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Sustainable Life: Clean and Green

Mia Swainson

I like a clean home, but I don’t like cleaning.

I wish that I could wave a magic wand and the house would transform from a messy shambles into a tidy, sparkling palace.

A little while back, I noticed the way that the house smelled after I cleaned the bathroom and the back of my throat had a slight sting. The smell was strong, particularly on a Canberra winter day, when I kept the house sealed up to stay warm. I like the house to smell fresh, but I don’t like the strong smell from bleach-based cleaners.

This sent me on a journey to discover a new way to be clean, green and healthy.

I found that many cleaning products in my local supermarket contain chemicals that are highly toxic and harsh on the environment, particularly cleaners that contain bleach. You’ll know if a product is toxic by checking the label for words like: hazardous, corrosive, inflammable, warning, caution, danger and irritant. You might even notice that you feel dizzy or get headache after you’ve been cleaning. Unfortunately, labeling laws in Australia don’t require general cleaning products to list all of their ingredients, so you can’t know exactly what’s made that warning label necessary or what’s given you that dizzy headache.

My solution? Clean regularly with environmentally friendly, non-toxic cleaners. I now choose environmentally friendly versions of most cleaners in supermarkets. Look for brands like ‘Earth’s choice’, ‘natures’ organics’ and ‘eco store’ in local supermarket or health food stores. I don’t always use cleaning product too. Often, I simply wipe down surfaces with a damp microfiber cloth. The microfibers create a larger than normal surface area, soaking up dirt on loads of little fibers as you wipe it along. You can buy cheap versions of microfiber cloths in supermarkets or at Bunnings. An expensive, bells and whistles microfibre cleaner is the Austrian-made ‘ENJO’ brand, available online.

I’ve also become a convert to the cheap and effective ‘cleaning’ products found in the food section of your local supermarket and trumpeted by the authors of ‘Spotless’, Shannon Lush and Jennifer Fleming. For cleaning surfaces, like kitchen bench tops or your bathroom and toilet, they suggest the bicarb soda and vinegar two-sponge method. To clean, you dip one damp sponge in bicarb and another in vinegar, then lay the vinegar sponge over the top of the bicarb sponge and squeeze the two together as you clean. Pop a few drops of tea tree oil on the sponge if you’d like a fragrance.

Choice published an investigative article in 2014 by Jemma Castle that found that bleach, as an active ‘mould killing’ ingredient was less effective than vinegar. The article says that experts claim a 10% bleach concentration kills mould and that the concentration levels of bleach in your home bottle drops off over time. A bathroom cleaner that starts out with a bleach concentration of 4% may only have a 0.6% concentration by the end of its shelf life. So, why am I buying those bleach-based cleaners anyway?

I recently threw away my commercial oven cleaner and used a combination of bicarb, vinegar and elbow grease. I’m so happy to be baking cakes without unwanted extra chemicals flavouring the things that I cook.

I find that a little cleaning every day means that harsh chemicals aren’t needed to remove that deeper dirt build up. I don’t do all the cleaning in my home, so there’s still a little bleach used every now and then. After it’s used, I open up the windows to trade that strong smell for some fresh, cold Canberra air. I feel good about my new cheap, green and healthy way to clean with (mostly) ingredients from the kitchen. I might not have a magic wand, but there’s a simple magic in feeling clean and green.

 

 

Resources

Goldsmith, Sheherazade and Adams, Rosie (eds.), 2007, a slice of organic life, DK Melbourne.

Lush, Shannon and Fleming, Jennifer, 2005, Spotless Room-by-room solutions to domestic disasters, Harper Collins, Sydney.

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Mia Swainson

Mia Swainson is passionate about creating a more sustainable world and believes that everyone can make a difference. Trained as an environmental engineer, Mia has worked in sustainable development with the Australian Government and community sector for more than 15 years. Mia’s work has taken her around the world to Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and back to Canberra. She currently tends her kitchen garden, cares for three young boys and is growing her executive coaching consultancy (miaswainson.com.au/wp). More about the Author

  • linda

    Great article. Thank you for promoting healthy cleaning. Although I think bleach is 100% unnecessary, especially for domestic use.
    I sell Norwex, similar to enjo. I can help with microfiber cloths and many other cleaning products to make your home a safe haven. Completely bleach and nasty-chemical free! In fact, you can remove 99.9% of bacteria from surfaces using just water and our cloths. And the cloths are self-sanitising, they have silver embedded into the fibres to kill bacteria.
    Go to lindajamieson.norwexbiz.com.au or facebook.com/lindanorwex
    It has changed my life. Most of the personal care and cleaning products on the market today shouldn’t even be legal, and actually are illegal in other countries. Please have a look at the catalogue, contact me if you would like one. There are some great facts in the catalogue too, not just about selling products. We need to take better care of ourselves. Ever 1 in 3 women and 1 in 2 men will get cancer. There are also 80,000 new chemicals that have been created and only a few have been tested for their effects on our (and the environment’s) health. I truly believe chemicals are the main reason for increased cancer rates.

    • Maya

      Even simpler. Use an old clean rag and throw it in the washing machine, with the rest of the wash, after use. If you have solar hot water, hot water can even be used for the wash. Then hang it in the sun to dry. Reuses a product (the rag) that would be thrown out otherwise, and saves buying another product, (which has to be unnecessarily manufactured). Many times nothing stronger than water is needed to clean and maybe some elbow grease.

      • linda

        I definitely agree with avoiding newly manufactured items. However. In the case of microfiber cloths, if you buy a good quality one, they can last the rest of your life, and you just throw them in the wash and keep reusing. And they clean a whole lot better than conventional cloths. Like soap scum, mould, gum (with just water). And I’ve even got pen marks off fabric and stains off carpet using just water. I love norwex!!
        If you successfully clean with rags and elbow grease, that’s awesome though Maya! Any path taken to reduce chemicals is great. And doing that without buying new materials is even better!

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