May 17, 2007

Clean Green

When I was a little girl, we had a kitchen towel that hung from our oven door handle. It had a cat embroidered on it that was outfitted in a head bandana and an apron and in her hand was a broom. Underneath were the carefully embroidered words, “I love to clean!” My mother told me that my grandmother had made it for her. It was ironic, because with five children, the last thing my mother loved to do was clean.

Actually I love to clean. At a very young age I developed a total aversion to cooking but would beg my parents to let me clean the kitchen. I would stand on a footstool and wash dishes. My partner laughs about that now since I do not really enjoy doing dishes anymore, but I still love other cleaning. There are few things more completely satisfying than a perfectly clean abode.

Yet when you look closely at the label of your cleaning products, the last thing you feel is clean. Check the back of your cleaning products at home and you will multiple warnings, such as CAUTION , EYE IRRITANT, and KEEP OUT OF REACH FROM CHILDREN. Not only are most of these products environmentally unfriendly, but also they are also toxic.

Fortunately there has been an influx of great products on the market in the last few years by companies such as Seventh Generation (now available at Target) and Ecover. Seventh Generation states that “if every household replaced just one bottle of petroleum-based all-purpose cleaner with a renewable resource based product, we could save 7,100 barrels of oil, enough to heat and cool 400 US homes for a year!” These products are non-toxic, biodegradable, vegetable-based, and contain no phosphorous, dyes, or artificial fragrances.

Unfortunately, these products are not cheap (although the price is comparable to most other cleaners). So I am including so more specific information about common household cleaners and including DIY cleaning products as alternatives to eco-friendly products in stores (adapted from Red Scare #3, 2001).

Ammonia / all-purpose cleaners
Products like Mr. Clean are very harmful to skin, eyes, and lungs and can exacerbate asthma.
Make it yourself by using liquid soap. Mix 1 tsp. liquid soap into 1 qt warm water. Add some lemon juice or vinegar to cut the grease. This solution will be great for almost all your household cleaning needs.

Glass cleaners
Cleaners like Windex contain irritating fumes that are a major eye irritant.
Make it yourself by using 50/50 water & vinegar. Put in a recycled spray bottle and wipe off with newspaper (doesn’t leave annoying rag or paper towel ‘fuzz’ on glass). Note: Regular glass cleaners leave a residue on the glass, so you may notice some streaking the first time you use the 50/50 cleaner. This should disappear after the 2nd cleaning.

Furniture & floor polish
Polishes like Mop & Glo contain carcinogenic phenols (yikes!) and highly toxic nitrobenzene. Exposure during use & residual fumes are both dangerous.
Make it yourself by using vegetable or olive oil. Apply oil sparingly with a soft rag. Add some lemon juice or other aromatic oils from a heath food store and you’ll get the nice smell. You can use almost any oil to polish and condition wood, including olive or vegetable oil. Polish when dry with a chamois cloth.

Rug, carpet & upholstery cleaner
These products usually contain dangerous solvents that can do both short- and long- term damage to the central nervous system.
Make it yourself by using baking soda. To deodorize your carpet, use a large box and sprinkle liberally on your carpet, wait 15 minutes, and then vacuum it up. A great spot remover is a solution of ¼ cup borax dissolved in 2 cups cold water, undiluted vinegar or lemon juice.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Here is a favorite recipe of some sew green girls:

Use Less Stuff All-Purpose Cleaner
Source: "Better Basics for the Home"
by Anne Berthold-Bond (Three Rivers Press, 1999)

• 1 tsp baking soda (or Epsom salts)
• 2 tsp borax
• 1/2 tsp liquid soap
• 2 cups hot water
• several drops antiseptic essential oil (lavender is a favorite, others include sweet orange, lemongrass, rose, clove, eucalyptus, cinnamon, rosemary, birch, lavender or tea tree -- all are natural antiseptic oils).

Combine the baking soda, borax, soap and essential oil in a spray bottle. Pour in the hot water, mixing well to dissolve the minerals, screw on the lid tightly and shake well. Label the bottle clearly, and as with all cleaning products (even the ones you make yourself), keep out of reach of children.

Note: Borax is available in the laundry aisle of most supermarkets. For liquid soap, use something mild like Castille soap, Ivory or Ecover. If you use a concentrated product like Sal Suds, use less than called for in the recipe.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I often use a swiffer to clean up annoying cat hair, but I hate throwing those covers away. Now there is a creative alternative to disposable dry cloths. Try knitting a reusable knitted swiffer cover. It's so clever and it really works!

We aren’t the only ones concerned with household cleaners --- Find out how to green your school cleaning regime here. There is also a campaign to get Disney to go green! Check out the campaign website here.

Now you can start cleaning green!


Sarah said...

Thanks for the cleaner tips - though I expect I'm not alone in that it'll take me rather a While to get through the last of my conventionals. Here's a tip re: the Swiffer covers...I just use those white terry handtowels. Fold them in half lengthwise, and rubberband (I use the same thread-covered bands I use in my hair) them on. They do a great job, and after washing and a bleach in the sun, are back to being multitaskers.

Jodie said...

Thanks for the cleaning tips! Do you have any tips for bathroom cleaners? Tub, tile, and toilet cleaners?

We use an all purpose cleaner that is water, vinegar, and essential oils (rosmary, lavender and lemon). Smells great, and works well too!

tracy said...

fantastic post - thanks! i am also a fan of the recipes in Clean House, Clean Planet (Karen Logan). my eldest (5) loves to clean - and i try and make sure that what she has in hand is safe (vinegar and h2o and the broom are her current faves.) along the lines of the disney greening, there is info available on how to green your school cleaning regime - a great idea! - more info at

Anonymous said...

i wouldn't consider mineral oil eco-friendly--it's a petroleum based product & can be toxic.

the BEST thing to clean a tub, tile, etc... is baking soda & a little soap (a non-petroleum based liquid soap--sal suds or even just dish soap)...and an old vegetable brush is a great way to scrub the tub. if it's stained, lemon juice (or peroxide) and baking soda will bleach about anything...and smell lovely at the same time!

i use baking soda, mild soap (non-petroleum based), vinegar and essential oils to clean my house...and that's pretty much it.

i long ago gave up the conventional cleansers because i couldn't handle the smell or the fact that you had to wear gloves and ventilate the bathroom just to clean the toilet! the advertisers have done a good job of convincing people they need 40 different toxic smelling cleansers to feel like they live in a "clean" home.

bugheart said...

thanks for
the swiffer tip.

jody -
i will look for some,
but check out
suggestion above.

tracy- thanks, i added
your link
good point,
i changed it
to vegetable or olive oil.

xo, bugheart

Worsted_knitt said...

This is a great post! I especially like Jodie's idea of adding some aromatic oil to the mixture; I love all good-smelling.

meg said...

awesome post!
excited to try all of these ideas.
thanks so much!

nikkishell said...

Great stuff! I mix water, vinegar and tea tree oil in a spray bottle and use that for general cleaning. I've also been dissolving washing soda in the sink to clean down the kitchen surfaces. I think mixing a little of my laundry soap with water in a spray bottle may work well for more stubborn areas such as the bathroom and kitchen. I did buy one of those cleaning gloves last week though and that seems to do a great job with the bathroom. I clean the shower whilst in it!

Hayley said...

I used to mix & make cleaners until I got lazy and decided it is much easier just to pour on vinegar straight from the 2 gallon jug. It works great on anything. :) I have friends who complain about the smell, but I have been using it so long that the smell of vinegar just smells clean.


jerusha said...

i love better basics for the home!! that book led to many experiments over the years :) i still like vinegar and baking soda, i love how they work so well for so many things - and so simple!

but that ecover dish soap with chamomile and marigold smells sooo light and pretty... sometimes i splurge and use that - i swear it makes me happy doing the dishes.

and i would love to use more essential oils in my homemade cleaning stuff but with two cats that's a very bad idea.

p.s. i like your polaroid too :)

Deb G said...

It always makes me smile to mix vinegar and baking soda together. I use it to clean the drains. Also, I never realized how much soap residue was left behind until I started using baking soda to clean my sink and tub. It really works great. Thanks for all the ideas.

lisa s said...

can we make a pdf of your label so we can all have it on our bottles? :)

fantastic post miss bug

amisha said...

love the bottle labels :)
thanks for this fantastic + informative post. since we have started using greywater on the garden i have become more and more aware of our cleaning products (don't want toxic cleaners on the basil...) and looking for alternatives... thanks for all these wonderful sources + DIY ideas. xo

kelly said...

These are such good recipes. I diffidently am a green clean freak so new ideas/variations on old are so exciting for me. I actually stopped using method recently, kept all the cute bottles, and am using them but with my own cleaning mixes. I'll have to fill a few with these.
And as for swiffer...we don't get along. Mostly because the hospital where I work at uses them and I use tons everyday and just know they are winding up in some landfill. Ugh! I am asking management to switch to the new method mops with washable clothes or biodegradable disposable ones(since it is a hospital our laundry load is large enough already).
Yay for this blog :)

Gal Josefsberg said...

Do you have any recipes for home made and green friendly laundry detergent?

Gal Josefsberg said...

Oops, never mind, just read the next post. :)

shash said...


shari said...

this is such a great post gwen. i was just thinking about this topic yesterday. love your sew green label too. thanks! xo

Tamar said...

Thanks for this great post! I've been wanting to make the move to homemade, green cleaning products so this is enormously helpful. I actually tried the expensive store-bought eco cleaners but found them totally ineffective, especially the laundry detergent - it was like washing clothes in plain water. (Anyone else have this experience?)

Also, since everyone here is so knowledgeable, I wondered if anyone there ANY alternative to vinegar? I hate the smell so much it makes me gag.

Thanks again!

cally said...

I always clean green but never with such beautiful decorated containers, it's gorgeous!!!

I haven't been 'here' for ages, even to read, but I am trying to get back on the wagon. What a lovely image to see on my first day back. And a fab post.

jessica said...

thank you so much for your wonderful research work. i love using the seventh day generation products. i also use lemon essential oil and clove oil.

Brown Berry said...

What a fantastic list. I've got everything but the Borax :)

sew nancy said...

thanks for the tips. really. i'm going to try some of these out. i also love the label

Purl Girl said...

Thanks so much for this...I love the swiffer, I use rags with it but they are not the greatest. I am going to have to knit this up. Thanks!!

mrspilkington said...

thank you for the post (and comments) -- i'm inspired!

sk8ordiehard said...

Similar to one of the first commenters, I use cotton wash cloths with my Swiffer. I love the flexibility and shape of the Swiffer itself but hate the idea of creating a product without interchangeable parts. . . and proliferating "disposable" culture. Wash cloths are the perfect size and don't really add to my laundry load.

Lisa said...

Just chiming in to say that I've been cleaning with a vinegar/water/lemon solution for a long time but read this post the day that I needed to make a new batch so I tried your "Use Less Stuff All-Purpose Cleaner" recipe. I have to say that it works much better! Especially in the bathroom. Thanks, I'll be using this from now on.

trinashere said...

Thanks for the link!

Sarah said...

question from a newbie: where can I get essential oils? whole foods? thanks!

Anonymous said...

I generally use just the basics - vinegar, baking soda, lemon oil. I have recipes for mixing these up for various cleaners on my website,

Anonymous said...

I'm doing a science projec ton whether cleaning (chemicalized) products can clean better than natural substances. I know natural substances are healthier, but can they truthfully (as a question) can they clean better than stor bought ones? Wouldn't the Chemical products include them and sell them, if they could?- thnks.

Anonymous said...

the answer is simple: they want your money. They don't care about the earth at all. It has to start with US or it will not get done. And yes, these worked for years before chemicals came along & we were told they were better & so used them. WHY do you believe what you do? REPROGRAM yourself. Just like organic has been proven to be far better & taste much better than "cloned" or "improved"; many countries including England all say go back to organic & crop rotation & farm/garden/raise livestock LOCALLY. Far better for you & better for the earth & tastes far better to! By the way; try microfiber cloths: can be found on HSN: designed to clean thouroughly with ONLY WATER: and yes, they are fantastic! And clean far better then with chemicals!

leslie said...

About the swiffer cover? I use old cloth diapers sewn to fit. I use elastic or velcro on one side. It works well when mopping floors.

Anonymous said...

Great website! Thanks for all the great ideas!

I'm new to this, but won't vegetable oil or olive oil used as furniture polish turn rancid? What about using linseed oil - I heard someone mention using it to rub on the handles of garden tools.

Anonymous said...





Anonymous said...


guinegag said...

We can use green cleaning products everywhere in house as best cleaners. These are highly effective whether it is of glass cleaning, furniture and floor washing. It is also helpful to avoid asthma like health problems.