A study published earlier this year in the journal Environmental Health found that breast cancer was twice as prevalent in women who reported using the highest amounts of cleaning products when compared to those using the lowest amounts. The good news is, you can easily (and cheaply) forgo store-bought cleaning formulas altogether, and mix your own green cleaners using recipes from Rodale.com and the nonprofit Women's Voices for the Earth.
Here's how to prep for seasonal guests and clean up holiday messes:
• Freshen up a guest bedroom
It's a mystery. Even though no one lives in them, guest bedrooms somehow get…stale. To create an atmosphere that will help your holiday guests melt into long winter's naps without using toxic chemicals, wash the sheets, pillowcases, and guest bathroom towels using this DIY laundry detergent.
1 cup soap flakes
½ cup washing soda
½ cup borax
Soap flakes can be made by grating your favorite pure vegetable soap (we like Dr. Bronner's) with a cheese grater. Mix ingredients together and store in a glass container. Use 1 tablespoon per load (2 tablespoons for heavily soiled laundry), and wash in warm or cold water.
This standard recipe can be adjusted for soft water by using 1 cup soap flakes, ¼ cup washing soda, and ½ cup borax. For hard water, use 1 cup soap flakes, 1 cup washing soda, and 1 cup borax. (Note: Borax should not be ingested.)
Tips: Add ½ cup white distilled vinegar to rinse as a fabric softener. For a whitener, use hydrogen peroxide rather than bleach. Soak your dingy white clothes for 30 minutes in the washer with ½ cup of 20 percent peroxide (that's a type of peroxide). Launder as usual.
• Clean up holiday stains
You've cleaned your house, your decorations are immaculate, everything seems to be in order. As you're admiring your work, the celebratory glass of wine in your hand tilts and spills all over your new holiday outfit. Grandma Betty is so excited to give your kid a slobbery kiss that she knocks her coffee right off of the table. Stains happen. You get the picture.
The first rule is this: Never rub the stain! Instead, blot or vacuum, then ID the source and provide specific and swift treatment as listed below. (Knowing that you're not using toxic stain-removal products containing neurotoxic solvents from store products can help calm your aggravation.) Once you pretest the fabric and soak according to the natural stain remover that will work best, you can scrub with warm or cool water, but never hot—it can set stains.
Beer: White vinegar
Berries: White vinegar
Blood (Hey, it's tough being civil with relatives over the holidays!): Soak the affected item in cold water (or even cold salt water) before washing.
Candle Wax: Freeze the stain if you can by putting it in the freezer and pull off the wax. Then cover the wax stain with an absorbent cloth and melt the wax into the cloth with a hot iron, according to Home Enlightenment: Create a Nurturing, Healthy, and Toxin-Free Home (Rodale, 2008).
Chocolate: Soak in your homemade detergent and wash it. If that doesn't work, try the "Eat-It-Up Enzyme" recipe from Home Enlightenment. Be sure to always have enzymatic pepsin/papain tablets on hand for protein-based stains, or amylase for carb stains. (You can find them at most health food stores.) When an accident occurs, grind up a tablet or two and mix with water to make a paste to cover the stain so the enzymes can eat up the stain. Leave the paste on the stain for about a half hour, rub off the paste, and then scrub with warm water. Throw out the leftover paste.
Coffee and Tea: Spot-clean with vinegar, but if there was dairy in your beverage, soak the stain with the Eat-It-Up Enzyme mix.
Tomato Sauce: Vinegar
Wine: Pour boiling water from a height of 3 feet onto the affected article of clothing or cloth. Home Enlightenment suggests rubbing salt on the stain first could make the boiling bath even more effective. Just be careful not to burn yourself.
Sticky Candy Cane Gunk: Use old-fashioned soap and water to get sticky residue off of children’s hands, but be sure to avoid antibacterial soap, which can contain harmful, hormone-disrupting chemicals like triclosan. On surfaces, try the all-purpose cleaner below.
• Quick cleanup just before guests arrive
Here's a one-stop homemade cleaner that you can use to wipe down just about any surface as guests are pulling into your driveway. It's effortless and cheap to whip up. Just spray, wipe, and you're done!
Suggested uses: Hard surfaces like countertops and kitchen floors, windows, and mirrors.
2 cups white distilled vinegar
2 cups water
20–30 or more drops of essential oil (optional)
Tip: Warming the mixture in the microwave until barely hot will boost cleaning power for tough jobs, but only do so in a glass container that's microwave safe.
• Clean up after a big meal
Here's the scenario: Everyone is gorged after scarfing down a delicious holiday meal. But you can't relax knowing about all the stains and crumbs left behind by the diners. So here's a quick and easy way, that won't zap your remaining energy, to clean up a wooden dining room table after a big family meal. You can also clean your sink with us[WHO'S US?] after all the dishes are done.
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup white distilled vinegar
20–30 drops lemon essential oil
Shake well before using
(2 teaspoons lemon juice may be substituted for lemon oil, but then the solution must be stored in refrigerator.)
Dip a clean, dry cloth into the polish and rub wood in the direction of the grain. Use a soft brush to work the polish into corners or tight places.
Tips: To remove water spots, rub well with toothpaste. To remove scratches, use 1 part lemon juice and 1 part oil and rub with soft cloth.
Creamy Soft Scrub
Suggested uses: Use this creamy soft scrub on kitchen counters, stoves, bathroom sinks, and such.
2 cups baking soda
½ cup liquid castile soap
4 teaspoons vegetable glycerin (acts as a preservative)
5 drops antibacterial essential oil, such as lavender, tea tree, rosemary, or any scent you prefer (optional)
Mix together and store in a sealed glass jar; shelf life of 2 years.
Tips: For exceptionally tough jobs, spray with vinegar first—full strength or diluted and scented—let sit, and follow with scrub. Dry soft scrubs can be made with baking soda or salt (or combination of both), using 10 to 15 drops essential oil to scent.
• Invite that holiday aroma into your house
To fill your home with the festive scents of the holidays, ditch the commercial-brand air fresheners. "No matter what natural-looking pictures they show on the package, they actually contain potentially hundreds of synthetic chemicals," explains Cassidy Randall, spokeswoman for Women's Voices for the Earth. Instead, make your house smell great for the holidays with all-natural alternatives. (Truly natural, that is, not just marketing-speak natural.) "It couldn't be easier: Just simmer some cinnamon sticks, cloves, pine needles, oranges, or other spices of your choosing in some water on the stovetop for a wonderful scent," says Randall. "Even better, bake some cookies!"
If you'd like to share green cleaning recipes with your friends and family, why not throw a green cleaning party? Here's where you can get a complete kit for throwing a green cleaning party in your home.