Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Cleaning Mean & Green

If you can appreciate the value of a clean house, you know cleaning products can take a significant bite out of your monthly grocery bill. There's detergents, aerosols and surface cleaners specific to toilets, glass, floors, countertops...it might make you wonder how your grandparents ever lived with just plain soap and water.

Now there's a whole subcategory of products springing up at an aisle near you: "green" cleaners like Clorox's Green Works and Sunshine Makers' Simple Green. And people are buying: sales of Simple Green's all-purpose cleaner totaled $5.7 million in 2004 alone. Advertised as non-toxic and biodegradable, sounds like the earth-friendly choice, right?

Some cleaners are—but like anything else you put in your cart, caveat emptor. Nowadays, it's pretty easy to make vague, green-sounding claims (e.g., the word "natural" doesn't come with a whole lot of regulation) that lure consumers wishing to hop on the green bandwagon. As is often the case, your best bet is to do your homework and find out if the product in question is worth your money. After all, you don't want to be taken to the cleaners, now.

To that end, I hope to make your homework a little easier. Check out goodguide.com's index of all-purpose cleaners. You can search by brand name or browse the list of products, rated by health, environmental and social performance (I was somewhat surprised and disappointed to see that the Green Works we just bought has a score of 4.4 out of 10. Ouch.).

If you want to be extra green and economical, you can also make your own cleaning solutions, as virtually every surface in your home can be made to sparkle with varying combinations of white vinegar, baking soda, soap and water. Take a look at Consumer Reports' Greener Choices for a list of household ingredients and recipes for tub and tile cleaners, furniture polishes, metal polishes, air fresheners and more.

As long as we're talking recipes, my friend Annie has suggested mixing 2 tablespoons corn starch with a quart of hot water for a sprayable window cleaner. And here's one from a friend (who used to clean houses for a living, in fact) for all-purpose cleaner:

1 gallon of distilled water (minus 2 cups)
2 cups rubbing alcohol
2 tablespoons Prell shampoo

I admit I've never tried it...but seeing as how my Green Works isn't all that special, I'll have to mix it up soon.

Remember also, being green isn't just about buying the right all-purpose cleaner, it's about adopting the right lifestyle habits...but that's another post altogether. Until then, happy spring cleaning!

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