August 13, 2008

Just Say No—to Windex. Green cleaning alternatives for your home.

Your couch, mattress, cleaning products all have this Toxic Nastiness in them.

There’s a reason cancer rates are going nuts…the average American undersink has more chemicals than a WWII laboratory. Plywood, OSB/particle board, MDF in your kitchen cabinets, your couch and mattress…likely have formaldehyde in them. Your plumbing is toxic PVC. Your household cleaners are, likely, toxic.

Night before last, I was merrily enjoying the newish green TV channel, Planet Green. It’s green reality TV, green news, green fashion, green cooking, green this, green that, green green green with a whiffle ball bat.

So I was watching a remarkable show called Greensburg, about a town in Kansas that was literally wiped off the face of the earth by a tornado—and then decided to do what no other town or city in the US had done—build the entire town according to LEED certified standards (of course, some residents opted out).

Anyway, then comes commercial time—and on comes an ad for Windex.

Ugggggh. While I’m all for them advertising and supporting this great new network, and it’s a smart buy (Planet Green, like Whole Foods or, okay, yours truly has a desirable, active demographic)…this here cover of elephant features a pool of toxic Windex-like sludge with a sea of toxic logos hidden in it…and then, where the cover’s been wiped clean of chemicals, a bunch of nearly-invisible eco-cleaner logos shimmer.

In the spirit of truly going eco-responsible and leaving behind cancer-causing, chemical-laden cleaners that aren’t good for us, our children, pets or air…here’s a list of easy cheap non-toxic alternatives to commercial cleaning products.

Eco products…

  • are less polluting to manufacture;
  • are less likely, in most cases, to cause Bad News if accidentally ingested;
  • don’t cause indoor air pollution in your home;
  • are generally less expensive than commercial products;
  • reduce waste from packaging;
  • are simple and can work just as well, having been used for generations;
  • save space in your cupboards and closets;
  • harm your environment less during and after use.

If the following items are in your pantry,

then you have what you need to clean your house top to bottom with friendlier alternatives to harsh chemicals and pollutants:

  • vinegar
  • baking soda
  • corn starch
  • salt
  • borax
  • lemon juice
  • olive oil
  • mild liquid soap (not detergent)
  • reusable steel wool (not commercial cleaning pads that contain toxic cleaners)
  • non-chlorine (no sodium hyphochlorite) scouring powder (e.g. Bon Ami)
  • citrus-based cleaning concentrate (e.g. Citra-Solv, Seventh Generation, etc.)

Recipes and Tips:

All-purpose cleaner
Mix 2 Tbsp baking soda with 1 pint warm water in a spray bottle. Add a squeeze of lemon juice or a splash of vinegar to cut grease.

Surface cleaner
Find a combination that works for you, and always keep some ready in a spray bottle. You’ll find that weak acids like vinegar & lemon juice are good at cutting grease.
Mix: 1 quart hot water, 1 tsp veg. oil-based soap or veg. oil-based detergent, 1 tsp borax, & 2 Tbsp vinegar.

Note: Vinegar is used here as mild acid to cut grease; borax is used as a water softener, especially good in areas with hard water, to prevent soapy deposits.
Or, mix 1/2 cup vinegar in 1 quart of warm water.
Or, dissolve baking soda in hot water for a general cleaner.

For a soft scrubbing paste, mix some baking soda with enough liquid soap to make a paste. Make only what you need as it dries up quickly.

No-Streak Glass/Window Cleaner
Mix 1/4 cup white vinegar and 1 quart warm water.
Or, 1/4 cup white vinegar, 1 Tbsp cornstarch and 1 quart warm water.
Apply with a spray bottle or sponge. Wipe with crumpled newspaper instead of paper towels for lint-free results.

Oven Cleaner
Use one of the following methods:

1. Mix 1 part vinegar to about 4 parts water. Put into a spray bottle. Spray onto cool oven surface. Scrub the oven clean. Use baking soda or a citrus-based cleaner on stubborn spots.
2. Mix together in a spray bottle 2 Tbsp liquid soap (not detergent), 2 tsp borax, and warm water to fill the bottle. Make sure the salts are completely dissolved to avoid clogging the squirting mechanism. Spray on mixture, holding the bottle very close to the oven surface. Leave the solution on for 20 minutes, then scrub with steel wool and a non-chlorine scouring powder.
3. Or, use a non-chlorinated scouring powder, like Bon Ami.
4. Or, use a baking soda, salt, and water paste.
5. Clean glass oven door with Bon Ami. Use razor blade or spatula for tough spots.
6. Notes: Avoid aerosol oven cleaners and cleaners containing lye (sodium hydroxide). Avoid chlorinated scouring powders such as Comet and Ajax. Don’t use abrasive cleaning materials on self-cleaning ovens. For preventative cleaning, use baking soda disolved in water.

Non-Toxic Toilet Bowl Cleaner
Flush to wet the sides of the bowl. Sprinkle 1 cup borax around the toilet bowl, then drizzle with 1/2 cup white vinegar. Leave for several hours before scrubbing with a toilet brush.
For stains in toiletbowl, try a paste of lemon juice and borax. Let sit about 20 min. and scrub with bowl brush.
Notes: Avoid solid toilet bowl deodorizers that contain paradichlorobenzene — there is evidence that it causes cancer in laboratory animals. Some toiletbowl-cleaning products contain acids (read labels). If acids are mixed with a cleaner containing chlorine, toxic chlorine gas is released.

Tub and Sink Cleaner
Use non-chlorinated cleanser
For toughest stains, try a citrus-based cleaner at full strength (undiluted).
Try fine grain wet/dry sandpaper (400 grit) to remove pot marks in porcelain sinks (gentler than common scouring cleansers).
To remove mineral deposits around faucets, cover deposits with strips of paper towels, soaked in vinegar. Let set for 1 hour and clean.
Note: Hard water means the water has a high mineral content (e.g. calcium, magnesium, iron, etc.). This often results in whitish mineral deposits left on faucets, shower doors, drains and windows. Vinegar, a weak acid, can dissolve many of these deposits.

Use hydrogen peroxide-based bleaches. Hydrogen peroxide breaks down to water and oxygen in wastewater.

For a fabric rinse, add 1/4 cup of vinegar to the washing machine’s rinse cycle. This eliminates the scratchy feel of laundered clothes by rinsing detergent completely from clothes. To brighten clothes, add 1/2 cup of lemon juice to the rinse cycle. Reduce the amount of laundry detergent per load by adding 1/2 cup of baking soda or borax to the wash.

Handwashing: Use vegetable oil-based soaps/detergents.
Automatic dishwasher: Automatic dishwashing detergents have a very high level of phosphates. One exception is Seventh Generation brand dishwashing powder.

Unclogging Drains
Use one of the following methods:

1. Pour one or two handfuls of baking soda followed by 1/2 cup white vinegar down the drainpipe and cover tightly for one minute. The chemical reaction between the two substances will create pressure in the drain and dislodge the obstruction. Rinse with hot water.
2. Pour 1/2 cup salt and 1/2 cup baking soda followed by lots of hot water.
3. Plunge the sink. Find out how from Better Homes & Gardens.
4. Use a drain snake — also called a sink auger — to unclog stubborn drains. Drain snakes can be purchased at hardware stores or ordered online, sometimes for less than the cost of a bottle of chemical drain cleaner. More expensive heavy-duty drain snakes can be rented for less than the cost of a chemical drain cleaner.

Moth Balls
Store clean clothing in airtight containers or sealed bags with cedar blocks, shavings (available as cage bedding in pet stores) or oil. Place cedar in drawers and closets as well. Inspect any used clothing or furniture carefully for moths or larvae before bringing them into the house, or clean them first. Vigorously shaking clothes will remove larvae and eggs (remember to vacuum well afterwards). And the heat of the dryer will also kill larvae and eggs.

Floor or Furniture Polish
Use one of the following methods:

1. Use 1 part lemon to 2 parts olive oil and apply a thin coat. Rub in well with a soft cloth.
2. Mix three parts olive oil and one part vinegar.

Carpet Deodorizer
Sprinkle carpet liberally with baking soda. Wait 15 minutes, then vacuum. For musty rugs that have been sitting in the attic, leave the baking soda overnight.

Metal Polishing
Brass: Mix 1/2 tsp salt and 1/2 cup white vinegar with enough flour to make a paste. Apply thickly. Let sit for 15 min-1/2 hr. Rinse thoroughly with water to avoid corrosion.
Copper: Polish with a paste of lemon juice and salt.
Silver: Boil silver 3 minutes in a quart of water containing: 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon salt, and a piece of aluminum foil. Or, rub silver with a baking soda/water paste and a soft cloth; rinse and polish dry. Or, rub with toothpaste. Use a toothbrush to clean raised surfaces. Be careful not to scratch surfaces. Be gentle and use a light hand.
Chrome: Wipe with vinegar, rinse with water, then dry. (Good for removing hard water deposits.) Or, shine chrome fixtures with baby oil and a soft cloth. (Good for removing soap scum off faucets.)
Stainless steel: Clean and polish with a baking soda/water paste or a cleanser

Paper Towels and Rags
Crumpled newspaper is a great substitute for paper towels for cleaning windows. If you do use paper towels for cleaning, choose unbleached paper towels with high post-consumer recycled content. Reusable cloth rags are also a good choice.

Disposal of Commercial Cleaning Products
Get rid of toxic household products stored under your kitchen sink and in your basement — but don’t pour them down the drain or throw them in the trash. Remember that many household products are considered hazardous waste. Contact your local environmental agency or public works department to find out about hazardous waste disposal in your area.

Commercial Citrus-Based Cleaners:
Citrus-based cleaners are extremely effective, versatile and environmentally friendly, and they are available in most grocery stores. Made from orange peels, these cleaners are nontoxic, petroleum-free and biodegrade rapidly. They also smell great and don’t contribute to indoor air pollution.

It’s best to buy these cleaners in a concentrate, as it saves money and packaging, and reduces environmental impact associated with shipping the product — since there’s no water to add to weight and bulk. The price for the concentrate will seem high — but each bottle makes eight gallons of cleaner, and the product is ultimately much cheaper than other cleaners.

Citra-Solv, Seventh Generation and Orange Solv are three brands of citrus-based cleaners. You can usually find one or all of these at your local health food store or even some Trader Joes locations.

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