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A Green SweepConventional cleaning products are among the most harmful items ever to hit the home. If common warning labels like “Danger,” “Hazardous” and “Caution” don’t scare you away, remember that these products redden hands, make eyes water and irritate your respiratory system during use. The problem lies in their industrial-strength ingredients—much too potent for household use. These ingredients include chlorine, benzene and optical brighteners. Chlorine is found in bleaching agents and some toilet cleaners and may contribute to reproductive, endocrine and immune-system disorders. Benzene appears in some oven cleaners and is a known carcinogen, while optical brighteners show up in laundry soap and other whitening products and can cause skin allergies. These toxic synthetic chemicals pollute indoor air, harm your family’s health, and wreak havoc on the environment.

The good news is that synthetic chemical cleaners are completely unnecessary. You can make gentler alternatives from earth-friendly ingredients, many of which you may already have in your cupboard. Eco-cleaners are worth the extra effort to protect you, your family and the environment from unnecessary toxins.

Labels 101

Not a mixologist? If you prefer to purchase cleaners instead of make your own, carefully read the labels to find the safest options. This can prove tricky because, unlike food labels, cleaning-product packaging is not required to list all ingredients. Wording, too, can easily trip you up. For example, the words nontoxic, natural and eco-friendly have no legal usage guidelines, so they mean very little on a label. Even organic means one thing when applied to food and another when applied to chemistry: organic food has been grown without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, while organic in chemistry means an item is carbon based.

The best cleaners will have these buzz phrases on the label:

  • Plant-based
  • Readily biodegradable
  • Concentrated
  • Does not contain dyes or synthetic fragrances
  • No petroleum, phosphates, chlorine or solvents

DIY Recipes

Counter Cleaner

  • Liquid castile soap
  • 1/4 cup baking soda

Add enough liquid castile soap to the baking soda to make a creamy mixture. Use a sponge to clean the surface, then rinse well.

Drain Cleaner

  • 1/2 cup baking soda
  • 1 cup vinegar
  • 1 quart water

Dissolve baking soda and vinegar in boiling water. Pour the solution down the drain, cover with a drain plug for several minutes, then flush with hot tap water until the clog breaks.


  • 2 quarts organic apple-cider vinegar
  • 2 handfuls each dried lavender, rosemary, sage, rue and mint

Put apple-cider vinegar in a jar with a screw-top lid. Add lavender, rosemary, sage, rue and mint. Mix and allow to sit for at least four weeks. Strain out the herbs, and pour the mixture into a spray bottle. Spray germ-heavy places such as telephone receivers, handrails and doorknobs.

Carpet and Rug Stain Remover

Club soda
Clean up spill immediately. After you carefully lift off any solids, liberally pour on club soda and blot with an old rag until the spill is absorbed. The soda’s carbonation should bring the spill to the surface, and salts in the soda will thwart staining.

Porcelain and Tile Cleaner

  • Baking soda
  • Kosher salt

Keep bathroom surfaces clean and odor free by dusting with baking soda, then scrubbing with a moist sponge or cloth. For tougher grime, add kosher salt to the mix.

Linda Mason Hunter is a pioneer in the green living/healthy home movement and the author of the book Green Clean (with Mikki Halpin).

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