Dear Vanessa,

I was wondering, what type of cleaning products do you recommend for cleaning your bathroom, kitchen and the rest of the house?

— Gatlin Massey

Dear Gatlin,

I’m not in the habit of recommending specific brand products. Instead, here are some guidelines and alternatives to consider.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that indoor air can be two to five times more polluted than the air you breath outdoors. Why add to those numbers by using toxic cleaning products? Too many of the cleaning products on the market are not only full of dangerous chemicals and pesticides, but also may contain antibacterial ingredients that are unlikely to make your home cleaner and could add to the creation of treatment-resistant "super germs." At least 17,000 petrochemicals are sold for home use, and only 30 percent of them have been tested for exposure to human environmental health. There’s an average 63 synthetic chemical products found in American homes, translating to about 10 gallons of chemicals. For your own, and the environment’s health, only use nontoxic products or ingredients when you clean.

Specifically, don’t use anything with chlorine or phosphates. Instead, use products that are biodegradable and phosphate-free, and choose ones that are plant-based not petroleum-based.

One basic rule of thumb is to buy powdered products in lieu of liquids. When you buy liquids, you are essentially paying — literally and environmentally – for the packaging and shipping of the bulk and weight of water. Add your own water at home, and save the high price of transportation and packaging. Personally, I think powdered cleaners work better anyway.

You can find lots of recipes online for making your own cleaners with inexpensive, readily available, and natural ingredients. Three of the most effective and versatile ingredients are baking soda, vinegar and lemon.

Baking soda is a great, mild abrasive and natural deodorizer and can readily replace harsh commercial scouring products. You can make a paste of baking soda and water for scrubbing jobs, or sprinkle it on carpets and fabrics to absorb nasty odors.

Vinegar's mildly acidic nature dissolves dirt, soap scum, and hard water deposits, and can be used for anything from cleaning hardwood floors, and eliminating mildew to replacing fabric softeners. Really. Add white vinegar to your wash instead of buying fabric softeners: it neutralizes the pH of laundry cleaners. And, no, your clothes won’t smell like vinegar. The smell disappears as the vinegar evaporates. In fact, vinegar is a natural deodorizer, absorbing odors instead of covering them up. A vinegar-and-water spray can clean countertops, ovens, toilets and is a good glass cleaner.

Lemon oil is used in many commercial products because of its great cleaning properties. Lemons have effective antibacterial qualities, a great smell, and can dissolve all sorts of grime. Try a mix of lemon and salt to clean chopping boards. (I sprinkle salt on the boards and scrub them down with leftover lemon halves.)

Keep it clean AND green.


Photo: Jill Clardy/Flickr

MNN homepage photo: jorgegonzalez/iStockphoto

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