1.31.2011

green cleaning

I try to clean green now, but I didn’t always.

I used to buy all the chemical cleaners – in fact I bought them at Costco.

Then I started buying more natural cleaners like Mrs. Meyers & Biokleen. But they’re expensive, and they get used up so quickly!

I started using vinegar occasionally, but it can be really hard to break the cleaning-solution addiction. Is it really going to get clean? Is it going to be a lot of work? Am I going to have to figure out mixtures and scrub until I’m sore?

The first part of cleaning greener – and some people aren’t going to like this one – is to use up what you’ve got. Already have that Costco-sized container of 409? Finish it. Have soft scrub and comet under the sink? Use ‘em up. Here’s the thing – you’ve already spent the money and already supported the companies, so there’s no environmental activism benefit to not using what you’ve got. And if you weren’t going to use it, you’d have to throw it out or dump it down the drain, which is certainly not any more environmentally friendly than just using the product. Use it up and move on.

One good way to get your feet wet with cleaning more green is to just choose a room or one area that you’re going to try cleaning with natural products. For instance, let’s do the bathroom. You can clean pretty much anything with three things: vinegar, water and baking soda.

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Vinegar:

First we’ll make a vinegar solution. For most things, a solution of equal parts vinegar and water will work great. Dump equal parts into an empty spray bottle (rinse and re-use that windex/409/Mrs. Meyer’s bottle that you already have!) give it a gentle shake, and you’re ready to go. For heavier-duty project you can use vinegar by itself.

Baking Soda:

Baking soda will need water to work, but it can either be sprinkled on surfaces and then scrubbed with a wet rag, or a solution paste can be made and held in a container.

How to clean:

Let’s start with the bathroom. You can clean pretty much anything with a 1/2 vinegar 1/2 water solution in a spray bottle. Spray the mirror, counter, sink and hardware with your vinegar solution. Wipe everything down with a cloth rag. Done.

Next we’ll move to the commode. Dump some vinegar (not the solution – just vinegar) into the bowl and let it sit while you do the rest of the toilet. Spray the outside of the toilet with your vinegar solution and wipe it down with the same rag you used on the counters. The toss the rag in your laundry pile. Scrub out the toilet and flush. Done!

Now we can do the floor. Spray it with your vinegar solution, wipe it down with a clean rag (or your socks, whatever). Done.

I like to use baking soda in the tub & shower, since it gets scummy and scaly and BS is an abrasive. Think of your baking soda as a replacement for comet or other powder scrubbing agent, or make a paste and use it as a soft scrub replacement. Make a paste and scrub the tub and walls and fixtures in the shower. Rinse. Done! Vinegar would also work, or you can use the power of the chemical reaction of the two combined to really get at soap scum.

Finally, when you wash your family cloth or cloth diapers, swirl some vinegar and water in the pail to neutralize the smell and clean the surface of the container. Done.

But is it clean?

Yes. It’s clean. These products have been used for centuries as cleaning agents. Your surfaces won’t be surgically sterile, but they’re clean enough for everyday use. Vinegar and baking soda are both totally edible, non-toxic, natural substances. They are in the food you eat. You know what’s not in the food you eat? The chemicals in the cleaning products that you have under the sink.

Most of those products probably recommend that you use them on your kitchen counters and then rinse them with clear water. And they probably have warning labels: Do Not Ingest! Seek Medical Treatment! Keep Out of Eyes! Keep Away from Children! If you had a baby/toddler, you’d put Mr. Yuk stickers on the bottles and latch the cabinets. Baking soda and vinegar are foods. They may not taste good, but they won’t send you to the ER to get your stomach pumped.

How much does it cost?

Baking soda and vinegar are dirt cheap. I get mine at Costco. 13.5 pounds of baking soda is under $4, and 2 gallons of vinegar us around the same. For under $8 I have cleaning supplies for… I don’t know how long. A long time. You could go buy spray bottles, which would add to the cost -  but if you finish up what's already in your house and rinse the bottles out, they’re free. I also keep some baking soda in my laundry room, in an old plastic food container that’s stained from tomato sauce and warped from the dishwasher and that we don’t use because it’s plastic. Same for one in the bathroom and one by the kitchen sink. I have (recycled) spray bottles of vinegar and water in the bathroom and kitchen. I have bottles of undiluted vinegar (in the vinegar bottles and a mason jar) in the bathroom, kitchen and laundry room. My baking soda hair cleaner is in an old conditioner bottle and my apple cider vinegar hair conditioning solution is in a bottle from hair product. I have a bottle of BS solution at my bathroom sink in an old body wash bottle. Some of these containers are thick, heavy-duty plastic and are excellent for use over and over again. Use them!

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Other uses?

There is a myriad of uses for baking soda and vinegar, here are just a few uses:

  • cleaning the kitchen and bathroom (V, BS)
  • scrubbing out stains in pretty much any surface (BS) – with a wet rag or as a paste
  • a replacement for shampoo & conditioner (BS, Apple Cider V) – add 1 tbsp BS to 8 oz water and use for cleaning hair, rinse. Add 1 tbsp V to 8 oz water and use like conditioner to seal the cuticle.
  • a laundry enhancement (BS) – add 1/2 cup to your laundry with the detergent to get the mountain out of the mountain man’s clothes.
  • getting pet odors out of carpets (BS) – sprinkle on carpets and let it sit for 5-10 minutes before vacuuming
  • as a toothpaste & mouthwash (BS) – dip a wet toothbrush into BS and brush, rinse with a thin solution of BS & water (this apparently will also help heal canker sores) Tastes a little salty and doesn’t leave you with that “minty clean” feeling, but it works!
  • cleaning your Diva Cup (BS) – make a thin paste in your hand of BS & water, clean the cup & rinse (or use a pre-mixed solution)
  • deoderizing (BS, V) Use an open container of BS in the fridge/freezer to deoderize. Use a bowl of vinegar overnight in a room to doeoderize.
  • pest control (V) spray doorways, windowsills and countertops to keep ants away
  • unclogging a drain (BS, V) pour 1/2 cup BS down the drain, then add vinegar. When it stops bubbling rinse with warm water.
  • cut grease on the stove and disinfect baby toys (V)

There are many websites with suggestions about how to  clean with BS & V, and some experimentation is necessary. I’ve found a lot of into here about BS, V and other green options around the home.

I wonder now why people use cleaning products at all. BS & V are food-safe, versatile, effective cleaners. They van be used together to lift stubborn stains & scum, or separately to clean, scour, and disinfect. They are cheap, natural and green. Give them a try and you may find them to be better than the cleaners you have!

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