A Greener Indiana

Everybody can do something to make a greener Indiana

A friend once told me, “I want to live a simple life, but it’s so complicated!”

Learning new habits takes time, because it’s not just doing something a new way, it’s thinking differently as well. A mundane task—like cleaning house—suddenly requires more brainpower.

Speaking of new habits, recently I switched to milder, less-toxic household cleaning products to reduce my family’s exposure to scary chemicals. Marketing messages for today’s commercial products shout that the only good germ is a dead germ! But average American homes don’t need to be as sterilized as the Centers For Disease Control. Some commercial cleaners disinfect with the use of hazardous chemical irritants that require warning labels and safe disposal instructions. Popular antibacterial formulas cost more and kill normally-occurring bacteria indiscriminately; even the beneficial bacteria that help prevent disease. Might they be doing more harm than good?

Homemade cleaning products are gentler and, in most cases, just as effective as using the store brands; they use cheap and natural ingredients such as vinegar, baking soda, borax, rubbing alcohol and olive oil. Some are so mild they can be eaten.

Mixing up my own cleaners seemed cumbersome at first. However, most homemade solutions require only a few ingredients. Some ingredients go solo: for instance, I can use undiluted white vinegar as a fabric softener, to clean the toilet bowl, to remove scale from my shower head and to remove mildew. I can use baking soda to scour sinks, unclog slow drains and absorb odors in the refrigerator. Tried and true tips for homemade cleaners have been around for years and are widely available in books, magazines, and on the Web. The newspaper column “Hints from Heloise” has always featured thrifty homemade cleaning solutions.

Starting a new habit takes time and a little work up front. For convenience and to help me remember what to use when, I wrote recipes and tips on 3x5 cards and pinned them to a bulletin board above my utility sink. I carefully disposed of my leftover commercial cleaners. Since some commercial products do contain toxic materials, I didn’t want to pitch them. Landfills and local watersheds are no place for these substances. My local solid waste management program’s website has a convenient guide to safe disposal of household chemicals (www.recycleyourtrash.org). I rinsed out my left-over plastic spray bottles to refill with my new homemade solutions—but I checked those labels, too, to make sure it was safe to re-use them.

Some big brands have responded to customer preferences for gentler cleaners and now make plant-based formulas such as Clorox’s Green Works line. Not all “natural” brands list all their ingredients, though. Brands such Ecover and Seventh Generation offer a wide array of products and they are completely transparent about their ingredients (they are available on the web and at some big box stores, such as Target and Walmart).

It feels empowering to say “no” to cleaning products that come with a heavy cost for my family and for the planet. Here are a few recipes if you’d like to make your own solutions:

Recipe for an All-Purpose Cleaner
Mix in a spray bottle: ½ cup of white vinegar and ¼ cup of baking soda (or 2 teaspoons borax) plus a ½ gallon of water. Use for showers, chrome, windows, mirrors, and other surfaces. (Source: www.eartheasy.com)

Recipe for a Homemade Glass Cleaner
Mix in a spray bottle: 1 cup of rubbing alcohol, 1 cup of water, and 1 tablespoon of white vinegar. (Source: http://organizedhome.com).

©Marianne Peters 2009

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Comment by Marianne Peters on February 25, 2009 at 10:53am
Heloise has been "green" all along. I used to think her tips were "quaint." What can I say--I was ignorant! I like your idea about hydrogen peroxide.
Comment by Michelle Kelly on February 25, 2009 at 9:38am
Another great natural cleaner is hydrogen peroxide. Spray in your shower and tub and leave over-night, and rinse when you shower the next day. It will remove mildew stains and bath tub grime. I have 3 pamphlets on uses for salt, baking soda, and vinegar, they are authored by Christine Halverson and published by Publications International. Great references. Heloise is full of great tips, I read her coulmn all the time and she also has a web site.
Comment by Marianne Peters on February 25, 2009 at 6:31am
That's really interesting--I haven't made my own soap, but it might be fun to try sometime!
Comment by Stoneybrook Naturals on February 24, 2009 at 8:18pm
No it is not a secret recipe but in order to make any handmade soap you need to use lye and to make a gel or liquid type of soap you need to use a different form of lye. Since working with lye is pretty dangerous for those that haven't been trained or exposed to the safety equipment I hesitate to post such a recipe but if anyone would like to e-mail me privately I would be happy to help them with details. It is not a recipe for someone that hasn't made several batches of handmade soap. Now, anyone can take an unscented handmade soap or a soap such as fels naptha and dilute it with hot hot water and add borax and washing soda to it and it makes an excellent soap for washing clothes it is just a bit time consuming but you simply grate up the bar of soap, mix it with hot hot water until it gets to the consistancy that you prefer. If you are going to add washing soda or borax to it then you would dilute those items into the hot water until mixed thoroughly and then incorporate that with your soap shredds. Hope this helps.

janis rogers
Comment by Marianne Peters on February 24, 2009 at 8:46am
Very cool! I'd love to see your laundry soap concoction. Or is it a secret recipe??
Comment by Stoneybrook Naturals on February 24, 2009 at 1:33am
Thanks for sharing your recipes, I am also trying to watch my household cleaners, I recently made my own laundry soap, figured since I am a soapmaker it would be the next thing on my list to try and I might say that like you said at first it was different and cumbersome but now it is just old habit to use the handmade natural soap and my clothes look nice as well, and I just use some white vinegar and a bit of essential oil in place of a fabric softener as well.


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