How to transition to green cleaning
We've got tips on how to move smoothly from conventional cleaners to the eco-friendly kind.
Wed, Jan 18 2012 at 3:19 PM
OUT WITH THE OLD: Throw out the conventional and toxic cleaners, and start using greener or homemade alternatives to keep your house clean. (Photo: wavebreakmedia ltd/Shutterstock)
Using greener cleaners is one of the simplest, most basic changes you can make in your everyday life to reduce toxins in your home and lessen your environmental impact. In a nutshell, conventional cleaners are one of the main causes of low indoor air quality, which can exacerbate asthma or irritate those with sensitive respiratory systems, and is a direct contributor to water pollution (everything you wash down the drain ends up in our lakes, rivers and streams). Children and babies, pets and the elderly are especially susceptible to the chemicals found in many common cleaners.
Prices on greener cleaners are now comparable with conventional, chemical-filled versions, so switching to natural cleaners won’t cost you much more than you are already spending, and if you replace some of your cleaners with concentrated eco-versions (more on that below) or make your own, you’ll actually end up saving money.
Rule 1: Change your most used cleaners first
Like any change, trying to do it all at once is a recipe for failure. Start switching out your cleaners one at a time; begin with those you use daily, like countertop sprays. Spend some time looking at the various kinds of natural cleaners, which are commonly found in drugstores, grocery stores, and online. Brands like Mrs. Meyers, Clorox Greenworks, and Method are good places to start, as they look and work exactly like conventional brands. If you are looking for even more natural formulations, Seventh Generation, and Begley’s Best will do the job. And of course, for something as simple as a countertop spray, you can make your own using simple recipes like these.
Rule 2: Adjust your nose
Many of us have a connection to certain smells equaling “clean,” depending on what our parents or grandparents used in the home we grew up in. Oftentimes, those scents are part of the noxious chemicals that go into conventional cleaning products. “Scent” or “fragrance” usually indicates VOC’s (volatile organic compounds), which are particularly aggravating to respiratory systems, and aren’t ‘clean’ at all. It might take a little time to transition to the scent of clean being neutral or that of a natural essential oil. Lavender or orange oils are both common, inexpensive and popular scent additives and won’t aggravate sensitive systems or contribute to the toxic burden in our waterways.
Rule 3: Buy concentrates
Most green cleaning products companies make their most popular products in concentrated versions, so that once you have the spray bottle or container needed for application, you can just keep using it over and over again. Most cleaners are sold for use ‘as mixed’ which just means that they’re diluted with water to be used directly out of the container. Concentrated versions are just those that you have to add water to before use (how much is always indicated on the label). While you will spend a bit more up front for concentrated versions, over the long run you will save plenty on a per-use basis (usually half or less than the cost of the already-diluted kind), plus you will be keeping plastic bottles out of the waste stream, and you’ll have less to lug home from the store. They will also last longer, meaning you won’t have to buy (or forget to buy!) those household staples as often.
Rule 4: Minimize your cleaning regime
The truth is that many products we keep under our counters are unnecessary. A separate scrub for tubs, toilets and stainless steel kitchen sink is not needed. A mix of baking soda and essential oils will do the trick for them all (and if you want whitening power, there are natural scrubs with oxygen bleach available). Surfaces in bathroom and kitchen can be cleaned with the same dilute solution as the kitchen floor (I like CitraSolv). Do a bit of experimenting and figure out what products you need, and which can do double or triple-duty.
Rule 5: Even specialty cleaners are now available in non- or less toxic formulas
As you slowly make the transition to green cleaners, you will notice that besides the less strong scents (or none at all, if you opt for unscented versions), they work just as well. You can keep going; there are now natural cleaners for interior wooden trim, granite countertops, leather furniture wipes, and more. Cleaning can be as simple and chemical-free as you’d like it to be; there are now green products for every predilection and cleaning style. But you’ll still have to do the scrubbing, wiping, mopping and dusting yourself!
Have other thoughts on how to transition to green cleaning? Leave us a note in the comments below.