How to Go Green: Cleaning
Cleaning products are everywhere in our homes and offices: on dishes, countertops, furniture, clothes, floors, windows, and floating through the air. In our war on dirt and germs we may often actually be making things worse.
Most of the conventional cleaning products we all grew up with are petroleum-based and have dubious health and environmental implications. Instead of opting for cleaning products that annihilate everything in their path, there are plenty of natural products and methods that keep a house clean and fresh-smelling without the toxic side effects.
|Top Green Cleaning Tips||Further Reading on Green Cleaning|
|Green Cleaning: By the Numbers||Green Cleaning: From the Archives|
|Where to Get Green Cleaning Products and Supplies||How to Go Green: Index|
Top Green Cleaning Tips
- Employ green cleaning productsAs the health and environmental impacts of conventional cleaning products become more thoroughly understood, more and more brands of healthy, green, and effective cleaning products have started hitting the market and competing for that coveted place of honor under your sink. Many of these products are non-toxic, biodegradable, and made from renewable resources (not petroleum). But if designer labels aren't for you, home-mixed cleaners can get the job done and then some. Vinegar and baking soda can be used to clean almost anything. Mix in a little warm water with either of these and you've got yourself an all-purpose cleaner.
- Avoid poor indoor air qualityIt is not uncommon for the air inside a home or office to be more toxic than the air outside. This is because of the presence of toxic materials and substances and the fact that homes and buildings are better insulated than ever before (which is a good thing from an energy standpoint). Keeping windows open as often as possible allows fresh air in and keeps toxins flowing out. This is especially important when cleaning your home.
- Be careful with antibacterial cleanersThe antibacterial and antimicrobial 'cleaners' that many people think are necessary, especially during cold season, don't clean hands better than soap and water, and also add to the risk of breeding "super germs," bacteria that survive the chemical onslaught and have resistant offspring. The FDA has found that antibacterial soaps and hand cleansers do not work better than regular soap and water, and should be avoided.
- Help your home smell baking soda-liciousBaking soda not only removes those strange smells coming from your fridge, it's also a great odor-eliminator for your carpet. Just sprinkle on a little baking soda to soak up some of those odors and then vacuum it up.
- Clean your indoor air naturallySkip the store-bought air fresheners and instead try boiling cinnamon, cloves, or any other herbs you have a fondness for. Fresh chocolate chip cookies also have been known to create a friendly aroma. Also, plants may not make your house smell different but are good for filtering interior air--pretty much any broad green leaf plant will do. Peace Lilies are a favorite choice.
- Toss toxic cleaners carefullyWhen replacing your cleaning products, don't just throw the old ones in the trash. If they're too toxic for your home, they won't be good for the drain or the landfill either. Many communities hold toxics & electronics recycling days and will take all of these off your hands. Throwing chemicals in the trash or down the drain means they might end up back in your water supply and come back to haunt you (see How to Go Green: Water for more).
- Avoid conventional dry cleanersConventional dry cleaners are the largest users of the industrial solvent called Perchloroethylene, or perc, which is toxic to humans and also creates smog. The two most common green drycleaning methods are carbon dioxide cleaning and Green Earth. Seek out cleaners that use green methods. If you do take clothes to conventional cleaners, be sure to air them outside before wearing them or putting them in the closet.
- Employ a green house cleaning serviceFor people don't have the time to clean their own homes, fortunately there are an increasing number of green cleaning services out there to help get things spic and span. If you can't find one in your area (or their rates are outlandish), call around until you find a service willing to use the products and methods you specify.
- Leave the toxins at the doorImagine what's on your shoes at the end of the day. Bringing that oil, antifreeze, animal waste, particulate pollution, pollen, and who knows what else into the house is not good news, especially for kids and other critters that spend time on floor level. Keep the sidewalk out of your home with a good doormat or a shoeless house policy. Many green buildings now include entryway track-off systems as a means of maintaining a healthy interior environment. Less dirt also means less sweeping, mopping, and vacuuming, which means less work, water, energy, and fewer chemicals.
- Design with clean in mindDesigning houses and other building with cleanability in mind can create spaces that are cleaner, healthier, and require fewer substances to maintain. In larger buildings, good cleanability can also be a big money-saver as cleaning costs can often add up to as much as half of a building's total energy costs.
Green Cleaning: By the Numbers
- 17,000: the number of petrochemicals available for home use, only 30 percent of which have been tested for exposure to human health and the environment.
- 63: the number of synthetic chemical products found in the average American home, translating to roughly 10 gallons of harmful chemicals.
- 100: the number of times higher that indoor air pollution levels can be above outdoor air pollution levels, according to US EPA estimates.
- 275: the number of active ingredients in antimicrobials that the EPA classifies as pesticides because they are designed to kill microbes.
- 5 billion: the number of pounds of chemicals that the institutional cleaning industry uses each year.
- 23: the average gallons of chemicals (that's 87 liters) that a janitor uses each year, 25 percent of which are hazardous.
Where to Get Green Cleaning Products and Supplies
Here's a place to get started sourcing green cleaning products and supplies.
- B_E_E Cleaning Products
- Clean and Green is a collaboration between British chef Antony Worrall Thompson and the WWF
- No Wet waterless carwash system
- At Home cleaning products by Fruits of Passion
- Swheat Scoop is a biodegradable kitty litter
- E-Cloth microfiber cleaning towels and mops
- Method makes a stylish line of cleaning products as well as microfiber towels specialized for different surfaces.
- Actor Ed Begley has an eco-friendly cleaning product worthy of the prestigious Cradle to Cradle seal of approval.
- Designer Ole Jensen has crafted a dustpan and brush with nature and minimalism in mind
- For cleaning dishes in a natural way, these Japanese scrubbers play rough.
Green Cleaning: From the ArchivesDig deeper into these articles on green cleaning from the TreeHugger and Planet Green archives.Green cleaning products
- Here's our guide to Buy Green: Cleaning Supplies, and how to assemble a cleaning kit of your own.
- McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry -- the Cradle to Cradle guys -- have picked a Cradle to Cradle cleaner.
- Method, Seventh Generation, Mrs. Meyers, B_E_E, and Ecover () are all solid choices for green cleaning products. Even Clorox has joined the green cleaning game with their Green Works products.
- Here's a look at two specialty cleaning services that employ eco-friendly methods.
- Read up on How to Go Green: Spring Cleaning for tips on sprucing up and organizating your home after a long winter.
- TreeHugger roots into the question, what do I do about clogged drains? and offers a more natural alternative to busting out the Drain-O.
- Get some good advice on taking care of your floor the way grandma used to.
- Some valuable techniques on how to use tea tree oil around the home.
- In the battle between hand washing and machine washing the dishes, who really wins?
- Planet Green's Detox Your Home series includes info on how to keep toxics out of your bathroom, kitchen, living room, laundry room, and more.
- Most of us share our home with dangerous substances--here is a review of some of the pertinent knowledge and how to steer clear.
- Pots, pans, plastic: all are possible causes of Toxic Shock Syndrome. This Canadian report looks at over 4,000 common chemicals and their links to your health.
- Conventional dry cleaning is anything but green. Carbon dioxide and Green Earth are two friendly alternatives that get the job done.
- TreeHugger interviews Gregor Barnum, Corporate Consciousness director for Seventh Generation.
- Better Basics for the Home: Simple Solutions for Less Toxic Living
- Clean Sweep: The Ultimate Guide to Decluttering, Detoxing and Destressing Your Home
- Green Clean: The Environmentally Sound Guide to Cleaning Your Home
- Naturally Clean: The Seventh Generation Guide to Safe & Healthy Non-toxic Cleaning
Further Reading on Green Cleaning
- The Union of Concerned Scientists has a thorough list of definitions for common household cleaning products, including an explanation of what makes them harmful and alternative options.
- This National Institute of Health webpage allows for searches on a variety of products, including cleaning products and their health and toxicity ratings. The database includes a multitude of companies but is limited to information provided by company reports.
- Under the LEED certification system, a building can receive as many as fourteen points for green cleaning products and cleanability.
- Grist offers tips on how to get your cleaning crew at work to switch to safer products.
- GreenBiz.com provides in-depth reports and articles on the business breakdown of a green approach to cleaning.
- The Children's Health Environmental Coalition offers great advise on how to make your own cleaners that can handle just about any corner of the home and lays out the five products needed to clean just about anything.
- What's the difference between a sanitizer, disinfectant, and a sterilizer? The US Environmental Protection Agency Antimicrobial Pesticide Product page will clear that up for you. Their Green Cleaning Products page also lays out the basics of why cleaning chemicals can be so harmful.
- CleanerSolutions Database is a free online tool for evaluating surface-cleaning products.The Center for a New American Dream offers advice on how to change the cleaning products used by your custodial staff as well as the statistics to back it up, and they also offer reports from cities that have greened their cleaning practices.
- Environmental Choice is an international organization that certifies green cleaning products and other home and office products.
- The Ashkin Group advises cleaning services on greening their cleaning.
- Green Seal is another standardization organization that is certifies cleaning products among other things.
- Green Earth is one of the most widely available ecologically preferable drycleaning systems.
- Seventh Generation's Making a Difference Newsletter provides regular doses of sound advise.