Toss out those anti-microbial wipes and sprays when you’re cleaning your countertops. Most contain chemicals like sodium hypochlorite (bleach) or ammonium chlorides, which are listed as hazardous to the health of humans and pets by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, says Gary Pien, an allergist and immunologist with Summit Medical Group in Berkeley Heights, N.J. “These chemicals can cause eye and skin irritation on contact, and if mixed with other cleaning products, can release toxic gases,” Pien says.
Combine equal parts vinegar and tap water to make your own non-toxic mix. Warm it in a glass bowl in the microwave to boost cleaning power. A 64-ounce bottle of food-grade vinegar costs about $4, so it’ll set you back a buck to stir up a 32-ounce batch of homemade countertop cleaner. You won’t have to dip too far into your pocketbook to buy a greener all-purpose cleaner. A 32-ounce bottle of Seventh Generation’s all-purpose cleaner costs about $5, while the same size conventional cleaner costs about $4.50.
If you have a stainless steel fridge, add a few drops of a natural dishwashing liquid such as Mrs. Meyer’s ($4.49 for 16 ounces) or Method ($4 for 25 ounces) to warm water to wipe off greasy fingerprints instead of shelling out the $7-$10 a store-bought stainless cleaner will cost. And when you’re wiping, remember stainless steel has a grain, just like wood, and you need to clean in the same direction it runs, says Mary Findley, author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Green Cleaning.”
On the inside, use the tried-and-true remedy for foul fridge smells: a box of baking soda. It costs about $1. Save even more by buying baking soda in bulk: a 12-pound bag costs about $7. For sticky spills, a vinegar and water mix should clean it right up, Findley says.
Sinks & drains
Liquid dishwashing soaps with bio-based ingredients like aloe and essential oils are a good bet here as well. You’ll pay a bit more than the $2-$3 the cheapest conventional soaps will cost, but when you consider this is what’s going onto the surfaces you eat off of, the potential health value outweighs the extra dollar or two. If nothing else at least skip synthetically scented cleaners, which can irritate the skin and respiratory tract, says Martin Wolf, director of research and development for Seventh Generation.
If your sink stinks, try cleaning your drain with a paste made of vinegar and baking soda. Give it time to work overnight. Drain cleaners are some of the nastiest chemicals around, and at $7 for a 32-ounce bottle, they’re not cheap. Enzyme-based cleaners like Nature’s Miracle are another option: Findley says they’ll eat away at odor-causing bacteria and any bits of food clogging the drain or disposal. Nature’s Miracle costs more at $12 for a 32-ounce bottle, but it has multiple uses beyond the kitchen. If neither approach works, sprinkle some baking soda on a halved lemon or orange and scrub out your sink basin, then toss the citrus in the disposal for a fresh scent.
Many dishwasher detergents contain chemicals called phosphates that suck oxygen out of waterways, killing aquatic fish and plant life. Bio- and natural enzyme-based dishwasher detergents like Ecover get the job done without affecting water systems, and are comparable in cost: 25 Ecover tablets cost about $7, while 20 tablets of conventional cleaner cost about $6.50.
Stovetops & ovens
Baked-on stove stains can be a real pain. “Grease-cutting” cleaners may make your stove shine, but they have decidedly less attractive health effects. Most contain glycol ethers, which Wolf says have been implicated in health problems ranging from reproductive damage to eye and respiratory-tract irritation. Instead, start by cleaning your stovetop after every meal before food bits and sauces are baked on. If you don’t, you may have to combine some elbow grease with a homemade mix of vinegar and baking soda. Prefer a green grease fighter in a bottle? Go for Holy Cow. It’s comparable to conventional cleaners at about $3 for 32 ounces.
A baking soda-vinegar paste should do the job in the oven, as well. If you can, find a natural orange-based cleaner that contains no petroleum distillates like Earth Friendly Products Orange Plus ($6 for 32 ounces). According to Findley, mixing that with baking soda can give your green oven cleaner extra oomph. Just spread the baking soda mixture in the oven, and let it sit overnight. Re-wet it in the morning. A few hours later wipe it out. It beats shelling out the $6.50 for a fume-filled chemical cleaner.
To scrub stubborn microwave stains, just grab a super-absorbent sponge, wet it, and heat it in the microwave for 30 seconds. The steam from the sponge will soften the food bits, and the hot water inside it will make it easier to wipe off and disinfect your microwave’s interior, all for the cost of a single sponge.