cleaning product , Lye and sodium hydroxide, which are corrosive and can burn skin and eyes, are ingredients in many oven cleaners. Aerosol spray oven cleaners are easily inhaled into lung tissue.
Prevent spills from being baked onto the oven floor by lining it with aluminum foil, and by cleaning them up before they have had time to dry and cook. To remove grease and charred food residues without resorting to caustic chemicals, try soaking oven surfaces overnight in a mixture of water, baking soda, and soap, then scrubbing off with baking soda and a soapy sponge. Or a paste of washing soda and water may do the trick, but be sure to wear gloves when working with washing soda.
If you choose to buy a commercial cleaner, try any of the scouring powders and creams we recommend on the next page.
SCOURING POWDERS and CREAMS:
Some scouring powders contain silica, which is harmful when inhaled, as the abrasive scrubbing agent. And some are made with chlorine bleach, which may irritate skin and airways and will form hazardous gases if mixed with ammonia or acidic cleaners.
Baking soda effectively scours away most grime on tubs, showers, toilets, and countertops. For cleaning up grease, c cleaning product Annie Berthold-Bond recommends applying a mixture of 1/2 teaspoon of washing soda, 2 tablespoons of distilled white vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon liquid soap, and 2 cups of hot water with a spray bottle. Wear gloves when working with washing soda, though. Or try the brands below. Bon Ami can be found in grocery stores; look for the others at natural foods stores.
Bon Ami Cleaning Cake, www.bonami.com
Bon Ami Cleaning Powder, www.bonami.com
Earth Friendly Cream Cleanser, www.ecos.com, 800/335-ECOS
Ecover Cream Cleaner, www.ecover.com, 800/449-4925
Seventh Generation Cream Cleaner, www.seventhgeneration.com
Skin contact with furniture polishes can cause irritation, and many brands contain nerve-damaging petroleum distillates, which are flammable and dangerous if swallowed. Some formulations may contain formaldehyde, a suspected carcinogen. Aerosol spray furniture polishes are easily inhaled into lung tissue.
For dusting and polishing, combine a mix of 1/2 cup white vinegar and 1 teaspoon olive oil (or less, if this ratio leaves your wood furniture too oily). Or look for solvent-free products that use plant oils as the active polish. Look for Earth Friendly at natural foods stores, or order by mail.
Earth Friendly Furniture Polish, www.ecos.com, 800/335-ECOS
Metal polishes may contain nerve-damaging petroleum distillates or lung-irritating ammonia, potentially irritating eyes, skin or airways during use.
Instead, try scrubbing silver with toothpaste to remove tarnish. For copper, dissolve salt in white vinegar or lemon juice and rub on with a cloth; rinse with water. Unlacquered brass may be scrubbed clean with a paste of 1 teaspoon salt, 1 cup white vinegar, and 1 cup flour. Or try these less-toxic brands below, which may be found at hardware, home improvement or grocery stores.
Our House Works Minerals and Metals Cleaner, www.ourhouseworks.com, 877/236-8750
Twinkle Copper Polish, www.twinklepolish.com, 800/253-2526
Twinkle Silver Polish, www.twinklepolish.com, 800/253-2526
One old-fashioned method of polishing silver involves placing tarnished items in warm water with aluminum foil, salt, and baking soda. However, in Buy Smart, Buy Safe, Philip Dickey of the Washington Toxics Coalition warns that this mixture gives off hydrogen sulfide gas, low levels of which can cause eye and throat irritation, coughing and shortness of breath.
Most mainstream dishwashing detergents are petroleum-based, contributing to the depletion of this non-renewable resource and to our nation’s dependence on imported oil. Look for plant-based detergents instead. Opt for colorless liquids: Dyes can be contaminated with heavy metals such as arsenic and lead, and may penetrate the skin during washing and leave impurities on dishes.
Powdered detergents for automatic dishwashers can contain phosphates, which overnutrify rivers and streams, causing excessive algae growth that deprives fish of oxygen. Those made with chlorine can release steamy chlorinated chemicals into the air when the dishwasher is opened at the end of the wash cycle.
These eco-friendlier brands below can be found at natural foods stores or ordered by mail.
Bio Pac Dishwashing Powder, www.bio-pac.com, 800/225-2855
BioShield Dishwasher Concentrate, www.bioshieldpaint.com, 800/621-2591
Cal Ben Seafoam Destain, www.calbenpuresoap.com, 800/340-7091
Cal Ben Seafoam Dish Glow, www.calbenpuresoap.com, 800/340-7091
Earth Friendly Dishmate, www.ecos.com, 800/335-ECOS
Ecover Dish Liquid, www.ecover.com, 800/449-4925
Ecover Washing-Up Liquids, www.ecover.com, 800/449-4925
Ecover Dishwasher Tablets, www.ecover.com, 800/449-4925
Naturally Yours Gentle Soap, 888/801-7347
Naturally Yours Dishwashing Detergent, 888/801-7347
Our House Works Dishwasher Complete, www.ourhouseworks.com, 877/236-8750
Seventh Generation Dish Liquids, www.seventhgeneration.com
Seventh Generation Automatic Dishwashing Powder, www.seventhgeneration.com
Seventh Generation Automatic Dishwashing Gel, www.seventhgeneration.com
Shaklee Basic-D Automatic Dishwashing Concentrate, www.shaklee.com, 800/SHAKLEE
DISINFECTANTS and ANTIBACTERIALS:
Disinfectants are EPA-regulated pesticides that kill bacteria. Although they temporarily kill germs on surfaces, they cannot kill germs in the air, and they do not provide long-lasting disinfection. Some disinfectant cleaners were found to contain alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs) in tests conducted in 1997 by the Washington Toxics Coalition. APEs are suspected hormone disruptors that don’t readily biodegrade, threatening fish and wildlife when they go down your drain. And triclosan, the active ingredient in most antibacterial soaps, was detected in 57.6% of stream water samples from across the U.S., according to a May 2002 study by the U.S. Geological Survey.
It’s sensible to try to eradicate some food-poisoning bacteria, such as Salmonella and E.coli, but society’s sometimes excessive fear of germs is leading to serious global consequences. Coupled with overuse and misuse of antibiotics in medicine and in livestock, rampant use of antibacterial soaps and other germ-killing products is contributing to a rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria, according to a 2000 World Health Organization report. As a result, physicians are losing one of their most important tools in fighting infectious diseases, as bacteria that cause illnesses such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, ear infections, meningitis, and Staph infections grow increasingly resistant to antibiotic treatment. (See “Who’s to Blame When Antibiotics Don’t Work?” from The Green Guide #71)
Unless you have a compromised immune system or illness that may make you especially vulnerable to infection from microbes and bacteria, you probably don’t need a disinfectant for most household needs. Household surfaces can be adequately cleaned using hot, soapy water and a little elbow grease. To avoid food-borne illness: Wash all foods thoroughly before preparation, and be sure to soak leafy greens, rinsing at least three times. Cook meat and eggs thoroughly (no rare beef or over-easy scrambles). Eat only fresh fish, and thaw frozen meats in the refrigerator. Wash all cutting boards, dishes, knives and other surfaces that touch raw meat or eggs in hot, soapy water before using on other foods that will not be cooked. Refrigerate foods within two hours of cooking.
Earth Power’s Power Herbal Disinfectant is hospital-grade and EPA-registered and contains only herbal extracts, deionized water, and denatured alcohol. However, it does not kill all food-borne pathogens.
Power Herbal Disinfectant, www.earthpower.com, 712/647-2755
Because they can trigger allergies and potentially cause other health problems, we recommend against the use of synthetically fragranced air fresheners, particularly from aerosol spray bottles. Aerosol sprays produce tiny droplets that are easily inhaled and absorbed into the body, and their propellants, usually butane and propane, are flammable. Fragrances can provoke asthmatic or allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. But aerosol air fresheners may also be linked to other, less obvious health effects. In a September 1999 study in New Scientist, researchers at Bristol University recommended caution in using aerosols and air fresheners, after finding that they might be making pregnant women and children sick. In their survey of 14,000 pregnant women, they found that in homes where aerosols and air fresheners were used frequently, mothers suffered from 25% more headaches and 19% more depression, and infants under six months had 30% more ear infections and 22% higher incidence of diarrhea. Another worry is that small children might be tempted to taste air fresheners that smell like fruit or candy. In 2000, 9,887 of the 11,935 reports of hazardous exposures to air fresheners received by U.S. Poison Control Centers involved children under six.
To clear out odors, improve ventilation by opening windows and using fans. Baking soda is good at removing odors, and spritzes of lemon or any citrus fruit freshen air. Wooden cedar blocks, pure essential oils, or sachets of natural dried flowers or herbs (such as aromatic roses, lavender, and lemon verbena) provide gentler fragrance. Read labels: Look out for potpourri that lists “fragrance” as an ingredient, and especially avoid deodorizer blocks that contain paradichlorobenzene, a carcinogen, as a moth repellent.
Aroma Naturals essential oil aromatic room mists, www.aromanaturals.com, 800-462-7662.
EcoDaySpa Natural palm wax candles, www.ecodayspa.com, 626-969-3707.
Greenridge Herbals’ aromatherapy soy candles, www.greenridgeherbals.com, 866-250-HERB.
Lavender Green, www.lavendergreen.com, 703-684-4433.
Molly’s Herbals, fiascofarm.com/herbs/
The Scented Room Provence Potpourri, www.scentedroom.com, 208-342-8504).
Vermont Soy Candles, www.vermontsoycandles.com, 888-727-1903.
Swiffer dry cloths are made of polyester and polypropylene and work well to pick up dust and grime from most household surfaces. Swiffer wet cloths, however are treated with propylene glycol n-propyl ether and may irritate skin and aggravate known skin conditions.
Swiffer Dusters, www.swiffer.com