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In Honor Of Planet Earth (In H.O.P.E.)

Himes: Spring cleaning, healthy edition

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This month’s column is dedicated to a dear friend.

She swears by bleach, uses it every day to clean and by her own admission is obsessive about a clean home. She also breathes like Darth Vader and you’d think she’s a chain-smoker. But she’s not; she’s a bleach addict! She suffers from asthma and allergies and refuses to believe they might be caused by those toxic containers and spray bottles under her kitchen sink.

We’ve all used them. They contain formaldehyde, alcohol, pesticides and a cocktail of other chemicals. They are deadly when ingested and slowly killing us when used properly. They are the common household cleaners we’ve inhaled and trusted for years.

I am on the campaign trail for more natural options. I don’t want germs, either, but I’m told that all of the “anti-bacterial/ disinfectant” products are killing the good germs as well as the bad, leaving us all more susceptible to disease than we were with regular soap. I do not recommend these “germ killing”’ products nor am I endorsing the ‘green cleaners’ with appealing labels and empty promises.

In America, manufacturers of household cleaners are not required to list ingredients on their label, so they don’t. What that means is these products probably are more harmful than you want to know. Or, they are “greenwashing” us to believe that because they have a few botanicals in them, they are safe, but that is not always the whole truth.

There are three consumer product guides to help you select the healthiest and safest alternatives: “Good Guide” (, which ranks 4,300 cleaners on a 1-10 scale; “Eco-Scale,” sponsored by Whole Foods, which uses a color- coded system (www.wholefoodsmarket. com); and “Guide to Healthy Cleaning” (www.ewg. org), which ranks 2,000 cleaners on an A-F basis.

The “greenest” way to clean is using the old-fashioned, triedand- true ingredients that nature provides us (and Grandma still uses). If you are a DIY type, it’s much more affordable to make your own cleaners. Here’s a shopping list of ingredients you’ll need: 1. Distilled water (tap water has salts and minerals that lead to spotting and build-up.) 2. Washing soda (sodium carbonate) 3. Borax (sodium carbonate) — a natural compound, laundry booster, fungicide/insecticide and all-around multi-purpose cleanser. 4. White distilled vinegar (acetic acid) 5. Liquid soap (sodium hydroxide) — choose from vegetable oil-based soaps such as olive oil or sweet almond.

6. Essential oils. These are extracted from plants and add pleasant aromas to your home but also provide potent antimicrobial effects. Here are a few favorites: tea tree and eucalyptus for air and surface sanitizers, lemon for a clean, sweet and deodorizing effect, or peppermint for a minty fresh air purifier and mild pest repellent.

You will also need a few spray bottles, natural bristle scrubbing brushes, a cotton dusting cloth and Hemp or Jute fiber scrubbing cloth.

Follow these recipes:

  » Spray cleaner — 2 cups water, ½ tsp. sodium borate, ¼ tsp liquid soap and 36 drops of essential oil.

  » Window cleaner — 2 cups water, 3 tbsp vinegar, ¼ tsp liquid soap and 36 drops essential oil.

  » Furniture polish— 3 tbsp vinegar, ½ tsp jojoba oil, 10 drops lemon essential oil

  » Gentle scouring cream— ½ cup baking soda, liquid soap, 18 drops essential oil (add oil to baking soda and blend, then add liquid soap a few drops at a time until creamy paste forms).

  » Carpet deodorizing powder— 1 cup baking soda, 18 drops essential oil.

  » Carpet cleaner— 1 cup baking soda, 1 tsp liquid soap, 18 drops essential oil.

With a little elbow grease and some natural ingredients, anything is possible. Even Darth Vader can be silenced! Happy breathing.

Tracy Himes is a local speaker on environmental topics and operates and


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