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There are some reliable natural cleaners on the market that have been available for years in co-ops and now there is a new slew of household cleaners on store shelves in the likes of Target and Fred Meyer. They claim to be “green,” but, wait a minute – Clorox® and “natural” on the same label?

We know the importance of disinfecting to kill bacteria, particularly in this flu season and additionally with H1N1 rearing its nasty head, but how can you clean without toxic chlorine and chemicals that make their way into our ecosystem and without utilizing petroleum-based detergent products?

Clorox’s Green Works® products claim to use plant and mineral based ingredients. The Clorox website explains that its all-purpose cleaner contains essential oils, glycerin, a coconut-based cleaning agent, filtered water, blue and yellow colorant (do we really need this?), biodegradable (minimizing the impact on the environment) preservative, and corn-based ethanol. Considering that a huge percentage of corn grown in the US is genetically modified, this last ingredient is unfortunate, but at least Green Works is on the right path. The site also says that it contains no phosphorus or bleach, which is a leap toward protecting our waterways from algae growth in lakes and rivers (thus suffocating plants and animals that live in the water) and our lungs from dangerous carcinogenic fumes. The site maintains that Green Works ingredients “must come from renewable resources, be biodegradable and free of petrochemicals.” Or, when you read their mission statement, 99% free of petrochemicals.

Seventh Generation®, a company that has conscientiously produced home products and promoted sustainable living for 20 years, uses a blend with thyme oil in its botanical disinfectants, successfully killing 99.99% of harmful germs. (Green Works has not developed technology for a successful natural disinfectant but appears to be working on it.) I favor Seventh Generation for its transparency of business, identity of ingredients, informative website, and ultimately its quality products.

Ecover®, a well-established company founded in Belgium back in 1980, marketed phosphate-free washing powder before phosphates were even widely known as a problem. Ecover lists all its ingredients with only one questionable item: fragrance. Usually perfume, “parfum,” or fragrance is not disclosed on household products in an effort to prevent revelation of trade secrets, but sadly this loophole allows unidentified stuff in your cleaning products.

Store-bought products, particularly those touting a “green” label, are convenient but there are far simpler and less expensive ways to sanitize your home. Hearken back to grandma’s or great-grandma’s time and note the key ingredients for cleaning that you can pull straight out of your kitchen cupboard. Gleaned from a number of concurring websites and a few good old-fashioned recipes passed down to friends, following are some cleaners you can concoct yourself:
Disinfectant
1 cup distilled water
1⁄2 cup white vinegar
4 to 6 drops of tea tree oil
Toilet bowl cleaner
1 cup borax (a natural mineral that kills mold and bacteria)
1⁄2 cup white vinegar
Sprinkle borax around toilet bowl then drizzle with vinegar. It’s recommended to leave for several hours before scrubbing with a toilet brush.
Another toilet bowl option: pour one cup of undiluted vinegar in the toilet, scrub, then flush.

Countertops
Sprinkle baking soda on a wet sponge and scrub away tough stains and dirt, or pour a few drops of lemon juice on tough spots then spray vinegar over nonporous surfaces (not on tile as it will break up grout).
Mirrors and glass
Spray white vinegar and quickly wipe dry with a soft cloth.
Laundry
Add one cup white vinegar to a load to eliminate odors and boost stain removal.
Or add borax as recommended on its box­—it is an alternative to bleach, and deodorizes and boosts cleaning power of soap.

As with any cleaners, label them and keep these out of reach of children. Most are not poisonous but some can be harmful if swallowed.

If you are a skeptical consumer, you won’t pay too much attention to marketing hype and buy a “green” cleaner simply because it has the word “natural” in its name or because its label sports an image of a tree. Hopefully you can reduce your expenses by purchasing baking soda, vinegar and borax in bulk, and make your home a clean place to live. We can look out for our own health as well as our kids’ health, while looking to make the earth a better place for their future.

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