I use a 50-50 percent vinegar-water solution in a spray bottle, a dry rag, and a decent amount of elbow grease. You can also use old newspaper and vinegar as well for a streak-free shine, but elbow grease is the key! This same solution is also great for faucets and showerheads.
Some other cleaning products that I’ve heard about: Borax and Castile Soap. I plan to look into these options and do a little more research about how and whether to use them.
My non-green cheat: Clorox or Lysol wipes for those truly gross jobs. I am working to deprogram myself from thinking that disinfecting means using harsh chemicals, but for cleaning up chicken goo on the counter, or really funky toilet messes (I have a potty training two year old), I sometimes cheat and use a disinfecting wipe. This is my cleaning weakness, and I am proud to say that I have significantly reduced my reliance on these products since I’ve started my new regimen.
Overall, the cleaning switch has been great for our budget too. Reusing rags instead of Clorox wipes and paper towels for cleaning is a huge savings. Purchasing gallons of vinegar and bags of baking soda (you can get huge bags at Costco) saves both on packaging and also on expensive cleaning products. I still use some of the premixed cleaners, but less frequently, so our expenses are reduced. Going green (or greener) is a win-win-win for my family, my home, and our budget! What are some of your green cleaning tricks? I’m always interested to learn more!
Green Babies, Sage Moms: The Ultimate Guide to Raising Your Organic Baby by Lynda Fassa, http://www.greenbabies.com/gbsm.html
How Clean Is Your House by Aggie MacKenzie and Kim Woodburn
(While they aren’t strictly about green cleaning; they do have some tried and traditional tips for house cleaning that rely upon less toxic and more environmentally friendly methods. Just don’t let their exacting standards stop you in your tracks; those of us with small children aren’t likely to achieve their level of sparkle and shine!)
Healthy Child.Org : This blog was a new find in doing some research for my post; I’m so excited to find it!
Disclaimer: Um, none! I would love to have some of these companies pay me to advertise products I believe in, but, it isn’t happening yet, so be assured, these are my own preferences and I’ve received no money to push them on you.