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Do greener cleaners live up to Earth-friendly promise?

Posted February 9, 2009
Updated March 9, 2009

— Many companies are selling household cleaners that claim to be more environmentally friendly than their predecessors. Do the “green” cleaners live up to their promises?

Ginger Pasley, an environmental scientist and instructor at Wake Tech Community College, says many "green" cleaners are, in fact, better for the environment.

She suggests that consumers read the labels and look for biodegradable ingredients.

"(This cleaner) contains no phosphates. That's a good thing,” Pasley said as she looked at one product. “Once this is released into the environment, it's going to last less than 30 days."

Do greener cleaners live up to Earth-friendly promise? Do greener cleaners live up to promise?

Green cleaners use plant-based ingredients. Cleaners that use ammonia, chlorine or phosphates are not as Earth-friendly.

Greener cleaners are more expensive. However, Pasley says families can save money by making their own products.

"Baking soda, vinegar and lemon juice – that's about all you need to clean your house," she said.

Vinegar is a de-greaser, baking soda is a mild abrasive and lemon juice is a natural disinfectant.

"It's a little bit more work for you, but a lot better for your health and for the environment,” Pasley said.

Kelly Reaves, who has children in her house and a baby on the way, said a healthy environment is very important to her.

“I know a lot of this stuff is new, so I haven't really gotten to try it. But, definitely, it's something we would think about,” she said. “You never really know what's in certain things."

Pasley shared some of the following Earth-friendly household cleaner recipes:

  • Mix three parts water, one part white vinegar and a few drops of concentrated castile (plant-based) soap to create your own biodegradable spray cleaner. A few drops of tea tree oil can be added as a natural disinfectant and to give it a fresh scent.
  • Vinegar cleans glass and leaves no streaks. Dilute or use at full strength. Add lemon rind to your spray bottle for a nice scent.
  • Use a lemon, cut in half, to disinfect your counter. Add salt on it to scrub away dirt/lime scale. Salt can be used as a mild abrasive and it won't scratch porcelain. Let the lemon juice dry, then wipe it off with a wet rag.
  • Cornstarch will remove grease from counter-tops. Sprinkle cornstarch on grease, let it soak in and then wipe it away with a damp cloth.
  • Borax can be used to clean stains from carpets. Make a paste by mixing Borax with water. Apply it to a dry stain and then vacuum it once the paste dries.
  • Baking soda or Borax can be added to laundry to boost the detergent's cleaning power.
  • Clean your drains by pouring equal parts of baking soda and vinegar (at least a half-cup each) down the drain. Let it set for a few minutes, then flush it down with a kettle of boiling water.

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  • micah Feb 9, 2009

    I wish people would do a little research before they start spouting off how "dangerous" CFL's are. Modern CFL's contain an average of 4mg of mercury, with some as low as 1.5mg. A standard 4 foot flourescent tube (like found in offices, stores, schools) contains an average of 8mg of mercury. As a CFL ages, most of the mercury becomes chemically bound up in the phosphors and is no longer very dangerous. In the USA last year we released about 105 metric tons of mercury into the air, mainly from coal burning power plants. If you took all 305 million of the CFL's sold in the USA last year and broke them open in your yard this would about to about 0.17 metric tons of mercury released! Using a CFL is SO much more energy efficient that it actually lessens the mercury impact on the environment because they use less energy from coal burning plants. If you break a CFL in your house just clean it up well trying not to touch it. Double bag the shards. Wash your hands. No big deal.

  • Pseudonym Feb 9, 2009


    Another "green" item that is actually very dangerous are these compact flourescent lightbulbs that are being pushed on us. These contain mercury, and if one breaks in your house, you have to call the HAZMAT team.

  • vote4changeASAP Feb 9, 2009

    Have problems with black mold that won't go away? You have to kill the spores.

    Mix 1 quart Chlorox, 2/3 cup Borax, 1/3 cup Tide powder and fill sprayer with water to make one gallon total solution. Works wonders, especially on white structures outdoors.

    Also works on green mildew.

  • scientistjo Feb 9, 2009

    Correction. I just said "maybe, maybe not" about chemicals harming the planet. Chemicals do get into our water supply and then we drink them. That sounds pretty harmful to me.

  • scientistjo Feb 9, 2009

    "Here's a thought, buy the cleaner that's just a simple non-green cleaner. You'll save a buck each time and the earth will never know the difference." -deathrow

    Maybe, maybe not. However, harsh chemicals do affect your health. Using greener products would be beneficial to your body.

  • vote4changeASAP Feb 9, 2009

    Part of the problem is with the numerous plastic containers that will lay in the ground for eternity.

  • jse830fcnawa030klgmvnnaw+ Feb 9, 2009

    hi_i_am_wade, it really depends on the ingredients. If you use natural ingredients as mentioned in this article, it will breakdown a lot faster and not pollute the groundwater. My concern with the green stuff is that most are not antibacterial, which I need for some household chores (like cleaning litterboxes).

    Plus, your statement about solar panels depends on the manufacturing process. If the manufacturer practices "green" process, there would be very little pollution created. If I purchase any solar panels, I would research how the manufacturing was done to ensure that it was as green as possible.

  • kittlyn Feb 9, 2009

    Making my own cleaners would be great, but I never have all the ingredients I need. I've just found some USDA Organic cleaners called Greenology that seem to work great and leave me with the relief of knowing that we're all safe around them. I found surface wipes at The Fresh Market.

  • chattrj Feb 9, 2009

    I like the idea of making my own cleaners, but who has the time. Seventh Generation seems to work pretty well. The showers cleaner, tile and grout cleaner is not very effective on the 1st cleaning, keep in mind it did not take a day for the shower to get that dirty, it is not going to come clean with one cleaning. If you are not up to making your own I suggest 7th generation, and Mrs. May's Clean Day.

  • Ol Forrester Feb 9, 2009

    Have you priced lemons lately? These are not cheap cleaners.