Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Going Green: Household Cleaning

I, like many people, grew up using commercial cleaning products around the house. When I was small a good family friend babysat my sister and me. She also cleaned houses on the side; I distinctly remember one house that had a sunken living room and a 3 legged dog. My other most distinct memory of accompanying her to cleaning jobs was the smell of ammonia. I still can't handle it.

When I started turning into a "hippie", as B is fond of calling me, the more I read, the more I educated myself, the more I figured out the impact of even one person and small actions the more conscientious I became of the the ramifications of my choices. Plus I loath the smell of chemical cleaners. I mean, I don't enjoy cleaning the bathroom (really, who does?) but it is so much worse when I feel I'm being gassed out by the products I'm using to "clean". 

So I started exploring my options for cleaning. Initially I simply switched to green options, products made by Seventh Generation, Ecover, and Method. If everyone did nothing but switch to truly green cleaning products (produced by companies committed to environmental stewardship as opposed to green washed products by companies like Johnson & Johnson) that would make such a huge difference in our personal health, air quality, and water quality. 

But you need not stop there. You can make your own. It is even easier on the environment (because you buy the ingredients in larger packaging and reuse the containers in which your cleansers are kept) and your wallet (because most of the ingredients are super cheap and last quite a while).

I started by getting the book Green Clean: The Environmentally Sound Guide to Cleaning Your Home by Lisa Mason Hunter and Mikki Halpin. The book is water resistant, which is nice since you will have it open around liquids when you are mixing up your concoctions. I haven't tried every "recipe" yet, but one of the first I tried was an all purpose spray that is now my go-to all purpose cleaner; the book was worth the money just for that recipe alone. I love it - it is super effective, cheap, and smells nice (because I pick the scent!). You can see all the ingredients in the picture above (plus water). It only uses a tablespoon or so of each and a few drops of essential oil so you can imagine how many bottles I get out of about $15 worth of ingredients (including the essential oils). I like a mix of lavender and tea tree oils, which are both very inexpensive, widely available, and have antibacterial properties.

My most frequently used cleaning supplies these days: baking soda and vinegar. I buy them in the bulk sizes at Costco. I also use borax, castile soap, salt, oil, and various essential oils in addition to a few commercial products like automatic dishwashing tabs and laundry soap. Possibly one of the easiest tricks ever is to use slightly damp baking soda to scrub out your bath tub. I can no longer stand being around "regular" cleaning products. They hurt my lungs, they hurt my eyes, and they make me feel sick. If that is what they are doing to me imagine what they do to the sensitive systems of our pets and kids. With the success I've had with the homemade cleaners I have tried my goal now is to gradually move to as many homemade products as possible, including laundry soap.

Making your own green cleaning supplies is really simple and inexpensive. Try one this week and let me know what you think. 


Tara said...

Thank you for the book recommendation! I always try to make my own cleaning products, and I'll have to check that book out.

Jen Treehugger said...

Awesome post Lily Girl! Have you tried Soapnuts for doing your laundry? They are amazing. One day I'll get a Seed in my order and then I'll be able to grow a Soapnut tree.


Lily Girl said...

Jeni - I've heard of soapnuts before but not yet tried them. Thanks for the link, I'll check them out!

Anonymous said...

Great post! I really like the book Organic Housekeeping - sounds similar to the one you reference. I found it available at my library. I, too, like white vinegar and baking soda as staples to my cleaning products. Another thing I LOVE is murphy's oil soap. I make my mixes in bottles like you show. I got bottles at the $1 store. From your post, it sounds like I should experiment with lavender and tea tree oils. I have been thinking about homemade laundry soap and dishwashing detergent. Would love to know what you decide there.