Earth friendly air freshener tips

December 26th, 2013.

(originally published April 2007, last updated December 2013)

I admit it; I was an air freshener abuser – big time. My cleaning cupboard had more air freshener varieties than you can poke a stick at. But in fooling my nose, I was also poisoning myself and the wider environment. There are certainly greener ways to keep nasty smells at bay.

The majority of air fresheners you buy in the supermarket do not destroy odors, but simply mask them. They create a coating on your nasal membranes that fool your brain into thinking that the smell has gone. As for those air fresheners that claim to kill bacteria, our bacteria paranoia is leading us to kill good bacteria while creating strains of drug resistant bad bacteria. While anti-bacterial air fresheners have their place, they should really be limited to hospital environments in most cases.

Air fresheners – chemical cocktails

Many commercially air fresheners contain a cocktail of toxic chemicals that aren’t healthy for us or the environment. Some of the chemicals you may find:

Formaldehyde – known carcinogen
Phenol – skin and nervous system irritant
Petroleum distillates such as butane and propane
Methylformamide – Organ system toxicity, cancer, developmental/reproductive toxicity
Butanoic acid – Neurotoxicity, Endocrine disruption, Organ system toxicity
Nitro- and polycyclic musks  – linked to cancer, hormone disruption

.. and the list goes on.

I’ve read that up to 3000 synthetic chemical ingredients are used by the air freshener industry.

One of the other problems of these air fresheners is toxic chemicals accumulate in carpet over time, which is particularly of concern to parents with young children. Being rather sticky, the chemicals also wind up on our shoes and feet to be taken into the outside environment where they wind up in soil.

Added to all that, there’s the non-recyclable or reusable packaging of these products – millions of spray cans and plastic bottles hitting our landfills each year; not to mention the production of chemical ingredients and the packaging.

A recent trend in air fresheners are the 24/7 products that spray automatically every X minutes – whether it’s needed or not. Based on the chemical cocktail described above, I feel these are terrible products that should be pulled from the market.

Something else you should know about air fresheners is that we tend to build up a tolerance to them. We get used to the smell and start using more to get that same olfactory “kick”. If you really feel the need to use these products, try rotating the fragrances you use regularly.

The whole air freshener product life-cycle is an environmental nightmare.

Green commercial air fresheners

Thankfully, some manufacturers have been responding to consumer concerns regarding the health and environmental issues associated with these products and commercial “green” air fresheners can be purchased.

A favourite of mine for the bathroom is Orange Power’s Lime And Orange (available in Australia, not sure about elsewhere). Quite reasonably priced, it contains water, alcohol, cold pressed orange oil and lime oil – and that’s it. It’s also packaged in a reusable atomizer bottle, which is recyclable.

Still, be wary of some of the “green” commercial products – a common trick companies play is to say something along the lines of “contains natural pine scent”, which it may well do – but what about the other ingredients? Check the labels and if the label is unclear, contact the company for a complete ingredient list.

Alternatively, you can try search for the product’s MSDS online. An MSDS is a Materials Safety Data Sheet. These *usually* contain more information than what you’ll find listed on a product’s packaging and may also include toxicological and environmental data.

Run a search on Google like so:

product MSDS

Where “product” is the name of the air freshener.

Armed with that information, you can then also use online databases such as Skin Deep to find out the potential effects of the chemicals.

Green home-brewed alternatives

Here are a few tips for greener ways to help keep your home smelling fresh. Of course, be cautious of how you use some of these ideas if you have young children or pets scurrying around the house.

– A simple one, but improving air circulation outside to inside will do wonders. Open windows when you can.

– A tablespoon of salt in a half an orange with the flesh scooped out. I’m told this is a good one for the toilet.

– 1 to 2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract placed in small containers around your home

– Pot pourri made from lavender, roses or whatever scented plants and flowers you may have in your garden.

– Use baking soda to soak up acidic odors; also great for ash trays

Baking soda can also be used as a spray – one teaspoon dissolved in cup of water and then sprayed as a fine mist.

– Use vinegar to neutralize alkaline odors. Yes, vinegar is a little smelly itself to start off with, but the initial pong quickly fades.

– A couple of drops of essential oil in an atomizer/mister full of water sprayed around (bear in mind this only masks the smell rather than neutralizing it)

– A couple of drops of essential oil on a cotton ball place in inconspicuous places around a room

– Placing citrus fruit or cinnamon in a pot with water and simmer gently (rather energy resource intensive though)

– If you have extraction fans in the kitchen or toilet, ensure the screens are kept clean. If you haven’t cleaned yours for a while, try it out and I guarantee the difference will amaze you.

– Treating the cause rather than the symptom is always a preferred strategy. For example, pet bedding can create an awful stink and while it may not be viable to wash it every week, simply putting it out in the sun regularly and giving it a good shake will help. The sun is an important factor as sunlight kills some of the stink-causing bacteria.

Green cleaning tips: using denatured alcohol (methylated spirits)

December 26th, 2012.

First published December 2009, last updated December 2012

Supermarket cleaning aisles are crammed with all sorts of fancy cleaners claiming to do this, that or the other. Some of these cleaners contain highly toxic chemicals that are not only unnecessary, but quite damaging to the environment.

Our cleaning tasks don’t really need such complex chemical cocktails.

Thankfully, many green cleaners have become available as commercial preparations in recent years. Some of these products are based on materials commonly found around the home such as baking soda, borax, vinegar and eucalyptus oil; all of which I’ve written about in the past.

Here’s another – methylated spirits.

What is methylated spirits?

Also known as denatured alcohol, methylated spirits is for the most part just plain alcohol (ethyl alcohol). Yes, the alcohol that is in your favorite tipple! Around 90% of methylated spirits is ethanol; so it’s incredibly strong. But before anyone gets ideas, read on.

The main additive is 10% methanol, which is highly toxic, but it may also include isopropyl alcohol, acetone, methyl ethyl ketone or other substances. These substances are added specifically to deter people from drinking it. Without it, you can imagine the social implications of having such cheap hooch readily available to all ages.

The difference between the two alcohols is ethanol is made from grains, fruits and vegetables and methanol usually from wood stock.

WARNING: Do not attempt to drink methylated spirits. Methanol can cause blindness, brain damage and death. While some people do drink it regularly, they are usually severely impaired after a while and others have died after their first try. Drinking as little as 10 ml of methanol (two teaspoons) can cause blindness.

Also note that white spirit is not methylated spirits. White spirit is derived from paraffin, a by-product of crude oil processing.

Uses for methylated spirits.

– It’s great as a glass cleaner! If you’re going to use it in hot conditions, dilute it with water.

– In fuel stoves – methylated spirits burns very cleanly; a little too cleanly in fact as it can be hard to see the flame.

– Methylated spirits can be used to remove ink stains from upholstery or clothes

– Remove permanent marker from pvc plastics.

– As a solvent for thinning paint

– For cleaning paint brushes as an alternative to fossil fuel based solvents

– As a general metal cleaner

– For removing stickers and sticker residue from car windscreens

– To clean bike disc brakes

– Cleaning electronics

– Cleaning CD/DVD laser lenses (use a cotton bud/q- tip)

Note: always spot test when using methylated spirits/denatured alcohol on fabrics and plastics and take particular care when using on lacquered surfaces. Avoid using on wood items.

If you’re going to buy denatured alcohol/methylated spirits, probably the “greenest” choice is a brand that contains methanol as the only extra ingredient rather than some of the other more exotic substances I mentioned above.

Here’s an interesting fact I picked up on Wikipedia: In the United States, small amounts of denatured alcohol are used in many consumer products – and not just cleaning items. It will be listed as “SD alcohol XX”, where SD stands for “specifically denatured” and XX is the formula used in the denaturing process.

To get a better idea of what is used in a methylated spirits brand, search for an MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) that will show what the formula is.

Non-food uses for olive oil

August 8th, 2012.

First published March 2007, last updated August 2012

Our use of olive oil dates back prior to 3500 BC and today over three quarters of a billion olive trees are cultivated around the world.

One of the amazing things about olive trees are the conditions in which they can grow. While originating from the Mediterranean, there are thriving olive industries in many countries – including Australia. I’ve seen them thrive in some very harsh conditions over here.

Olive oil grades

In case you’ve ever wondered about the various olive oil grades, here are a few of the common ones:

Extra-virgin:  comes from the first pressing of the olives; the best quality

Virgin: has an acidity less than 2% and no refined oil content

Pure olive oil: Usually a blend of refined olive oil and virgin olive oil. Refining is carried out using charcoal or other chemical filters.

Extra light: More of a marketing term than a grade. Usually highly processed, may be mixed with other oils, or may be just pure olive oil grade. The “light” refers to flavor rather than caloric content.

Pomace, cake or lampante: not intended for human consumption, and generally used for industrial purposes, such as soap making or lamp oil.

Non-food usage tips for olive oil

We’re  familiar with olive oil in relation to cooking, but there are so many other ways it can be used; often avoiding the need to use synthetic chemicals, compounds and substances that aren’t very environmentally friendly. For these tips, you don’t need to use the best grade of olive oil and you may be able to use some other forms of oil e.g. canola.

  • After polishing copper or brass, rub it with a little olive oil to slow down the reoccurrence of tarnish
  • Can be used as a stainless steel cleaner; apply sparingly and buff with a soft cloth
  • Rub small amounts of olive oil into wooden cutting boards to help prevent cracking, repel staining and marking
  • Remove paint from hair or skin by dabbing a cotton ball dipped in olive to the affected area
  • Use it as an alternative for lubricating hinges
  • Olive oil can help unjam zippers – use a cotton bud (q-tip) to apply
  • Apply a little olive oil to your shoes to restore their shine
  • Old leather can be made more supple by rubbing in olive oil (spot test first)
  • Coat garden tool blades with a thin layer of olive oil to prevent dirt sticking to them and to help prevent rusting. This works really well!
  • Mix one part lemon juice with 3 parts olive oil to make a wooden furniture polish
  • Rub into to fingernails before and after manicuring
  • A small amount of olive oil applied after shampooing can substitute hair conditioner.
  • Extra light olive oil can be used as a massage oil
  • Olive oil can replace shaving cream or shaving oil
  • Dip a razor into olive oil after use to prevent the blade rusting
  • Can be applied to chapped lips to to relieve the dryness
  • Use as a makeup remover
  • Make your own castile soap

A teaspoon of olive oil can help soothe a tickling or sore throat (I’ve tried it and it has provided some relief) and in some cases if taken just before bed, some say it can alleviate snoring :).

Recently, I was messing around with some chemicals and being a little careless – I had a small amount of residue on the back of my hand and then wiped my forehead.

The result was irritated, very dry skin that started flaking. I didn’t have much on hand to treat it and wasn’t keen on the idea of going out in public looking like I had some terrible, communicable disease – then I eyed a bottle of olive oil in the kitchen.

To cut a long story short, the oil settled down the inflammation quite quickly. While I’m not recommending this for anyone, it did get me thinking about how widely different forms of vegetable oils are used.

They often form the basis of very expensive products that we may only use a couple of times which then go to waste – and waste is a dirty five letter word for anyone looking to green their lives.

Uses for old cooking oil

Most of the above tips are really only suitable for unused oil – so what should you do with used cooking oil?

It’s not really a good idea to pour it down the drain. Aside from potentially causing havoc with your plumbing, it’s just extra junk for wastewater treatment facilities to deal with.

Depending on what you’ve been cooking, oil can sometimes be recycled at home by placing a layer of paper towel into a funnel and pouring the oil in – the paper towel acts as a filter. The same sort of result can be achieved with a coffee filter. Note: never use oil you recycle if it has a rancid odor.

I’ve also read of people using it to get rid of old tree stumps – the stump soaks up the oil and then critters come in for the feast.

Paper coated with vegetable oils can reportedly be used as a mulch mat instead of plastic – but given the tip about tree stumps, I’m wondering if that would be like throwing a dinner party.

Used oil can also be used in DIY firestarters.

Failing all that, used vegetable oil is a valuable commodity as it forms the basis of biodiesel- so check with your local recycling center as they may be happy to take it. In fact, if you can involve your neighbours, you may be able to collect enough to make a few bucks for your efforts.

What non-food uses have you found for olive oil? Please share your ideas below!

Vinegar – an earth friendly alternative to many chemicals

August 4th, 2012.

(First published June 2007, last updated August 2012)

You can reduce the number of environmentally harsh and toxic chemicals used around your home by replacing them with more earth friendly, cheap and common substances such as vinegar. Here are a bunch of handy vinegar tips to get you started; plus more contributed by GLT readers.

A brief background on vinegar

Vinegar has been in use by humans for thousands of years; dating back to ancient Egypt. It was likely discovered by accident when wine went sour when left for too long.

Vinegar is created by the oxidizing of alcohol in products such as wine or beer or any other fermented liquid. The active component of vinegar that makes it so useful is acetic acid; which is a byproduct of a bacteria called acetobacter. Spores of this bacteria float freely in our atmosphere, although commercial production of vinegar employs the use of cultured acetobacter in controlled conditions to make a consistent product.

Most table vinegars contain around 5 percent acetic acid. The most common types are White (usually made from corn) Malt (barley), Red Wine, white wine and apple cider vinegar. Of these, probably the most versatile for non-consumption purposes is White vinegar.

White vinegar is incredibly cheap, particularly when bought in bulk (under a dollar per litre or quart) and has a long shelf life. If a scum should form in it, this substance is known as the “mother” and can be utilized as a starter culture for creating vinegar faster from opened bottles of wine that you might otherwise discard.

Vinegar is also suitable for using in conjunction with blackwater systems – just don’t go overboard with it; otherwise you it may have an impact on the useful bacteria colonies in the system.

Important note: it appears that some brands of white vinegar may be derived from petroleum (crude oil) and fossil fuel products. Synthetic ethyl alcohol can be created from the liquefaction of coal or the hydration of ethylene. Ethylene is produced in the petrochemical industry. It’s important to check the label or with the manufacturer to ensure that the brand you buy doesn’t. It was rather unsettling to discover that this is yet another food additive with a direct connection to crude oil and fossil fuels.

Handy vinegar tips

Note: spot test before going all out with any of the cleaning related tips below.

  • To remove calcium buildup on kettles and electric jugs, boil the kettle with half a cup of white vinegar and leave to soak for a while. Rinse with fresh water, reboil with same and your kettle should now be calcium deposit free.
  • Place a small container of vinegar in your toilet and bathroom to eliminate odors.
  • A half cup of vinegar added to a toilet bowl left overnight removes bowl odor. The smell of the vinegar will also dissipate overnight.
  • A cotton ball soaked in vinegar and applied to bruises for an hour is said to speed up the healing process.
  • Vinegar on minor burns and many sorts of stings can alleviate pain.
  • For cleaning your dishwasher, vinegar frozen into ice cubes, then a couple added to the bottom of the dishwasher just prior to a cycle is an effective alternative to using heavy chemical cleaners.
  • Old, stiff paintbrushes can be revived by dipping them into heated white vinegar for a couple of hours, followed by a rinse in soapy water. Beats using turpentine!
  • Vinegar can be used as a nappy soak; simply add half a cup of white vinegar to the water in the nappy bucket
  • Use it as a broad leaf weed killer – spray it undiluted onto the leaves of weeds, being careful to avoid plants you wish to keep. A mix of vinegar and salt can be used to keep weeks and grass out of driveway cement joins.
  • Vinegar can be used as a benchtop disinfectant; but it’s a good idea to wipe over at night in order that the smell dissipates.
  • For pet owners, white vinegar poured onto pet urine mishaps on carpets, then blotted up with paper towel will prevent staining and odor.
  • Save money on washing pre-spray by spraying undiluted vinegar on deodorant and other stains on garments just prior to washing.
  • Spray a 50/50 mix of vinegar and water onto soap scum on shower screens, leave sit then wipe or rinse off.
  • Neat vinegar sprayed onto mold affected bathroom/shower tiles will kill the mold.
  • Vinegar can be used as a fabric softener by adding half the amount of vinegar as you would of your usual softening agent.
  • I’ve seen many suggestions that a tablespoon of vinegar can be used as a replacement for hair conditioner.
  • Vinegar can also be used as a glass cleaner either mixed with water or used neat in a spray bottle.
  • Use full strength vinegar to polish chrome and stainless steel
  • Use a 50/50 vinegar and water mix to clean your iron. Add the mixture to your iron and allow it steam itself clean
  • Pour boiling white vinegar down a clogged drain to remove the obstruction
  • Used in an fine atomizer, vinegar is effective as room deodorizer
  • Ants hate vinegar; so spray it around doorways and other areas they frequent to repel them

… not to mention vinegar is great for chips and salad dressings :).
These tips really only scratch the surface of this versatile and environmentally friendly substance. How many toxic cleaning products could you replace with vinegar? Do you have a handy vinegar tip? Please add it below.

Front vs. top loading washing machines

June 21st, 2012.

First published October 2007, last updated June 2012

Wringers, twin tubs, front loader, top loading – even coppers and scrubbing boards and of course the old bucket; there’s not many washing devices I haven’t had the opportunity to try. 

While a scrubbing board is probably the most earth friendly option; it’s not one that is really suited to modern life and I’ve never had to wash more than a couple of items with one. I also have memories of nearly being pulled through a wringer :).

So what type of washing machine is the most “green”? The wringer system was pretty inefficient and is long gone and twin tub machines have very limited application (and tend to tie your clothes in knots); so it’s really between the top loading and front loading systems.

Assuming the quality of two brands/models of washers is equal; it really comes down to a couple of important factors:

a) The amount of energy consumed
b) The amount of water consumed

This is certainly where front loading washing machines win out on both counts.

1. Water Consumption

A front loading washing machine I recently acquired uses around 51 litres (13 gallons) of water per full load. Even a modern top loading washing machine of similar capacity will use around 80 litres, or 21 gallons – over 50% more. Over a year of even washing just once a week, the top loader will save around 1,500 litres of water. Thinking tap water, this is more than enough for provide one person’s drinking water requirements.

2. Electricity consumption

Approximately 85-90% of the energy used by a washing machine is consumed through heating the water. This is where water consumption comes in again; the more water needed, the more that needs to be heated. As mentioned in my article on earth friendly clothes washing, unless you are washing particularly greasy and filthy clothes, hot water is not needed; cold water works just fine. Even based on cold water alone, a front loading washing machine will often consumes less energy.

A few other advantages of front loading machines include

1. Less wear and tear on clothes  
Front loading washing machines tumble clothing through the water whereas top loaders pull clothes through the wash; so you’re likely to get longer life out of clothes you wear often using a front loader. This is another money and resource saver.

2. Faster drying times
Because of the horizontal axis and faster spin speeds, more water is removed and your clothes will dry faster. Another energy saver if you use a clothes dryer.

3. Quieter operation
Assuming you have the washing machine totally level (and that is really important), you’ll find front loaders to be quieter in operation.

4. Larger loads
Generally front loaders allow for bigger loads, so getting back to the points about water consumption and electricity; there’s savings for the environment and your wallet there too.

5. Less detergent
While front loaders require a special low-sudsing detergent, far less is required and the price is comparable with standard detergents. Less chemicals going into our waterways is always a good thing.

6. Rebates and tax breaks
Some states/countries offer rebates or tax credits on the purchase of front loading machines and we’ll likely see more governments providing these initiatives in the future.

A few disadvantages of front loaders

– Heavier
– More bending in loading and unloading
– No soaking capabilities
– Initial purchase price is higher
– Can wind up with a mildewy smell, but this can be rectified by leaving the washer door open
– Longer wash times

If you visit various forums and reviews sites, you’ll read opinions from fanatical front loader fans and die-hard top loader proponents. Because there are so many brands and models of washing machines around it can be hard to compare apples to apples – but if it’s the environment you have close to mind in your next purchase; then a front loading washing machine is probably the best way to go.

Regardless of whether you choose to go with a front loader or top loading machine for your next purchase, don’t skimp – buy the best quality you can afford. It’s a big purchase so research thoroughly as there are good and bad brands and models in both types. Even among front loaders, there may be major differences between various brands and models in terms of water and electricity consumption.

Focus on the core features and specifications rather than novelty-type options and additional gadgets. A washing machine is a workhorse, not a show pony.

A good machine will last you many years – and that’s another great way to lessen environmental impact as the fewer machines you buy over your life, the less you’ll need to dump once they’ve finally given up the ghost.

Cleaning toilets the environmentally friendly way

August 14th, 2011.

First published October 2009, updated August 2011

Our toilets become dumping (excuse the pun) grounds for more than our own waste. In our efforts to create a hygienic environment, we’re often killing not only the bacterial nasties, but beneficial organisms and poisoning our waterways.

I was brought up to believe that for a toilet to be truly clean, not only must every single bacterium be destroyed, it must smell like a field of flowers and the water in the bowl absolutely has to be blue. My mother’s fastidiousness came from a good place – a desire to maintain a clean and healthy environment for her family.

The toilet received particularly close attention. Whatever ” breakthrough” product hit the market for keeping toilets looking and smelling cleaner; we bought it. I continued this habit for some years; but I’ve learned, particularly after owning a blackwater recycling system, that what I was doing really had no advantage. In fact, I was creating problems for the environment as well as wasting my hard-earned cash.

Many toilet cleaning products have chlorine, ammonia and hydrochloric acid asingredients, all of which are highly corrosive and can shorten the lifespan ofthe valve in the cistern. Additionally, while these agents kill bad bacteria,they also kill helpful bacteria further along the system that can assist inbreaking down our waste. Chlorine can react with other organic substances in theenvironment and generate hazardous compounds such as furans and dioxins.

Another chemical that may be found in toilet cleaning products, used mainlyin chemical toilets for camping and RV’s, is formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is acarcinogenic also shown to cause mutations in animals.

I researched some popular toilet products and found these otherenvironmentally damaging ingredients:

Diethylene glycol monobutyl ether – volatile organic compounds harmful toaquatic organisms

Sodium dichloroisocyanurate – very toxic to aquatic organisms – may causelong-term damage in the environment

Chlorinated phenols – respiratory and circulatory toxins

Triclosan – a cumulative toxin, primarily used for anti-bacterial purposes, but can also damage plant, animal and aquatic life.

Many of the de-scaling ingredients used in toilet cleaners are based on petrochemicals, i.e. crude oil.

Often these chemicals are not removed at sewage treatment facilities.

The big problem with identifying environmental toxins in your toilet cleaner is in many countries, companies are not required to disclose all of the components. Some products may also be tested on animals while in development. 

In addition to all the chemicals, there’s the plastics and packaging for these products; particularly the plastic cages used in rim blocks. The cages are used once, then thrown away – multiply that by millions of people who use these products and it becomes quite a substantial amount of non-biodegradable waste.

Greener toilet cleaners

Good hygiene is important, but as with other aspects of modern life; attempting to overdo it and maintain a sterile environment in the average home isn’t possible or beneficial for that matter. Regardless of what the marketers might tell you, our attempts at disinfecting the average home are futile and only help to breed stronger bugs while killing beneficial bacteria.

There are many earth friendly products available now based on citric (e.g. orange oil) or acetic acid (vinegar) that act on bacteria within the immediate area and then quickly lose their potency to prevent damage to other organisms not being targeted further down the system. These products are by no means inferior to heavy duty chemicals. I used orange oil a great deal during my contract cleaning days and it was as effective as anything else I’ve used.

Earth friendly toilet cleaning products will be more likely to list their ingredients in order to satisfy eco-savvy customers, so check the label of a “green” cleaning agent you’re considering purchasing and do some research of the ingredients on the Internet.

If the label is vague, call or write to the company asking for clarification. Also try to find products that use packaging made from recycled materials.

Environmentally friendly toilet cleaning

One of the best ways to keep your toilet looking clean is through a bit of elbow grease – regular use of a toilet brush helps to prevent build-up of gunk and breeding zones for bad bacteria. It only takes a few seconds to do each day.

Once a week, sprinkle baking soda in the bowl and use the toilet brush to scrub. The soda acts as an abrasive without scratching the porcelain.

For treating stains, sprinkle baking soda into the bowl and then spray with vinegar. Allow to sit for a while and then apply the toilet brush – this method also helps remove odors.

For keeping the toilet smelling fresh on an ongoing basis, I’ve seen it suggested to use 10 drops of tea tree oil in a spray bottle filled with water; then spray around the bowl and let sit.

If you’re looking for an earth friendly disinfectant, I have a couple of recipes here.

The wonderful thing about making your toilet cleaning a little more environmentally friendly is that it can save you money too – in our family’s case, we could have saved thousands of dollars over the years.

Green oven cleaning tips

May 6th, 2011.

First published September 2007, updated May 2011

While microwave ovens are pretty easy to clean in an environmentally friendly way (see my tips on using lemons as part of green cleaning), convection ovens can be a real nightmare.

I used to use the chemical cleaners and I remember one occasion when I was living in a small place where the fumes nearly knocked me out and left me with bloodshot eyes and breathing problems for days. Food cooked after that incident had an aftertaste of oven cleaner for some time.

Granted, I didn’t use it as directed as that was back in my “more is better” phase;  but even used as directed, many oven cleaners aren’t the most environmentally friendly products as they contain very harsh chemicals. – here’s an example from a popular brand:

Diethylene glycol monobutyl ether – This is a volatile organic compound harmful to aquatic organisms

Monoethanolamine (MEA) – studies on a wide variety of freshwater fish show that MEA can be toxic.

Butane – a fossil fuel.

Sodium hydroxide – this is caustic soda or lye which is used in many products, including in the soap making process (but in far less quantities in soap). Aside from irritating skin and eyes, if exposed to concentrated quantities or ingested, it can kill. Sodium hydroxide released into waterways can alter pH levels and also readily combines with water vapor in air, creating a corrosive mist. While Sodium Hydroxide isn’t terribly environmentally damaging in small quantities, oven cleaners have large amounts of this chemical.

There are more green ways to tackle the mess, such as environmentally friendly commercial products that contain plant-based solvents (citrus oil) and plant-based surfactants (from soy, coconut or corn). These tend to be in refillable spray packs rather than pressurized cans.

If you’re into making your own green cleaning products, here’s a few ideas for an oven cleaner..

– Coat oven surfaces in a paste of water and baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) and let stand overnight, then scrub off. Washing Soda or sodium carbonate is a naturally occurring mineral that can also be used.

– 2 tablespoons liquid soap + 2 teaspoons borax + warm water, spray on, allow to sit for a while and then scrub off

– Citrus and tea tree oil are said to be particularly good for baked on messes.

– Soak particularly tough areas with vinegar for two hours, wipe off and rinse with warm water.

It’s likely that all of the above earth-friendly methods will take a little more elbow grease than the heavy duty chemical products; but  minimizing negative impact on the environment and reducing health risks (plus providing a little exercise) is a good consolation.

Of course, prevention is better than cure :).

Using covers when cooking and lower temperatures to prevent splatter should reduce the number of times you have to undertake this onerous and messy chore. You can also place a couple of layers of aluminum foil on the floor of the oven (shiny side up), underneath but not touching the heating element, to help catch spills. Wiping out your oven with a cloth soaked in vinegar is also said to slow down grease buildup.

While on the topic of prevention, avoiding the oven where possible will cut down on the amount you need to clean it – and there are other green benefits associated with doing so. Microwave ovens use far less electricity and tend to be easier to clean; although some recipes really require the use of a convection oven to achieve certain flavors and textures.

Another oven cleaning avoidance option is an electric frypan – while still rather electricity intensive (but not as power hungry as a standard electric oven) they are much easier to clean. Covered electric frypans work extremely well for meals traditionally cooked in an oven such as roasts.

Have some green oven cleaning tips? Please add them below!

Lemons – the versatile fruit

March 31st, 2011.

First published August 2007, updated March 2011

Lemons – a fruit with a wonderful fragrance, great in food and beverages, but also very handy for multiple purposes around the home!

Lemons have been cultivated by humans for over a thousand years. The fruit is mentioned in tenth century Arabic literature, but was probably first grown in Assam, India.

Lemons are high in vitamin C, have an anti-bacterial effect and are thought to possess antioxidant and anti-carcinogenic properties. The juice consists of about 5% acid, which  also makes them useful for a variety of household purposes. Lemons and/or lemon juice are a popular addition in environmentally friendly cleaning applications.

Selecting and storing lemons

The best lemons are those that have smooth, oily skins and are heavy for their size. They should be bright yellow with no green tinges. Lemons will keep for up to a week at room temperature, two to three weeks refrigerated. Lemon zest (peel) can be frozen for months.

Juicing lemons

To get the most juice from a lemon, it should be allowed to reach room temperature, or microwaved for a few seconds prior to juicing. Using your palm to roll the lemon on a hard surface can also help improve juice yields. If you only need a little juice, some people pierce the end with a fork, squeeze the amount needed, cover the holes with tape and then store in the fridge.

There’s so much more to lemons than just using them in cooking and making lemonade! Here’s a selection of handy tips. Remember to test in inconspicuous areas first.

Ant deterrent

Pouring lemon juice around areas that ants frequent is said to repel them.

Air freshener

An equal amount of lemon juice and water added to an atomizer will create a wonderful synthetic chemical-free green air freshener for your home.

All purpose cleaner

Again, an equal amount of lemon juice and water added to a spray bottle is an effective kitchen and bathroom cleaner and can also be used on walls (spot test first).

A small amount of lemon juice can also be added to vinegar based cleaning solutions to help neutralize the smell of the vinegar.


Heat a bowl of water and lemon slices in your microwave for 30 seconds to a minute; then wipe out the oven. Stains will be easier to remove and old food odors will be neutralized. 


Half a lemon stored in your fridge will help control and eliminate unpleasant smells.


Rub a lemon juice and baking soda paste onto chrome or copper, rinse and then wipe/buff with a soft cloth or paper towel.


Mix 1/2 cup borax and a cup of lemon juice for a powerful toilet cleaner that will leave it smelling extra clean!

Lime scale

Use a half lemon to clean the lime scale off a sink or taps/faucets; rinse well.


For bleaching purposes, add 1/2 cup of lemon juice to your washing machine’s rinse cycle and hang clothes outside to dry.

A teaspoon of lemon juice thrown into your wash can also help your clothes to smell fresher.


A teaspoon of lemon juice added to your dishwashing detergent can help boost grease cutting power


Hot lemon juice and baking soda is a good drain cleaner that is safe to use in septic systems.

If you have a garbage disposal unit, throw in some lemon peel from time to time while it’s working in order to keep it smelling fresh.

Chopping boards

Rub lemon juice into your wooden chopping board, leave overnight and then rinse. Wood chopping boards appear to have anti-bacterial properties anyway, but the lemon will help kill off any remaining nasties and neutralize odors.

Glass and mirrors

4 tablespoons of lemon juice mixed with half a gallon of water makes an effective window cleaner.


Straight lemon juice can be used as a general degreaser.


2 parts olive oil or cooking oil mixed with 1 part lemon juice makes for an excellent furniture polish!


To lighten hair, dampen it with lemon juice and sit out in the sun for an hour. This does work, I tried it myself. Hey, it was the 80’s!

I’ve read that the juice of a lemon mixed with one cup warm water makes for a great hair conditioner. It should be allowed to stay in your hair for a few minutes then washed off. Exercise caution if you have a sensitive scalp.

Cuts, stings and itches

A small amount of lemon juice dripped onto minor wounds can help stop bleeding and disinfect the injury (it will sting a bit). Lemon juice applied to itches, poison ivy rashes and wasp stings is said to relieve discomfort.


The smell of fish can linger on your hands, even after scrubbing with soap – rubbing your hands with lemon juice will neutralize the smell and leave your hands smelling wonderful.

Isn’t it incredible how we have so many environmentally harsh cleaning chemicals in our homes when nature already offers most of what we need! Have some helpful hints for using lemons in and around the home? Please add them below!

Clean up at home, save cash and help the environment

March 28th, 2011.

 Have you ever stopped to think how much stuff you have? Do you even remember exactly what you own, down to the last mismatched sock in your drawer or screwdriver in your toolbox? A big cleanup around the home, shed and yard can lighten your environmental impact and save money.

When it comes to hardware fixtures and fittings, I can be a bit of a pack rat. The thing is, I’m not particularly handy. I’m like lightning with a hammer as I never strike twice in the same place. There’s a part of me that wishes I could don a tool belt, grunt appropriately and actually know what I’m doing. Regardless of my limitations, my ambitions often exceed my capabilities and if I see screws, hinges and bits and pieces on sale, impulse buying can kick in.

“I haven’t got one of those – I reckon I’ll be needing that for <insert project never to be completed here>”.

The problem is, often I do have one of those at home – or 6. Buying in bulk is green sometimes, but in these instances, it’s certainly not.

As this was a recurring problem with me, so I went through everything in my shed and was amazed at what I found. Memory refreshed, I won’t be buying any of “those” items for a while. Larger items or ones in quantity I inventoried and entered the details on a spreadsheet. A quick look at that before I go to the hardware store should keep me in check for a while.

OK, so it’s nice to be organized to a degree, but how does that benefit the environment? Well, I’ll not only be saving money, but the resources that go into the dozens of hinges, screws, nails, sealant or whatever I would buy otherwise – and all of these items are resource intensive. 

You can do the same in your home – go through your pantry, your cleaning cupboard, office supplies and kitchen cabinets and get familiar with what you own again. You may find you won’t have to buy any of product X,Y, Z for some time. Perhaps you’ll have products with a limited shelf life such as food items that need to be used soon – reducing food waste is a huge green step that many of us need to take.

You might come across items that can be recycled, allowing resources tied up in something  not being utilized to be reused. Perhaps you’ll find things you can give away or sell; possibly stopping someone from having to buy that item new.

The other benefit of a big cleanup at home is to discover if your household has become a domestic toxic waste dump. Cans of paint, old glue, automotive chemicals; just about every suburban street has enough toxic waste stashed behind those picket fences to do some real damage to the environment. 

I also did this a while back and was shocked at what had accumulated. As it was spread around the house and the shed in various cupboards and on shelves, I didn’t think we had much, but when it was all in a pile, I felt quite ashamed of myself. The exercise was good in two ways.

a) Now that everything is together, I can dispose of it responsibly at a proper hazardous waste facility when the opportunity arises.

b) Every time I buy products now, I think a little more about what is going to happen if I don’t use it all – it’s a form of precycling. This forces me to hunt around for non/less environmentally harsh products or buy a smaller quantity – and sometimes, buy nothing at all unless it’s really, really needed.

In some ways it’s very sad that many of use do not remember every single item we own. In some countries, people can as they own so little. Hyperconsumption is the root of many environmental problems and social issues. If you’re someone who does remember all you have because you’ve chosen to live a simple life; more power to you.

Greener disinfecting agents

February 26th, 2011.

First published January 2009, Updated February 2011

Store bought disinfectants used in cleaning can contain all sorts of nasty chemicals, some of which should really only be used in controlled settings such as hospitals.
The reason for this is when used around the home inappropriately, these substances can actually help bacteria become resistant to the chemical, creating “superbugs”.
The heavy duty disinfectant artillery should be left to health professionals as a last line of defense. As has been noted in the case of staph, the excessive and inappropriate use of antibiotics has created super-strains which are now resistant to practically *all* antibiotics.
Some of the chemicals used in commercial preparations can also have a negative effect on aquatic life as water treatment facilities can’t filter them out.
A chemical of particular concern is triclosan. Used in everything from bar soaps to toothpaste, it can also be found in some commercial disinfectants. According to Beyond Pesticides, researchers who added triclosan to river water and shined ultra violet light on the water found that between one and twelve percent of the triclosan was converted to dioxins. Dioxins are incredibly toxic to aquatic organisms, animals and humans and as these substances are bioaccumulative, they work their way up the food chain.
In a U.S. Geological Survey study of 95 different organic wastewater contaminants in U.S. streams, triclosan was one of the most frequently detected compounds.
This is a serious environmental issue that we can all play a role in helping to address – for starters, taking more care in the types of disinfectant we choose and use.
Greener disinfecting alternatives
It’s important to bear in mind that disinfecting something means killing something else; that the nature of the process is destructive – however, the goal is to minimize “collateral damage”.
While there are quite a few environmentally friendly (or should I say, friendlier) products on the market, making your own environmentally friendly disinfectant is very cheap and extremely quick to do using just eucalyptus oil and water.
Simply mix 1.6 oz (around 50 ml) of eucalyptus oil with a quart (litre) of water. That’s all there is to it – not everything that is effective needs to be complex.
Be sure to shake well before use and use as you would a store bought disinfectant. Also keep the mixture out of direct sunlight in a opaque container.
Not only will you have a greener disinfectant, but by making your own, you’re more likely to use the same container, therefore cutting down your plastic consumption.
Eucalyptus oil is amazing stuff and you’ll see it mentioned regularly throughout this site. I’ve read that European doctors used to use eucalyptus oil to disinfect and sterilize their equipment. Do be careful when handling eucalyptus oil as it’s quite potent and can cause skin irritation in its undiluted form.
Here’s another disinfectant recipe if you’re not particularly fond of the smell of eucalyptus:
Grapefruit Seed Extract Disinfectant Spray
1 gallon warm water
20 drops grapefruit seed extract
Mix and pour in a spray bottle
That’s it!
Some other earth friendly disinfecting agents:
Vinegar with a few drops of essential oil to mask the smell.
– 3% Hydrogen peroxide
– Grain alcohol mixed with 30% water to stop it from evaporating too quickly (or even cheap vodka – which has many other uses too)
If you have some earth friendly disinfectant tips you’d like to share; please add them below!