Eco Wise

Cleaning House? Shelve the Fancy Sprays for Kitchen Basics.

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Once upon a time, all that was required to keep a household spotless were a few kitchen staples (vinegar, baking soda, borax) and a bit of elbow grease. Now, it seems, there's a different chemical-packed potion promising to magically de-muck or de-germ every surface of the house -- no scrubbing required.

"When did we become so lazy?" asks Jennifer Boulden, co-founder of Ideal Bite, a Web site and e-newsletter that offers daily tips for green living. "I like to take the approach of, 'What would someone have done 50 years ago?' And my house is just as clean, if not cleaner, than my neighbors' houses."

That said, even the labor-averse can incorporate a few greener practices into their cleaning routine. Simple ingredients are not only cheaper than store-bought products, but they also won't send chemicals down the drain and into waterways -- or into the air and onto household surfaces, where they come into contact with people and pets. A 2006 University of California at Berkeley study found that some cleaning products and air fresheners can expose people to unsafe levels of toxic chemicals in confined spaces and can form formaldehyde and other carcinogenic compounds when there's ozone in the air.

Here are a few time-tested tips for using basic household items to make your home cleaner and greener.

· A solution of half vinegar and half water is great for most surface cleaning; a mixture with more water is suitable for dusting, wiping glass and lighter cleaning. Add some essential oil of herbs or flowers, available at natural-food stores, to mask the harsh smell and make the experience pleasant. For someone who's intimidated by all that mixing, Boulden recommends the Eco-Me Home Kit ($26 at, which includes pre-measured containers and instructions for different types of cleaning jobs, and makes a great housewarming gift.

· Instead of a chemical drain cleaner, try a plumber's snake, available at hardware stores. The long metal coils can dislodge clogs.

· Scrub tubs, toilets and tiles with baking soda and a dampened brush. Clean mildewy grout with a vinegar-dipped toothbrush.

· Polish furniture with a half olive oil, half vinegar mixture. Here, again, you might want to add a drop or two of essential oil to give it a fresh scent.

· To disinfect surfaces, simple rubbing alcohol or vinegar will do the trick. The antibacterial chemical triclosan, found in many household products, can contribute to breeding super-resistant strains of bacteria and has been linked to cancer in lab animals.

· Clean silver with a toothbrush and toothpaste.

-- Eviana Hartman

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