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Think green: Tips for safely cleaning your home and saving money


blog green cleaning

With the holidays just around the corner, getting your home in tip-top shape may be on your to-do list. But before you rush to get your cleaning done, it’s important to know which cleaning products are safest to use.

Many household cleaners contain toxic ingredients, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates only a fraction of the more than 75,000 registered chemicals have gone through complete testing to see if they might harm our health. Chemicals in cleaning products can enter our bodies via the air we breathe, through our skin and through the water we drink. In general, chemicals aren’t good for us and high exposure can be a risk factor for cancer.

Remember, you don’t have to spend a lot of money for green cleaning supplies. Vinegar and baking soda are nontoxic household materials which make natural, effective and inexpensive cleaners. Try a baking soda and water paste to clean the oven and tackle toilet stains. Clean and shine mirrors, windows and floors with a vinegar and water solution.

Follow these tips to safely clean your home and protect your family from exposure to chemicals:

  • Use products free of chlorine, ammonia, synthetic solvents and surfactants, and artificial fragrances and dyes.
  • Use products made with plant-based ingredients instead of petroleum-based ingredients. Examples of good ingredients to look for include lemon juice, lemongrass, limonene (extract from orange peels) and tea tree oil.
  • Only purchase green cleaners that are certified by Green Seal or EcoLogo, which ensure products meet environmental standards.
  • Use pump sprays instead of aerosol dispensers.
  • Clean with windows and doors open so you don’t trap air pollution inside your home.
  • Never mix bleach with ammonia, vinegar or other acids. These combinations can produce deadly gases.
  • Avoid air fresheners. Use essential oils instead. Or, place a few cloves and orange rind in a small pot of boiling water and simmer to fill the house with a natural, delicious scent.
  • Use a mechanical snake to unclog a drain.
  • Use vacuums with HEPA filters that trap fine particles.
  • Use carpet cleaning services that use cleaners that are low in volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and irritants.
  • Try making your own natural cleaner, such as the recipe below. See Real Simple magazine’s recipes for more homemade solutions using vinegar, baking or washing soda, lemon juice and other natural ingredients.

Recipe for a general green cleaner

  • 1/2 cup vinegar
  • 1/4 cup baking soda (or 2 tsp borax)
  • 1/2 gallon (2 liters) water

Combine ingredients in a bucket. Dip sponge or rag into bucket, wring and wipe area to be cleaned. Or, pour a portion of the solution into a spray bottle. Spray onto area to be cleaned and wipe off with sponge or rag.

For more natural cleaner recipes and other helpful hints, see this list from Professor Janet Gray, Director of the Vassar College Environmental Risks and Breast Cancer Project. Also, check out the Guide to Healthy Cleaning for safety ratings on more than 2,000 cleaning products.