Above: Shannon Latimer Marchant, owner of green cleaning company Domestica, users one of her company bikes, which were specially designed by Joe Bike, a Portland bike shop, to carry supplies.
Below: ...And The Kitchen Sink is available in spray ($7) and concentrate ($40 for 33 oz.)
Those cleaning products you use because they leave a clean fragrance may be leaving behind more than the smell of freshness. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, indoor air can be two to five times more polluted than outdoor air. An easy way to decrease pollutants in the home is switching to eco-friendly household cleaners. Products that contain ingredients such as ammonia, petrochemicals, formaldehyde and bleach can irritate and burn skin and eyes, and can cause respiratory problems.
“When I first began cleaning houses, I didn't use green products,” says Shannon Latimer Marchant, the owner of Domestica, one of Portland’s first green cleaning companies. “I always had a runny nose or a sore throat and felt as if I were coming down with something.” Marchant, who has also lived in Germany and France, noticed that people there didn't use nearly as many cleaning products or as many traditional ones, yet “everything was cleaner.” It inspired her to begin developing nontoxic, plant-based cleaners for her own use. “I discovered that I could create products inexpensively and use them in my business,” she says. Read the ingredient list to avoid becoming a victim of greenwashing, which is when a product is promoted as green but is not. “I think some companies try to get consumers to buy a product by having the label say what’s not in it, rather that what’s in it,” says Portland-based Cassandra Iams, who makes ... And The Kitchen Sink, an all-natural, all-purpose cleaner available in six aromatherapy blends.
“I think you need to be worried if a product won’t reveal all its ingredients, or if it includes ingredients such as dyes that are not necessary for the product to be effective,” Iams says.
As eco-friendly cleaning products have become more mainstream, specialty products designed for just one task, such as cleaning granite, make going green an expensive proposition. “You don’t need to be that specialized,” says Iams. “A good all-purpose cleaner can take care of most things. The performance of specialty products doesn't always justify the price. There’s no reason healthy living should be expensive.”
If you want to try using only green cleaners, you don’t need to make the switch all at once. “If you can reduce what you’re doing by 50 percent or so, that’s a great start,” says Marchant. “Start with a couple areas, such as the kitchen or bathrooms, and work up to the times when using something like ammonia or bleach becomes the exception to your routine.”
You can also make your own cleaners and scent them with essential oils. For example, citrus cuts grease, and baking soda is nonabrasive. White vinegar inhibits mold and bacteria, and some essential oils have antibacterial qualities.
“When you make your own cleaning products, you can mix the ingredients to create something that’s specific to the needs of your home,” says Marchant. “You’ll get more pleasure out of cleaning and create a healthier home environment.”
Making your own cleaning products can save you money and improve the health of your home. Use these natural, nontoxic ingredients that are often found in the home to create cleaners for common areas of the house.
- To make an all-purpose cleaner, dissolve one-quarter cup baking soda into one-half cup distilled white vinegar and half a gallon of hot water. If you don’t like the smell of vinegar, add 10 to 15 drops of an essential oil, such as lavender.
- To create a citrus-scented furniture polish, combine two parts olive oil with one part lemon juice. Apply elbow grease and watch your wood furniture gleam.
- To make an effective tub-and-tile scrub, mix one tablespoon of Castile or natural liquid soap with one-third cup of baking soda until it makes a paste.
- To clean your toilets, add one cup distilled white vinegar and one-quarter cup baking soda to the toilet bowl. Let sit for 10-15 minutes, then scrub and flush.
- To keep windows streak and residue free, use club soda in a spray bottle. The sodium citrate in the soda softens the water to prevent streaking.
If you’re interested in learning more about nontoxic cleaning alternatives, the Sustainable Living section of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality web site provides more information on creating a healthy home. Go to oregon.gov/deq.
The not-so-dirty dozen
Our picks for the best in eco-friendly cleaners
1. Ecover Ecological Automatic Dishwasher Tablets, $7, ecover.com
2. Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Toilet Bowl Cleaner, $5, mrsmeyers.com
3. Bambooee Reusable Bamboo Towels, $13, bambooee.com
4. Bon Ami Powder Cleanser, $11 for 6, bonami.net
5. OxoBrite Non-Chlorine Bleach, $7.50, ecos.com
6. Zum Clean Laundry Soap, $21, indigowild.com
7. Bio-Kleen Bac-Out Stain and Odor Eliminator, $8, biokleenhome.com
8. Method Glass and Window Cleaner, $4, methodhome.com
9. what-EVER! Natural All-Purpose Cleaner, $8, cleanhappens.com
10. Easy Clean Fruit and Vegetable Wash, $4, greendepot.com
11. Seventh Generation Dish Liquid, $4, seventhgeneration.com
12. Dave All Floor Cleaner, $6, eco-me.com