Eco-Friendly Cleaners: Vanilla or Chocolate Chip?

If you are tuned into this website, you have probably already explored the need to ditch many of the cleaning products that used to be old standbys. I don’t even need to go into what is on the label and why natural cleaning solutions are a necessity to green living. What many do not realize is that green cleaning products come in two different flavors. There are those that come from the store, sold as “green” cleaners. This constitutes one type of natural cleaner. The other type of green cleaning products are those that can be made from things in your kitchen cupboard such as baking soda, vinegar, lemon juice, and others. Many opinions exist as to which are better and these opinions divide green cleaners into two camps.

However, the problem comes to roost on Friday night when you stand at your shower, brush in hand, faced with a nasty layer of soap scum. Hummmm, which to use? Do I choose name brand green cleaners or Vinegar and baking soda?

We are lucky to live in an age where we have instant access to the wisdom of millions of wise old grandmothers and their wisdom at the stroke of a key. Previous generations only had access to the wisdom of a few grandmothers at best. Now, when your three year old spills peanut butter and jelly on the white carpet, steps in it and goes running through the house because they know that they were not supposed to have it in the living room anyway, you can just type in, “peanut butter and jelly on carpet” and come up with a wealth of suggestions. Problem solved, right? Wrong, now you have too many options to choose from, so which is best?

The answer to that is that it depends on what the spill is and what it happens to be on. Of course, makers of eco-friendly cleaning products claim that theirs clean better than the homemade flavor, but do they really? Opinions differ all over the Internet, so much that it will make your head swim. Let’s examine some of the products from my own arsenal.

  • Baking soda (Sodium Bicarbonate) is the ultimate odor neutralizer. It neutralizes acid, deodorizes carpets, fabrics, refrigerators and anything else that needs it. It polishes metals and plastics.
  • Borax deodorizes too, but it also prevents mold and mildew. It removes stains, something baking soda does not.
  • Cornstarch cleans windows, carpets, and polishes furniture.
  • Alcohol is the all time disinfectant.
  • Lemon juice deodorizes, cleans glass and is a stain remover.
  • Vinegar is an anti-mildew agent and degreaser. It also does windows, stone, brick, and concrete

These are the basics from the kitchen cupboard. There are simply too many suggestions on how to use these products to go into. A number of recipes are also available that clean a specific surface or a particular spill, but all of them rely only on a few basics, such as those listed.

Now there are a number of natural cleaning products available by environmentally minded companies that claim to do the same thing, only without all of the elbow grease and hassle. The truth about them is on the label. Many of the green cleaning products that can be found on the grocery store shelf are made with things like vinegar, filtered water, grain alcohol, natural surfactants, and borax. Several other products take the high tech approach using specialized natural ingredients. These included amino acids, vitamins, minerals and ingredients that are made from edible seeds, green vegetables, and seed bearing plants. Another approach to the manufactured line of “green” products uses essential oils, glycerine, coconut based cleaning agents, corn based ethanol, biodegradable preservatives (but they do not tell you what), and blue and yellow coloring.

These are only a few of the many variations of natural and eco-friendly products available on the open market. What does this tell us? Read the labels. One of the most popular “green brands” claims to be 99% petrochemical free. Yet, I do not see any petrochemicals listed on the label. The bottom line is to know what you are buying.

Now back to the basic question of whether all natural things from your kitchen cupboard are “better” than those marketed commercially as ‘green”. The answer depends on the product and the philosophy of the company behind it. For those that are simply the ingredients put together from things in your kitchen cupboard for the convenience of not having to mix them in a spray bottle yourself, the answer is, “no”. These are the same thing.

The answer to the question about commercial products that are all different. If you try to use them in way in which they were not designed, they will not work. The same can be said for the things in your kitchen as well. The all-purpose cleaner, whether it comes from the factory, or from your kitchen, will only perform it if is used for what it does best. This is a mistake that many make with any type of cleaning product. If you use oven cleaner to clean your hardwood floors, the result could be disastrous. It makes no difference whether the cleaner is a “natural” manufactured product or sea salt, vinegar, baking soda, and lemon juice. They must be used as intended in order to work. Our grandmothers and great grandmothers relied on the cleaners from their cupboard for many years and they managed to keep their homes sparkling clean (insert “ting” sound). So, yes they do work and work wonderfully, but so do manufactured products when used as directed. Regardless of the option that you choose, it pays to do some research first. A little research will pay off big in the long run.

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