Keeping it clean (and green)

If you want to lead a more “green” lifestyle, one of the easiest places to start is the cabinet where you keep cleaning supplies.

Though it may seem counter-intuitive, many household cleaners contain highly toxic substances. Examples include formaldehyde, which can be found in furniture polish and is considered a carcinogen by the World Health Organization; diethylene glycol, a poison that causes kidney failure and is found in window cleaners; and perchloroethylene, a carcinogen and central nervous system depressant found in carpet and upholstery cleaners.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that there’s a host of alternatives available that are not only environmentally friendly, but also much easier on your wallet. Some of them — such as vinegar, baking soda, cornstarch and lemon juice — are probably already be in your pantry. And they were being used to effectively clean the house long before the advent of ready-made chemical products.

Let’s start with window cleaner. A mixture of vinegar and vegetable-based liquid soap does the trick well. The folks at suggest this recipe: combine 2 cups of water, 1/4 cup of white distilled vinegar, and up to 1/2 teaspoon of liquid soap or detergent in a spray bottle. The soap, ironically enough, is needed to cut through any residue left behind by previous chemical window cleaners. After using this mixture a few times, you should be able to switch to straight five percent vinegar.

To polish furniture, mix a cup of mineral oil with three drops of lemon (or orange) extract (not juice). To remove excess polish, sprinkle with cornstarch and buff with a soft rag.  And while we’re on the subject of cornstarch, it can also be used to clean carpets and rugs: sprinkle it, then let it sit for 30 minutes before vacuuming. It will draw out odors and dirt like a charm.

For stains, white vinegar or lemon juice work to get out many substances ( has a comprehensive list of natural stain removers for different applications).

Ready to clean the bathroom? Make a paste of baking soda — three parts baking soda,  one part water (or liquid soap) — to scrub toilets, tubs and sinks. Spraying them down with an undiluted solution of five percent white vinegar (which is how it’s usually sold) will significantly reduce the amount of bacteria, mold and germs. Although it’s useful as an antimicrobial agent — tests requested by CBS’ 48 Hours have found it to be 99.9 percent effective against bacteria — keep in mind that it’s not recognized by the EPA as a disinfectant.

Vinegar can also be used as a general cleaner around the house; it’s a good  for countertops, tables, and other surfaces.  Never use it on marble, however, and make sure to dilute it before using it on grout, as it can eat away at the sealer.

Baking soda is another essential ‘green’ house cleaner. A small bowl of it will reduce odors in the pantry, refrigerator and freezer, and it can be used to deodorize trash cans. A mix of baking soda and water will also remove odors from food containers if it’s allowed to soak overnight. Much like cornstarch, it can also be used to get your carpets smelling fresher.

Just remember to properly dispose of any chemical cleaners you won’t be using anymore.  Never flush them down the drain, where they’ll end up polluting the water.

To find out more about chemicals in the household, check out a page from the National Institutes of Health. For more about green cleaning, visit this page from the EPA. 

Do you have a green cleaning hint you want to share? Leave a comment for us below!