When you're cleaning your home, the last thing you want to do is bring IN toxins! If you clean the green way, not only can you get your windows sparkling and your floors shiny, you can make your home healthier for yourself and your family. But where do you start? What do you need to look out for?
Since it's time to start spring cleaning, here's some inspiration. You asked Mary Findley, co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide To Green Cleaning (Second Edition) all your cleaning questions. Here's Part One of her two-part interview.
Read on. Get clean. And check back here later for Part Two!
Q: How did you get started in the green cleaning industry? (question by MagdalenaC)
A: Thank you Magdalena for your question. People are often curious about my early beginnings. It started when I was cleaning homes and got totally disgusted with mops. I was spending over $600 a year replacing mop head - this was back when a sponge mop cost $10 to $12 so this was a considerable number of mops. I quickly became disgusted with all these mops headed to the landfill and I needed a mop that would last so I invented my own that uses ordinary terry cloth towels.
Several of my cleaning clients also had allergies to the toxic products I was using so it forced me to find alternatives to use in their homes. It didn’t take too many years into the cleaning industry that congestion started building in my sinuses and lungs so I knew I have to change what I was doing or I would end up with lung cancer.
It all came to full circle when I started selling my products to RVers. These are recreational vehicles like motorhomes, 5th wheels and trailers. Their living areas are quite small, which multiplies any ill effects of a cleaner. So I started teaching my green cleaning seminars based on what I learned during years of my green cleaning. Gratefully the awareness has grown over the years. So I jumped on the green cleaning bandwagon long before it became popular.
Q: What are some specific ingredients in non-green cleaning products we need to watch out for? (question by jessg)
A: Hi Jessg, boy have you asked the right question. My answer is going to be lengthy because your question is more involved than just the ingredients. It is important to understand the multiple layers of this problem to get a full understanding of the issue.
First of all manufacturers are not required to state the chemicals or ingredients used in their products. Yes this must change. We have a right to know if a product is harming our health and a good part of them do. But also remember that if ingredients are listed, the really toxic ones are usually left off the label because there is not enough of that chemical in the bottle to force a listing.
This problem means you may never know what is contained in a cleaner even if you can find the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) sheet on the internet. To find an MSDS sheet, type in "MSDS for Simple Green" or whatever product into a browser. I used Simple Green as an example. When you find the sheet, look for health ratings. There are four ratings from 1 to 4. If any one of them is above a 1 - do not use the product and the same goes if the product lists two areas with a 1 rating.
To make matters worse, companies are allowed to put words like "green, eco-friendly, earth friendly" etc on their labels even if the cleaner or personal care product contains toxic chemicals. I’ve seen many of them with labels that give the impression of being wholesome. So look for your seals of Approval. Some of these certificates are listed in a later question.
Here is a list of the worst of the worse offenders. Definitely stay away from Sodium laurel sulfate. This is covered in another question that is just below. Naphtha, petroleum distillates, chlorine or bleach, ammonia, phenols, hydroxides, trisodium phosphate or TSP, sultates, thanolamines, phosphoric acid (which is in many soft drinks and you wonder why you have stomach pains. Stop drinking that stuff), sodium sulfite, ethyl alcohol (it can be combustable) floride, DEA, TEA, MEA are abbreviations normally used, collagen, phthalates, alcohols, aphtha, sutyl cellosove. These are but a few of the worst offenders.
If you can’t pronounce a word, do not know what it is, it is best left on the shelf.
Q: There’s a lot of talk about sodium laureth/lauryl sulfate both in cleaning products and in personal care. Some people say it’s horrible, others say it’s made from coconut oil and is natural. What do you think? (question by nightmancometh)
A: Oh Nightmancometh I am so glad you posted a question on sodium laurel sulfates or SLS for short. I don’t know where these people found that SLS is made from coconut oil but nothing is farther from the truth. Ah let me guess, perhaps the gods of creative marketing have struck again.
Sodium laurel sulphate is a detergent and surfactant - not coconut oil - that is used as a foaming agent in toothpaste, hair shampoo, soaps, cleaners, hand lotions, liquid dish soaps and a host of other products. It is often added to soft swirl ice cream. Stay away from this stuff. SLS is carcinogenic.
SLS also has the ability to leach the petrochemicals from the plastic bottles it’s stored in and off gasses into a very highly toxic product called sodium dioxin. I discussed this in an earlier question. Sodium dioxin is also known as Agent Orange and is the most toxic agent known to man. It penetrates into the eyes, brain, liver, heart and is bio-accumulating. In other words, the liver does not flush it out of the body so it is retained for long periods of time in the tissues of the body.
If you want to check the toxic level of your beauty products like soaps or shampoos, go to www.cosmeticsdatabase.com. You don’t need to sign in just click on “What’s in your products” they type in the product you are using. You’ll be shocked at the toxic levels of most of these beauty care products. I was surprised to read that Aveeda, long claimed to be very human friendly, is not friendly at all.
Q: I know about chlorine and ammonia, but I was wondering if there anything that I should NOT combine with VINEGAR? I use it all the time for cleaning. (question by Sherrye)
A: Congratulations Sherrye for your choice of vinegar for a cleaning aid. Let me warn you though to use only food grade distilled white vinegar. It the label does not specifically state "food grade" it can be made from petroleum. I’ve seen some distilled vinegar listed as being safe for pickling. This does not mean its food grade.
Unfortunately there has not been sufficient testing of the interaction between vinegar and any chemical. So to be on the safe side, don’t mix them. There are hundreds of chemicals, a few of which are listed above. It would be an impossible task to test them all. I do mix vinegar in with my certified laundry detergent and have not smelled or sensed any reaction. Vinegar boosts the cleaning ability of the detergent so I use less detergent. It would be safe to use with a certified liquid dish soap as well.
If you are unsure always use vinegar separately from the cleaner. Vinegar and hydrogen peroxide are both excellent products for removing mold and mildew but combine the two and they are worthless. They aren’t toxic they just counteract each other.
Q: Do you have a favorite Do It Yourself recipe for a cleaner? (question by smallone)
A: Hi smallone. Yes you bet I do. Use a new spray bottle and fill it half full with water. Then add two squirts of a certified liquid dish soap and one-third cup of food grade distilled white vinegar, mix then fill with water. This works well for most surfaces but it is not effective to clean showers, tubs and toilets nor can it be used on any stone surface. My CleanEz does an excellent and safe job in bathrooms as well as being a good cleaner for kitchens.
Q: If you were to recommend just 5 products for someone to have in their green arsenal of cleaning products, what would they be? (question by Deej)
A: Hi Deej, I’m glad to hear you are thinking green and reducing the dizzying array of cleaning products that congests broom closets and land fills. First, head to the store to purchase a gallon of food grade distilled white vinegar, a plastic parmesan cheese shaker and a large box of baking soda. Make sure the vinegar says food grade distilled white vinegar otherwise it can be made of petroleum. Do an online search for the hundreds of uses for vinegar. I have a blog on my website www.goclean.com with several of them.
Baking soda does come in a plastic shaker container but you have to replace it when it’s empty. So buy the large box of baking soda, which is cheaper, and refill the parmesan cheese bottle, which is far healthier for our Earth. Use the soda to scrub the toilets and sinks.
Next up you need a good all purpose cleaner that is earth friendly like my CleanEz. Make sure it removes grease and oil and can be used in the bathrooms, kitchens and as a stain remover. There is no need for separate products to do all these jobs when one will do nearly everything. If you buy from the store look for a certified organic product then you know it does not contain harsh chemicals.
Your fourth item is a good window cleaner. I do carry a streak free cleaner but in the store look for your green certificates. You cannot use an all purpose cleaner on stone surfaces like slate, tile, granite or marble so look for a window cleaner that states it is safe for those surfaces. It must state that it does not contain alcohol or ammonia.
Finally you need a good wood conditioner for your furniture and cabinets. Otherwise they will dry and crack and when that happens it generally means replacing them which is expensive and means cutting down more trees. I do carry a good conditioner called Wood Care. Finer furniture stores carry bees wax based conditioners but make certain it does not contain petroleum distillates.
Q: Are there any certification programs for green cleaners? And if there are, can you trust them? (question by vs23)
A: Good question vs23 Yes there are some good programs for green cleaners. And there are the fakes as well.
The Green Seal of Approval is generally good. I read some negative reports about them a few years ago but I understand those issues have been resolved.
Green Blue certification is for green product design. Look for Green Label when you buy rugs or carpet. Eco Logo is another certification you can trust. The EPA has their own certification known as Design for the Environment. LEED-EB are given to sustainable buildings. Greenstar is another good program to trust. If you are looking to buy furniture or flooring Greenguard is a good one. Greenguard is now certifying cleaners as well.
This article may only be reprinted giving full credit to Mary Findley and her website at www.goclean.com. Copyright @2009 All rights reserved worldwide.
Edited by stins - 6/5/2009 at 05:19 pm GMT