Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Clean Green House

It seems virtually impossible these days to avoid reading about the multitude of environmental catastrophes that are constantly levied against the planet.  It is just stunningly depressing, so in order to avoid great despondence, I tend to push this knowledge to the back corners of my mind, only to be retrieved during moments of intense reflection.  Besides, generally speaking, there is little that we as individuals can do to stop deforestation, improper mining practices, pollution from coal power plants and effluent pouring into water sources so it is not particularly productive to get too overwrought.

However, I find it totally impossible to ignore what I learn about household toxins...otherwise known as common items in the home that we all use on a regular basis that are, to varying degrees, toxic.  Cleaning products are the most common offenders.

So because I am utterly psychotic about very specific aspects of my health (I am not a regular exerciser nor do I shun heavy cream yet I refuse to use deodorant with aluminum because I heard once that aluminum causes Alzheimers) I have been on a quest to find some greener household product options.

My first discovery actually originated from Martha Stewart's Homekeeping Handbook, which is quite a good reference book if you are so inclined.  She recommended Dr. Bronner's castille soap as a gentle all-purpose cleaner.  

I had vague recollections of seeing these ubiquitous bottles in health food stores so I figured the product couldn't be too poisonous.  Turns out it is vegetable based, biodegradable and the ingredients are all fair trade and organic.  Can't get much better than that for environmental cred.

According to the bottle this soap has 32 uses.  That is, of course, if you count their suggestion of tooth cleaner.  I personally do not.  But I have found three excellent uses for this cleanser.  First, as a dishwashing soap (for hand washing, not the dishwasher).  I dilute it with equal  parts water (and decant into my old dish soap bottle...recyling!) and I've got an excellent sink side companion.  Second, as laundry soap for my hand washing...my sweaters and, as my mother would say, my "unmentionables".  And lastly, as an ingredient for my all-purpose spray cleaner.  Or rather, the recipe that Sophie Uliano suggests in her book Gorgeously Green:  8 Simple Steps to an Earth-Friendly Life:  

2 cups water
1/2 cup white vinegar
1 teaspoon castille soap (I up this to 2 teaspoons)
3/4 cup hydrogen peroxide
20 drops of tea tree oil
20 drops of lavender or lemongrass oil

Just a suggestion: I would not ignore the essential oils.  This stuff smells a bit...strong, shall we say, if you omit them.

This is great for kitchen counters, bathroom sinks, shower tiles and toilets (excluding the bowl, obviously), and it is considerably cheaper than Fantastic, 409 or other similar unnecessarily specific cleaning products.  Especially if you go for the 99 cent spray bottles at Home Depot.  

Related to this, instead of Windex, buy yourself a second spray bottle and fill it with half water and half white vinegar.  Just as good, about 80% cheaper and totally non-toxic.

Back to Dr. Bronner's.  My personal preference is for the almond soap, but if you are going for the tooth brushing thing, knock yourself out with the peppermint...it is very, very minty.

My second discovery is hardly a discovery.  Apparently my grandmother uses Bon Ami Polishing Cleanser, as did her mother.

It is biodegradable, phosphate free (I'm not sure why this is good, but it sounds like a big plus), fragrance and chlorine free, and best of all, it is actually quite an effective cleanser.  I use it mostly in my bathtub, but have been known to scour my kitchen sink with it on occasion as well.

On to the toilet.  Now I'll admit that I haven't found a great toilet bowl cleaner that is green.  Ecover makes a decent one, but I need to use quite a bit of product to get the desired effect, and I do have to scrub a bit.  Ms. Uliano suggests dumping a cup or so of vinegar in the bowl and letting it sit for a while, which works for below the water but requires scrubbing above the waterline.  So bottom line, if you are willing to work a little (and it really is a minimal effort) there is no need to use traditional toilet bowl cleaners.

And lastly, detergents.  I adore Ecover's laundry detergent.

Ecover is a progressive Belgian company that has been producing green products since 1980.  This detergent smells amazing...like lavender and some other unidentifiable herb.  Only a small amount of product is required to clean a huge load of clothes, it is easy on your garments, and you don't have to worry about toxins clinging to your clothes or washing down the drain into our water supply.

Same goes for their dishwashing tablets.

Now admittedly these last two items have less to do with not wanting to poison myself and more to do either with my yuppie tendency to buy nice smelling European products or my desire to minimize my own contribution to pollution.  I am going to go with the latter.  We all could stand to contribute to some sort of a solution to our looming environmental problems, don't you think?  

Tomorrow:  Green Facial Products


Terry B said...

Do you ever, like, come over and clean other people's places? Just asking. We keep Bon Ami on hand for cleaning non-nonstick pans when they get really gunked up. Also great for the sink, as you point out. And I love that it's been around forever.

Regarding phosphates, issues of human and animal health are fuzzy. But in the fresh water supply, they promote growth of algae and can actually create dead zones in lakes, choking out the oxygen. How's that for a cheery note?

Laura [What I Like] said...

I do that was well for sticky pans! Great minds I guess.

wambalus said...

I've never liked the Ecover toilet cleaner - it doesn't seem like it actually freshens that well. I like this stuff called Bio D - if you ever see it in the store snap it up.

Also, Terry .... I've been known to clean other people's houses when I go over, no joke. I think I got the 'Monica' gene in the family.

Laura [What I Like] said...

She really does...

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