Alex Palmer's Natural History Notes and Thoughts

Thoughts and reflections on various social and environmental issues, as well as naturalist observations from the great outdoors.

House-hold cleaners: My not-as-authoritative-as-you-would-think recommendations

When I tell friends and family members that I work in the environmental field, they sometimes start asking me questions about solar panels, or what is the latest fuel-efficient car, or which bath products are the best.  While I do know a lot about these subjects, I am by no means an expert in this department.  Yes, I consider myself an environmentalist, but my interests fall in line much more with natural history and ecology than green consumerism and energy.

That being said, I’d like to offer my recommendations for one area of day-to-day living:  household cleaning.

You may hear about or notice yuppies and overly liberal college students brag about buying expensive organic soap from the co-op, or by well-intentioned shoppers buying the latest Wal-Mart brand “green” dish detergent made with “natural, plant-based” products.  Perhaps you’ve seen the laundry isle in the grocery store packed with new “ecofriendly” soaps in a fancy new bottle that use”15% less plastic,” or whatever new product seems to come at you with dazzling colors and sentimental statements.

While these new and innovative products are well…new and innovative, I would rather you just stick with the good old-fashioned American household cleaning products.  The following list is of cleaning products that are tried and true, and most of them are even biodegradable:

  • Dawn dishwashing liquid.  Free of phosphates (which can harm aquatic ecosystems), this is by far the best dishwashing liquid out there.  Be sure to only use a small drop or two.  A little goes a long way, and you also don’t want to waste anything!
  • Dr. Bronner’s Soap.  Made with mostly organic and fair trade ingredients,  this highly versatile castile soap can be used as a shampoo, body wash, dishwashing liquid (a good eco-friendly alternative to Dawn), laundry detergent, and hand soap.  It is also gentle on the skin and has a universally agreeable fragrance of either peppermint oil or lavender oil.  Again, only use a small drop or two, as this product is VERY concentrated.  It also has a very nice lather, despite the fact that it appears thin and watery when pouring it out of the bottle.  Dr. Bronner’s soap is also great for taking on camping trips, as it is fully biodegradable within a year.
  • Windex.  You should not need any other cleaning solution for your windows.  End of story.  Store brands are an acceptable alternative.
  • Vinegar.  It might sound better in salad dressing and smell better mixed with Italian herbs, but pure distilled vinegar is perhaps one of the best household cleaning solutions out there…and it is of course one of the most ecofriendly.  If you have polished wood floors or other sensitive surfaces, use vinegar to clean them.
  • Tide laundry detergent.  It works the best, but use it sparingly!  This product contains a lot of chemicals.  There is, however, a “clear and free” variety out now that works just as well but forgoes many of the harsh dyes and fragrances that can harm people’s skin and pollute the environment.
  • Murphy’s Oil Soap.  A classic for cleaning floors, this product is mostly plant-based (rather than petroleum-based), and is even biodegradable within a few short years.

This really, from an environmental perspective, is all the average American needs to clean their house.  That being said, the next time you go to Walgreens or wherever else you are going to see a plethora of soaps, detergents, and other household cleaning solutions.  Avoid buying them altogether…and hold on to your wallet before you buy $20 organic laundry detergent that works almost as well as water from the creek behind your house.  The options I have provided are low-cost and if used carefully, will not damage the environment on any meaningful scale.


4 responses to “House-hold cleaners: My not-as-authoritative-as-you-would-think recommendations

  1. Ben February 5, 2012 at 1:14 am

    Alex! What are you doing recommending Tide with no reservations? Liquid Tide may not be bad, I don’t know. But powder Tide is one of the worst offenders in terms of wasting resources and it causes problems because so much of that big box is a meaningless filler powder that doesn’t clean your clothes, it only makes the box more impressive-looking by being fuller and making you think you’re getting more for your money.

    It also means wastewater treatment plants have to remove all that artificial stuff that took up space in the box.
    Sorry floor the rant

    • Ben February 5, 2012 at 1:16 am

      My phone isn’t working right, so the end of that response is weird, also,i apologize for hijacking your blog comments to rant about powder tide. 😀 oops.

      • palmera01 February 5, 2012 at 11:09 am

        Ben – The Tide LIQUID laundry detergent is the most recommended laundry detergent by magazines such as consumer reports and other reviewers. There is also now a tide variety that is “free and clear” of dyes and fragrances. However, a more environmentally friendly alternative was also stated in my post: Dr. Bronner’s Soap (castile soap). Both Tide and castile soap help remove dirt and grease from your clothes, and they leave a nice fresh scent. The Dr. Bronner’s company uses many organic and fair trade ingredients, as well.

  2. Anonymous February 19, 2012 at 7:25 pm

    Vinegar works well to clean windows and mirrors too…. so you don’t even need Windex. Just dip a piece of newspaper in vinegar, the scrub the window/mirror with it, then use another piece of dry newspaper to wipe up the wet vinegar left on the window and wipe away all the smudges. Perfectly clean!

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