this is the second post in a 3-part series about green cleaning
Earth Day came and went and if you were in the US and blinked, you’d have missed the mainstream media coverage that marked the moment. No problem: as I wrote in a blog post to commemorate last year’s Earth Day, we don’t really need it anymore. Considering the near-steady diet of alarming environmental news we are treated to --natural disasters both looking and realized; contaminants in the water; stubborn spates of denial about the death-spiral of the fossil fuel industry era (tar sands pipelines, anyone?) –, we passed the need for Earth Day about 30 or so years ago.
At my university, they’ve declared April to be Earth Month. Great idea, but I think it still misses the fundamental point. Every day should be Earth Day.
Reminders are great, but what about instilling the current and future generations with an innate sense of responsibility for taking care of the environment, of conserving natural resources, and of not screwing up the (currently) only viable planet within the near-galaxies we can safely inhabit?
Yes, every day needs to be Earth Day: unreflected, untheorized, undebated, simply enacted. And in getting our collective green on, there’s been an overwhelming focus, in my opinion, on reusing and recycling, and not nearly enough in reducing. Reducing is an often-overlooked element of the green movement, one that sometimes induces a sense of unease in those who are faced with an abundance of choices for material conveniences. Why reducing, restricting, and controlling one’s more self-centered impulses has to be associated with a lack of choice is beyond me, but if you listen just halfway to the conversations surrounding the idea of having less, consuming less, desiring less, you’ll hear the unmistakable sounds of apologetics, righteous indignation, or hypocrisy.
…I always recycle (s/he says while loading the fifth unrecyclable pod in her/his Keurig coffee brewer)
…I just came from a climate change summit (which I drove to in my gas-guzzling SUV)
…we started composting this year (so we can feel better about wasting all this extra food we bought)
To be fair, unless we are completely off the grid, we all share a little in the hypocrisy that comes with being an environmental advocate in this material-digital-throwaway age. But as writer George Monbiot noted in a 2008 opinion piece in tThe Guardian,
“hypocrisy is the gap between your aspirations and your actions. Greens have high aspirations – they want to live more ethically – and they will always fall short. But the alternative to hypocrisy isn’t moral purity (no one manages that), but cynicism. Give me hypocrisy any day.”
Wanting to live more ethically is the first step in a long process of making it happen, and you may always fall short in the end. Reducing consumption is an important part of being green(er), and it may be the hardest one for many people to actually put into action.
Small steps are better than no steps at all.
This post offers one small – yet important – way you can reduce waste in your own home. Use what you already have, making cleaning products from the items you already probably store in your bathroom or kitchen cabinets, or maybe in a linen closet. The plastic bottles full of commercial cleaning solutions you buy form the store not only contain harmful chemical agents (including many of those so-called “eco-friendly” brands that shamelessly indulge in greenwashing), recycling them doesn’t really solve the problem of waste.
So this season, when you are engaged in that time-honored ritual known as spring cleaning, try out some new methods for cleaning your home that will save you money, spare you a trip to the store, and get the job as efficiently as most store-bought brands.
There are at least 10 ingredients you probably already have at home that make great cleaners:
1. Baking soda. Make a paste with a little water and use to scrub countertops, tile, and grout. Mix a handful into a half cup vinegar (it’ll bubble and foam up), spread on your dirty oven, and leave overnight. The next day wipe it all clean and avoid ingesting the toxic fumes that commercial oven cleaners produce. (While you’re at it, you can reuse spent boxes from the fridge).
Other uses: add to laundry or the cat litter box to freshen; use with warm water to deodorize your to-go cup or child’s sippy cup; mix paste onto underarms of your smelly shirts to launder away the odor
2. Borax. Mix in 1/3 to ½ cup with your laundry for a boost to your cleaning. Like baking soda, it also makes a great scrubbing agent in the bathroom or kitchen – use it like you would a can of Ajax or Bon Ami.
Other uses: insecticide (kills ants and roaches); mix 2 parts Borax with 1 part water to get rid of sticky goo on many surfaces; deodorize carpet by sprinkling, let sit for 30 minutes, then vacuum.
3. Lemons. Deodorize your garbage disposal by grinding up lemons cut in half. Mix one part lemon juice with 2 parts olive oil for a furniture polish.
Other uses: deodorize rolling pins, bowls, or cutting boards by rubbing with a piece of lemon; boil lemon juice, lower heat, and dip hardened paintbrushes into it, leaving for 15 minutes. Wash with soapy water. Hot lemon juice on a cloth will also remove dried paint on a window.
4. Epsom salts. Scrub stainless steel pots and pans; clean detergent deposits from your washing machine and keep it running more efficiently by filling with hot water, a quart of clear vinegar, and a cup of Epsom salts. After agitating for a minute or two, stop the cycle and let soak for an hour.
Other uses: clean your washing machine by adding one cup Epsom salt to a hot water load; mix with liquid dish detergent to clean grime in the bathroom or to remove burnt food from pots and pans; you can also use in the wash as a laundry booster.
5. Oranges. Cut in half, dip in a dish of salt, and scrub your sink with it. Use the white side to polish wood furniture. Place an orange peel sprinkled with baking soda inside your shoes to absorb malodorous funk.
Other uses: remove water stains on metal fixtures by rubbing with an orange peel; grind up dried peels and use to repel ants, flies, and mosuquitos; use the undried white side of the peel like a sponge (it really works!); place dried peels at the bottom of your trash can before inserting the bag to lessen foul odors.
6. Vinegar. Disinfect cutting boards and diswashers (use undiluted); remove gum from fabric or hair by heating up and saturating the gum with vinegar to make it dissolve.
Other uses: remove crayon stains from the wall (dip an old toothbrush in vinegar and use it to scrub the stain); clean rusty tools (may require soaking for a day or two); sanitize your garden tools (spray them with vinegar and wait 10 minutes before wiping; get rid of underarm odor in clothes (spray on and let sit before washing); clean coffee and Keurig brewers (you may need to run a LOT of water through several cycles afterwards to get rid of the vinegar taste)
7. Sea salt. Mix with hot water and pour down the sink to deodorize and help prevent deposit build up; make a paste with vegetable oil and use to get rid of water rings on wood surfaces; clean your cast-iron pans (clean and wipe with a paper towel)
Other uses: mix with ice cubes to clean a stained coffee pot (swirl and rinse); eliminate excess suds from your laundry by adding salt; remove gunk from the bottom of your iron by sprinkling a little salt on paper and rubbing the iron over it
8. Isopropyl alcohol. (use with caution: there may be health risks for some, especially those with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. One alternative to use is vodka, which is ethyl alcohol) Use to clean a granite countertop (it won’t ruin it like vinegar or other acidic solutions); wipe down greasy stove tops and vents with a little rubbing alcohol poured on a cloth
Other uses: remove ink stains on clothing (soak the spot, let sit, then wash); wipe down headphones with a cotton swab impregnated with a little alcohol; remove stickers; remove acrylic paint from clothes by soaking in a mixture of water and alcohol before washing (test a small area first); remove nail polish by daubing surface with an alcohol-dampened microfiber cloth
9. Cornstarch. Mix with a little milk to make a paste and apply to ink stains on carpet. Let dry a few hours, then vacuum. Sprinkle onto a soft cloth and use to remove grease spatters from walls.
Other uses: make a paste with water and use to polish silver (apply, let dry, then rub off with cheesecloth or other soft cloth); mix with baking soda in a 1:1 ratio and use to dry clean upholstery (shake onto surface, leave for 30 minutes, vacuum); deodorize smelly shoes by sprinkling cornstarch inside and letting sit overnight. Shake out the next morning.
10. Hydrogen peroxide. Remove stains from countertops without discoloring the surface (use undiluted, let soak, then wipe); disinfect sponges and dishrags by soaking in undiluted solution for 15-30 minutes; clean windows without the strong smell that vinegar can leave behind
Other uses: remove tub scum (spray on, let sit 30 minutes, rinse); disinfect cutting boards (spray and wait 10-15 minutes before rinsing); wash fruits and veggies (removes wax and other contaminants); add to laundry to whiten and deodorize (works best if you let clothes soak first); cleanse dehumidifiers
While switching to these DIY non-toxic cleaning methods won’t save the planet, it will reduce your exposure to harmful chemicals. Adopted collectively, on a large scale, however DIY non-toxic cleaning will help reduce demand for toxic products that undermine your health and contribute to environmental damage. Now that’s one way to honor Earth Day every day without having to make the effort too complicated!
Want more tips to go green? The Green Guidebook can help!