Friday, January 13, 2012

Greener Cleaning

In 2012 we're committed to getting greener, making more of our own products, growing and preserving more of our food.  We're aiming at a good degree of self-sufficiency, but we're not gung-ho enough to give up coffee or bananas quite yet.  (Or chocolate...)  We're turning our attention this week to house cleaning products.  There are lots of great solutions for cleaning that don't contain harsh chemicals, aren't overly scented, are less expensive and will be easier on the environment, us and our animals!  Some of these ideas we've been using for so long we don't even know the origins any longer.  Many we've gotten out of Annie B. Bond's 'Eco-Clean Deck', which we won: read about it here.  Some of these recipes have come from our favorite magazines such as Mother Earth News, Herb Quarterly or Organic Gardening.

For many years, our go-to glass and mirror cleaner has been vinegar and water, using one part vinegar to nine parts water.  Lemon juice would do the trick, too; it would be great to be in a warm climate and have cleaner with ingredients from the back yard!  (We also use a similar vinegar solution, made a little stronger, as a non-selective weed killer.)  We've used baking soda as a soft scrubber, especially on our good pots.  One cup baking soda, followed by one cup vinegar for a bubbling affect and then boiling water is quite effective to clean slow moving drains.

After doing some research in the fall, we got together a green cleaning shopping list.  Borax, washing soda, vegetable glycerin, tea tree oil and grapefruit seed extract were the major things to buy.  Baking soda, salt, vinegar, hydrogen peroxide and essential oils are cleaning supplies that are pretty much staples in our house.  I, personally, was a little surprised to easily find the washing soda and borax at my big-box grocery store.  Both, along with the tea tree oil and grapefruit seed extract were at our local natural food store.  Did you know that grapefruit seed extract is a very powerful and effective disinfectant?  I was happy to put it on the list because it's also a great preservative for homemade beauty products.  And, it's great to have a more natural product for cleaning not only in the house, but in the chicken coop and goat pen, as well!  Tea tree oil, as well, is a great antiseptic and also very effective against mildew!

So, for general cleaning of dirt and grime, like floors and walls, we're using 1/4 C borax dissolved in 2 liters (about 1/2 a gallon) of hot water.  It's in a spray bottle for use on our laminate floors, counters, walls etc.  Not great, apparently, for real wood.  This is an alkaline cleaner; the 'Eco-Clean Deck' has some great info on alkaline cleaners versus acid cleaners.  Acid cleaners will be better for pet and body stains and odors, and mineral buildup.  'Eco-Clean Deck's acid cleaner recipe is 1/4 C vinegar or lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon liquid detergent or soap and 3/4 C warm water.  Something interesting we learned for the 'Eco-Clean Deck' is that soap is generally from natural sources, detergent is from artificial, largely chemical sources.  So, we're opting for liquid soap: we're using Dr. Bronners Castille/Hemp soap which is a pretty multi-purpose shampoo/body wash/cleaning liquid - awesome stuff   You could also use a natural glycerin soap - both castille and glycerin soaps you can find at your natural food store.  If you're not that militant about keeping it natural, whatever you're washing your dishes with would work!

For an antiseptic cleaner: 1 tsp washing soda, 2 tsp borax, 1/2 tsp. liquid soap, 1 tsp. antiseptic essential oil like lavender, tea tree or the grapefruit seed extract plus 2 cups hot water.  For dish washing by hand: from the 'Eco-Clean Deck', 1 ounce of the liquid soap, 2 cups water, 1 teaspoon vegetable glycerin plus five to ten drops of essential oil, an antibacterial one like lavender adds fragrance and extra cleaning!  For the dishwasher: from Mother Earth News, 2 cups washing soda, 1 cup borax and 1 cup baking soda.

Who knew?  Cream of tartar is fabulous for porcelain, according to the 'Eco-Clean Deck'.  We've been using baking soda and water, mixed as a light paste for lots of scrubbing duty.  The Deck lists a heavy duty scrubber as equal parts of baking soda and washing soda.  For a mildew remover try borax, tea tree and just enough liquid soap to make a paste.  For the toilet bowl how about equal parts baking soda and vinegar, which will give you a bubbling, frothy cleaner.  Follow with a good scrub with the bowl brush, invest in a good, sturdy toilet bowl brush.

Doing laundry is a bit more of an interesting challenge.  We haven't tried any homemade laundry solutions yet.  Using soap instead of detergents is the first step.  Castille soap can be used but I haven't found dosage recommendations, just a note that one should always rinse in cold water to prevent any further sudsing.  Washing soda, an alkaline, is great for brightening and whitening, about 1/4 cup for standard machines and 1/8 for HD machines.  About 1/2 cup lemon juice added to the rinse cycle is a great whitener.  The solution we're using for laundry right now is a fabulous Organic Laundry Soap in powder form from Winnipeg's SoGa Soap.  It's ingredient list of organic sunflower and coconut oil, borax, calcium carbonate and fragrance is short and sweet, and just 1/2 tablespoon per load makes it quite economical.  (Louise's CupFake bubble bath goodies are outrageously fabulous, too!)

When you're making the move to greener cleaning, you've got to 'step away' from the disposables.  Disposable dusting clothes, disposable wet cleaning clothes, even the chemical laden 'erasers' and such are filling up landfills quickly!  We've invested in a wet/dry mop with a washable head, a washable mitt for dusting (can't use anti-static/fabric softener with it if you put it in the dryer) and a few different washable cleaning clothes and shams.  For window and mirror cleaning we use the newspaper - works well although it will start to shred if you scrub too much.  Lots of our cleaning and scrubbing is done with rags from old t-shirts and towels - all fully washable and a great form of recycling!  Are you thinking of making a move to greener cleaning?  Please share your recipes and tips in the comments - would love it if you shared!  


  1. Wow, so many great ideas here. A lot of them things I remember my mother doing. Newspapers and vinegar for windows, baking soda for toothpaste. I'm curious what you use the hydrogen peroxide for? I keep some for cuts and to clean my earings but don't know any other uses for it. Old sheets and clothing go in the rag bag (can never have too many of those!). We've switched in the last year to DownEast products (made in NS) which are free of many chemicals and biodegradable but a bit expensive. Interesting to see so many cheaper alternatives here.

  2. The hydrogen peroxide is a disinfectant and with baking soda or borax makes a nice bubbly grout cleaner!