Cleaning can be hazardous to your health – and to the environment. Many common household cleaners contain ingredients have been linked with neurological, liver, and kidney damage, and asthma and cancer. Some haven’t been tested at all! When buying and using cleaning products, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Don’t accept vague claims. Words like “biodegradable” or “nontoxic” have no legal definitions. Verify green claims with Environmental Working Group’s Healthy Cleaning Guide.
- Avoid cleaners containing phosphates. When they get into rivers and lakes, they cause algae blooms, robbing the water of oxygen, blocking sunlight, and ultimately killing aquatic life.
- Use reusable cloths. Instead of throwing away one-use items like paper towels and mop pads, use old t-shirts and other rags that you can wash and use again.
- Minimize use of bleaches. The most common bleach is chlorine, which in wastewater can create toxic compounds. Non-chlorine bleaches are gentler to clothes and the environment, though they are less effective in colder-water temperatures, requiring more energy-intensive hot water.
- Buy concentrates. Ask manufacturers to produce refillable versions that allow you to refill a spray bottle by adding water to a packaged concentrate.
- Follow instructions. When cleaning, remember to use no more than the recommended amount.
- Make sure containers are kept dry to prevent corrosion. If a container begins to corrode, place it in a plastic bucket with a lid and clearly label it.
Do-It-Yourself Green Cleaners
- Drain Cleaner: Pour a half-cup of baking soda down the sink and add at least a cup of vinegar. Cover the drain and wait a few minutes, then rinse with a mixture of boiling water and salt.
- Window Cleaner: Mix two ounces of vinegar with a quart of water in a spray bottle.
- Silver Polish: Put a sheet of aluminum foil into a plastic or glass bowl. Sprinkle the foil with salt and baking soda and fill the bowl with warm water. Soak your silver in the bowl and tarnish migrates to the foil. Dry and buff.
- Brass Cleaner: Cut a lemon in half, sprinkle it with salt and rub the lemon on the metal. Buff with a cloth.
- Rust Remover: Use vinegar to remove rust on nuts and bolts and other mineral deposits such as calcium deposits.
- Baking Soda is a mild abrasive that provides economical and ecological alternatives to many cleaning chores, from removing scuff marks on linoleum floors to rinsing hairspray and shampoo buildup from hair and brushes.
- Bon Ami Polishing Cleanser, sold since 1887, contains no chlorine, phosphates, dyes, or perfumes. Because of its mild abrasive quality, it can be used on porcelain, stainless steel, cookware, glass-top ranges, cultured marble, and fiberglass. It also can be used to clean butcher-block tops, woks, food processors, white shoes, luggage, boats, and swimming pools.
- Fels Naptha is a rugged bar soap invented in 1894. A staple of some laundry rooms, it also can be used to help deter the effects of poison ivy, especially if you wash with it directly after exposure to the weed. Some gardeners use it as an insect repellent, shredding it and sprinkling it around plants.
- Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Soap is biodegradable and extremely versatile. The label lists 18 uses, from shaving and shampooing to treating athletes food and purifying water. Invented in 1935 by Bronner to kill the odor of diapers, it has been on the market since 1941.
- 20 Mule Team Borax, sold since 1890, is a good disinfectant and mold killer and a very cheap household cleaner. It can be used as a polish for stainless steel, as a toilet bowl cleaner, as a fabric whitener and softener, and as a stain remover for blood, chocolate, and grease. Some people use borax to kill fleas by sprinkling it on their carpet, then vacuuming it up.