Cleaning the Green Way
Baby boomers will remember television ads where housewives with massive bouffant (hair dos that looked like something died on top of your head) used vacuums and washing machines to keep the house neat and clean. That was the ideal image of the American woman. Then came the ‘70s and the ladies stepped out of the house into offices, donned smart suits and sensible heels! But houses still needed to be kept neat and clean.
Enter the super fast cleaning solutions, bleaches and acids. Lesser time at home meant more canned food and bottled juices, which turned into plastic and tin garbage. Paper towels that soak all spills and disposable mops meant less time spent slogging over cleaning the cleaners! And why aren’t we making a case for why husbands should pitch in more, just pointing out how our fast life turned house cleaning into an environmentally hazardous practice? (Quite a mouthful, that phrase.) If you have any doubt about its truth quotient, just look under you sink. How many of your cleaning products have poison, danger or some other sort of deathly warning on it?
Fast and toxic cleaners are just like fast food – instant gratification, long-term displeasure. According to statistical sources, cleaning products are the cause of at least 10 percent of the annual toxic exposure in U.S. Every year, there are at least two hundred thousand reports of children being poisoned from household cleaning products. Not a big surprise, considering what is in those products.
Take for instance chlorine bleach. It burns skin and eyes on contact and fatal if swallowed. Antibacterial soaps actually cause resistant bacteria to grow on the surface it is used on. Almost all strong cleaners have bleach. But did you know that if bleach is mixed with products such as ammonia or quaternium, it creates highly toxic chlorine gas? Most oven cleaners contain lye and sodium hydroxide, fumes from which can actually burn your respiratory tract with continuous exposure.
You can never be too careful. Take the example of chemical carpet cleaners. It makes your carpet instantly clean, but then leaves behind toxic traces on the carpet fibers, which pollute the air in little degrees every time you use it; kids pick fallen food off the carpet and ingest traces of the same toxic. When was the last time you placed your hand on the carpet and then grabbed a cookie? Getting nightmares yet?
If they are not fit for your consumption, why feed it to the earth? Using eco-friendly products is actually the best thing for your own health. And what is best for you is best for the planet as well. Considering how the planet is beginning to bite back with the unseasonal misadventures like heat waves and floods and virus outbreaks, swapping your toxic cleaner for greener options is a small change to make.
Start by replacing your toxic arsenal. But don’t pour them all down your drain! That pretty much amounts instant “toxification” of the planet. If you are in a developed country it is possible to get the these things picked up as hazardous waste. If you do not have these facilities, you can enquire at the local municipality or find NGOs that deal with toxic wastes in you area.
Now it is time to remember that our great grandmothers kept their houses sparkling and floors clean enough to eat from, without all the toxic products. And they actually didn’t really need to have a degree in chemistry to whip up bio-degradable and natural cleaners. Without the abundance of cleaning products in non-existent super markets, they pretty much experimented with what they had.
So what did they have lying around? Why baking soda of course, plus washing soda, lime, vinegar, borax, grape seed oil and other such products. All of these natural ingredients can be used individually or mixed together to replace almost all cleaning products that we use now. For instance, putting baking soda with your wash can protect the machine from lime scale build up! It’s also a great deodorant for stinky shoes and great for unclogging drains. Washing soda is another good cleaner, especially for removing soap scum etc. It can be a bit hard on the skin so wear gloves when using it.
Actually knowing your water can help you reduce lime scale and soap scum build up. If you have hard water, clean with a detergent. Soap works better with soft water. Moreover, washing hands with plain soap in tepid water for about two minutes is more effective then antibacterial cleaners.
Is your coffee table looking dull? Forget furniture polish. Try mixing 1 cup olive oil with 1/2 cup lemon juice and keep the mix in a spray bottle - voila! You have wood polish. Remember to shake well before use and dry surfaces with clothes after use. Silver can be polished with cheap toothpaste and copper can be polished with white vinegar or lemon juice mixed with salt. Remember to wash the surface with plain water or the residue with tarnish it faster. For brass, make a paste with 1 teaspoon salt, 1 cup white vinegar and 1 cup flour.
Mirrors with finger prints putting a frown on your face? Mix 1 cup rubbing alcohol with 1 cup water and 1 tablespoon vinegar and put it in a spray bottle as well. This mix easily evaporates and can shine up chrome and tiles surface also.
Kitchen tops need almost constant elbow grease. Simply mix 1 cup white vinegar with 1 cup water and keep in spray bottle. It’s just as effective as any store bought multi surface cleaner and it’s antibacterial too. For hard grease stains, make a paste of baking soda and water. If that stain is more determined then you are, make a paste of washing soda and water.
Be smart while shopping for detergents as well. Pick up “fragrance-free” and essential oil biodegradable products. If you have doubts about their claim, do research on the Internet. Instead of buying stain removers, try soaking the clothes in a mix of borax, lemon juice, hydrogen peroxide, washing soda or white vinegar and water. Baking soda and white vinegar both are natural fabric conditioners.
Oven surfaces can be cleaned naturally. Make a paste of water, baking or washing soda. Apply it on the surface and keep over night. Scrub off next day, wearing gloves. As we all know prevention is better then cure. Cover oven surface with foil and wipe the surrounding surface daily with the all purpose kitchen cleaner mentioned above.
The next step in green cleaning is the accessories. Use re-usable mops (cloth mops that can be unattached and washed), old clothes and rags are the best. Avoid sponges as they are breeding grounds for bacteria and try and ban those paper towels from your home!
And remember to open the window and let fresh air in. Keep fresh flowers in the room instead of spraying high VOC deodorants. Better yet, keep indoor plants. They will oxygenate the house, keeping the air quality high. According to experts, the best indoor plants include Areca palm, Reed palm, Dwarf date palm, Boston fern, Janet Craig dracaena, English ivy, Australian sword fern, Peace Lily, Rubber plant, Weeping fig etc.
Hang on, your green cleaning doesn’t stop here. You can save water and cleaning hassles by keeping your eyes and ears open. Daily sweeping can reduce the need of frequent mopping. Mix cleaners in buckets to save water. Use door mats to catch dirt. Sniff your food instead of throwing it off based on expiry dates. A stitch in time saves nine. Most often a time wipe with clean rag soak with water saves the need for using heavy duty cleaning products. Now buck up and get cleaning!
By Maria Belgado
- 5 Basics for Non-Toxic Cleaning
- Top 10 Eco-Friendly Ways to Clean the House
- Environmental Cleaning Solutions
- How to clean your house without hurting the planet
- What is Green Cleaning? What does Green Cleaning mean?