green cleaning

Go Green this Spring!

By: Kelly Siegel

Although it still feels like winter in parts of the Midwest, spring is officially here!  As we gear up for the start of spring and plan spring activities it is important to remember to keep these activities green.  Here are some ideas to make the most of the season:

  1. Get your hands dirty and plant a vegetable garden.  It takes some work and patience now, but when you are eating your home grown tomatoes this summer, it will all be worth it.
  2. Get outside.  Go for long walks, bike rides, or runs and explore your neighborhood you have missed over winter.
  3. Many of us associate spring with spring cleaning.  Go through those old boxes and your closet and donate, recycle, or reuse anything you don’t need any more. You never know what you might find!
  4. On the topic of spring cleaning, use green cleaning supplies.  There are even ways to make your own.  It is very simple and not only better for the environment, but your wallet as well. 
  5. Use reusable water bottles – You can get some with cool designs and not waste plastic water bottles. 

Do you have other tips to go green this spring?  Please share.

Kelly Siegel is a student volunteer in the EPA’s Air and Radiation Division in Region 5, and is currently obtaining her Master’s degree in Urban Planning and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  She has a passion for sustainable development, running, and traveling with friends

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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How Things Have Changed…Green Cleaning Part 3

By Lina Younes

I still have vivid images of cleaning days in my grandmother’s home in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico when I was a child. I remember watching my great aunt using a lot of water and detergents to wash the tile floors, bleach the sheets, and perform other household chores. The entire operation was very labor intensive and used a precious resource: water.

Now, we fast forward to the 21st century and household cleaning, overall, has become much easier and faster. However, the one problem that I see with these “practical” methods is that many of the new tools tend to be disposable. Disposable wipes for use everywhere—countertops, cabinets, and floors—even disposable toilet bowl cleaners. While we recommend as a green cleaning method to use reusable wipes and rags to minimize waste, it’s hard to believe that many consumers don’t succumb to temptation and use the more practical methods even if they generate waste.

So, I decided to look further into the issue of disposable wipes. While they definitely fulfill the practical requirement, are they green? On the plus side, they clean while minimizing the use of water. On the negative side, they just end up in the landfill after use. Well, in this case, technology has once again saved the day! Some companies have developed compostable wipes made largely of material such as bamboo fibers which are biodegradable and compostable, so we can allay the fears of our green conscience. For a full listing, visit our Design for the Environment website.

So what are your thoughts on the issue? Would love to hear from you!

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Green Cleaning, Part 2…Two Sides of the Coin

After last week’s blogpost on “Green Cleaning,” I received comments from a broad spectrum of stakeholders, including those who insist on totally natural products to some of our partners in the Design for the Environment Partnership, cautioning that some of the green tips I had listed might not be as healthy for consumers and the environment as originally assumed. I have consulted with friends in the Design for the Environment (DfE) program in EPA to guide me through this process. I would like to share some of their thoughts with you regarding the DfE label.

Dfeb&g1I confess that we all would like to abide by the greenest practices possible. However, the definition of green is truly in the eye of the beholder. While I will not attempt to give a course on Chemistry 101, there are some basic chemical reasons why some homemade recipes may work, but may not perform as well as a commercial product. It seems likely, for example, that baking soda alone may not perform as well as a formulated product containing surfactants and other key ingredients. Baking soda works simply by raising the pH of the water, i.e., increasing alkalinity. Surfactants actually lower the surface tension of water molecules enabling water to easily carry dirt and grease away. This chemical interaction is one of the main reasons why we rarely have one-ingredient cleaning products.

Furthermore, some of these homemade cleaning agents like baking soda, borax, ammonia, and bleach may be ineffective or toxic if used incorrectly. In fact, since some are very reactive, they should be used with caution. For example, if bleach is mixed with ammonia, harmful chloramine gas can form. While borax is often suggested as a green detergent, there have been studies that link borax to reproductive, development and neurological toxicities. Lye (used to make soap at home) is extremely alkaline and dangerous in concentrated form. It is “corrosive” meaning that it can cause burns on the skin and permanent eye damage.

In making our homemade concoctions, we might actually neutralize the effectiveness of the natural ingredients such as vinegar, lemon juice, and lime juice while we’re cleaning. Since we are not naturally born chemists, our mishandling of these supposedly benign household substances may produce more harm than good.  One word of advice in using any type of cleaning product, disinfectant or pesticide—more is not always better. Follow instructions carefully.

So, if you prefer a commercial option that’s safer for people and the planet, look for the DfE logo on the label. The rigorous testing and certification process can give you peace of mind.

About the author:  Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force.  Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.