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Everything in moderation.

It ain't easy being green.
Thursday, August 27, 2009

Going “green” or eco-friendly with your cleaning products is all the rage these days. You can’t walk down the household cleaners isle without noticing all the price-inflated products claiming to be better for you, your family, and the earth. But are they actually better?

I equate it to the “lower in salt” claim on your potato chips. Yes – the green products available for us to purchase today are technically better for us than the old stuff our moms used. But, they are still full of petrochemicals, dyes and fragrances (to make the consumer in us take interest). This means that by-product chemicals and end-product chemicals still end up in our water. They also still have a significant carbon footprint, and the containers and boxes they come in are filling up our dumps (no – not everyone recycles, and no, not everything you put into your recycling bin ends up being recycled!). So – are today’s eco-cleaners as good (or “green”) as the stuff our great-grandmothers used? The answer – quite simply, is no.

In the last 80 years, we've become consumers. On a mass scale. Our buying habits changed with our TV-induced consumer psychology and today we can be ‘commercialed’ into believing almost any claim on a bottle. Especially when that claim – (Windex Plus Vinegar? Must be better for the environment!) makes us feel like better parents, wives and earth dwellers.

I have always had an interest in being green. Many family trips to the cottage over the summers have made me aware that Mother Nature is a powerful and beautiful woman – with a very delicate side. It is so easy to make Mother Nature sick, I believe that it is no longer an option to “go green” – it is a necessity – on a very large scale.

This past spring, as my fiancé and I began thinking about our first trip north to our little Wild Frontier, I was overwhelmed with the idea if eco-cleaning. I began doing research and ran into a lot of dead ends. We recognized that driving to the cottage and then taking our motor-boat from the marina to our dock created a big enough carbon footprint – we didn’t want products that had to be flown here from California (home of the Greenies). So I started looking into some of the “old fashioned” products like Borax and soap flakes. Turns out these also carry a heft carbon footprint AND – create a lot of toxic by-products during their refinement for household use.  At this point I became frustrated to the point that I took all our old (and very un-green) chemicals to the cottage, and then felt guilty all weekend whenever GTR or I used them. There had to be an answer.

Like a light-bulb going off over my head, suddenly, I realized the simple solution that had looked me in the face every time I made a salad dressing. It wasn’t about “Going Green” – it was about using the most natural or gentle product possible for the job at hand. This weekend GTR is heading north, armed with the following:

All Purpose Cleaner: 50% white vinegar and 50% water in a spray bottle. This will clean almost anything with the help of a soft rag and some elbow grease. It works on glass, counter tops, tile and metal.

Mild Anti-Bacterial: 100% white vinegar in a spray bottle. After cooking a meal or helping your pre-schooler use the potty, this is a great mild anti-bacterial. Just spray over the  surface and walk away. Undiluted vinegar kills germs – but it takes time – about 30 minutes.

All Purpose Scrubber/Deodorant: Baking Soda. Mix with water to make a paste if you need to scrub your bathroom tiles or the kitchen sink. Put a half-cup in your laundry to brighten and deodorize. Sprinkle some over your carpets and then vacuum up to get rid of odors. It’s for much more than just your muffins or your nasty fridge smells!

Heavy-Duty Anti-Bacterial: Bleach and water – 1:100 or ½ teaspoon bleach to 1 cup of water. This is a strong enough solution to kill germs in only 30 seconds of surface contact but gentle enough that it should not bleach your clothes or other materials around it. Mix right before use for the best results.

Wood Cleaner: 4 cups water + 1 cup vinegar + ½ cup mineral oil + juice of one lemon. Sweep your wood floors first to remove as much dust as possible and then, using a soft mop, run this solution over your floors. They will sparkle. Mix right before use with warm water for best results.

I happen to like the smell of vinegar and lemon, but if you don’t, you could lighten any of the above with a few drops of an essential oil from your local health food store. Vinegar, baking soda and mineral oil are natural products available from local sources all over the world, giving them a very low carbon footprint. No, bleach is not “green” as it is a chemical, but, it is made and available locally; and at these strengths, put so little actual chemical into the environment that I am willing to make a concession for those times when I need a heavy duty antibacterial cleaner.

I encourage you to look around you and notice the things you are doing ‘automatically’ that are harmful to your environment and your health. Going simple and natural with your cleaners is a very easy way to lower your personal footprint, keep your home clean AND save money. It’s easier than you think being “Green.”




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