A friend recently asked me what products I use to clean with. She assumed, correctly, that I don't use chemical-based cleansers (see my previous post on What's So Bad About Household Cleasers? to understand why). Instead, I fill spray bottles (purchased at the dollar store) with white vinegar and use them for just about everything. But thinking that wasn't a terrifically detailed answer, I went to eco-expert and eco-advocate Lisa Borden of Borden Communications in Toronto for the full answer. And let me tell you: she is one helluva persuasive person. Lisa knows her business – Marketing and Communications – and she pursues and promotes green living with the tenacity of a mother grizzly protecting her cubs. I went to talk to her about safe household cleansers and left with an arsenal of ideas for my home.
The best part of making your own household cleansers? It is absolutely harmless to you, your children and the planet, and it is astonishingly inexpensive. The best part of my conversation with Lisa Borden? She makes it sound so easy. And you know what? It is.
When I asked Lisa what she cleans her house with I expected her to suggest a brand of “green” cleanser, seeing as there's so many of them out there now. But Borden tells me hot water and soap does a great job. That didn't seem, well, complicated enough, so I pressed on.
HP: What about floors?
LB: Hot water and soap.
HP: What about your oven?
LB: Hot water and soap.
HP: Okay. But what about tiles?
LB: Hot water and soap and then you take a cloth and dry the tub or the tiles. Bacteria won’t grow on a dry surface. It's simple – keep your surfaces dry and bacteria won’t grow.
Borden also tells me that dirt and bacteria actually clings to the chemical residue left behind and that the claims made by cleansers to kill 99.9% of bacteria requires strict adherence to the directions on the bottle which often require steps that most of us don't take — like letting it sit for 10 minutes or applying the product twice. She also warns against companies who claim to be eco-friendly, but are anything but.
Borden uses hot water and soap, I use vinegar in a spray bottle. But if you want to get fancy, Green Peace has some suggestions for homemade cleaning supplies.
Alternatively, Borden introduced me to a great little company, Full Circle, that has all the gear to green your clean. I purchased the Natural Cleaning Set product and it comes with three different spray bottles for different rooms in the house and a booklet with all the recipes you need to clean everything from your oven to your silver to your pet's bedding. Fear not, the change is painless. In fact, most of the recipes I looked at require ingredients that are probably already in your home.
Another trick to the green cleaning trade are microfiber cloths. Borden recommends the company E-Cloth (and she's tried them all). E-Cloth has cloths to do specific jobs, one for glass, one for stainless steel, cloths for the kitchen, cloths for the bathroom… you get the picture. I purchased several and I am a convert. Microfiber cloths actually absorbs, lifts and traps dirt and bacteria while your regular rags merely push the dirt around.
Here’s are a few examples of what I’m using now courtesy of the Full Circle recipe book to keep your kitchen clean.
Kitchen Degreasing Surface Spray
Great for the stove top and refrigerator (the vinegar shines and deodorizes and the soap helps cut the grease).
1 part vinegar
2 parts water
1 tablespoon of Castile soap
Juice of half a lemon for scent
*Castile soap is made from 100% vegetable oil. Make sure you purchase non-petroleum, pure castile soap. Most grocery stores carry it.
Soap and water will kill almost all germs on your hands (use salt and lemon juice for scrubbing a cutting board). But to thoroughly disinfect surfaces, especially after cutting raw meat, you may prefer something stronger. Hydrogen peroxide (the 3% solution you find at the drug store) is a great disinfectant. And if you want to go further, spray the surface with hydrogen peroxide, don’t rinse, and follow it up with straight vinegar. This will virtually eliminate all salmonella and E Coli bacteria.
Kitchen Floor Cleaner
I have a wood floor, so I put half a cup of white vinegar in a bucket of hot water. This also works for tile and linoleum.
One final tip from Borden for keeping your home clean and toxin free: leave your shoes at the front door. The soles of your shoes are covered in lead, BPA, E– coli, pesticides and other nasty bits (think public bathroom floors and gas stations). If you leave the shoes at the door you are reducing the amount of lead and BPA in your home by 70%. How easy is that?