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May 31, 2009–Today’s Way: An essential ingredient of any green cleaning kit is our old friend, baking soda.  Sodium bicarbonate is a naturally ocurring salt (in its natural form it is called nahcolite), though for commercial use, it is formed by combining soda ash into a carbon dioxide solution, and the result is sodium bicarbonate, or baking soda.  The crystal powder is slightly alkaline, which makes baking soda an excellent neutralizer for acidic conditions.  It is its alkalinity that makes baking soda an effective leavening agent in baked goods; when baking soda is mixed with an acid, such as lemon juice or vinegar, they set about neutralizing each other and releasing carbon dioxide, in the form of bubbles.

But baking soda has so many more talents than simply baking!   Baking soda works wonderfully to neutralize acid-based stains in fabrics, as well as acidic odors.  Adding a cup of baking soda to your laundry boosts detergent’s cleaning power by stabilizing the pH.  Baking soda’s mild abrasiveness makes it an excellent gentle scrub—just add your favorite dish or laundry soap to enough baking soda to make a paste, scoop a bit onto a sponge and use the mixture to scrub toilets, tubs, tile and sinks (this mixture is a great way to clean a tub after using WoodSprite Organic Body salt glows and sugar scrubs).  For dishes with stubborn baked-on grease, place in hot soapy water and sprinkle baking soda over the soiled areas evenly, leave to soak overnight.  The baking soda should soften or dissolve the grease stains.  When you have oily dishes to clean, sprinkle first with baking soda, then wipe clean with a soapy sponge; the baking soda will help to absorb the oils and rinse them away.  For clogged drains, you can try pouring baking soda down the drain, then add a bit of vinegar; the intense foaming can dislodge minor obstructions.  Keep a bowl of baking soda in your fridge, sprinkle into hampers and cloth diaper pails for a natural deodorizer.  Baking soda can be used in place of some chemicals in pools to keep the water pH equalized and clear.  Baking soda makes a very effective tooth brushing powder (though you may want to add a touch of mint essential oil for a bit of flavor).  Just remember: whenever you mix vinegar or another acid with baking soda, they neutralize each other and will not be as effective.  If the problem is acidic, then baking soda will be able to help.  Alkaline problems will need to be neutralized with acid-based ingredients (such as vinegar).

May 10, 2009–Today’s Way: One of my favorite house cleaning ingredients is hydrogen peroxide.  Primarily oxygen and water (H2O2), hydrogen peroxide is a mild germicidal and disinfectant, yet non-toxic at the 3% dilution sold in your average drug store.  I keep a spray bottle of it handy on every floor of the house, and use it for everything from stains and spills to grout and tile work.  It’ll remove fresh blood and red wine (the sooner after the spill, the better) and even sweat stains from fabrics, foaming the stains away right before your very eyes.  It’s also great for removing many other food and protein stains.  Add a cup of hydrogen peroxide to your load of whites in the wash.  Spray some on your grout and let it do its magic, naturally bleaching out the tile and disinfecting from germs and killing mold at the same time.   It also works nicely to help remove stains from tubs, sinks and toilets.  You can use it as a disinfectant on bathroom or kitchen counters.  Spray it on your cutting boards after washing them, you can also use it as an antiseptic mouth wash (be careful not to swallow it and rinse your mouth with water after) and tooth whitener.  Hydrogen peroxide is a wonderful alternative to using chemical disinfectant soaks in manicures and pedicures, and for disinfecting tools and your station afterward.  You can use hydrogen peroxide as a cleanser for your office kitchen or work areas.

Hydrogen peroxide does all of these cleaning chores very well, but I love that it doesn’t accost me with noxious fumes or indiscriminately kill everything that comes into its path, whether good or bad.  Chlorine bleach is bad for septic systems—which we have—because it kills the beneficial microbes which are necessary for the proper function of the system, and in city sewage systems, bleach co-mingles with all the other chemicals that are going down everyone’s drains and can create a toxic chemical soup that is dangerous to wildlife.  Hydrogen peroxide, on the other hand, breaks down quickly in light and air, so it is much safer for the environment.  This is also why it is typically sold in a brown opaque bottle, to protect the solution from light.  I just switch out a sprayer on the bottle to keep the hydrogen peroxide fresh, making it easier to dispense.

April 25, 2009–Today’s Way: The weather here in Michigan has turned unseasonably balmy this weekend, with a warm Chinook wind blowing in from the South.  Not only has it inspired the songbirds, coaxed the tight little lilac buds into unfurling and awakened the frogs and toads in our creek and gardens, but it’s also ushered in the hanging of our clothes line.  Through the frozen winter, we are forced to use our electric clothes dryer (for a great heat and humidity saving tip, see my post from April 7) for most of our laundry, but as soon as the rising springtime sun starts beaming its warmth down upon us, we switch to the clothes line full time.  It makes so much good sense, and saves us a great deal of electricity, not to mention reducing the amount of greenhouse gases released into our atmosphere.  A clothes line costs absolutely nothing to operate once it’s installed, and it takes only a little more time than an indoor dryer.  Besides, hanging out our linens usually gets me outside to enjoy some fresh air and sunshine, and there’s absolutely no perfumed laundry product made that smells sweeter than that of clothes hung out on a line.

Whether you have a big yard like ours or just an apartment balcony, there are options for just about every living situation.  You can find compact indoor line dryers which collapse away if you’ve got a tight space, clever rotary-style dyers that turn while you stay stationary, and handy retractable lines so you don’t have to install a permanent pair of poles in your lawn.  We simply installed a single line in the span between our house and garage using heavy-duty eyelet screws and a nautical knot for easy removal.  Whatever your living space, there’s a solution for you, and you’ll be enjoying the energy savings as well as that just-off-the-line fresh laundry smell.

April 19, 2009–Today’s Way: You might have used cream of tartar to make a lemon meringue pie but I’ll bet you never thought of using it to clean rust stains from your tub.  A natural by-product of the wine industry, tartaric acid forms as a crystal coating on the inside of the barrels in which wine is aged, which are scraped and then the acid is purified and ground into a valuable powder.  If you have well water like I do, you know the inevitable rust stains that result in sinks, tubs and toilets can be an ongoing battle to remove.  Years ago, I discovered this wonderful little trick to effectively remove the stains without having to resort to the horrendously toxic chemical cleansers that seemed to be the only option.  To remove rust stains naturally, just spritz or wet the spot with hydrogen peroxide, then sprinkle cream of tartar powder onto the stain and allow to sit for an hour or so (I like to set a wet rag or sponge over the powder to help keep it moist).  You might need to use a little bit of elbow grease for tougher stains, but the cream of tartar powder works incredibly well to scour away the stains without harming the enamel finish. When the stain is removed, just rinse with water and let your enamel sparkle.

Cream of tartar can be expensive when purchased prepackaged from the grocery store, but it can be found much cheaper in bulk from places like Frontier Natural Foods Co-op, or from your local bulk food store.

April 12, 2009–Today’s Way: For those of you who have embraced the Swiffer dry sweeping technology but feel concerned about how wasteful their disposable cloths are, there’s a really quick and simple way to make them more eco-friendly.  All you need is some felt, found at any craft or fabrics store, and a pair of scissors–there’s not even any sewing required.  Take one of the disposable swiffer cloths, lay it onto the felt as a template, and cut the felt to size.  It’s a good idea to cut several pieces from the felt so you can rotate them in use.  Then, simply attach the felt as you do the disposable cloths to your sweeper and sweep away!  One benefit of using the felt is that you can flip it over and use the other side when one side becomes dirty.  When you’re finished, remove the felt, shake any excess dirt or debris into the trash and then toss the felt into the laundry for reuse later.   You’ll save some cash and at the same time, keep Swiffer disposables out of the trash!

April 7, 2009–Today’s Way: If you have an electric clothing dryer, it’s probably vented directly to the outdoors, redirecting lint and with it, a lot of valuable heat energy.  In the cooler months of winter when you have a furnace or boiler heating the house, it can cause dry air, resulting in itchy skin, sore throats and static cling.  Well, there’s an easy solution that costs only a few dollars and takes very little time to install…an indoor dryer vent switch will allow you to direct that moist, hot air back into your home when you want, while trapping lint in its fine mesh screen.  This way, you retain more heat energy and humidify your home at the same time.  When you want to route the air back to the outdoors, you just switch it again.  There are a couple of different models on the market, which you can probably find at your local hardware store.  The type we use is found here, and it works wonderfully.   Just one caveat:  unfortunately, this option is for electric dryers only–gas dryers must be vented outdoors.

April 5, 2009–Today’s Way: What’s in your average window cleaner?   That bottle of blue stuff typically contains a chemical cocktail of unpronounceable volatile solvents, detergents, ammonia, fragrance to mask the smell of all the aforementioned ingredients and–last but not least–dye.   The funny thing is, simple white vinegar achieves all the same things as the blue stuff, without the harsh chemicals and vapors.  Okay, yes, vinegar does have a smell, but the scent dissipates quickly and can easily be made a bit more tolerable by adding a drop or two of  lemon and lavender essential oils.  The trick that I’ve found is to use vinegar straight; I’ve seen a lot of recipes that dilute the vinegar with water, but I always find it can cause streaks and takes longer to dry.  Just fill an empty spray bottle with straight white vinegar (organic is nice), add the drops of essential oils if you like, and get your green clean on!  We use vinegar at home as well as in the WoodSprite workshop to clean everything from mirrors and windows to countertops, cupboards, toilets, tubs, tile, walls and other surfaces and makes an indispensable laundry softener as well (just fill into one of those laundry balls).  For those of you concerned about household germs, I’ve got good news: Vinegar is a fantastic natural disinfectant, due to its high acidity (this is why it’s used in pickling and other foods without the need for additional preservatives).  Straight, ordinary vinegar will kill germs, bacteria, mold and even viruses, without killing your budget.

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