Saturday, December 29, 2007

how to clean the outside of a refrigerator

Do you want to clean green?
I got a digital camera for Christmas, and have been going nuts creating photo essays on Facebook with it ever since. I'm including the written instructions below for cleaning the outside of a fridge, but to see the entire photo album (I recommend it), click here. (You don't need to be a Facebook member to view the album.)*

I like stuff on my fridge - even though I'm a professional organizer, and I always tell clients who are staging their homes for resale that an uncluttered fridge is more appealing to buyers. In my defense, sometimes I just don't remember to do things unless I stick them to my fridge. And I have a niece and nephew whom I love (and who make lots of drawings for me)... and I wanted to display all my Christmas cards this year...

It was the Christmas cards that inspired me to clean my fridge. I wanted to take them down, and I figured while I was at it, I might as well do the whole thing.

The first step is to take everything OFF the fridge - including things on top (in my case, a wooden dish rack and a basket of brushes and scrubbies for dishwashing). While you're at it, organize what you've taken off so that you can put things away immediately.

These are the supplies you'll need to clean the outside of the fridge:

-baking soda (in a shaker can)
-vinegar (in a spray bottle)
-TSP (trisodium phosphate, which you can buy in crystal form at hardware or paint stores)

You may also want a bucket of warm water or a spray bottle of water, and you'll need some clean rags and possibly some brushes or toothbrushes for the nooks and crannies.

Start at the top of the fridge, wiping down all the outer surfaces. If there's a lot of dust on top, wipe it off with a dry rag first to get the worst of the dust, and then wipe again with a damp rag.

If there's a lot of greasy grime up there, mix up a TSP solution according to the directions on the carton. TSP is fantastic for greasy grime - it will wipe right off.

NOTE: When using TSP, be sure to wear gloves. It is a mild skin irritant, especially at high concentrations. And don't breathe in the dust from the crystals.

(The reason I use TSP is that it does a better job than most conventional cleaners like Fantasic and Mr. Clean, without the nasty scents and fumes.)

If there are scuff marks on the fridge, they should come off with a scrubbing of baking soda. Spray well with vinegar afterwards, to remove any powdery residue.

NOTE: If you use vinegar and you're going to put photographs or important papers back on the fridge after cleaning it, be sure to rinse well with plain water after using the vinegar, so that you don't get acid damage on the photos or papers.

The fridge handles will likely be grimy - especially if they are textured like mine. A TSP solution will again easily clean up any greasy grime. (This is where a toothbrush might also come in handy.)

If you have chrome handles (or a stainless steel fridge), TSP can clean off most of the greasy fingerprints or smudges. Just spray well with vinegar afterwards, and wipe dry with a clean rag to make the chrome or steel shine.

I decided not to clutter up my fridge with photos, papers and cards after cleaning it. Who knows how long that will last, though...

*Instructions for viewing the album on Facebook: Click on the first photograph to read the description of that photo. To proceed to the next photo in the series, simply click on the current photo, or click on "Next" in top right corner of the page.

Monday, December 17, 2007


Do you want to clean green?
When I had my cleaning business and strangers asked me what I did for a living, I liked to joke that I spent my day I scrubbing toilets. (Which, of course, I did.) For some people, this is the most dreaded cleaning job, but strangely enough, toilets are (generally) one of my favorite things to clean. Porcelain looks so nice when it sparkles.

What's the problem?
With toilets, the biggest cleaning challenges are: drips on the rim, down the outside of the bowl, and all over the floor from careless male users; spatters on the inside of the bowl; build-up below the water line from "letting it mellow" (which can occasionally lead to very severe gunk + lime scale); mold growth on the tank.

Old school:
Dump a bunch of toxic, corrosive chemicals into the bowl. Let sit, scrub and flush.

The greener way:
The toilet brush is your friend. Buy a good one - that will reach under the rim, and deep inside the "exit passage". Replace brushes as soon as they start to wear out - exposed brush wires can permanently scratch the inside of the bowl. And make sure the brush you choose has a large, stable base in which to rest when it’s not in use. That puppy will be germy, and will drip water all over your bathroom floor otherwise.

To cut down on extreme toilet maintenance, encourage all toilet users to scrub the bowl whenever they create a "mess". They know who they are, and what they’ve done. This kind of thing is SO much easier to clean up when it’s fresh, rather than after it’s been allowed to dry – at which point it will require all sorts of curse-inducing elbow-grease.

Once every week or two, give the inside of the bowl a thorough scrub. There are eco-friendly toilet bowl cleaners on the market, but I never bother with them. If you want some suds, squirt in some eco-friendly dishwashing detergent.

And don’t fret about finding a replacement for the traditional chlorine bleach toilet cleaners. I mean really – how long do you think that toilet is going to remain “germ free”? If you want to disinfect the brush between uses on the other hand, spray it well with vinegar and hydrogen peroxide (see detailed instructions in the posted item on disinfecting with vinegar and peroxide).
You can even keep the brush soaking in hydrogen peroxide when it’s not in use. It’s much preferable to soaking the brush in chlorine bleach, which is highly corrosive and could be a hazard to pets and small children. Note that continually soaking a brush will often cause rust damage to the brush, though – and you will have to replace the peroxide frequently, since it naturally loses its potency upon exposure to air and light.

To clean the rim, seat*, bowl sides and tank, liberally spray them with vinegar (or use the vinegar/peroxide disinfection technique), let sit for a few minutes, and wipe dry with a clean, dry rag. DO NOT CROSS-CONTAMINATE SURFACES by using the rag for anything else afterwards. It goes straight to the laundry room, okay? And wash your hands immediately after cleaning any toilet.

*If you have a painted wooden seat and lid, be aware that vinegar can etch the finish. Don’t let the vinegar sit after spraying, but wipe it up immediately with a dry rag.

Preventive maintenance:
Flush after every use. If you're worried about water consumption, replace your old toilet with a newer, low-flow or dual-flush one. "Letting it mellow" - even just overnight - causes the worst build-up of unspeakable gunk below the water level.

I’ve read that slipping a 1000mg tablet of vitamin C (or a package of citrus drink crystals) into the bowl and letting it sit for several hours will help prevent lime scale build-up. It’s the ascorbic acid that does it. Don’t pee into the acidic water, though – a toxic vapour may result.

Special circumstances:
Some toilets will develop rust stains starting underneath the rim at the water holes, and spreading down the inside of the bowl. Alternatively, you can put off cleaning a toilet so long that a thick, gross-looking lime scale develops, usually creeping up from the outflow hole. Both can be treated by a (toxic and corrosive) commercial-grade calcium, lime and rust remover. I have yet to find an eco-friendly alternative to these extreme problems.

Another challenge in some bathrooms is a pervasive urine smell around the toilet. I don’t like to point fingers, but the blame for this always rests with men in the household who stand to pee. Urine that “misses the mark” can seep underneath the toilet, and urine spray in the air can spread to the walls and underneath the toilet tank. I’ve noticed this is a special problem in wallpapered bathrooms where the paper absorbs the urine, and the smell is almost impossible to remove.

With a damp cloth, thoroughly wipe down all surfaces surrounding the toilet, including the underside of the tank. Spray vinegar and hydrogen peroxide into the crack where the toilet meets the floor. Teach your men to sit when they pee.

Pet peeves:
I have a special aversion to tschochkes on top of toilet tanks – and homeowners who never dust this area as a result. What’s with those little dolls that hide toilet rolls under their skirts? Please. The only thing that should be on top of your toilet is a box of Kleenex (if that). Dusting problem solved…

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

lime scale in pots, kettles and coffee makers

Do you want to clean green?
This post discusses a problem I've just been dealing with as I've washed my supper dishes.

I boil a lot of water - for tea, hard-boiled eggs, pasta - and as a result my pots and kettle are often left with a white-ish residue. This residue is lime scale, or calcium. It is especially prevalent in areas with hard tap water. (Hard water is water with a high mineral content.)

What's the problem?
Lime scale looks kind of yucky, but it won't actually hurt the pots, or harm you if you cook food in the pots. However, after an extended period of time lime scale can build up, so you might want to regularly remove any calcium deposits.

Old school:
The toxic way to remove lime scale is to use a product like CLR, which creates a chemical reaction that dissolves the calcium. It works, but it's not exactly food-grade - and CLR is corrosive and gives off hazardous fumes.

The greener way:
One inexpensive liquid that you can easily find on your grocery store shelves will quickly remove all lime scale - and that ingredient is vinegar. I buy vinegar in large jugs, and use it for a number of cleaning tasks.

To remove lime scale in pots or kettles, simply fill the pot or kettle with vinegar until all the affected areas are covered. Let the pot or kettle sit for a couple of hours, and the lime scale should be dissolved.

I'm not a coffee drinker, but I've heard that you can remove lime scale from the inside of your coffee maker by running vinegar through the machine. If anybody has experience with this, please feel free to comment!

Preventive maintenance:
You can reduce lime scale by soaking your items regularly with vinegar.

Special circumstances:
I use my slow-cooker a lot - especially to cook dried beans - and I've often noticed a calcium build-up on the inside of my crock. As soon as I empty the hot crock of its cooked contents, I immediately fill the crock with hot water, a squirt of eco-friendly dish detergent, and about a cup of vinegar. I let it soak for a couple of hours (or overnight), and when I go to wash the crock, all the lime scale is gone.

The worst I've ever seen:
I once did some house-sitting for a couple who lived in a small community where the tap water was drawn from a well. I have never seen such hard water before or since. You couldn't wipe a countertop with a damp cloth without the water leaving behind a white residue when it dried. I got into the habit of carrying around a spray bottle of vinegar to prevent the deposits. The homeowners eventually purchased a water softener to deal with their hard water problem.

Monday, November 5, 2007

dr. oz on oprah: de-tox your home to turn back the clock on aging

Do you want to clean green?
Dr. Oz from the Oprah show thinks eco-friendly cleaning will increase your lifespan. I just finished watching the second part of Dr. Oz's two-part series on You: Staying Young - his new book on anti-aging, and he spent one segment talking about how improving the air-quality and toxicity in your home can add years to your age. Check out some of the details from the website, here. Apparently Dr. Oz's new book will also be featured on the Discovery Channel tonight.

I'm so excited to think that the eco-friendly cleaning message is being spread to such a large audience. Cleaning green will not only improve your quality of life - it will help save the planet for generations to come!

the best kept secret

Do you want to clean green?
I'm happy to announce that a series of my articles on eco-friendly home cleaning will be appearing on - a Toronto-based information website for women 40+ - during the month of November. The first article begins with an introduction to my story and why I use eco-friendly cleaning.

You can also sign up for their weekly newsletter, which is packed with interesting articles and stories.


Monday, October 29, 2007

cleaning up after dogs

Do you want to clean green?

I'm in heaven: House-sitting for the next four weeks. It's an amazing gig in a lovely, luxurious home. My roommates will be two dogs: a golden lab and a mixed-breed (black lab/shepherd?) bitch. I am revelling in doggie love and kisses, but there's a definite downside to the canine company: dirty floors, shedding hair and doggie smell.

The Challenge: Erasing the grubby evidence of your co-existence with animals, while making sure you don't leave any toxic residues behind.

Old School: Most people turn to commercial cleansers such as Mr. Clean or Pine Sol for hard floors, and any number of commercial carpet-cleaning sprays for the rugs. A vacuum or broom can get rid of the hair, while spray air-fresheners, plug-ins or scented candles mask the beastly odours.

So? That's just a few too many petrochemicals, allergy-inducing artificial scents, colours and neurotoxins (from the pine), nasty propellants, wasteful metal cans or plastic bottles, and nose-numbing air pollution from the air-fresheners. Not to mention too many toxic hazards for animals who spend a lot of time licking themselves after lying around on the ground. Their body weights, like children's, are much smaller than ours, and toxins can accumulate in greater concentrations inside them.

The Greener Fix: Start with prevention. Wipe their paws when they come indoors! A damp mop with vinegar and water will rinse away dirty footprints, while an eco-friendly carpet spray (I like Nature Clean's Pet Stain and Odour Remover) - or just plain vinegar and water* - will lift out most dirt stains in carpets.

The dog smell? Don't mask it - prevent it. Wash dogs often with a suitable eco-friendly pet shampoo. This cuts down on the natural body oils that harbour the bad smells and leave grime where the animals regularly lie. Wash bedding frequently. To quickly and temporarily freshen the air, use an eco-friendly room spray, natural beeswax or soy candles scented with essential oils (or just use the oils themselves in a scent diffuser), or for ongoing odour treatment try natural minerals like zeolite or baking soda.


*Update: A reader has suggested sprinkling baking soda over the damp carpet after spot-cleaning pet messes with vinegar and water. "It not only dries it faster, but pulls with it any missed dirt and best of all - smells. It works really well on rugs as you can put it on the underside too." I've never tried this, but if you do and you like it, let me know!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

loving your home

A house absorbs caretaking like a sponge, storing it up in the softness of comfortable couches and the soothing tones of a muted wallpaper, then returning that love to the original giver. All the hours spent arranging the furniture, choosing the colors, even washing the floors, turn out not to have been in vain. Everything we have given we have given to ourselves. The home upon which we have lavished so much attention is the embodiment of our own self-love.

~ Linda Weltner

I found this quote in my inbox this morning - one of my regular daily e-quotes from Debra Lynn Dadd, eco-consultant.

In the eight years that I worked as an eco-friendly home cleaner, the idea embodied in this quote was always on my mind. I treated cleaning like a meditation, and the service I was giving was not home cleaning, but home loving. A small shift in intent, perhaps - but one that made all the difference to me.

And, I'd like to think, to my clients...

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

20 things worse for your children than lead in toys

Do you want to clean green?
I saw this story mentioned in Debra Lynn Dadd's most recent newsletter, and thought it was worth posting here. The article mentions several hazardous household products, including air fresheners, dryer sheets, and fire retardants.

The mainstream media is amusingly irrational when it comes to reporting scare stories. The latest example involves the lead content of Mattel toys made in China. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued a third recall of Mattel toys involving over 700,000 toys containing unacceptably high levels of lead paint (over .06 percent lead). Irrational parents are rushing back to retailers in droves, turning in their Mattel toys to "save their children" from the dangers of lead paint. Mattel, for its part, is being rightly blasted in the media for selling shoddy products made with toxic heavy metals.

But here's the interesting part in all this: Parents directly poison their children every day with products far more dangerous than Mattel toys. Don't believe me? I'll name twenty things in this article that are far more dangerous to children than Mattel toys. It doesn't mean Mattel toys are safe, of course. They apparently do contain unacceptably high levels of lead, and there's no question about the toxicity of lead. But children don't eat toys nearly as often as they eat some other toxic substances given to them by their parents, and even as parents are herding back into retailers to refund their toxic lead-laden toys, they're returning home and poisoning their children with many other products that are far worse.

The press, of course, reports nothing about these other toxic products. And why? Because they're made in America.

Read the entire article here.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

shaker quote:

Clean your room well, for good spirits will not live where there is dirt.

I found that great Shaker saying in today's inspirational "Words of Wisdom" from Debra Lynn Dadd. It reminds me of an earlier post of mine, on the history of cleaning. Read it here.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

removing stickers

Do you want to clean green?
This post was originally published on my first blog, an organized existence.

How do you get those %*&#@! stickers - you know, like price tags and UPC codes - off of things? I just bought a new coffee pot and wooden bathtub rack from IKEA, and both had very tenacious UPC code stickers on them.

Here's my trick: A two-part strategy to foil even the stickiest goo (and this also works for things like labels on bottles and jars).

First, gently try to pull the sticker off. If the manufacturer is kind, the adhesive will have a low tack, and the whole thing may come off without any residue.

If there's still some paper left behind, either soak the item in warm, soapy water, or if the item can't be immersed, dampen a small cloth (like a dish rag or a facecloth), and put the cloth over the paper sticker for several minutes, until you can easily scrape the paper off with your fingernails.

(If the item is glass, you can also use a razor blade in a safety holder to scrape the sticker off.)

If the paper comes off without any problem but there's still some sticky stuff left behind, you can use a product like Goo Gone - but if you want an eco-friendly alternative, try using a pure citrus essential oil.

Citrus oil is the active ingredient in a lot of the newer eco-friendly cleansers, and it's a great solvent for nasty, petrochemical-based gunk (I've used it successfully on adhesives and tar, as well cooking-oil stains and oil paints).

I prefer to buy Aura Cacia essential oils because I trust that they are 100% pure and high-quality. Put a few drops of the essential oil (I like to use lemon) on the sticky areas, and gently rub with a damp cloth until the adhesive is removed. It may require several applications of essential oil if the adhesive is especially stubborn.

If the item is to be used in the kitchen, just remember that essential oils, while preferable to products like Goo Gone, are not food-grade. If you decide you want to use a solvent on items that will touch food, use your own best judgement, weigh the risks, and if you decide to go ahead and use the essential oil, do everything you can to remove all traces of it from the item afterwards.

One last caveat: Essential oils can degrade some plastics - so when in doubt, test the oil on a small, inconspicuous spot first. I once used a citrus solvent on a plastic shower door, and it ate away the surface of the plastic, leaving behind a hazy, pebbly mess.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

kitchen floors

A reader recently* e-mailed me with a question. Here's what she asked:

This will likely sound like a lame-o question but I thought I'd ask all the same:

What is the most effective method for cleaning kitchen/bathroom floors?

It seems like a simple enough endeavour (and maybe I'm just thinking it out too much) but the idea of using a mop that incrementally just pushes/sloshes ever increasingly dirty water around the floor, doesn't seem very "clean" to me.

Any tips?

Okay. First: There are no "lame-o" questions. Unless I'm asking them. I ask a lot of lame-o questions, myself. But in this case - not lame.

And yes, I have some tips. Thank you for asking. (Besides - my kitchen floor happened to need cleaning this morning - perfect opportunity to take some photos at 7:00 a.m.)

Second: You are entirely correct. Pushing around a bunch of increasingly dirty water with a mop is not exactly "clean." I remember once reading some household tips from Marlene Dietrich, and her view on floors was that the only way to truly clean a floor was by hand. I tend to concur.

(Just as an aside: MD was apparently a bit OCD about cleaning. Her daughter, Maria Riva, in her memoir of her mother, frequently mentioned MD's habit of carrying around cleaning products with her whenever she travelled, and fastidiously disinfecting every hotel bathroom attached to every room she stayed in.)

Here are my eco-friendlier tips for cleaning kitchen (and bathroom) floors.

Sweep or vacuum the floor first. This is to remove any crumbs, pet hair, dirt, food, toe jam, etc. Vacuuming was my preferred way to get junk off of floors when I cleaned for other people, but honestly I don't like the noise, myself. Plus I'm kind of going "unplugged" with my cleaning these days. Just be aware that sweeping/dry mopping often takes longer, and can be more frustrating if you have lots of pet hair flying around. Just saying.

Sometimes I wish I was a Quaker. Like, in the 19th century. They had pegs on the walls where they could hang their wooden chairs while they swept. When I'm sweeping a kitchen floor, I either move all the chairs to another room, or turn them upside down on the table, if they'll fit. While the chairs are upside down, I usually take the opportunity to remove any pet hair/dust from the felt pads I tend to put on the bottoms of all my chair legs.

My smaller cat, Guy, enjoying the jungle gym created by the upside down chairs. Also: Supervising my cleaning.

These are the things you will need to clean a kitchen or bathroom floor. (The types of surfaces that this post applies to include vinyl, tile, sealed cork and terrazzo. For wood, laminate and stone floors, some of these techniques could potentially damage the floor. Proceed at your own risk. I'll deal with those kinds of floors in another post, BTW. Sometime.)

A) A bucket. Mine is stainless steel, from Lee Valley. (Actually, it's a compost pail. But I use it as a cleaning bucket.)

B) Vinegar. Any kind of vinegar will do, although I wouldn't necessarily recommend balsamic, because that's kind of yucky. Also: Expensive. I usually buy white Heinz vinegar in 4L (4 quart) bottles, to use for cleaning. More on vinegar, below.

C) Rags. I prefer terry cloth rags, because they hold more liquid.

D) Rubber gloves. These are actually optional, but if you do a lot of cleaning, or at least a lot of cleaning ALL AT ONCE, your hands will get all chapped from being wet and dry and wet and dry. Just saying.

E) Knee pads. Because, dude - if you're going to wash a floor on your hands and knees...

My knee pads. I bought mine at a local hardware store. You can also find them at lumber or home improvement stores, I think. Being made of some kind of foam, they are not so eco-friendly. But they are waterproof, which is useful for washing floors on your hands and knees. Plus they last a long time.

Okay, here's the vinegar I use. You'll notice that it's pickling vinegar. The difference between picking vinegar and regular vinegar is that the former is a little more concentrated - 7% acetic acid vs. the 5% acetic acid in regular white vinegar. You can also buy 10% acetic vinegar in the eco-friendly cleaning supply section of major grocery stores and health food stores, but in that case you need to be VERY CAREFUL with the vinegar. Like, always wear gloves, and don't splash it on your skin. Which is a total drag. Buying 7% just means that it will last longer, because you'll need less than if you used the regular kind. That's all.

Add some vinegar (about 1/2 cup) to your bucket.

Fill the bucket about 1/4 full of hot water. I like hot water for washing floors because A) it's not quite so bone-chilling on the hands, and B) it dries faster. I do realize hot water is not so eco-friendly because of the energy taken to heat it up, okay? Enough said.

Example of what 1/4 full looks like.

The bucket of vinegar-water and some clean, dry rags, ready to wash the swept floor.

I almost didn't take pictures of the process, because A) I was actually washing my floor, and didn't want to stop and take my gloves off to use the camera, and B) I thought people could figure out how to wash a floor by hand... but then I kind of experienced some doubt about the latter, so: Immerse a clean rag in the bucket of vinegar-water, wring it out, and wipe a section of floor with the damp rag. I usually do an area about four feet wide by two or three feet deep with each "wring" of the cloth.

I should probably add: I use vinegar because it is a mild disinfectant (it's used for pickling because it kills some germs, and therefore preserves food), and it's safe enough to use with pets and children around. My cats will not leave me alone when I wash a floor. I would never dream of using anything stronger than vinegar with them around.

I like to wipe my floor dry as I go - basically because of the cats, who will just walk across a wet floor like it was nothing... and then get wet kitty paw prints all over everything else they walk on. Also: My apartment is really humid right now, and wet stuff takes a long time to dry. If you dry the floor as you go, you can walk across it almost immediately after you're done. Just use some clean, dry rags, and change the rags often as they get wet.

(Below is a snapshot of the above scene, about two seconds later - providing compelling proof that cats WILL walk on wet floors. At least, mine will.)

Repeat the dip-wring-wipe and dry steps until you've finished the entire floor. Yes, it will take a while if you have a really large floor. I've done whole houses like this, and it can also be really tiring. But I actually find it harder on my body to use a mop to wash an entire house, believe it or not.

Above is my bucket, after I've finished the floor. I should probably add that if your floor is REALLY dirty, you can change the water in the bucket part-way through the job. As many times as you want to or need to.

My floor - all clean and dry. Hard to see in this photo, but my floor is not a perfect, shining surface. I live in a building that's about 80 years old, and the floors have seen a lot of wear and tear. I NEVER use floor wax - it only attracts dirt, and adds another chore to your life. My floor may not have a glossy sheen, but it has a soft glow, and reminds me of the lives that have been lived in this place, long before I came along.

*Okay, a confession. The e-mail was received in October 2009. Yes, I realize the date on this post is June 14, 2007. I am apparently a time-travelling blogger, alright? Cool, eh?

Actually, I saved a draft for a post on kitchen floors on this date, and didn't actually publish the post until October 2009. My bad. But anyhow - it doesn't matter as far as the content is concerned, just wanted to explain why the photos were of my new apartment (with cats), and not the apartment I was living in in 2007.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

a short history of cleaning

Do you want to clean green?
This post is (almost) totally unresearched and off the top of my head. But interesting and thought-provoking. (I hope.)

How did people clean before there were modern cleaning products? How do people STILL clean in many parts of the world where they don't have access to expensive cleansers?

And why in the world do we even bother cleaning our homes and our stuff, anyhow?

I think several discoveries and trends converged in the late 1800s and early 1900s to create our modern culture of cleanliness. The discovery of pathogens like bacteria, viruses, and parasites, and the realization that sickness and disease could be prevented by improved hygiene were key developments.

The creation of a new subject of study - Home Economics - in the late 1800s as part of the American land grant university system brought applied science into the farmhouse and the domestic sphere. Eventually this new domestic science also had a profound effect on consumer culture, as women were "educated" in the values of pure products and safety standards, and encouraged to make discerning choices about the items they brought into the home, by considering such factors as quality, cost, durability, safety, and ease of use.

(Eww. Momentary flashback to all of my dreariest high school Home Ec. classes...)

At some point along the way the manufacturers of the consumer products jumped on the science bandwagon, touting the special germ-killing and deep-cleaning benefits of their products as selling points.

And then we consumers stopped thinking for ourselves. The scientific "experts" who were manufacturing our "necessary" cleaning agents had become sources of valuable knowledge and wisdom not to be questioned. Funny how the "science" that made new cleansers better, stronger and faster (in the name of making this world a better place) also made the cleansers more toxic, dangerous, and eco-unfriendly, isn't it?

What's even more ironic is that the solution to the ill health of our planet may rely on turning back the clock, and returning to the cleaning products and techniques of our "uneducated" great-great-grandmothers.

In many parts of the world, cleaning consists of sweeping floors and other flat surfaces, washing things with water, and disposing of refuse. In many religions and spiritual practices, cleanliness is considered a positive spiritual attribute. Daily devotions that involve ritual cleansing are common.

How do we bridge the two worlds? How do we clean ourselves, our homes and our possessions without destroying the planet with our germ and dirt phobias?

Monday, June 4, 2007

zen cleaning moments - rag stories

Do you want to clean green?
I've used horrible rags in my lifetime. Rags that were dirty. Rags that were frayed and bulky. Rags that were too big. Rags that were too small, and too thin. Non-absorbent rags made from old polyester clothes. Rags that had stiff spots of dried paint scattered all over them. Rags that were hard and wrinkled from being dried all balled-up. Rags that stank.

To some people, rag is a bad word.


When I was a little girl, my mother dusted her wooden furniture with a piece of old t-shirt impregnated with lemon oil. I hated the feel of that rag under my fingers - its greasiness gave me the shivers, and its sharp scent still brings back memories of hot Saturday mornings with my bangs damp and my bare feet dirty as I cleaned my bedroom before I could play.


Two summers ago the clothes dryer I used to dry my rags in every night broke down. We had an umbrella-shaped hanging clothes dryer in the backyard, so I carted my wet rags outside and hung them (all 70 or so) to dry overnight.

The next evening after work I took them down off the line (replacing them with that day's wet rags), and folded them up to take inside. They were stiff from air-drying, but clean and warm from the sun.

The first day I used the line-dried rags in my cleaning business, I nearly died from happiness. The rags (which had always smelled nice - from the gentle fragrance of the Arm and Hammer Washing Soda I use) smelled AMAZING! The line-dried scent lingered all day long, renewed every time I picked up another rag.

I looked like a fool, sniffing my cleaning rags as I walked from room to room. I replaced the indoor clothes dryer within a few days; for the rest of the summer, however, I kept drying my rags outside on the line. It was the saddest day of the season when the days got too cold for me to hang up the wet rags comfortably, and we took the umbrella dryer down for the winter.


I'm picky about the way I like a rag to feel in my hands. If it's too big, I get cranky. If it's too small or too thin, I get cranky. I like the rag to be just a bit bigger than my hand when the fingers are all spread out. I fold my terrycloth rags in half, and they're exactly the right size.

I like to use hot water when I clean. It's less energy-efficient, but the feel of a warm rag in my hand makes me happy. I don't like a rag that's dripping wet. I don't like a wet rag that's too dry. I don't like a dry rag that's too wet. I'm happiest when I can change rags frequently.

When I had my cleaning business, I threw the dirty ones into a galvanized steel bucket lined with a small muslin laundry bag. I made the muslin bags myself, and washed them with the rags every night.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

zen cleaning moments

Do you want to clean green?
I love to clean. Not everyone does.

(Believe me, I realize that. People's distaste for cleaning afforded me a rewarding career for several years, after all.)

Sometimes I wonder if part of the reason people dislike cleaning so much is because they rush through it without really enjoying it.

(And yes, there ARE things to enjoy about cleaning. Trust me.)

Before I started my cleaning business, I worked for five years as a live-in domestic. I was responsible for the household's cooking and cleaning, as well as childcare. The house we lived in was enormous, and I spent several hours on housekeeping each week. By Friday afternoon, when I had to finish all my tasks before the weekend, I would find myself rushing through the rooms, frantically pushing the vacuum back and forth, frenetically wiping surfaces, and whipping through everything as fast as I could go.

Needless to say, I hated the work. Cleaning was a job to finish as quickly as possible so I could move on to other things. My back and knees ached when I was done. My eyes and nose were scratchy from the chemical fumes. My hands were dry and cracked from working without gloves. And it seemed that no sooner had I cleaned everything but that it got dirty all over again.

Eventually a personal crisis forced me to slow down. When I could hardly put one foot in front of the other, I started to notice how much I had hated all the rushing. I paid attention to what I was doing. I gave myself permission to take a long time cleaning - and enjoy myself while I was at it. I switched to eco-friendlier cleaning products that didn't leave me feeling so sick.

It wasn't until I left that job and started my own business that I truly enjoyed cleaning for others, though.

The secret? Find as many ways as possible to make cleaning something really enjoyable. Reward yourself when you're done, if you have to. (Just don't rush through the cleaning to get to the reward.)

Don't let things get too dirty before you finally "break down" and clean. Set aside frequent, regular periods in your schedule to keep your home tidy, and use small pockets of time throughout the week to do small, easily-managed tasks. (Delegate to others the things you positively hate, if you can.)

Many people aim to get their house cleaned all at once. Yes, it's lovely to be in a home that you know is spotless from top to bottom. But if it takes hours to get it that way, and you're the one doing the cleaning, then cleaning can't help but become a chore that you despise - just because it tires you out so much.

Entertain the thought that maybe it's okay to have everything more-or-less tidy, and only thoroughly clean one room at a time. Cleaning for half an hour every day rather than four hours every Saturday morning will seem like a lot less work, believe me.

Use products, supplies and tools that you absolutely love. Keep them clean and well-maintained, and store them in a space that's organized and easily accessible.

Play music that soothes you or energizes you. Try using essential oils in your cleaning products, and enjoy the sensory experience. Clean with a partner, and make a game of it. Keep each other company. (I still have the fondest memories of washing dishes with all the "womenfolk" at family holidays when I was a child.)

What do I love most about cleaning? Making something clean. I love seeing the dirt washed, swept, or vacuumed away. I love passing my hands over objects - wiping them, smoothing them. I love the way glass sparkles when it the dust is gone. I love the way laundry smells when it comes down off the line. I love the way porcelain feels when the grime is washed away.

Every moment when you are present (that's the "zen") is a moment when pleasure is possible. If you're not really "there" - no matter what you're doing - you're cut off from the possibility.

Don't throw away even one second of the pleasure that's your birthright. Enjoy it all.

"Put your heart, mind, intellect and soul even to your smallest acts. This is the secret of success." (Swami Sivananda)

"There is a Zen saying, 'Before Enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After Enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.' What’s the difference? The tasks are the same. The need is the same. What about the frame of mind? Who is chopping? Who is carrying water?

"When you labor, stay awake. Notice the frame of mind you bring to your work. Do you approach your work as if it were a nuisance? Do you remove your consciousness from work so that you are filled with resentment or worry? What would you need to do to be more fully present in your work?"
(Tom Barrett, Interlude: An Internet Retreat)

Friday, June 1, 2007


Do you want to clean green?
This post was first published on my blog an organized existence (April 21, 2007).
I've been watching with interest as many businesses have been jumping on the "green" bandwagon. Just today I was grocery shopping at Loblaws and noticed a large display of their new President's Choice Green products, including eco-friendly cleansers for laundry and bathrooms.

I bought a bottle of their President's Choice Green Coldwater Laundry Detergent. I've been using eco-friendly laundry cleansers for years, and I'm happy with my current methods, but it's always nice to try something new and be able to give people feedback about the products that are on the market.

Many people don't realize how manufacturers have manipulated our opinions about cleaning dirty laundry. We've become convinced that our clothing is full of dirt and germs, and nothing short of the most powerful cleansers, bleaches, and fabric softeners will give us the brightest, whitest and fluffiest results.

The truth is, we don't really need their products. In many cases they actually make our clothes dirtier, or wear out our fabrics faster. Most people, for example, add too much detergent to each load of laundry. It can't be properly rinsed away by the end of the cycle, and when you add liquid fabric softener to your wash, or throw fabric softener sheets in the dryer, you create a waxy build-up on the fabric that attracts even more dirt.

Try a simple experiment. Take some clothes straight from your dryer and stick them back in the washing machine with a tablespoon of TSP (trisodium phosphate), which you can find at most hardware or paint stores. Run the load again without adding any detergent or bleach, and have a look at the water after the machine has begun to agitate. The water will be a dirty, scummy mess. And those were your "clean" clothes!

The biggest problem with most laundry detergents is that they are made from petrochemicals, which use non-renewable resources in their manufacture, and pollute our waterways when they are sent down the drain after each load of laundry. They are mildly caustic, and are a frequent cause of household poisonings. The residues they leave on our clothing can cause skin and respiratory irritations in people with chemical sensitivities to the dyes, fragrances, or surfactants they contain. Many detergents also contain chemicals that are suspected carcinogens.

There are plenty of sustainable, non-toxic alternatives to conventional laundry detergents. A quick look through the organics section of most grocery stores will reveal a range of choices, including Nature Clean and Seventh Generation products. I've been using Nature Clean's All-Purpose Cleaning Lotion for years. I love it because it's multi-purpose - it does everything from dishwashing to general household cleaning to laundry. When washing my clothes, I add about a tablespoon of the cleaning liquid to a full load of laundry, and add vinegar to the rinse water to soften the clothes, which I then hang to dry.

When washing linens (i.e my sheets and towels, which are white or natural 100% cotton), I use a combination of washing soda and TSP, and again add vinegar to the rinse. I would use washing soda for all my laundry, except it can occasionally leave a powdery residue on dark fabric - especially if it's washed in cold water. When buying washing soda, avoid Arm & Hammer if you are sensitive to fragrances, since they scent their product.

copyright 2007, Michelle Lynne Goodfellow

Thursday, May 31, 2007


Do you want to clean green?
In previous posts (here and here) I've mentioned how much I love my cleaning rags. I switched to rags from cellulose sponges (which are made from wood pulp, and therefore natural and biodegradable, but manufactured) when I realized how difficult it was to keep sponges sanitary - after using them to clean toilets, for example. I didn't want to risk cross-contaminating different surfaces within a client's home, or between clients' homes.

What do you use for your own cleaning? Be aware that some sponges are made from petrochemicals. Kitchen sponges especially are a breeding ground for microbes. Paper towels are more hygienic, but their one-time use makes them wasteful. (If you must use paper towels, buy the highest recycled-content ones you can find. In Canada, Loblaw's President's Choice Green paper towels are made from 100% post-consumer waste.)

Rags are a great way to recycle old clothing and household linens. The best rags for cleaning (with a few exceptions) are made from 100% cotton or linen. Old sheets (especially flannel ones) and old t-shirts make great dusting cloths, and old terry towels are my choice for general cleaning. I find used towels at yard and rummage sales, for anywhere from 50 cents to a dollar apiece. (In a pinch, you can also buy new fabric rags at hardware or home improvement stores, but they're usually very poor quality, and fall apart after a few washings. Not to mention the fact that they're brand new, and usually covered with fabric finishes that make the rags less absorbent.)

I cut towels into pieces the approximate size of a facecloth, and finish the edges with a wide zigzag stitch on my sewing machine so that the rags don't fray in the laundry. If you don't finish the edges, the rags won't last as long. (It's not as crucial to finish the edges on non-terry rags).

Old t-shirts are a great substitute for microfibre cloths, as long as they're 100% cotton. And old linen tablecloths with holes or stains make great dishtowels if cut to the appropriate size and hemmed.

The more worn the original fabric is, the better rags you'll have. If the fabric has been washed often enough, the finishes will have been washed out, and the fibres will have softened and become more absorbent. When a thick terry rag gets too thin for general cleaning, I use it for more specialized purposes - attaching it to the bottom of my Swiffer drymop, or using it for finer cleaning jobs or quick hand-drying.

I go through a lot of rags each time I clean. When I had my cleaning business, I could easily use 30 terrycloth rags at a single client's home. I keep a basket of them in my kitchen for everything from dishwashing to wiping counters to lifting pans out of the oven; once they're dirty or wet, I hang them to dry on a wooden drying rack and store them in a large pail until I have enough rags to make a full load of laundry. (That's my pail full of rags in the photo at the beginning of this post.)

I wash windows or mirrors by wetting a clean rag, wringing it out, and wiping it across the entire glass surface. I then use a dry rag to wipe off the water, replacing the rag whenever it gets too wet.

In bathrooms I start by cleaning the mirror, then take the wet rag and clean the rest of the fixtures, either ending with the toilet, or doing the toilet separately at the beginning with other rags. More clean rags are used for wiping the fixtures dry and polishing the faucets. I finish by throwing another clean, wet rag in a bucket of water to wash the floor, and if I want a clean shine I also dry the floor with more clean rags.

As I mentioned in another post, you shouldn't use fabric softener (liquid, or dryer sheets) when laundering rags. It will leave a waxy residue on the rags that will cause smears when you're dusting or cleaning glass. To wash my rags I just use hot water and a quarter-cup of washing soda with a tablespoon of TSP crystals. If you can let the rags soak in the washing water before agitating, even better. A half-cup of vinegar is added to the rinse water. If you've got the space, hang your rags to dry. One of my favorite memories is the smell of line-dried rags in the summer. Otherwise dry them under the normal setting in the dryer.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

what will you find in this blog?

Do you want to clean green?
In the greener cleaner you will find posts on a variety of green cleaning products, tools and techniques. Because the topic is so vast, there will probably be two main, cross-referenced categories:

1) eco-friendly products, tools and techniques
2) a room-by-room or task-by-task guide to eco-friendly cleaning

So in other words, I will have posts on products like baking soda, tools like washable cloth rags, posts on how to use baking soda and rags to clean a surface, and posts on how to tackle cleaning challenges with baking soda in specific rooms such as bathrooms or kitchens.

My emphasis will be practical, first-hand "how to" knowledge.

If you have a look through the list of blog topics in the sidebar on the right, you can find posts on specific products, tools or techniques, as well as posts on how to clean specific objects, areas or rooms.

If you can't find the information you want, feel free to contact me and ask. It would probably make a great subject for a future blog post.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

why don't more people clean green?

Do you want to clean green?
After I closed down my full-time eco-friendly cleaning business in London, Ontario, I was surprised (and a little disappointed) to realize that most of my clients were not continuing to use the green cleaning techniques and products I had introduced into their homes.

Curious, I asked one of my former clients (a retired schoolteacher and a very perceptive, well-spoken man - who just happens to love toxic cleaning products) for his insight into this phenomenon. His answer rang true to my experience with my other clients.

He suggested two possible reasons for continuing to use toxic cleaning products:

1) They work.
2) Most people don't think their individual actions have much impact on the environment as a whole.

I would add to this that most people don't recognize the long-term hazards of toxic chemical use on themselves, their families, their homes and their environment.

If you are curious to know what's really wrong with standard commercial cleansers, have a look at the websites I've listed in the sidebar at right, or the ones below:

Toxic Nation - Pollution. It's in you. (a room-by-room description of environmental toxins)
Environmental Health Association of Nova Scotia - Guide to Less Toxic Products - Toxic Cleaning Products

Do standard commercial cleansers work? Yes. They work quickly and well to remove dirt and other unwanted residues.

Do the cleaners you use in your home have an impact on the environment? Yes. They affect you and your family and pets, and they affect the larger ecosystem through water runoff, air pollution, garbage disposal and other contamination routes.

Are eco-friendly alternatives just as easy to use? Not always. Sometimes the least-toxic products and methods demand time and elbow-grease. Is the trade-off worth it? You decide.

Will eco-friendly cleansers have a positive impact on your health, and the health of your family? Almost definitely. I lived with my parents for several years as an adult, and over time I gradually transitioned the household's cleaning products to eco-friendlier choices. Both my mother and I (who suffer from migraine headaches) noticed that the heavy scents in commercial cleansers would trigger almost-immediate migraines. When we used unscented or naturally-scented eco-friendly cleansers, our headaches were reduced.

Many people feel overwhelmed at the thought of changing their long-standing habits and routines. Where do you start? How do you prioritize? How do you adjust to the changes?

I hope the information in this blog will help people realize that every action they take - no matter how small - is important. And that green cleaning techniques and products are not as alien or difficult as you might fear.

In many cases, the difference may delight you.

Monday, May 28, 2007

have you got green cleaning questions?

Do you want to clean green?
If you don't see something mentioned on my site, feel free to send me an e-mail (click on "View My Complete Profile" in the sidebar at right to find my address) and I'll try to answer your questions.

There's also a great eco-friendly Q&A blog by eco-consultant Debra Lynn Dadd - find it here. If you're looking for information on a particular topic, click on the large purple "Search" button in her site's right-hand sidebar, and you will likely find what you're looking for. The great thing about Dadd's blog is that readers can respond to the questions of other readers, sharing practical information and tips based on their own experience.

A great resource!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

vacuums, mops and brooms - revisited

Do you want to clean green?
When I originally wrote the previous two posts (on vacuums and other tools), I was interested in sharing general cleaning information, and didn't delve too deeply into the ecological ramifications of the tools I was recommending. I'd like to address the deeper ecological issues here.

About vacuums:

Most of us in North America can't live without one. Our homes are filled with wall-to-wall carpeting and huge expanses of tile, vinyl, or hardwood flooring. The most efficient way to remove dust and dirt from all of those surfaces is with a vacuum cleaner.

But keep in mind that vacuums consume energy in their production and their end use, and are difficult to recycle once their lifespan is complete. Many have casings and parts made of plastic and other petrochemical products like PVC, which use non-renewable resources and can outgas for several months when brand new. Without adequate (HEPA) filters and bags, they can spew allergens into your home's air during use. And don't forget the noise pollution they create! (Do yourself a favour and always use earplugs when running a vacuum cleaner.)

One option might be to buy a used vacuum - many are available from vacuum dealers and repair shops. Be aware, however, that an older vacuum may not be HEPA-compliant, and may have been treated with strong artificial scents to mask the unpleasant odour of dust in the motor and inner parts. I once used a second-hand vacuum that clients bought from a dealer when their original vacuum died, and I found the filter had been impregnated with a sickly-sweet fragrance that gave me a vicious migraine. The clients had to wash the (reusable) filter before I could use the machine again.

The best vacuums to buy from an eco-friendly standpoint? If you want to reduce your carbon footprint (i.e. reduce your use of plastics), try to find a vacuum with a metal casing. It will be heavier, but can be recycled for scrap when its lifespan is finished. Tristar is one brand that makes metal canister vacuums. Be aware, however, that they still use a lot of PVC in the units, and they outgas a very strong odour for quite some time after you bring them home.

If you are concerned about allergens, purchase a vacuum with HEPA filters and/or bags. Reduce your need for frequent vacuuming by removing all shoes and outer footwear at your doors when you come inside. This will make a huge difference in the amount of dust you track through your home. Try vacuuming less-trafficked areas less frequently. Many of my former clients could get away with once-monthly vacuuming in areas like bedrooms. This won't work for you if allergens are a problem, however.

Try dry mopping or sweeping hard floors instead of vacuuming them. Brush or bathe your pets frequently to reduce the amount of pet hair on your floors and furniture.

Can you get along without a vacuum? If you don't have carpeting, it's possible. I live in an apartment with hardwood, tile and linoleum flooring, and I have managed to get by with only a small, hand-held Dustbuster-type vacuum since I moved in last September. I regularly dry mop my floors, and the few small area rugs that I use are easily shaken, brushed or laundered clean.

About mops and brooms:

I mentioned the problems with Swiffer cloths and Swiffer wet mops in my previous post. The most eco-friendly mops to buy would be made from natural, renewable resources, and would be biodegradable once their natural lifespan is finished. Corn brooms, wooden-handled dry mops (with cotton or rayon pads) and string mops (with cotton strings) fit into this category, and are easily found at most hardware stores. They're not always the easiest or most efficient tools to use, however - and with string mops, you have to make sure the mop head dries out thoroughly between uses, or it will attract mold and mildew.

(I have yet to find a source for organic mop pads or string mops, but if you're at all handy you could probably make these yourself. Let me know if you do find an online source!)

Mops and brooms with metal handles and replaceable heads would be my second choice. They are very durable, and the metal can be recycled for scrap at the end of the mop's life. Vileda Bee wet mops fall under this category. The sponge mop heads are made from petrochemicals, but last a long time and are easily replaceable.

Least desirable from an eco-friendly standpoint would be plastic brooms and mops with synthetic straws and heads. They are a breeze to clean, and won't mold or mildew as easily when wet, but use non-renewable resources in their manufacture and are not recyclable.

About buckets:

Metal (galvanized or stainless steel) is recyclable; plastic can be recycled (check the bottom for the plastic recycling number - mine reads #2, HDPE), but unfortunately, consumers don't often recycle broken plastic buckets and bins. Wooden buckets (yes, they're available - try doing an online search for reproduction buckets) are renewable and biodegradable, but may not be watertight and can promote mold and mildew growth if not thoroughly dried between uses.

About rags:

As I mentioned in my previous post, rags are easy to make yourself from recycled cotton fabric or towels. My favorite rags are made from old cotton terry towels; I buy them at rummage and yard sales. I'll write more on making and caring for rags in a future post.

Microfibre cleaning cloths have become very popular in the last few years, and you may have tried them and enjoy using them in your own cleaning. Be aware, however, that they are made from petrochemicals and are not recyclable (even though they are reusable, and can last for years with regular use). If you love your microfibre cloths, take good care of them so that you don't have to replace them often. Personally I never liked the feel of them in my hands - the microfibres always seemed to "catch" on any roughness on my skin, and because they're synthetic, they are not at all absorbent.

You may be wondering about sponges. I used cellulose sponges for years in my cleaning, but was never happy with the sanitary issues surrounding them. In the end I gave up using sponges, and now use natural-fibre rags exclusively in all my cleaning. Rags are easier to clean and disinfect if necessary.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

cleaning tools - mops, brooms and sundries

Do you want to clean green?
This post was originally published on my first blog, an organized existence.

If you have a great canister vacuum and you keep it in a place where it is easily accessible, you may never need a broom again. (At least not for indoor work.) But if you still want a broom or other floor-sweeping device, read on.

The Swiffer dry mop is God's gift to those of us who clean. With a few reservations:

1) The disposable dusting sheets are wasteful and not terribly eco-friendly (being made from non-renewable petrochemicals). I know they are supposed to be electro-statically charged so that they catch lots of dust, but I have never noticed them to be any better than a simple cloth. So for the sake of our planet, by all means use a Swiffer dry mop, but fasten your own washable cloths onto the bottom. I use old cotton terrycloth rags that have become too thin to use for other cleaning jobs. They work great on floors.

2) The Swiffer doesn't to a perfect job (of getting up all the dust and stuff). But it's better than sweeping with a broom in many cases, because a broom can stir up dust, and leave a lot of dust behind.

I live in an apartment with a hardwood floor. For everyday touch-up sweeping, I use a Swiffer dry mop with a washable rag attached to it. Once a week I move my rugs and most of my lightweight furniture and do a very thorough sweeping, again with the Swiffer. I have a high-end corn broom, but I hardly ever use it. It would be great for messes of big chunks of things that the Swiffer has trouble pushing around.

I also have a dust pan (metal) and corn whisk. Very handy for scooping up and disposing of whatever dirt you've been collecting. I choose metal or natural materials over plastic whenever I can, but you may prefer the lighter weight of a petrochemical product.

The Swiffer dry mop is great for other things besides floors, by the way. I routinely use it to catch cobwebs on walls and ceilings. Because I'm taller than average (5'7"), I find the standard handle length is a little too short for comfort, so I've bought two mops, and use an extra piece of the second mop's handle to make the first one longer.

You may be wondering, since I've been talking about Swiffers, whether you should also have one of the Swiffer wet mops. Don't go there. I've cleaned for clients who used them regularly on their floors before I came along, and the residue left behind from the Swiffer solvents took (literally!) weeks and weeks to get off the floor. Plus the floors were really dirty - the mops never actually washed away the dirt, they only pushed it around and around.

The Swiffer dry mop (with a washable rag attached) can be used as a wet mop if you like. Just re-wet and wring out the rag often.

A better wet mop is a sponge one - my favorite is Vileda's sponge mop, either the Bee Mop Classic or the Bee Mop Multi with chammy and scrubby. If you really like string mops (I find they leave the floors too wet, and are more difficult to control), Vileda also makes washable string mops with buckets for twist wringing, and if you want something a bit more durable than the Swiffer dry mop for dry mopping, Vileda has flat mops with washable pads.

Regarding buckets: I use one for most of my cleaning - a gorgeous stainless steel bucket from Lee Valley, that is sold with a lid as a compost bucket or ice bucket. I had some galvanized steel buckets that I used before that, but some of the cleaners I used (like TSP and borax) corroded the inside of the buckets, so I only use them for plain water now.

If you like plastic, plastic buckets are definitely lighter in weight - and quieter! I have a few plastic buckets I use for soaking stains out of clothing (they're easy to move from sink to counter because they're so light and because they have handles - and the stain removers don't react with the plastic), but that's about it.

I've mentioned cloth rags several times - they are the most wonderful and necessary things that I use in my cleaning! I make my own out of old cotton towels; I cut up the towels up so that each rag is the approximate size of a face cloth, and finish the cut edges on the sewing machine with a zig-zag stitch so they don't fray in the wash. I have a large basket of them that I use only in the kitchen (for wiping up counters and messes; the used ones get hung to dry, and then put in a bucket until there are enough to make a washing machine load), and others I use for general housecleaning.

I love my rags. Call me insane, but they are more dear to me than some of my relatives! In past summers I have hung them to dry outside after laundering, and the gorgeous line-dried smell of them made me so happy every time I used them.

Speaking of laundering rags: don't use fabric softener (liquid, or dryer sheets) on them. (You shouldn't even use fabric softener on your clothes, but that's a whole other post.) Fabric softener leaves behind a waxy residue on the rags that smears when you are cleaning glass or mirrors, and makes the rags less absorbent.

Next time I'll talk about the eco-friendly cleaners I use, including laundry ones.

copyright 2006, Michelle Lynne Goodfellow

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

cleaning tools - vacuums

Do you want to clean green?
This post was originally published on my first blog, an organized existence.

If you have to clean, you'd better enjoy it as much as possible. And I've found that the best way to enjoy cleaning is to have tools and supplies that you absolutely love using.

On the flip side, be sure to avoid using anything that:

A) is broken
B) takes too long to find/get out of its storage area/prepare for use
C) makes you sick
D) injures you
E) doesn't work well

And no, none of the above is a good enough reason to skip cleaning altogether. Nice try.

In my fifteen years working as a professional cleaner, I ran across a lot of sad-sack cleaning cupboards. I brought my own supplies, but used my clients' vacuums and mops. If a client told me they hated cleaning, I could almost guarantee that they were using tools that didn't work well, and weren't well-cared-for.

One of the most frequent poor choices is having a vacuum that is too inexpensive, or not appropriate for the types of floors you have to clean.

Yes, I know how much vacuums cost. Last year I bought a lightly used washing machine for less money than I'd spend on my favorite, brand-new vacuum (a top-of-the-line Kenmore canister vac). But trust me, if you buy the best you can afford, it is money very well spent. I always recommend canister vacuums over uprights, because they are more versatile. Even with on-board tools, uprights tend to be too finicky to use for anything other than carpets.

If you have hard floors, or a mix of hard floors and carpeting, you will go crazy without a canister vacuum. And if you want to be able to vacuum into corners, or vacuum furniture and blinds, a canister is the best choice.

I'm going to name names (and I should point out that I live in Canada, so these reflect the choices available commercially in Canada). If you'd dead set on getting an upright, and you have practically no money, get the best Dirt Devil upright you can afford. They're lightweight, and the higher-end ones are easy to manoeuvre, with swivel wheels. My favorite uprights are Panasonics, although the high-end ones are so weighed-down with tools, they're a pain to carry and push around.

Dirt Devil is also the way to go if you're getting a canister vac on a budget. They're not my favorite - the hose is too stiff, and seems to bang into everything when you're in tight spaces - but the tools are relatively easy to change, and switching from the hard floor brush to the power head is not too difficult.

I already mentioned my favorite canister vacuum, above (the Kenmore), although Panasonic makes one that is almost identical (in fact, I've been told they're made by the same manufacturer). I've also enjoyed using Filter Queens (expensive) and Miele canister vacuums (also expensive). Even more expensive is Tristar. None are worth the extra money, in my opinion - although the most expensive vacuum I ever used, a Rainbow brand vacuum, was delightful, if you overlooked how heavy it was (its filter tank was filled with water so it wouldn't spew dust back into the air).

I haven't mentioned central vacs, although they are truly the best. But they can be super-expensive to install if they weren't built into the house.

Once you get a vacuum that works well, you will want to vacuum all the time. I swear.

(As long as you don't hide the vacuum away in the back of a cupboard, in the basement, so that it takes fifteen minutes to pull out and carry upstairs to where you'll be using it. In that case, you'll still hate vacuuming...)

copyright 2006, Michelle Lynne Goodfellow

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


Do you want to clean green?
I wear many hats: I'm a professional organizer, freelance writer and editor, artist and fibre artisan, and student of the Alexander Technique.

But I'm also deeply interested in sustainable living, and I love to share my knowledge about eco-friendly cleaning with others. I offer lectures, workshops and consultations on eco-friendly cleaning for groups and individuals. I can show you how to green your cleaning routines. I can train your cleaning staff in eco-friendly techniques. I can bring along eco-friendly products and demonstrate their use. I can equip you with the basics to get you started on your green cleaning journey.

As my schedule allows, I also offer one-time eco-friendly cleanings ("spring"/"fall" or move in and move out cleanings) for homes and alternative health spaces in the Greater Toronto Area, London, and Barrie.

Friday, May 18, 2007

why eco-friendly cleaning?

Do you want to clean green?
It's not my intention with this blog to delve too deeply into the hazards of standard commercial cleansers. Suffice to say, most of them are made from non-renewable petrochemicals, and are toxic in their manufacture, use or disposal. There's a lot of reliable information out there for those who are interested, and I encourage you to explore the links I've listed in the sidebar to the right.

As consumers, you should beware of products which are labelled "natural." There are many cleansers on the market now (such as Method products) which claim to contain natural ingredients, but also contain scents, colours or other ingredients from petrochemical sources. (For a more in-depth discussion of Method products, see this blog post by consumer advocate Debra Lynn Dadd.) They may be preferable to traditional commercial products, but certainly don't go far enough in their attempts to be truly "green."

Read your labels well. True eco-friendly companies readily list all ingredients of their products, and often indicate sources for each ingredient. Look for ingredients that are vegetable-based whenever possible. Avoid artificial perfumes and colours.

Why go eco-friendly? It may be better for your health, and the health of your family and pets. Children and small animals with their lower body weights can harbour greater concentrations of toxic chemicals in their bodies. They also spend a lot of time on the ground, putting all sorts of objects in their mouths.

If you or someone you love suffers from allergies or chemical sensitivities, switching to eco-friendlier products may alleviate some of the symptoms.

Finally, using non-toxic products that are natural and renewable is better for our environment.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

basics: the cleaning kit

Do you want to clean green?
Before I get into the advantages and characteristics of individual eco-friendly cleansers, let me give you a list of the things I used to carry with me regularly to my clients' homes. It's a LONG list, but gives you an idea of the types of things you can expect to use regularly in eco-friendly cleaning.

I carried everything around in one of those large Rubbermaid high-top totes. Plastic is never my first choice, but in this case it was lightweight, easy to carry, easy to clean, and waterproof.

Inside the case I would carry:
  • a few small Ziploc bags with disposable gloves, non-toxic glue, rubber gloves, old toothbrushes, a lint roller, Q-tips, razor blades, a thick Sharpie marker, and an unfolded wire hanger (for unclogging vacuum hoses)
  • three buckets which nested inside one another: two galvanized steel in two different sizes, and a third stainless steel
  • dozens of clean rags made from recycled terry towels
  • vinegar in two small glass bottles with cork stoppers, and a plastic spray bottle
  • borax in a stainless steel shaker
  • baking soda in a stainless steel shaker
  • TSP crystals in a stainless steel shaker
  • eco-friendly hand lotion (Avalon Organics lavender body lotion is my favorite)
  • hand sanitizer in a glass bottle with a cork stopper (I made my own eco-friendly hand sanitizer with vodka and lavender essential oil)
  • various scrub brushes, most with natural wooden handles and natural bristles
  • lavender essential oil
  • lemon essential oil
  • Orange TKO (a commercial cleanser and de-greaser concentrate) in a small plastic spray bottle
  • a Clorox bleach pen (which I rarely used, but it was handy for hard-to-eliminate mold in bathrooms)
  • cleaning lotion in a small glass wine bottle with a bartender's stainless steel pourer (my favorite all-purpose cleanser is Nature Clean All-Purpose Cleaning Lotion)
  • a liquid calcium/lime/rust remover in a glass bottle with a cork stopper (I preferred an eco-friendly product that's no longer manufactured)
  • a fanny pack with several small tools and earplugs inside
  • knee pads
  • indoor cleaning shoes (so I wouldn't track outdoor contaminants around the houses)
  • muslin rag bags which I made myself to hold the clean and dirty rags
  • a Swiffer sweeper (on which I used my own rags)
  • rubber gloves
  • a squeegee

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

what's eco-friendly?

Do you want to clean green?

There's a great article in the July/August 2007 issue of Natural Home magazine. It's called "How Do I Know I'm Buying Green?" and should be required reading for anyone interested in sustainable living and negotiating the current retail/business "greenwashing" of products and services.

A sidebar to the article discusses the life cycle of concrete, but the points made could be applied to any product.

The truth is, there are probably no perfect products or materials. Everything has positive and negative environmental aspects. Ask yourself some basic questions, and weigh the pros and cons before making a personal choice.
  1. Where does the material come from? If it's a naturally-occurring material, that's good. If it's a renewable resource, even better.

  2. What are the byproducts of its manufacture? Vinyl is made from petroleum, which is a naturally-occurring resource, but not renewable. Its manufacture, however, puts it squarely on the negative side, since it releases toxins into the environment.

  3. How is it delivered and/or installed? If a product has to be shipped thousands of miles from its source to be manufactured or used, that's not as good as something which is locally available.

  4. How is the product maintained, operated or used? If it doesn't outgas toxins or pollute the environment, that's good. If it lasts a long time, that's also good.

  5. How healthy is it? If it doesn't create health problems in humans, animals, or eco-systems, that's good.

  6. What do we do with it when we're done with it? If it can be reused or recycled, all the better. If its disposal doesn't pollute the environment, bonus.
Take baking soda as an example. Baking soda is commonly recommended as a great eco-friendly cleanser - it's a good abrasive, and has a myriad of other household uses.

Baking soda is made from soda ash, also known as sodium carbonate. To make baking soda, the soda ash is mined in the form of an ore called trona. The soda ash is then dissolved into a solution through which carbon dioxide is bubbled, and sodium bicarbonate precipitates out, forming baking soda. (For a more detailed explanation of the source and manufacture of baking soda, read this online article.)

So baking soda comes from a natural source, albeit a non-renewable one. (But the article I cite above indicates that the trona deposits in Wyoming are large enough to supply the world with baking soda for thousands of years.)

The trona ore is mined from extensive tunnels, so it's not as damaging as strip mining. There are two processes for precipitating the sodium bicarbonate, one of which is more toxic than the other. So sometimes the manufacture of baking soda is less than eco-friendly.

Baking soda has to be shipped from Wyoming to wherever it is used, so it's not locally available in most of the world.

Baking soda is used in powdered form or dissolved in water. It is non-toxic to humans (as long as it's not consumed in huge doses), and its crystals are non-irritating either as a powder or solution. (In fact we regularly eat baking soda in baked goods, and it's even recommended as a treatment for mild skin irritations.)

Baking soda is generally not recycled, but allowed to be washed away into sewage systems, and from there possibly into natural waterways. In large amounts, it is conceivable that it could adversely salinate (i.e. make salty) water systems and disrupt ecosystems.

So what's the verdict? Yes, baking soda comes from a non-renewable, non-recyclable resource. It is energy-intensive in its manufacture and transport. But its manifold household uses in the face of much more toxic commercial alternatives still make it a preferable alternative.

So there you go. Use your head. Ask questions. Seek better solutions. And at the end of the day, be content with the best that you can do under the circumstances.

Monday, May 14, 2007

my journey in eco-friendly cleaning

Do you want to clean green?

About twenty years ago I first became aware of the "green" movement as it grew popular in the media. I was young (twenty) and cared about my planet. I became interested in sustainable living, and over the course of several years I did a lot of reading and a lot of experimenting on my own - with everything from diet to cleaning, reducing, reusing and recycling, and consumer practices.

In that time I found some great resources that have become my "bibles" for sustainable living and eco-friendly cleaning. I've listed some of them below.

Debra Lynn Dadd is one of my all-time favorite eco-friendly authors. I read a book of hers called Non-toxic, Natural, and Earthwise which changed the way I looked at consumer products. I believe it's now out of print, but it's worth getting used if you can find it. She explains the hazards and alternatives for all sorts of household products, breaking them down by the categories "natural," (i.e. found in nature) "non-toxic," (i.e. not hazardous to human health) and "earthwise" (i.e. sustainable in their manufacture or use).

Dadd has revised and updated her most recent book, Home Safe Home, which also explains the hazards of and healthy alternatives for household products. I highly recommend it as well.

Dadd used to write a column for the magazine Natural Home, which is a great resource if you're interested in greening your home. I've subscribed to it for several years, and keep all my back issues. The magazine offers articles and news tips on topics that include green renovation and home building, eco-friendly cleaning, green gardening and green decorating.

My other favorite book on eco-friendly cleaning is Annie Berthold-Bond's Clean and Green. Her book is full of wonderful recipes for eco-friendly home cleansers, and I still use some of her favorites in my own cleaning.

I started using eco-friendly products because I was concerned about the health and environmental effects of modern commercial cleansers. I would use a popular spray tub-and-tile cleanser and wonder why my breathing felt so congested afterwards. The strong perfumes and odours of many commercial cleansers left me with migraine headaches, nausea and dizziness. I got contact dermatitis from using commercial cleansers without gloves.

When I first started eco-friendly cleaning in my own home, I was pretty clueless. I read that borax was a good cleanser, so I'd sprinkle some on a sponge and try and scrub a toilet with it. After a lot of trial and error I realized that some eco-friendly cleansers work better than others, and many of them don't act at all like the modern commercial cleansers we consumers are used to.

When I started my cleaning business there was never any doubt that I would use eco-friendly cleaning techniques and products. I was exposed to the cleansers eight hours a day, five days a week, and I refused to do anything that I feared might endanger my health. The few times I gave in and used a product that a client preferred, I always regretted it. In the end I used eco-friendlier products and techniques exclusively, and was much happier for it.

Switching from regular commercial cleansers to eco-friendlier alternatives can seem like a daunting task, which is why I've created this blog. I want to encourage people to try different things, and see how much better they feel afterwards. Like me, I'm sure you'll never want to go back.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

introduction to eco-friendly cleaning

Welcome to my new blog!

Do you want to clean green?

I've created the greener cleaner to feature advice and tips on eco-friendly home cleaning. For eight years I was owner/operator of an eco-friendly home-cleaning business in London, Ontario, and I've been actively searching for and experimenting with eco-friendlier cleaning products and techniques for about twenty years.

There are plenty of books and websites out there offering eco-friendly cleaning advice, and I will always point readers to further resources whenever I can. I aim to help individuals who are getting started on the eco-friendly cleaning journey, sharing my own personal experience with products and techniques that I've found especially helpful.

Enjoy the blog, and feel free to drop me a line or add your comments!