Green for Dummies: Cleaning Green

Cleaning products are everywhere in our homes and offices: on dishes, countertops, furniture, clothes, floors, windows, and floating through the air. In our war on dirt and germs we may often actually be making things worse. Most of the conventional cleaning products we all grew up with are petroleum-based and have dubious health and environmental implications. Instead of opting for cleaning products that annihilate everything in their path, there are plenty of natural products and methods that keep a house clean and fresh-smelling without the toxic side effects. Check out this post [] for tips and ideas about specific products for cleaning green, and read on for more.

Cleaner, meaner, greener — As the health and environmental impacts of conventional cleaning products become more thoroughly understood, more and more brands of healthy, green, and effective cleaning products have started hitting the market and competing for that coveted place of honor under your sink. Many of these products are non-toxic, biodegradable, and made from renewable resources (not petroleum). But if designer labels aren’t for you, home-mixed cleaners can get the job done and then some. Vinegar and baking soda can be used to clean almost anything. Mix in a little warm water with either of these and you’ve got yourself an all-purpose cleaner.

A little fresh air — It is not uncommon for the air inside a home or office to be up to 100 times worse than the air outside. This is because of the presence of toxic materials and substances and the fact that homes and buildings are better insulated than ever before; a good thing from an energy standpoint, for sure, but not so hot when you’re breathing toxins all day. Keeping windows open as often as possible allows fresh air in and keeps toxins flowing out.

Supergerms: superbad — The antibacterial and antimicrobial “cleaners” that many people think are necessary, especially during cold season, don’t clean hands better than soap and water, and also add to the risk of breeding “super germs,” or bacteria that survive the chemical onslaught, develop resistance to the cleaners and have resistant offspring. The FDA has found that antibacterial soaps and hand cleansers do not work better than regular soap and water, and should be avoided.

Soda is so fine — Sodium bicarbonate, known by most of us as baking soda, not only helps removes those strange smells coming from your fridge (and makes a great all-purpose cleaner, as we mentioned above), it’s also a great odor-eliminator for your carpet. Just sprinkle on a little baking soda to soak up some of those odors and then vacuum it up.

Clean peace — Skip the flowery, synthetic store-bought air fresheners and instead try boiling cinnamon, cloves, or any other herbs you have a fondness for. Fresh chocolate chip cookies also have been known to create a friendly aroma. Also, plants may not make your house smell different but are good for filtering interior air — pretty much any broad green leaf plant will do the job; Peace Lilies are a favorite choice.

Toxic toss — When replacing your cleaning products, don’t just throw the old ones in the trash. If they’re too toxic for your home, they won’t be good for the drain or the landfill either. Many communities hold toxics & electronics recycling days and will take all of these off your hands. Throwing chemicals in the trash or down the drain means they might end up back in your water supply and come back to haunt you; check out Earth911 [] for more info.

Service with a smile — If all of this sounds good, but you can barely find the time to keep yourself bathed and fed, you’re in luck. There are an increasing number of green cleaning services out there to help get things spic and span. If you can’t find one in your area (or their rates are outlandish), call around until you find a service willing to use the products and methods you specify; in New York City, for example, ZENhome [] will help you clean up your act, and they’ll even leave organic chocolates on your pillow.

Leave toxins at the door — Imagine what’s on your shoes at the end of the day. Bringing that oil, antifreeze, animal waste, particulate pollution, pollen, and who knows what else into the house is not good news, especially for kids and other critters that spend time on floor level. Keep the sidewalk out of your home with a good doormat or a shoeless house policy. Many green buildings now include entryway track-off systems as a means of maintaining a healthy interior environment. Less dirt also means less sweeping, mopping, and vacuuming, which means less work, water, energy, and fewer chemicals to start with.

Design with green in mind — Designing houses and other building with cleanability in mind can create spaces that are cleaner, healthier, and require fewer substances to maintain. For example, when remodeling your kitchen, avoid creating any funky nooks and crannies that are hard to get to, so they’ll be easy to clean; in new construction, consider placing windows to create good cross-drafts, especially in high-traffic, typically high-toxin rooms like the kitchen. In larger buildings, good cleanability can also be a big money-saver as cleaning costs can often add up to as much as half of a building’s total energy costs.