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making a quantifiable difference

Green cleaning

My bathroom drain is getting a bit slow, and I was wondering whether I could avoid using caustic chemical cleaners such as Drano to unclog it.  My first thought was to wonder whether Seventh Generation or some such “green” brand has a drain cleaner.  And then it occurred to me to wonder just how eco-friendly brands such as Seventh Generation really are.

I’ve been told by friends and cleaning sites alike that one can use baking soda and vinegar for almost all household cleaningwith additional help from kosher salt, lemons, club soda, and other non-harsh products. (NB:  these household cleaners are not as effective as ethanol or some commercial cleaners in tests of rapid disinfectants — so don’t go trying to get rid of polio virus using baking soda and vinegar.)

So far, I’ve preferred to buy an off-the-shelf cleaning product like Seventh Generation (though this is purely a matter of laziness rather than principle).  One of these days, I’ll probably make the switch to using these household items for my cleaning — in the meantime, am I doing harm to the environment, or are allegedly green commercial cleaning products actually eco-friendly?

Surprisingly (at least to someone cynical about advertising claims and product labeling), the answer appears to be yes!  Seventh Generation, Method, Mrs. Meyer’s, and a bunch of other lesser known brands have been given a thumbs up by Good Housekeeping’s The Daily Green, Treehugger, and more.  Discovery’s Planet Green offers links to buy suites of these products for whole-home cleaning, as well as more detailed descriptions and reviews.  Just remember not to throw all your old chemical cleaners down the drain or into the trash — look for city recycling programs that will take chemicals.

As LiveScience points out, these green cleaners are more expensive and sometimes don’t work as efficiently as cleaners containing harsher chemicals.  However, while Consumer Reports gives a mediocre grade to Seventh Generation’s  laundry detergent, it rates their all-purpose cleaner as the best in its class, and gives good grades to their carpet cleaner and powder dishwasher detergent (subscription required to see content).

Note also that there are many green professional cleaning services, at least in major metropolitan areas (it’s worth reading reviews and asking the cleaners about the products they use).  These services do tend to cost significantly more than other professional cleaners.

Back to the bathroom drain issue — Seventh Generation and Method don’t appear to have a Drano alternative.  But apparently, in many cases, good old baking soda, vinegar, and boiling water can do the trick (alternate recipe), with kitchen sinks and tougher clogs sometimes requiring alternate solutions such as enzymes or washing soda.  (For really bad clogs, a drain snake is advised.)  Perhaps this is the impetus I need to start cleaning with basic household items.


1 Sarah { 12.04.12 at 2:25 pm }

I’d like to add our favorite laundry detergents: Allen’s Naturally lists all their ingredients and is one of the best we’ve tried. Charlie’s Soap works slightly better for us, and it’s available from Amazon (yes we are lazy), but they do not list all their ingredients. Both are biodegradable and have no fragrance.

Also, one thing that many people do not realize is the sewer treatment plants generally do not have a good way to handle the fragrances in soaps, shampoos, detergents, and cleaning supplies. Companies are not required to disclose to anyone what chemicals are in their fragrances (it’s considered proprietary information) and so they are often bad for both people and the environment. Since there’s no way to get them out of the waste water, they get dumped back into the rivers and oceans. If you have ever toured a water plant you can’t miss the overwhelming smell coming from all the fragrances combined together. An easy way to buy greener stuff is to look for things without “fragrance” as an ingredient. Also, without the artificial perfumes covering up all the smells, you can tell if your clothes are actually clean or not when they come out of the washing machine!

2 lauren { 12.04.12 at 3:14 pm }

Thanks, Sarah — great info! And yes, I buy lots of things from Amazon, too… I was relieved to find that buying online (at least from an efficient shipper like Amazon) is actually fairly environmentally friendly compared to buying from local stores, because I’m lazy enough to want to do so either way. :)