After being cooped up in a stuffy house all winter long, it’s finally time to fling open the windows, shoo away the cobwebs, and take on your annual spring cleaning.
But often, the chemicals found in conventional cleaning products can be more dangerous than the dirt they’re intended to clean. Plus, the way we clean (with lots of disposable paper towels) isn’t exactly earth-friendly. Thankfully, there are many alternatives available that can help you make your home squeaky clean—and green.
Green cleaning products
The last thing you want to do is dump toxic chemicals into the environment in the name of cleaning, right? These days, you don’t have to make a special trip to the natural foods store to seek out environmentally-sensitive cleaning products. Seventh Generation, Method and Biokleen are three companies that make full lines of household cleaners, and you can find them in just about every store. These products work just as well as their conventional counterparts. Or you can stock your natural cleaning kit with homemade cleaners—making them yourself is super easy.
The basic supplies you’ll need to make your own green cleaners include:
- Distilled white vinegar (sold in the cooking section of most supermarkets)
- Baking soda
- Olive oil
- Borax (sold in a box in the laundry aisle)
- Liquid castile soap (like Dr. Bronner's brand, found in most natural foods stores)
- Essential oils (super concentrated natural plant oils found in natural foods stores, usually in the cosmetics section)
- Microfiber cleaning cloths
Here are a few basic “recipes” and techniques to get you started:
- Glass: Mix 1/4 cup vinegar with 1 quart of water in a spray bottle. Spray on glass and wipe clean with old newspaper or a lint-free cloth.
- Countertops and bathroom tile: Mix 2 parts vinegar and 1 part baking soda with 4 parts water. Apply with a sponge, scour, and wipe away.
- Floors: Mix 4 cups of white distilled vinegar with about a gallon of hot water. If desired, add a few drops of pure peppermint or lemon oil for a pleasant scent. After damp mopping the floors, the smell of vinegar will dissipate quickly, leaving behind only the scent of the oil.
- Wood furniture: Mix equal parts of lemon juice and olive and oil. Apply a small amount to a cloth, and rub onto the furniture in long, even strokes.
- Toilet bowl cleaner: Sprinkle a toilet brush with baking soda and scrub away! Occasionally disinfect your toilet by scrubbing with borax instead. Wipe the outside of the toilet clean with straight vinegar.
- Disinfectant: Mix 2 teaspoons borax, 4 tablespoons vinegar, 3 cups hot water, and 1/4 teaspoon liquid castile soap. Wipe on with dampened cloth or use a spray bottle. Wipe clean.
- Mold and mildew: Wipe with straight vinegar.
- Air freshener: Sprinkle essential oil on a cotton ball, and stash it in a corner of the room. If you have kids, make sure it is out of their reach as essential oils are very strong and could irritate their skin. Lavender is a relaxing scent that is great for bedrooms, and cinnamon, clove, and citrus oils are great for the rest of the house. You can stash a few in the car too—try peppermint, which may help you to stay alert.
And while you’re at it, consider these 6 additional ways to green up while you clean up:
1. Hang dry your laundry. Drying your clothes in an electric or gas dryer isn’t just hard on your clothes; it’s also hard on the environment. Don’t stop with natural laundry detergent. Stay green every step of the way and install a clothesline in your backyard. If space (or aesthetics) is an issue, look for a “retractable clothesline” like this one from Gaiam, which takes up virtually no space when not in use. Weather permitting, line-dry your clothes outside to reduce pollution, cut your energy bill, get more exercise , enjoy the sunshine, and extend the life of your clothes. Plus, they’ll smell like a clean breeze, not a fake “clean breeze scent.”
2. Add a little greenery. Install a living air filter—houseplants! Some of the most efficient air-cleaning houseplants include Spider plants, English ivy, rubber plants, and peace lilies. You’ll need 15 to 18 medium-sized (6 to 8-inch diameter container) houseplants for the average 1,800 square foot house. If that sounds like a lot, place a few plants in the room where you spend the most time.
3. De-clutter your wardrobe. Donate gently worn items to charity, where they’ll get a second life, and donate torn and stained items (if they’re made of an absorbent fabric) to your rag collection, where they’ll replace wasteful paper towels. And as you’re packing up your winter sweaters, replace those stinky mothballs with a natural and better-smelling version: Stuff a lonely unpaired sock with cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, and whole cloves and tie it at the end.
4. Paint your walls green. If spring cleaning at your house involves a fresh coat of paint, consider the VOC content of the paint when choosing your paint. VOC's, or Volatile Organic Compounds, are chemicals that form vapors at room temperature. Some VOC’s, like the ones in many paints, contribute to smog and indoor air pollution, and can cause a host of short- and long-term health problems. The good news is that many paint manufacturers have started making low- or no-VOC paints. The bad news is that many of those manufacturers have simply substituted VOC's with other non-VOC-yet-still-toxic chemicals. For truly eco-conscious safe paint, check out these products: Eco-Spec, by Benjamin Moore; Clarity, by Dutch Boy; Enviro-Pure, by MAB Paint; American Pride Paint; and BioShield Milk Paint.
5. Swap out your Swiffer. Instead of continually buying expensive single-use mop pads, invest in a reusable mop. Casabella is one brand that’s widely available in health food stores and general stores. Their mop heads can be washed in your washing machine, hung dry, and used again and again—well worth their moderate price tag.
6. Ditch the paper towels. Save trees, cash and landfill waste. You can buy specially-made, washable cleaning and dusting cloths (in all types of fabrics from cotton to microfiber). But better yet? Use what you already have and give an old piece of cloth (stained towels, ratty sheets and pillowcases, too-small T-shirts, etc.) a new life. Simply cut or tear your old item into smaller squares (if you want to get fancy, finish the edges with a sewing machine), and voila! Pop them in the washing machine with your laundry to clean , and use them again and again.
Cleaning up your home for spring doesn’t have to be dirty work. When you implement some of these ideas and products, you can rest assured that you’re benefiting your body, your home and the planet all at once. Many of these changes are small ones, but their impact on your health and the environment can really add up over time. Happy spring cleaning!