Published on 01/13/09

Think green when you clean

By April Sorrow
University of Georgia

Everywhere you look someone is coughing, sneezing, hacking or wheezing. When everyone around you is sick, you want to kill all the germs that could infect you next. But think twice before grabbing that store-bought bottle of disinfectant.

People spend 90 percent of their time indoors, where pollutant levels can be two to five times higher than the levels outside, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Much of that pollution comes from household cleaning products.

“By following some basic guidelines, you can improve your indoor air environment, save money and help conserve natural resources,” said Pamela Turner, a housing specialist with University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.

Common and safe household ingredients such as plain soap, baking soda, vinegar or lemon juice satisfy most household cleaning needs. Making your own cleaning solutions saves money, too.

Baking soda can be used to cut grease, clean oven spills, absorb odors and cleans tile, glass and enamels. Borax makes a good all-purpose cleaner. White vinegar and lemon juice are good at removing hard-water deposits, discoloration on metal surfaces or rust stains. But don’t use lemon juice on silver.

A list of recipes for creating green cleaners for use on toilets, floors, doors and glass can be found at

If you’d rather purchase premixed products, be sure to read the label.

“Just because a product’s label says it is natural doesn’t mean it is nontoxic,” Turner said. “The terms “natural” and “green” do not imply that the product is nontoxic. All cleaning products should be used with caution.”

Use products that are petroleum free and avoid products that include phosphates, commonly found in dishwasher soaps. Avoid phthalates, too, which are commonly found in furniture polishes.

Look for products that have grain alcohol instead of butyl cellosolve as a solvent, borax instead of bleach and plant-oil disinfectants such as eucalyptus, rosemary or sage rather than triclosan. And buy detergents that contain coconut or other plant oils rather than petroleum.

Whether you make cleaners or buy them, follow these steps:

* Read and follow all safety labels.

* Be careful mixing products. Some products, like chlorine bleach and ammonia, produce a toxic gas when mixed.

* Mix only what you need or no more than a month’s supply. Some products may lose their effectiveness over time.

* Mix solutions in a well-ventilated area.

* Place mixed products in new containers.

* Store cleaners out of reach of children.

* Label containers with ingredients and the date made.

To cut down on cleaning time and improve the indoor environment, adopt habits that reduce the need for cleaning products, Turner said.

For example, use a damp mop on floors instead of sweeping and use a squeegee to clean shower doors after each use. To reduce the amount of dirt tracked indoors, place a doormat at each entryway.

Freshen indoor air by boiling cinnamon, cloves or other herbs instead of spraying store-bought air fresheners.

Don’t just toss old chemical cleaners in the trash. The toxins that pollute your home can also pollute your water if you pour them down the drain or send them to the landfill. Dispose of unwanted cleaners during recycling days in your area.

(April Sorrow is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

April R. Sorrow is a science writer with the University of Georgia Public Affairs Office.

CAES Media Newswire