Clean & Green
by Rachel Dunstan Muller
Source: Island Parent Magazine
Original Article: Click Here
Originally Published: April 2011
My youngest children—ages two and four—are going through a stage: a “game” is only complete if it involves every toy in the house. And by “toy” I mean everything that’s not locked up or nailed down. I spend so much time picking up after my kids that it’s a challenge to get around to any actual cleaning. Happily, I’ve got a spouse and two teens to pitch in (our third teenager is away at school).
For over a year, we’ve been trying to reduce our environmental footprint, so it was inevitable that we’d eventually look at our cleaning supplies. We’d already weaned ourselves off of many toxic products, like drain cleaner and artificial air fresheners. We’d also begun buying “green” versions of everything from dish soap to laundry detergent. Sadly, buying a safe cleaning product is not as simple as looking for “natural” or “eco-friendly” on the label. There are no standards behind these words—manufacturers can use them freely to entice well-intentioned customers. Furthermore, manufacturers are not required to list every ingredient in a product. For example, “fragrance” can be shorthand for a whole cocktail of synthetic chemicals, some of them hazardous. There are good products out there, but consumers need to be aware of the “green-washed” imposters.
Recently I decided to take our search for green cleaning products one step further—I’d make them myself. I saw three potential benefits: I’d know exactly what was in each product; I’d reduce the amount of packaging I brought home; and I’d save money. Here’s what I did, and how it worked:
1 Tbsp Borax (sold in the detergent section of most grocery stores)
1⁄2 cup liquid castile soap (available at health food stores)
1⁄2 cup white vinegar
1 gallon hot tap water
20 drops essential oil (optional—I used a combination of tea tree oil and lemon oil)
Combine all ingredients in a gallon container (I used a recycled vinegar jug), and use to fill a clean spray bottle. The verdict? It smells pleasant and is effective on my counters. The shower requires a little extra scrubbing, but overall I’m happy. Castile soap is not cheap, but a gallon of this recipe still cost me under three dollars. A bargain!
Scouring Powder For Tubs and Toilets
1⁄2 cup washing soda (available in the detergent aisle of the grocery store)
1⁄2 cup Borax
Combine and sprinkle on surface to be cleaned (I reclaimed a plastic spice jar for my container). Scrub and rinse. The verdict? Easy to make, and just as effective as a commercial product.
There are many natural recipes that feature white vinegar, but I’m happiest using a water-dampened micro-cloth, followed by a polishing cloth. You can buy micro-cloth by the metre at the fabric store if you’re a do-it-yourself kind of person. If you get poor results when you switch to a homemade solution, it may be because commercial cleaners have left a waxy residue on your glass. This can be removed with rubbing alcohol.
Make a thick paste with baking soda and water. Spread over surface to be cleaned and let sit for one hour. Remove excess paste, scrub and rinse. The verdict? Messy and labour-intensive, but the lack of fumes made the extra elbow grease worthwhile. I’ll just have to clean my oven more frequently.
Pour 1⁄2 cup baking soda into sluggish drain. Follow with 1 cup vinegar, and wait 10 minutes. Follow with 4 cups boiling water. The verdict? This works when our drains aren’t completely clogged. For more stubborn situations, we use a plunger that we bought specifically for our sinks. (We labeled it so it wouldn’t be used anywhere else!)
1⁄2 cup Borax
1⁄2 cup washing soda (use more if you have hard water)
1 finely grated bar of pure soap OR 1 cup soap flakes
2 gallons of water
20 drops of essential oil (optional)
Combine Borax, washing soda and most of water in a large pail. Boil soap flakes in remaining water until dissolved, and then add to first mixture. The mixture will gel when soap is added (quite dramatically, in my case). Use about 1⁄2 cup per load for top-loading machines, less for front-loaders. Adjust as necessary. The verdict? I was surprised by the lack of suds when I first added this detergent to my washer, but my laundry comes out clean. I’m used to unscented detergents (and now prefer them), but this mixture would be an adjustment for anyone used to scented detergent. The recipe was easy and the price is impossible to beat – about $1 for enough detergent to do 64 loads! Note: the washing soda in this recipe makes it unsuitable for wools and delicates.
Wondering about the ingredients in these recipes? Borax (sodium borate) is a naturally occurring mineral that has been used for thousands of years. It deodorizes, softens water, and removes stains, mould and mildew. Washing soda (sodium carbonate) is a non-abrasive cleaner with many of the same properties as Borax. Castile soap is a very gentle, biodegradable, olive-oil based soap. It can be used safely for personal cleaning as well as housecleaning. Due to its high acidity, distilled white vinegar is an excellent natural mold, bacteria and germ killer. It’s a good deodorizer, and one of the safest and cheapest cleaning ingredients to have around. In addition to their pleasant scents, many essential oils have anti-fungal, anti-bacterial or grease-cutting properties. Combine tea tree or lavender with a citrus oil (lemon, lime or grapefruit), and you’ll have all the bases covered.
While these ingredients and the cleaners they produce are safer than many of their commercial counterparts, they should definitely be kept out of reach of children. In particular, some essential oils are poisonous if taken internally. And no matter how natural a product, from an environmental perspective less is always better. Many cleaning jobs can be accomplished with a rag and warm water.
For more natural cleaning solutions, visit web link and search for Green Cleaning Recipes.
Happy spring cleaning!
Rachel Dunstan Muller is the mother of five, and a children’s author. Her previous articles can be found online at web link.
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Island Parent Magazine
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