Tuesday, June 14, 2011

In the Home with Cyn: Eco Friendly Cleaning

By Cyn Gagen and Samantha Gagen

On the last episode of In the Home with Cyn show, I shared some ideas for eco-friendly household cleaning.  The show was recorded and you can check it out here :  http://www.linqto.com/PlaybackRoom.aspx?roomname=creativeedventures&name=SingleExplicit_2011_04_26_19_59_57_126

As promised, I’m also sharing the “recipes” for the cleaners here where you can even print out and use for future reference.

First, some information from a wonderful report written by my daughter Samantha:

Why choose non-toxic “green” cleaners?:

1) Conservation – they are safer for you, your family, and the environment

2) Convenience – most of the ingredients are probably already in your kitchen cupboards!

3)  Cost – these cleaners are generally about 1/10 the price of commercial ones!

Did you know…

An estimated 2-5 million exposures to household poisons occur every year?

On average, 95% of commercial window cleaners are simply water?

Petroleum-based furniture polish strains your central nervous system, and this can result in irritability and depression?

Overuse of disinfectants can lead to drug-resistant “superbugs” and an overtaxed immune system?

The powerful scents created by fabric softeners often contain suspected carcinogenic neurotoxins such as toluene, formaldehyde, and styrene?

Samantha says:

Minimize the need for heavy duty cleaning by doing light maintenance!

Placing doormats at every entrance not only reduces the tracking in of dirt, but also pesticides and lead!

Use cloth rags instead of paper towels to save both money and trees!


Cut off the top of a water bottle and recycle it into a holder for cleaning tools.  Get your kids to embellish it for you and put it in your cleaning bucket or by your sink to hold some of the smaller tools.  Or make it into a super cute toothbrush holder for in your bathroom!

A good basic home cleaning kit:

Baking soda

Washing soda and/or Borax

White vinegar

Liquid soap (Bronner’s is great!)

Tea tree oil (rosemary, thyme, or lavender oil will also work but I find tea tree is best)

Club soda

Olive oil (jojoba oil is even better but harder to find)

Lemon juice

Empty spray bottles, scrub brush, rags, sponges, plastic scrubbies, old toothbrushes for edge cleaning and cleaning in small areas, and so on

A pair of gloves to protect your hands from the harsher cleaning products

A mask to protect you from dust and other particles that can be stirred up during the cleaning process

Ideas for eco-friendly cleaning:

Basic cleaning:  A good basic surface cleaner is 50-50 vinegar and water.  Doesn't need rinsing.  This is great for those times when it just needs a quick wipe.  When you need something stronger, you can melt 1 T soap flakes in 4 cups warm water and then add 2 T borax and 1 tsp of lemon juice or vinegar.  Rinse after using.  Baking soda and water makes a great paste as a scrub - I keep baking soda in a jar with a shaker lid like the kind you use for Parmesan cheese right by the kitchen sink for quick and easy cleanups.

Vacuuming:  If you let your vacuum bag fill up more than 3/4 full, a lot of the dust tends to start filtering back into the air.  Put vacuum waste into your composter and reuse the bag (open carefully and reseal with duct tape - cover any holes with duct tape too).  If you have any doubt about the bag’s seal though, do not use again as the dust could go back into your vacuum and damage the motor.

Dusting:  for the most part, dusting needs only a slightly dampened rag to pick up the dust effectively.  You don't need expensive and chemical laden dusting sprays.  If you have antique furniture etc like I do, it DOES require some oiling to keep the wood moist enough - in that case there are commercial products that are eco friendly like Greenworks.  http://trygreenworks.ca/  or Method http://www.methodhome.com/  As far as commercial products go, one of my all time favourites is Simple Green but I would never use it on my antiques.  You can also make your own dusting oil - one part corn oil (olive or other oils you have on hand will work too if you don't use corn oil) to three parts light mineral oil.  You might want to add a few drops of essential oil to make it smell pretty - lemon oil for example.  Another great recipe for a dusting solution is to infuse some olive oil with lemon peel and/or sprigs of dried lavender by letting them sit for a few days.  Take this infused oil and then mix 1 part olive oil, 2 parts fresh lemon juice, and a drop or two of essential oil (if desired).  Put some on your dust mop or dust rag and store in a plastic bag.  When it is dirty, wash it in warm water and reapply.  

Plants are great for filtering out dust and drawing more oxygen into the air.  Spider plants and English ivy are both great at removing chemicals from the air such as formaldehyde.  a 10-12 inch potted plant will lower the pollution in a 100 sq foot area.

Cleaning and restoring shine to appliances:  before resorting to solutions of ammonia and water OR bleach and water, try some simple club soda.  It can work wonders.

Showers and tubs:  When you take a shower, use a squeegee to wipe down the walls (shower door if you have one) - doing this regularly will keep down the need for heavier cleaning and keep mould to a minimum.  Keep shower curtain fully drawn so it can dry out completely on the inside and if you can open a window for a bit until it dries out.  If you need extra cleaning on the shower curtain, try a mixture of dish detergent and baking soda for heavy stains.  For just a light cleaning vinegar and water will work.  Mildew on your shower curtain often responds well to the baking soda and water paste that is then rinsed off with lemon juice.  Shower doors can be wiped down with vinegar and water.  For cleaning the tiles. the best time is right after a shower.  They are already dampened and that helps.  Wash down with a mixture of 1/2 cup vinegar and 1/4 cup washing soda in a bucket of warm water.  If it needs heavier cleaning, you can add 1/2 cup of ammonia to that mixture.  For grout use a paste of baking soda and water using an old toothbrush.

Toilets:  Using a toilet bowl brush and giving a quick swish around the toilet bowl every day helps minimize the need for heavier cleaning.  Baking soda is a good mild abrasive to use in it for a little extra cleaning and deodorizing.  Minor stains on bathroom fixtures like tub and toilet will often be removed by rubbing a lemon half over them.  For heavier ones, make a paste of cream of tartar and hydrogen peroxide.  Apply that and let it sit for about an hour.  Gently scrub off.  Try these methods before resorting to more toxic ones (rags laid over, bleach poured on, let sit half an hour and rinse.)
A good sanitizing bathroom cleaner is to put a couple drops of tea tree oil in a cup of water.  Do not use straight tea tree oil as it can be harsh to the skin and you should always wear gloves when using it.


Use the very bottom of a large pop or water bottle to make a small dish.  Again, you can involve your children here by getting them to decorate it for you.  This makes a great soap dish or can hold things like scouring pads and sponges.  Punch holes in the bottom to allow excess moisture to drip out.   

Microwave: Put 2 T baking soda, 2 T lemon juice in a microwave safe dish of water.  Let cook for 5 mins on high.  Let sit for another 5 mins or so.  The steam will help release stuck food particles.  Then dip cloth into the mixture and wipe down the interior. 

Drain cleaner: 1 T baking soda, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 cup vinegar...used regularly ( do this about once every 2-3 weeks when I'm the only one home....when Sam's home I use it more often), will often prevent any major clogs from occurring in the first place and the necessity for toxic drain cleaners

Clogged shower head : unscrew and soak in a bowl of vinegar to dissolve the deposits of calcium and lime

Floors:  For ceramic tile and so on use plain old soap and water for heavier cleaning then a squeegee to draw up all the water and absorb with a good cloth like Sham Wow or microfibre.  Rinsing to get a good shine can be done with 1 cup vinegar to 2 gallons water - this is also a good cleaner for light cleaning.

Cleaning up dog/cat hair: use a clean nylon toilet brush on furniture/floors (like around baseboards etc) to pick up hair OR a solution of warm water with a bit of glycerine in it and using a sponge. 

Animal odours: rub oatmeal into a dog's coat and then brush it off....it will help to clean the dog as it brings oils and dirt with it.  Follow up with the same procedure with baking soda to further clean and absorb odours.  This is great between baths.  If it's a breed of dog that has strong odour, use baking soda once per week to keep smell down.  These are great things to use in between baths. 

Bathing dogs: 
Double-coated dogs, those with a thick, soft, fluffy undercoat and harsher guard coats (German Shepherds, Huskies, etc.) shouldn’t be bathed too often.  Their coats are made to repel dirt and water and you’ll strip them of this ability if you bathe them frequently.  They are also prone to skin issues and rashes and this can be aggravated by frequent bathing.  About every 6 months is right for them (of course more often if they like to do things like rolling in mud as my dog does but keep it to a minimum.  Dogs that have very fine undercoats and then the harsh guard coats such as Labs and Rotties, can be bathed as often as about once a month but once every 3 months is generally fine for them.  For them it’s the same situation as with the first group of dogs mentioned – too much bathing can actually hamper the ability of their own natural features to perform effectively and may cause irritation.  In fact, the more you bathe them, the more their natural protective oils will activate to compensate for what bathing has stripped away and this can actual cause a bad odour.  With dogs like Poodles and Schnauzers, who don’t shed or shed very little, they can be bathed more frequently and in fact, should be bathed about every 6 weeks.  Usually more frequent bathing (weekly or every other week) is not bad for them if you prefer.  Please note these are just general guidelines that I have learned over the years.  I do NOT have any veterinary training and it’s important for you to double-check your information with your dog’s vet.


I made labels for each of my spray bottles that hold the cleaners I make.  Previously I used stick on labels but when the cleaner would drip down, it would ruin them.  So these are made of craft foam and embellished with some appropriate symbols as well. 

Other odours around the house:  Oatmeal or baking soda both absorb odours (the box of baking soda in the fridge) - you can use either of them on your carpets....sprinkle on and let it sit for a bit, then vacuum up.  You can also put baking soda inside plastic containers like Tupperware that have taken on an odour and it will absorb it.  Newspapers can do the same thing with some success - crumple up inside old trunks, inside plastic containers, etc.  Sometimes you can put books that have a musty smell into plastic bin with some newspapers or open oatmeal/baking soda containers to freshen them up too.  You can even fill little squares of cheesecloth with some baking soda, tie them shut, and place them inside shoes, gym bags, or other smelly items to help reduce odours.  Charcoal is another item that can help to absorb odours and moisture and lavender is one that helps to absorb while adding a pleasant scent.  Both of these are great hung in bags within a closet to keep it fresh, put in dresser drawers, hung up in your basement or storage rooms etc.  I have even made a mixture of charcoal, baking soda, and lavender and hung these in my basement as well as in the area where I have my litter boxes and they do a great job of neutralizing odours. How often you need to change these depends on the nature of the odours you’re dealing with.  In my closets and drawers, I only change them out every 6 months or so – usually when I do a seasonal clean out of my clothing.  In the area where the cat’s litterboxes are though, I change these monthly.

Litterboxes:  Clean kitty litter container with a paste of baking soda and water to scrub it out. Then follow up with plain white vinegar. I also sprinkle some baking soda into the pans before putting in the cat litter and this helps to keep odours down.

Pet stains:  If there are pet stains around the house, wipe them up and then I like to put a paste of baking soda and water on it.  Let that sit for a bit and then use a scrub brush to brush it away.  Clean the area with a mixture of 1/2 tsp dish detergent, 1 tsp vinegar, in 1 qt of water.    If an odour remains, you can repeat this procedure again.  If it's still there, then 2 T each of ammonia and water but leave ammonia as your last resort.


I attached the labels with a piece of elastic so that they would be easily removable.  On the reverse side of each label is the “recipe” for the cleaning formula so that whenever I have to mix up a new batch, the recipe for it is oh so handy! The writing of the recipes is done with Creative Hands SmART Craft Foam Markers.  Instead of the white craft foam for the labels, on some of them I used red to indicate that they contained some ingredients that are harsher to the skin (like tea tree oil) as a quick visual reminder to put on some gloves!

Door knobs are one of the surfaces in your home holding the most germs – light switches are a close second.  Evict those germs with a simple mixture of 2 T. liquid soap in 1 cup of water.  Add a drop of tea tree oil for extra sanitizing. 

Windows and mirrors:  Lots of people know about the idea of using vinegar, sprayed onto the surface, and then wiping away the streaks with newspapers but this solution isn’t always the best one.  If you find that on some glass surfaces, vinegar alone isn’t sufficient try a more heavy duty cleaner such as 1/4 cup vinegar, 1/2 tsp. liquid soap, and 2 cups of water.  For a simple streak free cleaner, try club soda!

Cutting boards:  We all know the dangers of bacteria and cross-contamination occurring on cutting boards.  Most of the time, I simply clean off any bits of food from the board and wash with soap and hot water.  For additional cleaning, I sprinkle on some baking soda and then use half a lemon as a scrubber.  For further sanitizing, (for example after using for chicken or anything else that may have additional bacteria concerns to it), I spray it with vinegar and leave it sitting overnight like that.  In the morning, I rinse off the vinegar and if needed  I will even sometimes wash with soap and hot water one more time before putting away.  Often, I will use the soap and water method as my usual daily cleaning routine and then add in the deeper cleaning/sanitizing methods every few days or once a week.

Oven Cleaning:  I find this one of my biggest challenges in eco-friendly cleaning.  Prevention is part of the answer.  Clean up all spills as soon as possible to prevent them from being baked onto the oven surface.  If your oven is of a design to accommodate it, place some aluminum foil over the bottom of the oven so if a spill occurs, you can simply remove the foil and toss it into your recycle bin.  Note:  some ovens are designed in such a way that they cannot accommodate the foil – be sure to check out yours and contact your manufacturer for clarification if unsure. 

Some spills may still occur.  If this happens, I spray the oven with water and then sprinkle on baking soda (or washing soda if you need something stronger).  Leave this overnight at which time it will form into a paste.  In the morning, clean with a sponge or rag (or one of those scouring pads that are safe for surfaces that may scratch) and follow up with some soap and water. 

IF YOU MUST use a commercial oven cleaner (one of the WORST of all commercial cleaning products in terms of toxicity but on occasion you may encounter an issue that eco-cleaners can’t deal with), then here’s my tip for you:  Remove the oven racks.  Spray on some of the oven cleaner into the oven– you can use less than you normally do.  It just needs the thinnest layer you can put on.  Then lay a black garbage bag over the sprayed surface making sure it touches the surface of the oven and the cleaner.  Spray cleaner on each of the oven racks and place each one into a black garbage bag – again only use the thinnest layer of cleaner you possibly can.  I usually then place these into the bathtub and leave them and the oven overnight.  For some reason, the black garbage bags react chemically with the oven cleaner and it boosts the effectiveness of the cleaner so that you can use much less.  In the morning, plain water to rinse away the commercial cleaner followed up by some soap and water is all that’s needed.  PLEASE, though, only use this method as an absolute final resort!

Laundry solutions:  Liquid laundry soap:  Mix together 1/2 cup Borax, 1/2 cup washing soda, and about 1 3/4 gallons of water.  Boil 1 cup of soap flakes (or grated bar soap) in about 1/4 gallon of water and add it to the first mixture.  You can add some drops of essential oil if desired.  If you have hard water, a bit more washing soda will help.  Use about 1/2 cup per load of laundry.

Powdered laundry soap:  Combine 1 cup soap flakes or grated bar soap, 1/2 cup Borax, and 1/2 cup washing soda.  Use about 1 T. for a light load and 2 T. for heavier loads.

Fabric softener:  Add a cup of plain white vinegar to the rinse cycle.  Some lemon juice can be added here as well to add some fragrance and for a bleach substitute.

One final tip:  You know those containers of cleaning wipes you can buy?  Well at this link there’s a great idea for making your own – you can add any of these homemade cleaners to this idea to make it eco-friendly AND handy.  http://organizedhome.com/clean-house/make-your-own-cleaning-wipes

On the show I also shared some creative ideas for making labels for your cleaning supplies, dishes for your soaps and scrubbies, making your own scrubbies, and more.  Check it out!  http://www.linqto.com/PlaybackRoom.aspx?roomname=creativeedventures&name=SingleExplicit_2011_04_26_19_59_57_126

1 comment:

  1. In reference to litter box cleaning: Green Tea Leaves litter is a flushable, eco-friendly, odor free litter that is fantastic. Just flush it and you are done.



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