My parents visit me every year during tax season, and their visit throws me into a spring cleaning tizzy. Last year when they were here, I woke up and found my mother cleaning my already-spotless bathroom floor. So this week I spent a few days deep cleaning for their visit -- floor scrubbing, sweater folding, window washing type cleaning.
Household cleaning is a gazillion dollar industry. Just go to a store and look at the tremendous amount of real estate allotted to cleaning products - they promise to bomb germs and grime to kingdom come. You probably have an extensive selection of cleaners. Do we really need that many? We probably need fewer than we think.
My philosophy of avoiding chemicals in my food and personal products whenever possible is pretty much the same with cleaners. This stuff can be toxic - take one whiff and let your eyes water. Cleaners work their way into your body through multiple channels - you inhale them as you are scrubbing, you absorb them through touch (even if its just walking into your recently Tilexed bathtub), and you eat them when you put food on your recently sprayed counter or just on your plates. You also drink them as cleaners get absorbed into the ground and contaminate our water sources.
Have cleaners been proven to be toxic? Some of them have, but I don't really care. There is a strong dose of unpronounceable chemicals in those bottles, and I'm not going to wait around for a medical study to tell me that a specific cleaner is linked to a chronic condition. This stuff is clearly not good for my health or the environment.
I started looking for less-toxic, greener alternatives a few years ago. It's hard! You can whip up your own natural cleaners with lemons, vinegar, baking soda and water, which is pretty cool, but I'm too lazy to do that, so I buy commercial items. It's pricier than making my own, but at least the "natural" alternatives leave a fresh, nice smelling house instead of a light head like the conventional stuff. I even look forward to using it - it's the only nice thing about cleaning.
What to do - Mindfully Green Your CleanersSimplify your cleaning needs in zones (in bold below), and begin greening your supplies gradually or all at once. There's an ever-growing world of green cleaners out there - from the granddaddies of green brands like Seventh Generation, Ecover and Biokleen to higher end Caldrea to the widely distributed Method. Check out your household products at this National Institute of Health database. Do you really need all those supplies? See if you can narrow what you need down to an all-purpose cleaner and a few specialists.
- Read the ingredients lists of your cleaners. Like food, make sure the lists aren't long and/or toxic sounding. If you are motivated to make your own cleaners from household ingredients, you are awesome. Search the internet for recipes or check out these by Real Simple magazine.
- Experiment to see what works best. Then share your results with us! I like products that don't require a lot of elbow grease. The easiest way to avoid heavy scrubbing is to clean regularly. When Silda Wall Spitzer was in the governor's mansion, they tried a lot of green cleaners and ended up primarily using Ecover, Seventh Generation and Biokleen.
- Buy large quantities of cleaner to refill your smaller bottles with. It's easier on your wallet and the environment! Most of the green cleaners make large refill sizes.
- Glass. Glass cleaner is actually easy and cheap to make. Real Simple says to mix ¼ cup vinegar, 2 cups water, and a squirt of liquid Castile soap in a spray bottle, then spritz windows and wipe with a sheet of newspaper. The now defunct Domino Magazine recommended Biokleen Glass Cleaner in 2008.
- Floors. I use Mrs. Meyer's All-Purpose Lavender Cleaner for non-wood floors. According to Real Simple, you can mop almost any type of floor with a solution of ¼ cup liquid Castile soap and 2 gallons warm water. If the floors are greasy, add ¼ cup distilled white vinegar to the bucket.
- Bathrooms. I use Mrs. Meyer's All-Purpose Lavender Cleaner ($7.99 for large 32 oz that can be cut into spray bottles) on everything in the bathroom. Domino Magazine crowned Solay Simple (7.95 for large 32 oz) their 2008 Green winner, and I'm planning on trying it. I have to admit, I don't always clean my bathtub as regularly as I should, and as a result, I had to bomb it with Tilex Mold and Mildew Remover for my parents. That stuff works wonders, but it smells like you need a hazmat. I'm going to stick to using my all-purpose more frequently from now on.
- Kitchens. I use the all-purpose cleaner for all surfaces in here as well. Some people want a disinfectant, which used to be hard to find green, but fortunately Seventh Generation has a new line of EPA registered disinfectants. Conventional dishwashing detergents are icky. Mine is from Williams Sonoma (works great on grease - I use it to clean off my stovetop when it's greasy), and I love my Biokleen Automatic Dish Powder. It's effective and concentrated so you don't need that much. One of the most common cleaning mistakes is using too much cleaner in the dishwasher, so be careful!
- Laundry. Domino Magazine crowned Shaklee "Get Clean Fresh Laundry" their 2008 Green winner. I haven't tried it but it's on my list. This is the other most common cleaning mistake - too much laundry detergent, so go light. It's good for your clothes and the environment.
- Wood furniture. My furniture store recommended Guardsman Furniture Polish, but I have a feeling it's not too green since it doesn't list the ingredients. Domino Magazine put Timothy Corrigan Home ($12.50 for 12 oz.) on their list.
- Debra's List of Green Cleaners - an extensive brand list from Debra Lynn Dadd, who was dubbed the Queen of Green by the New York Times
- Household Products Database - U.S. Department of Health and Human Services - check out household cleaners here
- Mindful Gear - you can buy many green cleaners from our Amazon store if you can't find it locally. They can also make a nice present for an eco-minded person that has everything.
What I ate: 1/2 sweet potato, lots of macadamia nuts, 1/2 avocado, 1 c. steel cut oatmeal + milk + ground flaxseeds, scrambled eggs + ground flaxseeds, Mindful Mix, 1 apple, 1 cup steamed broccoli, Mike & Sam's cheese popcorn, cheddar cheese, 1 piece duck, whole wheat spaghetti + Rao's Siciliana sauce + parmesan + ground flaxseeds, dried mango slices, hot chocolate, 50 oz. water
Exercise: 2 mile jog + 4 mile race, 25 minutes weights