Green cleaning products offer natural solutions
Melissa F. Pheterson and Denise Schipani , USA TODAY Green Living
Ditch the chemical concoctions in favor of natural solutions that really work. Some natural cleaners are already in your pantry.
Green Living magazine cover
(Photo: (Photo: Cover photo by Odessy Barbu/Getty Images))
Products labeled “fresh” and “natural” aren’t always as organic as shoppers might think.
Bleach alternatives offer inexpensive and nontoxic cleaning options.
New kitchen products keep cookware neat and germ-free.
Most conventional cleaning products are virtual chemical cocktails. But they work, so we keep using them to fight germs and add a clean scent to our laundry.
But if you want to green your routine, you don’t have to sacrifice cleanliness—or even a pleasing scent. “Natural solutions can actually clean more effectively, cost less and keep your family healthier,” says eco-expert Laurie Williams.
Some natural cleaners are already in your fridge and pantry. New products are made from peach pits, ground seashells, even bacteria (the good kind). Here’s how to clean and stay green.
Green cleaning essentials:
Scrubs and sprays found in the cleaner aisle at your local supermarket may be billed as “fresh” and “natural,” but are they really eco-friendly? Jodi Helmer, author of The Green Year: 365 Small Things You Can Do to Make a Big Difference, and Landon Hamon, president of Healthy Clean in Denver, tell us what should trip alerts.
LABELS: Unlike food, cleaning products are not required by law to list ingredients, making it harder to know exactly what is in that spray bottle. Look for manufacturers that list ingredients — some do. When you find a list, scan for items you recognize, such as hydrogen peroxide. Or, “look for products with the green-and-white USDA organic seal, which certifies that all of the ingredients used in the product contain no chemicals,” Helmer says.
EXCESSIVE WARNINGS: Instructions about when to call poison control and warnings to open windows and ventilate while using the product should be big red flags. They indicate that toxic chemicals are being released.
PETROLEUM, PHOSPHATES: Avoid products that say “petroleum-based” and dishwashing detergents with phosphates. These can adversely affect the environment.
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MICROFIBER: Washable and reusable microfiber cloths have a fine weave that resembles many tiny fingers picking up the dirt for you. You need only water to get a good scrub with this cloth, says Leslie Reichert, a green-cleaning expert and author of The Joy of Green Cleaning. Wet and wring out a microfiber cloth, and use it to clean windows without leaving streaks or needing a separate product.
BEWARE BLEACH: Yes, bleach kills germs like nobody’s business. The problem is that many people use far too much of it, and too much bleach can create toxic fumes. You can avoid bleach altogether. “White vinegar is a natural acid that kills 90 percent of bacteria,” says Reichert. It’s also inexpensive and totally nontoxic. Other safe alternatives include vodka (yes, vodka!), rubbing alcohol and hydrogen peroxide.
SPRITZ SAFELY: Air fresheners don’t eliminate odors so much as mask them. Better choices? Put an open box of baking soda in a stinky room or sprinkle a few drops of essential oil on a clean cloth and toss it in the dryer.
FOR THE KITCHEN
Nuke a bowl of water and lemon juice to dissolve microwave grease, then wipe clean with a cloth.
Replace your paper towels with a roll of Bambooee (Williams-Sonoma or bambooee.com), made from sustainable bamboo trees and washable up to 25 times.
Make your own disinfectant spray with two cups water, 1/4 cup tea tree oil and 1/4 cup lavender oil, say Dr. Myron Wentz and Dave Wentz in their book, The Healthy Home. Or try new commercial sprays made of ground seashells (IGOZEN at igozen.com) or good bacteria that kills its bad brethren with kindness (PIP at PIPhealthyproducts.com).
Cut down on dish detergent by using the Original Spaghetti Scrub. Strips of natural abrasives lift and release dirt gently, rinse completely and require only a dab of dish soap. Try the coarse scrub (goodbyedetergent.com) for metal cookware and sinks, and the gentle scrub for glass, wood, plastic and non-stick pans.
FOR THE LAUNDRY
Soak stained clothing in club soda before washing; dab club soda onto stains directly. Or spray white vinegar from a bottle onto stains to neutralize.
Add one-and-a-half cups of white vinegar to the rinse cycle to brighten white towels and garments.
Stick it where the sun shines: “Take a shirt that you’ve worn for a few hours and hang it in the sun,” Myron and Dave Wentz say. “The next morning, it will be ‘clean,’ deodorized and disinfected as well.”
Skip softeners: Fabric softeners and dryer sheets work by coating your clothes with “quats” (quaternary ammonium compounds) that may trigger asthma and antibiotic-resistant superbugs.
FOR FLOORS AND FURNITURE
Shake baking soda on upholstery and carpets. Wait 15 minutes, then vacuum to deodorize.
Make a natural wood polish with two parts vegetable oil or olive oil plus one part lemon juice or lemon oil. Or apply a wax like Daddy Van’s Beeswax Furniture Polish (daddyvans.com), enriched with essential oils. “It’s so natural, I let my preschooler help with the table waxing at home,” says Amy Thompson of Ivory Bill Furniture in Salt Lake City.
Rub a damp sponge with baking soda on painted furniture and walls to erase marks.
Dab club soda or diluted oxygen bleach, an alternative to chlorine-based products, on spots to “bubble” the stain to the top of the carpet.
Consider steam-cleaning floors to release dirt and grime without leaving a chemical trace.
This article is excerpted from USA TODAY Green Living magazine. The special publication contains articles on sustainable living, green products, DIY projects, and people and companies helping to save the planet. Get an Eco-friendly version for your tablet or computer at.