Green Cleaners

Use these easy recipes to make your own safe and effective green cleaners and personal care products.

| April/May 2004

Green Cleaners

Household recipe books served as homemaking survival guides in the old days. Often passed on from mothers to daughters, these well-thumbed volumes told readers how to make everything from scrambled eggs to laundry-stain remover, bath soap and house paint. Based on herbal lore, the household and personal-care recipes of yesterday mostly relied on natural ingredients for green cleaners found in everyone's kitchen cupboard, garden or nearby field. Today, they still can provide safe, effective and inexpensive alternatives to the mostly chemical-based products that line our supermarket shelves.

In 1980, I was exposed to a gas leak at work and then, one month later, an insecticide that has since been taken off the market because of its toxicity was used by exterminators on my apartment building. After this one-two punch to my central nervous system, I became supersensitive to environmental chemicals, and began to research the startling extent to which chemicals are used in commercial cleaning and personal products — from hair spray and floor wax to dandelion killers and shower curtains. Many everyday products contain ingredients that cause environmental pollution that damages the ozone layer, disrupts wildlife's hormones and increases our risks of cancer and central nervous system disorders.

In the natural world, though, we can find an astonishing abundance of safe ingredients to make alternative products, many of which can be traced to the old recipe books. In my book, Better Basics for the Home, I have retrieved some of the old-time know-how that was abandoned with the arrival of the chemical age. If we can establish healthier homes, we'll go a long way toward establishing a healthier planet. By using our own recipes or purchasing less-toxic commercially made products, we can simplify our lives, feel empowered by our "potions" and save ourselves a bundle of money over time.

And yes, these less-toxic products really do work because they're based on simple chemistry: folk recipes were predicated on the pH scale of acid and alkaline. On this scale, 7 is neutral; anything greater than 7 is alkaline (examples include baking soda, washing soda, borax and lye) and anything less than 7 is acidic (including vinegar and lemon juice). Alkaline substances are effective cleaners of acidic materials, and acidic substances clean alkalines.

My daughter learned about acids and alkalines in third grade in an easy way, and you can try this, too: Simply cut a red cabbage into wedges and boil in just enough water to cover. Let cool, then strain the juice into a jar. Cabbage juice has a neutral pH — when added to acids, it turns pink; when added to alkalines, it turns yellowish green. If you want to neutralize an odor or a stain but don't know its pH, try this test, then use an alkaline cleaner on acidic stains and an acidic cleaner on alkaline stains.

To help you get started with your own less-toxic cleaners, see below for a selection of recipes. The recipe ingredients can be found in grocery, drug and health food stores.

8/7/2013 6:21:26 AM


My wife is breastfeeding currently so I don't want any strong chemicals... I seriously think baking powder is the most versatile substance on the planet! I'm surprised we're not fuelling our cars with it, as well as cleaning our ovens :P Thanks for the great post, would have preferred to have seen it earlier, mind! ;) After trying <a href="">oven cleaning kent</a> and <a href="">oven cleaning birmingham</a> I thought I was set - but I never thought there'd be posts like this - the power of the Internet, eh?!

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