Stories from the NFCCA Newsletter, the “Northwood News”

Northwood News ♦ December 2008

Part 2 in a Series

Living the Good Life:  Cleaning ‘Green’

By Patricia Stephenson

I remember how my mother ran her household when I was a kid in the 1950s and ’60s.  By today’s standards, she would be considered “green.”  In my efforts to figure out how to reduce my family’s “carbon footprint,” i.e., the greenhouse gases produced by the energy we use to drive our cars, fly to our destinations, power our households, and produce all the goods and services we consume, I have found it instructive to reflect on lessons of the past.

For example, my mother did not have a separate household cleaner for every task nor did she dispose of a cleaning or dusting cloth after one use.  Somehow we have been sold on the idea that we need a cleaner for windows, one for stainless steel, another for dishwashing, and a separate one for the dishwasher, plus a scouring powder or foam (or both), tile and toilet bowl cleaner, laundry soap, fabric softener, dryer sheets (what are they for anyway?), disposable dusters, mops, air “purifier” sprays, floor cleaners for various surfaces, rug cleaners, wipes of every sort, paper towels, and, last but not least, an “all purpose cleaner.”  (Ha!)  When I consider not just the monetary expense involved in purchasing all these products but the amount of greenhouse gases (GHG) and waste produced in the manufacture, transport to market, and disposal of the product containers, plus the personal energy expenditure involved in keeping track of household supply, it makes my head spin.

For the environmentally conscious, companies have figured out that they can make a fortune off you by marketing “green” nontoxic substitutes for common household cleaners and charging double the price.  This makes no sense either, since it only addresses the toxicity issue while doing nothing to reduce GHG and waste disposal issues.

Now I work full-time and have a very active schedule outside of work as well, so I really need simplicity.  I don’st want to spend a lot of time cleaning or foregoing my labor-saving devices.  Still, I decided to take another look at how I was running my household.  Before dismissing the idea of making my own cleaners, I decided to do a cost-benefit analysis to determine whether there were some practical alternatives.  Did I really need all this stuff cluttering up my closet or could I do the job just as well with the stuff my mother and grandmother used?  That turned out to be a no-brainer.  I did some research on the Internet and a little experimentation.  Not only have I reduced clutter, GHGs, household waste, and improved indoor air quality, the cost-savings and results have been astonishing.  You really only need a few readily available ingredients to make your own household cleaners:

You will still need to buy special commercial products for your dishwasher and washing machine or else risk voiding the warranty.  If you have a frontloading washer, you must use the concentrated liquid detergent formulated for these machines.

How to Clean Everything Recipes

Kitchen Sinks

Save your used lemons.  They are great disinfectants and cut grease.  They are especially good on stainless steel sinks.  Use a reusable quart size zip lock bag and store them in the freezer or refrigerator until ready to use.  To clean sinks, simply rub surfaces with the lemon.  Alternatively, baking powder makes an excellent scouring powder that will not scratch surfaces.

Dishwashing Liquid

Fill a pump dispenser with 1 part castile soap to 1 part water.

All-Purpose Cleaner

Mix in a 1 quart spray bottle ¼ c. white distilled vinegar, 1 tablespoon Borax or Castile soap, a few drops of essential oil for fragrance, fill with water and shake to blend.  Label appropriately.  If someone in the house has a cold or flu and you want to seriously disinfect bathroom surfaces, a little isopropyl alcohol on a damp cotton rag will do the trick.  This isn’st recommended for everyday use; it isn’t necessary.

Chopping Blocks/Bowls

To disinfect, use straight lemon juice (a very strong acid).  Let stand 10 minutes.  Wipe off.  Wipe down with a little nontoxic butcher block oil periodically to preserve the wood.


Use Arm & Hammer oven cleaner.

Drain Cleaner

Pour ½ c. baking soda down the errant drain followed by ½ c. vinegar.  15 minutes later, pour in a quart of boiling water (or hot tap water if you have plastic pipes).

Lime Deposits in Kettle

Mix ½ cup vinegar with 2 cups water and let stand overnight.

Copper Pans

Sprinkle cut lemon with ordinary table salt and scrub.  Rinse and dry.


Line a shallow pan with aluminum foil and fill with 1 quart warm tap water.  Add 1 tablespoon of Calgon water softener (or other brand) and 1 tablespoon of salt.  Mix well until powders dissolve in solution.  Dip silver and polish with a silver cloth.


For vinyl or ceramic tile, use the all-purpose cleaner recipe.  For hardwood, use a solution of Murphy’s oil soap or castile soap (1 part) to 3 parts water.  For Pergo floors that will be ruined if they are cleaned with a water-based product, you must continue to use the commercial cleaners formulated for this purpose.


Use a solution of ¼ cup of white vinegar to ½ quart of water.  Use newspapers to polish glass.


Use ¼ cup of baking soda and 1 cup vinegar.  Scour with a brush.  This is effective in cleaning and removing lime deposit and metallic stains.

Showers and Tubs

If scouring is necessary, use baking soda.  Otherwise, mold and mildew can be kept in check by using 1 part hydrogen peroxide to 2 parts water in a spray bottle.  If mildew is present, use full strength lemon juice or vinegar.

Clothes Closets/Drawers

Get rid of all mothballs; they are toxic to humans and animals.  Use cedar chips in cloth bags or use a cedar liner to prevent moth damage to clothes.

Air Fresheners

Houseplants are great for this purpose.  If you would like a nice scent, make your own potpourri from dried lavender or rose petals from the farmers’s market.  Whole spices (cinnamon sticks, cloves, bay leaves and nutmegs) in bowls or sewn into sachets also make a nice air freshener.  Scented soaps may be stored in clothes drawers or linen closets to add a nice fresh scent.

Laundry Soap

For this effective, biodegradable and very inexpensive homemade laundry soap, you will need a 5-gallon bucket with a lid (like a painter’s bucket, available at the Takoma Park Silver Spring Co-op or Strosniders), 1 bar of biodegradable soap (Ivory, Zote, or Fels-Naptha), Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda, and Borax, a box grater, and measuring cups.  Grate 1 bar of soap.  Put into a large cooking pot and add 6 cups of hot water.  Cook on medium-low heat, stirring often, until the soap dissolves completely into solution.  This step takes the most time, up to 30-40 minutes.  Then add ¾ cup each borax and Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda.  Stir until dissolved (this only takes a few minutes).  Pour 1 quart of hot tap water into the bottom of the 5-gallon bucket.  Then pour in the soap mixture and fill to the top with hot tap water.  Stir to blend evenly.  The mixture will form a gel-like solution that can be stored for months.  If you like, you may add essential oils such as lavender, tea tree, or citrus.  Use about a ½ to ¾ cup per load.


Fill a pump container or used shampoo bottle with 1 part liquid castile soap with almond oil to 3 parts tap water.  You may wish to add essential oils such as lavender or tea tree oil.  Tea tree is especially effective to get rid of dandruff.  This shampoo may also be used as a body wash.

For more information on how to clean using earth-friendly, cheap, and nontoxic products, go to   ■

Read Part 1

   © 2008 NFCCA  [Source:]