Thursday, May 31, 2007

rags

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
VanessasGift.com - 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

services

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!