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Vail Greener Pastures: Spring into healthier cleaners

Cassie Pence
Greener Pastures
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL, Colorado –Just as the aspen buds are beginning to crack in Colorado’s Vail Valley, it’s time for us to crack open the doors and windows of our homes, sweep out the dust that has collected all winter and welcome in the freshness of spring.

You cannot achieve fresh, however, during this seasonal scrubbing by using conventional cleaning products. Harsh, synthetic-based cleansers work to muck up the air in your home – not to purify it. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the air inside our homes is two to five times more polluted than the air outside, and toxic cleaning products are one of the main contributors to indoor air pollution.

The good news is when it comes to cleaning being green is easy. Having owned Organic Housekeepers, a green cleaning company, for five years now, my husband, Captain Vacuum, and I have experimented with our fair share of both homemade and commercial green cleaners. We know what works, and we know what green cleaners suck, too.



Here, I’ve recommended the basic items you need to clean your home this spring, both homemade recipes and commercial choices available at supermarkets or natural health food stores. Thanks to genius marketing, we are tricked into thinking we need a thousand different products with a thousand different specialty purposes to clean our homes. That’s all just lip service.

Before we get started, let me answer one common question: What do I do with my old cleansers? Use up the cleaners underneath your sink first. It’s never a good idea to pour concentrated toxic chemicals down the drain. It’s better to use it, diluting it with water as you clean, and then vow to wash your hands of toxic cleaning products forever.



In vinegar is where you’ll find cleaning truth. Versatile vinegar is the powerhouse of green cleaning. Vinegar kills 99 percent of bacteria, 82 percent of mold and 80 percent of germs (viruses), according to Annie Bond, author of “Clean and Green.”

Use it on: Dilute vinegar in water in a spray bottle and use it to dust, clean glass, polish fixtures and stainless steel. Pour about 1/4 cup in a bucket of water and use it to mop hard wood floors.

During a spring clean: Use it to wipe down kitchen cabinets inside and out.



Caution: Because of vinegar’s natural acid content, do not use it on natural stone as it can etch it.

Vegetable-based dish soap, as opposed to the standard petroleum-based dish soap, is another gentle, all-purpose cleaning agent essential to any green cleaning caddy.

Use it on: Fill a bucket of soapy water (or a sink) to clean most bathroom surfaces, including tub and shower, and most kitchen surfaces, including counters, microwave and of course, dishes. It’s great on natural stone, including floors.

During a spring clean: Use soapy warm water to clean inside your fridge and freezer.

Brands to buy: Costco’s environmentally-friendly dish soap, Seventh Generation, Dr. Bronner’s Castille Liquid Soap and Ecover.

Remember that green can of scrubbing powder your mother used to use? A name brand cleanser that usually burned your nose hairs when you used it? Well, Bon Ami is a safe, natural alternative made from calcite and feldspar minerals mined from the ground.

Use it on: Sprinkle Bon Ami on a wet surface or scrub brush and use to clean sinks, soap scum, tubs and showers, even pots and pans.

During a spring clean: Use it to deep clean your oven and racks.

Pantry alternative: Bon Ami is like baking soda on steroids, so baking soda makes a great scrubbing powder alternative.

When it comes to toxic cleaning products, wood and furniture polish are some of the worst. Many conventional polishes contain chemicals that are neurotoxins and central nervous system depressants, which can cause headaches and confusion, according to the book “Clean and Green.” To make a wood cleaner and polish, combine vinegar and a few drops of lemon oil in proportions that work for you.

Use it on: Rub into wood surfaces using a cotton cloth.

During a spring clean: Use it on wooden baseboards.

Commercial alternative: Murphy’s Oil, which is basically a vegetable-and-citrus-based soap for wood, is a great store-bought alternative. But contrary to popular belief, do not use it on wood floors because of the film it leaves.

Green cleaning takes a little more elbow grease to achieve the results you would from harsh chemicals. But there are a couple of handy tools that make the work a little bit easier. Use steel wool to clean baked-on-grime on oven racks, outdoor grills and stainless steel pots and pans. Beware, steel wool does scratch, so always sample a discreet area first. The other indispensable tool is pumice stone. Found at hardware stores, use a pumice stick to clean oven racks, grills and hard-water stains in toilets. Again, this tool is abrasive, so test an area first.

Freelance writer Cassie Pence is passionate about living a more sustainable lifestyle. She and her husband, Captain Vacuum, own Organic Housekeepers, a green cleaning company. She is interested in hearing your company’s sustainable success stories. Contact her at cassie@organichousekeepers.com.


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