As households around the world begin to think about spring cleaning, the question on many minds is how to clean in an environmentally safe way. We’ve got you covered with some great green cleaning tips.

The chemicals found in traditional household cleaners have the potential to do serious damage to the environment and to the humans and animals living in it. Dr. Andrew Weill’s list of the most prevalent ingredients and the harm they cause include asthmatic symptoms from chlorine, damaged kidneys from prolonged exposure to certain metal polishes and skin irritation caused by naphthalene, which is found in mothballs. 

So round up all those chemical solutions — check under sinks, in the garage and in the basement — and ditch them. Even if you paid big money for industrial-strength cleaning products, the doctor’s bills after using them for half a lifetime could be a lot more expensive.

Once the house is clean of the "bad boys" of household cleaners, it’s time to fill up on the good stuff. There are plenty of all-natural and safe cleaners on the supermarket shelves, from Method and Shaklee to Simple Green and Seventh Generation. Look for plant-based ingredient formulas and stay away from solvents, phosphates and other harsh chemicals. Or look for the EPA’s safe household cleaner symbol, the DfE, Design for the Environment.

Go all-natural at home

Making your own homemade cleaners is a truly green way to go. You'll save money and be using the purest of ingredients.

If you’ve got lemon juice, baking powder, white vinegar and a few empty spray bottles, you’re ready to clean green. Consider some stick-on labels and permanent markers to identify your concoctions and avoid having to scratch and sniff later to remember what you put in the bottle. Here’s a basic guide to get you started:

Vinegar

Dilute one part water to one part vinegar and use to clean almost anything in your house. Keep vinegar away from marble, and be sure to dilute properly or it could eat away at tile grout. Use straight up in empty toilet bowls to tackle that annoying water ring. A word about the smell — yes, it’s nasty, but it should go away once it dries. And you can always add mint leaves or fragrant natural essences to the bottle to freshen up the smell.

Lemon juice

Use undiluted to get rid of hard water deposits and soap scum and polish brass and copper. Mix half a cup of lemon juice with a cup of olive oil to create a hardwood polish. Lemon juice also deodorizes, cleans glass, and helps to remove stains. If you’ve got a stinky garbage disposal, throwing half a lemon or orange down there and crushing it up will help you breathe easy with a great citrusy fragrance.

Baking soda

As the box says, it does a great job at deodorizing the fridge, your sneakers, the hamper and your closet. Less well known is that it can be made into a paste by mixing with water and then used to remove stains in countertops, stainless steel, fridges and cutting boards by letting it sit awhile and then wiping away. A thicker paste will work well as an oven cleaner. Let it sit overnight and then wipe away and follow with a damp cloth.

Borax

Similar to Dr. Suess’s loveable Lorax, this ingredient ‘speaks for the trees’ in that it is a natural mineral found in the Mojave Desert or in China. Closer to home, you can find Borax powder at a local hardware shop or grocery store in the laundry aisle.

Borax is traditionally used as a laundry booster; it softens the water and helps make clothing cleaner and brighter. But it can also be used to deodorize, repel bugs, disinfect and clean. In an empty spray bottle, mix a teaspoon of borax with two tablespoons of vinegar and some hot water. Add a few drops dish detergent, essential oil of your choice, fill up the rest of the bottle with water and use as a multi-purpose spray.  

Another element of environmentally-friendly cleaning is the dilemma of real versus paper towels. It’s easy to use and toss paper towels, but that’s a whole lot of landfill to get your house clean. Several companies, including Clorox and Method, sell pre-moistened bio-degradable wipes. Microfiber towels are also excellent for cleaning, both dampened and dry. Finally, there’s that pile of old t-shirts and stringy towels waiting for trash pick-up. Reclaim your treasure and use these as rags, throwing the whole bunch in the wash when you’re done.

There are loads of environmentally-friendly washers and dryers on the market with great energy saving reviews, but Sanyo has come up with a real winner. The Aqua, expected to hit stores in March 2011, uses oxygen converted to ozone to clean your clothes. The price tag is steep at $2,200, but with all the money saved on making your own cleaning solutions, along with a considerably lower water bill, it may just be a wash.

Got other ideas for green cleaning tips? Leave us a note in the comments below.

See also:

Environmentally safe cleaning products

Earth-friendly cleaning

Green residential cleaning