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I've suffered with varying degrees of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity for twenty years, so I was one of the early devotees to environmentally friendly cleaning products. Given that most American families regularly use toxic chemical cleaners in their homes, housekeeping creates a huge impact -- our sinks and toilets create a nasty assault on our health and the environment.

Most "freshening" chemicals contain VOC's that cause respiratory problems, and chlorine is a menace to health and environment. The truth is that most companies don't have to disclose the chemicals they use in the cleaning products they sell. And there are a lot of harmful toxins in the products we think make us clean.

E.C.S.T.A.S.Y.End Consumption, Save The Air & Sea, Y'all!

A support group and discussion forum for those who want to kick the habits of consumption that are damaging the world we live in.

My MCS is a lot better now, but I still think it's important to take a graduated approach at using household chemicals. I can almost always get away with eblow grease and a rag, soaking in a little water or mild soap solution. Many chemicals can be replaced with lemon juice and vinegar -- and they really do a good job without the toxic stuff. It's true that once in a while it's nice to have a strong solvent or other chemical to do a job, but most of the time it is overkill. You really can reduce you environmental impact and your integrated chemical exposure by starting with the friendly stuff and using the toxic cleaners only as a last resort.

White vinegar -- You can get 1-2 gallon tubs of this stuff cheaply at a place like Costco, but I get it by the 1/2 gallon at the grocery store to save space. And don't be afraid of using it, either. Sure, vinegar stinks, but the smell dissipates pretty quickly, and it works well on so many things.

Lemon juice -- I buy a package of two large RealLemon bottles at Costco for less than $5.00, and this lasts for months. I use it mostly for cleaning inside my fridge and for cutting boards and such in the kitchen. It's also good for freshening up the garbage disposal.

Baking Soda -- Again, a large box of this stuff is cheap!

Borax -- Another cheap and useful one. Get a large box if you can, especially if you have rusty or very hard water.

Liquid castille soap -- This stuff is a little pricey, but we don't use it by the bucketful, so for me it's worth the expense. "Castille" soap is vegetable based, non-toxic, and it doesn't leave much of a film. I can get Dr. Bronner's in bulk at my local co-op.

Degreasing dishsoap -- Okay, so this isn't entirely natural. Still, put a mixture of it and water (strength depends on how much grime cutting action you want) and put it in a squirt bottle. I get a medium sized bottle of generic "Dawn" knockoff, and it lasts for months this way.

Vegetable oils -- Depending on the surface, a vegetable oil can be great for scrubbing metals. Cast iron cleans well with a little oil and a stiff screen or rough scouring pad, as do other metals that take abrasion. Oils are also good for protecting surfaces.

Linseed oil -- This stuff is madly expensive, so you might not want to spend the money unless you have a dedicated use for it. It's great for shining floors and protecting wood, though. There are several eco-friendly cleaners that contain this oil, so read the ingredients if you want some of its benefits at a lower price.

Use straight lemon juice to clean the inside of your refrigerator. It's great for getting dried up spills, and icky stuff that winds up behind or under a drawer.

Lemon juice is good for freshening the garbage disposal, especially when baking soda doesn't help. Every so often, dump a quarter cup of baking soda into the disposal and let it sit for the day. Give it a good rinse, and follow with lemon juice -- let it sit for twenty minutes or so.

Make up a squirt bottle of greasecutting dish soap and water to use as a degreaser. This is great general cleaner for countertops, stovetops, windows, mirrors, and floors, and it leaves no harsh chemical smells behind. It's also good for loosening up junk that's stuck to pots and pans. I use about 4-1 or 3-1 water-soap in a squirt bottle, usually.

Some people like to use car wax on their kitchen sinks to keep them shining. I'm dubious about this, as car wax must contain some nasty organic chemicals. If you're a sink shiner, you might try rubbing with an eco friendly product that contains linseed oil. For that matter, mineral oil might work well, too.

To scrub the kitchen sink, try making a paste of castille soap and baking soda, and scrub with a scouring pad. Finish it off a with spray of white vinegar to get rid of the cloudy residue.

Consider scrubbing rusty water stains with a borax/water paste before trying something stronger.  

Use lemon juice to clean cutting boards. If they are stinky, consider letting them sit with a few squirts of vinegar on them. The vinegar smell really does dissipate pretty quickly. If that doesn't work, try a mixture of baking soda and dish soap.

Much of what you use in the kitchen works for the bathroom -- but let's talk about toilets and tubs.

The toilet bowl cleaner you choose is important, because it goes into the waste water stream. Truth is, you can get away with using no toilet bowl cleaner most of the time -- if you swish the toilet with a brush every day. It's no big deal if it becomes a habit.

Use vinegar to clean under the rim. Just squirt and let it sit for a while, then scrub. If you have a rusty ring in the bowl, stir in a scoopful of borax and let it sit for a while before scrubbing. If that doesn't work, choose an eco-friendly toilet bowl cleaner.

I scrub my tub with green scouring pads that are too worn for use in the kitchen. If I need some soap, I use the dishsoap from my squirt bottle.

I use bars of Dr. Bronner's soap for handwashing and showers. They are pricey, but I use them because I have chemical sensitivity to ingredients in so many other soaps. I found that this soap doesn't leave a film residue, so it's much easier to clean the tub. If you want to cut back on necessary tub scrubbing, use castille soap when you bathe.

To bleach grout, spray a layer of suds from my dishsoap bottle on the grout before spraying chlorine bleach on it. Much less chlorine is needed that way. If the grout is moldy, saturate a wet rag with dishsoap, and then spray a little bleach on it before applying to the groat for a couple of hours. Add an extra squirt of bleach only if needed.

This is one of the biggest offenders, because the cleaners go straight into the waste water stream, and the detergents contain some really offensive chemicals, including artificial fragrances. Also, you wear the clothes washed in these chemicals, so they are close to your skin most of the time.

A lot of loads can be cleaned with baking soda only. Mentally, I like to have some soap, though, so I don't do this as much as I should.

Add borax to eco-friendly, fragrance-free laundry detergent keep the load smelling fresh. If that isn't enough, use a naturally fragranced, eco-friendly laundry detergent. There are times when I just have to get out the big guns and use a regular detergent with fragrance to redeem a load, but that's really pretty rare.

Try adding a little lemon juice once the load starts to agitate as a mild bleach before trying chlorine or other chemical non-chlorine bleach. Chlorine makes stuff really white, but it is bad for the environment. It is sometimes necessary (when mold or bacteria is an issue, for example), but you can keep it to a mimimum.

I do keep a small bottle of fragrance-free laundry detergent (a generic brand that mimics Era or Tide) to put directly on stains. Incidentally, I found that this stuff gets stains out of my carpet better than rug cleaner: red wine and coffee particularly.

Windows and mirrors: Scrub the dirt and gook with your dish soap spray mix, and follow with vinegar to get rid of the streaks. I use rags of well-worn cotton floursack material, and it works pretty well.

When none of the above works, and you've got to use an industrial cleaner, try to avoid putting it into the water stream. I keep a small bottle of bleach, a small bottle of ammonia, and another bottle of Mr. Clean. I put them in a squirt bottle when I use them, though, so I don't have a bucket to dump down the drain at the end. It usually works to squirt a wet rag with the stuff and then scrub.

Sometimes it's a relief to use something stronger to get your home clean -- but those times are relatively few if you use the natural methods regularly. Most of the household cleaners in the store use "refreshing" fragrance to make you think your stuff gets cleaner with their product. If you just cut back on artificial fragrances and harmful chemicals (you don't have to go cold turkey on this), your health and the environment will thank you. But please be mindful of what goes into the wastewater stream.

Further reading:

How to make a non-toxic cleaning kit, by Anne B Bond.

66 Cleaning Solutions by Nicole Sforza.

Get a Greener Clean, by Samantha Gonzalez.

Here are a few important links:

  1. Annie Leonard's crucial movie, The Story of Stuff.
  1. An invaluable tool for calculating the ecological footprint of your lifestyle, from the good folks at Redefining Progress.  What's your score?
  1. The Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping
  1.  SCRAP - a creative reuse center, store and workshop space.

Donations of high quality, low cost, re-usable materials such as textiles, paper, jewelry findings, wood, buttons and plastics are collected from businesses, institutions and individuals then sorted, displayed and distributed by SCRAP for artists, educational and community groups.
For more creative reuse centers around the country, click here.

  1. Profound and stimulating philosophical perspectives on sustainability, civilization and the role of human nature from Technoshaman Jason Godesky.
  1. Freecycle.

The Freecycle Network™ is made up of 4,793 groups with 7,208,000 members across the globe. It's a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (& getting) stuff for free in their own towns. It's all about reuse and keeping good stuff out of landfills. Each local group is moderated by a local volunteer (them's good people). Membership is free. To sign up, find your community by entering it into the search box above or by clicking on "Browse Groups" above the search box. Have fun!

If you have a resource that should be included in ECSTASY diaries, please include the link and a few words about it in the comments.

ECSTASY diaries will appear most often on weekends and Thursday evenings.  All diaries dealing with the problems of living in a Consumerist society are potential candidates.  If you think you've got something to contribute, please contact WarrenS and he'll schedule you in.

The ECSTASY series thus far:

February 28: Introducing ECSTASY.
March 7: The Work of Julian Lee and Juliet Schor: Two Voices of Sanity.
March 10: G2Geek's Measure The Power.
March 14: Earthfire promoted Annie Leonard's appearance in Washington, DC.
March 21: RL Miller tells us about Chickens.
March 24: G2Geek prompts an unbelievable discussion about the
difference between Consumerist Time and Hunter-Gatherer Time.

March 28: citisven shares a thought-provoking and aesthetically satisfying look at the ways that one person's trash is another person's art materials.
April 4: WarrenS gives us the good word on Making Homemade Musical Instruments.
April 7: G2geek talks about what makes for robust and sustainable technology.
April 11: B Amer tells us how to find ECSTASY on our bicycles.
April 18: rb137 reviews Judith Levine's book, "Not Buying It!"
April 25: mwmwm's powerful rumination on our collective complicity in consumerism.
April 29: G2geek discusses the need for a new economic and emotional narrative.
May 2: WarrenS offers Eight Thoughts About Timescale.
May 6: G2geek talks about the ecological implications of Where You Keep Your Money.
May 9: rb137 gives us a powerful review of the role of "blood metals" in our consumer electronics — "Your Cellphone is Killing People!"
May 13: G2geek gives us the backstory of neo-feudalism, with more promised in the weeks to come.
May 16: Milly Watt tells us more about the power of feedback in reducing our consumption of electricity.
May 23: G2Geek presents part two of The Backstory of Neofeudalism
May 30: WarrenS asks an important question about consumerism and parenting: Can a Middle-Aged Dad Find ECSTASY?
June 2: Citisven delivers a kind indictment: we are all complicit in the horror that is the Gulf of Mexico.  His piece is called "You Can't Wipe That Spill With A Kleenex®" and it's well worth your attention.
June 6: WarrenS discusses the fallacy of the GDP, and looks at some other ways to quantify the health of our economy.
June 20: WarrenS talks about Giving Music Away.
June 27: Laughing Planet tells why we all need to do some more Walking!
July 4: WarrenS brags on his DIY Garden Project.
July 11: WarrenS reviews Juliet Schor's "Plenitude" and Bill McKibben's "eaarth" — and ruminates on the implications of convenience in our lives.

Originally posted to rb137 on Sun Jul 18, 2010 at 10:19 AM PDT.

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