Green Cleaning – Go Green on a Budget

by heather

Ok, so you might have heard by now that, shockingly, your home is probably more polluted than the smoggy outside air. According the EPA, indoor air carries up to 100 times more pollutants than the outdoors (in extreme cases).

The air in most homes is 2-5 times more polluted than the outside air.


Why is it so high? Well, there are several reasons, but the biggest is due to the volatile organic compounds (VOC) that off-gas from your decorating and cleaning products.

For instance, take your carpeting. Most people don’t know that companies use formaldehyde in the manufacturing process. And, lucky you, when you install new carpeting you get to breathe this in.

Plus, 90% of new carpets have SB latex, which contains styrene, a toxic chemical (and suspected carcinogen). Tack on another dozen chemicals that also off-gas, and you can see why putting new carpet in your home is often a bad idea.

What else puts unhealthy chemicals into your home?

  • Air Fresheners
  • Insulation
  • Paint
  • Cabinets
  • Stains and Varnishes
  • Cleaning Products
  • Insect Repellents
  • Dry-cleaned Clothes
  • Furniture made from pressed wood or particleboard

Yep, it’s a big list. But there are plenty of things you can do to eliminate off-gassing, and one of the easiest is with your cleaning products. So, that’s what we’re focusing on in this article: going green without spending a fortune.

Green, Clean Fun

Now, we’re not advocating that you rush out and replace all your cleaning products with green alternatives. That’s would be a pretty expensive trip. Plus, lots of energy and resources went into making those products, so the best thing to do is just use them up and then start using more natural alternatives.

When you’re ready, you can start going green slowly with these tips:

  • According to a World Health Organization report, antibacterial soaps are causing bacteria to become more resistant, which is never a good thing. When it comes to washing our hands, plain old soap and water do just fine. Plus, a bar of Ivory is often way easier on our budgets than anti-bacterial soap.
  • If the air in your home is stinky or stale, then don’t mask the odor with aerosol air fresheners. These sprays shoot out tiny particles that can stay in your lungs (yuck), and cause allergic or asthmatic reactions. Plus, wouldn’t you rather find and eliminate the odor rather than just covering it up? Opening the windows is one alternative, as is putting out a jar of baking soda. But, the best idea to clean the stinky thing in the first place.
  • When it comes to disinfecting your bathroom, use vinegar. White vinegar helps kill mold and bacteria and, when mixed with baking powder, makes a great cleanser.
  • If you’re interested in buying some bona-fide, earth-friendly (ie: truly green with no hype) cleaners, then Seventh Generation is probably your best bet. I use several of their products and have been extremely pleased with the results. You can visit their website and download coupons, which come in handy. One way I extend the life of my Seventh Generation products is when they get about half empty, I start diluting them with water. This works especially well for the dishwashing soap. I also do this with my surface cleaners, and have not noticed my counters are any less clean with the addition of more water. (Important side note: I’m not paid in any way to endorse Seventh Generation. They’re just a brand I’ve used and that I like.)
  • When it comes to unclogging drains, traditional cleansers max out the scale in terms of “bad for the environment”. Not to mention that they’re deadly if swallowed, and can cause lung and skin irritation when used. If you have a clog, then start working on it with a small snake first. You can get a small, hand-powered snake at Home Depot for $5-$25, depending on how large you go. If that doesn’t do the trick, then pour a cup of baking soda in the drain, followed by a cup of vinegar. Plug the whole and let it bubble for a few minutes. Wash it down with hot water (I use boiling water and it works great). This is much cheaper, and safer, than using Drano. I use the vinegar and baking soda trick every two weeks, even if I don’t have a clog, just to keep the drains clean
  • So, what should you have on-hand for cleaning? Well, you’ll be happy to know that our grandmothers had it right. There are really only five things you need to keep a clean house (and, surprise, they’re all safe for the environment). Those five things are: baking soda, vinegar, lemon juice, borax, and a scrubby sponge. The trick to using these natural products is to put them in a regular spray bottle, diluted with water. When it comes time to clean, spray your surface down and let it sit for 30 minutes. This gives the spray time to kill germs.
  • When it comes time to buy a new shower curtain, try and find one that’s PVC-free. PVC is pretty nasty stuff (and gives off major gas when it’s unwrapped). If you can find one, a hemp shower curtain will last years and naturally resists mildew. Yahoo!
  • Borax is great for getting rid of urine stains and smells. Use gloves when handling it, however, as it can cause skin irritation for some people. To get urine stains or smells off a mattress dampen the stain with water, and then sprinkle borax on it. Allow it to dry, then vacuum it up. If the stain is on clothing, use ½ cup of borax in your wash.

Going Green- Be Careful What You Buy

These days there are tons of “green” cleaning products on the market. More than a few, however, aren’t green at all (no matter how eco-friendly they claim to be).
Why not?

Well, because many advertising statements these companies use are not regulated. This means that although they may claim to be “environmentally friendly” on the packaging, this doesn’t mean they really are.

So, how do you know who to trust?

Thankfully, Consumer Reports has created an Eco-Labels Center. They break down all the statements that are made on these “green” products, and tell you if they’re meaningful or not.

For example, if a cleaning product says it’s “eco safe” or “environmentally friendly” on the packaging, chances are pretty high that it’s just fluff.

The terms “eco safe” and “environmentally friendly” are not regulated by anyone, and the definitions are ambiguous at best.

However, if a cleaner has the phrases “Certified Biodegradable” or “Green Seal” on it, then these are highly relevant. This means the product has been certified by an independent, third-party organization and, chances are, it’s probably legit.