By Gavin @ The Greening of Gavin
Since our family started the journey towards a more sustainable lifestyle, our cleaning methods have changed towards more non-toxic products, that do less harm to us when we clean, and less harm to the environment as run-off.
We started using grey water at the very beginning of the journey to water the garden, so we needed to change our laundry powder to one that had no Phosphorous and no Sodium so that we could use the water neat in the garden. The phosphorous would have damaged the native Australian plants, and the sodium tends to make the soil repel water, and increases the salinity. Also, any run-off that the plants don't use, does not contaminate the ground water. We found, after trying a couple of NP brands, that the Planet Ark Aware laundry powder worked the best for us. After reading an article in Choice Magazine, we found that it was not made from any petrochemicals, but there are probably similar brands now around the world. Kim raves about it to anyone who will listen, because a 1 Kg box lasts her approximately 8 weeks for 4 peoples clothes as you only use 3 tablespoons per wash. We also use a NP fabric softener, but don't use it very much, and have been substituting with white vinegar in the last two months with great results. When washing towels, Kim pops in a few drops of eucalyptus oil to kill of any bacteria. It makes them smell nice too.
With the laundry sorted, we looked to the kitchen. We buy an earth friendly washing up liquid for the kitchen dishes that is also low in phosphates and sodium. We still use the dishwasher occasionally when we have a mountain of dirty dishes. We use bi-carbonate soda (baking soda) instead of dishwashing powered, and vinegar for the rinse aide. We have found this to be very effective, even on some of the tougher dirt. To get rid of a smelly dishwasher we give it a thorough clean with vinegar and bi-carb soda, then put it through a cycle. So we are not only saving a fair bit of water, about 8 kWh of power a week, and caustic dish washing tablets, but we have also realised something profound. When you wash dishes by hand, and you have someone drying them with you, you actually talk to each other and everything is cleaned far better than it would have in a dishwasher. Not only do you have quality control via an instant feedback loop, you can have a laugh and a joke around at the same time. There is only one rule that we stick to, and that is that the cook does not wash up. You can shotgun for the rest of the washing, drying or putting away!
Cleaning windows and mirrors is a cinch with vinegar in a spray bottle and newspaper. Not only is it cheap, but it keeps mould away, and stops mirrors from fogging up. It gives a nice clear finish without any smell. You can throw that Windex away now! We also use white vinegar as an anti-bacterial to wipe the kitchen surfaces when dirty. Stubborn stains are dealt with by a paste of water and bi-carb soda. I would rather have a small child accidentally swallow vinegar than some of the other nastier cleaning products kept under the average kitchen sink!
About a month ago we had a bad smell coming out of the kitchen sink, so it was out with the bi-carb soda, and down the drain with about 4 tablespoons of the white powder. After about a minute I followed it up with a quarter of a cup of white vinegar and let it all fizzle. Let it go for about 3 minutes and then flush with some very hot water. Our drain have never have smelled so nice, and I may have gotten rid of a lot of built up grease as well.
The last cleaning thing I can think of is that my daughters Amy & Megan give the showers a weekly once over with some paste made up of bi-carb and water, with an microfiber glove and old rags, which gets rid of the soap scum that collects there. A little bit hot water afterwards washes it all away. Oh, I forgot the toilet. We use bi-carb soda to clean it as well, with a little white vinegar in the final flush.
As for washing ourselves, I just use pure soap, but Kim and the kids use a liquid soap that is one of the organic brands. We use an organic shampoo, but I have heard that bi-carb works just as well in very small doses. I could make the soap, I just haven’t got around to it yet, and I don't think I will stretch my greenness or luck that far with Kim just yet :). I shave with a pigs bristle brush, having given away shaving cream in a can (just use soap), but am having trouble finding an alternative to disposable razors or blades. I don't shave very much, as I have a goatee, so I would not use as many as the average guy. I might investigate a cut throat razor in the near future, as they last for a very long time, and you sharpen (or is it blunt-en) it yourself. Sweeney Todd eat your heart out!
Well that is about all I can think that we use. We simply questioned that if things were safe for us they would be safe for the planet. We made the changes slowly over the course of about a year. If you have a couple of bottles of white vinegar and a big box of bi-carb soda, you have almost all you need to clean the house up. I did get most of the tips originally from reading Greeniology. Tanya Ha has a whole chapter on green cleaning. It helped finding all the good tips in the one place, and the tips a simple to implement. Since then I have found so many cleaning tips on sustainable living blogs, mainly from all of the co-ops co-authors personal blogs.
To summarise, we save so much money on cleaning products (vinegar and bi-carb are cheap), feel safe when we clean, and know that it is better for the planet. Simply green, and making a difference! All we need to do now is safely get rid of the unused toxic products that are left over under the sink. Our local council should be able to help out. They have special collection days for household chemicals once a month.