Keeping a clean house can be simple when you have a guide to lead you through all the competing claims and the “greenwashing” so prevalent in our eco-conscious world. Don’t be fooled! This little booklet is chock-full of quick tips on how to do it.

Read on! Look for warnings & “green” lights. Learn how to chuck lots of useless or dangerous products & replace them with better ones. Guess the “C” word. (See P. 10)- if handled, it can make the rest a piece of cake. Take with you two cogent phrases. (See P. 15)



GO TO : or contact Liberty Goodwin, TIP Director, with your questions: or 401-351-9193.

ALSO SEE : the TIP “Good Green Schools Guide” View it online at:

Pass it along to facilities managers and school personnel.


Clear up the confusion of commercial advertising claims about cleaning products. “Green” living is about more than energy efficiency, recycling and solar panels. Human health and the environment go hand in hand. This booklet supports the outline below for a talk by Liberty Goodwin, Director of Toxics Information Project (TIP). Consider inviting her to speak to a group you know. Liberty offers simple steps to a really “green” household. “Food Facts & Fantasy is a second topic Others may be offered. Ideas? Call 401-351-9193 or E-Mail:

I. A Profusion Of Products:

Why do we spend so much for mystery chemicals? Shouldn’t you know to what you are exposing yourself & your family?

2. The Dynamic Duo:

Two simple substances everybody has handy will meet most of your cleaning needs. A couple of extras will do the rest.

3. Misconceptions About Mold:

What really does the job on the mold, and what does it on you?

4. Anti-Bacterials: Who needs them?

The downside of “kill, kill!”, unless you live in a hospital.

5. Clearing the Air: What’s the real “smell of clean”?

Why are “air fresheners” on the EPA list of air pollutants?

6. What About Water?

If it steams, does it clean? When are filters wise?

7. Prevention Pays:

Of doormats and bare feet, of fans and wet blouses.

8. Guidance vs. Greenwashing:

Independent resources with info on avoiding “We’re Green!” fakes and making better choices for your cleaning needs.

9. Why it Matters to You & Your Neighborhood:

There are health connections galore to commercial cleaners, and there is no such thing as “away”.

10. What’s This Going to Cost Me?: Answer - LESS.

Green cleaning saves the money you are spending on a bunch of toxic products. And protects your health. That’s a WIN-WIN!

10. WHAT’S THIS GOING TO COST ME?: Answer - LESS. Green cleaning saves the money you are spending on a bunch of toxic products. And protects your health. That’s a WIN-WIN!

Don’t be penny-wise and pound foolish! Your health and that of your loved ones is worth more than “cheap” choices that result in doctor’s bills and the anxiety of illness. Besides, a smart consumer can get healthy alternatives to today’s toxic “norm” on a modest budget. TIP’s website has much information that can help in this quest. Below is an index to some relating to cleaning.





Some of the cleaning articles on the TIP website at:

Anti-Bacterial Soaps Don't Deliver

CHEC on Chlorine

Common Sense Talk about Antibacterial Products

Everyday Chemicals May Affect Your Health

12 Facts About Chlorine Guaranteed To Scare You

28 Practical Uses for Vinegar

Cleaning Products May Take Your Breath Away

Household Antibacterial Products Generate Chloroform


You can’t just sweep them under the rug - but there are ways to evict them without poisoning everyone in the house. Here are a few quick suggestions:

1 . Close Them Out. Liberty banished cockroaches in a NYC flat once by making sure all food was tightly shut into containers. Cracks where they can get in from outside should also be filled.

2. Seek Info On Safer Pest Control Alternatives


**Ask an expert. TIP’s local favorite is David Jones of Bio-Tech Pest Control, who we’ve found truly dedicated to least toxic methods & materials.

All-purpose cleaner Use a vinegar-and-salt mixture or four tablespoons baking soda dissolved in 1 quart warm water.

Disinfectant. Mix 1/2 cup borax into 1 gallon of hot water to disinfect and deodorize.

Drain cleaner . To open clogs, try a plunger first. If that doesn’t work, pour 1/2 cup baking soda down drain, add 1/2 cup white vinegar, and cover the drain. Do not use this method after trying a commercial drain opener--the vinegar can react with the drain opener to create dangerous fumes.

Floor cleaner and polish. Add a few drops of vinegar to the cleaning water to remove soap. For vinyl or linoleum flooring, add a capful of baby oil to the water. For wood floors, apply a thin coat of 1:1 oil and vinegar and rub in well. For painted wooden floors, mix 1 teaspoon washing soda into 1 gallon hot water. For brick and stone tiles, use 1 cup white vinegar in 1 gallon water and rinse with clear water.

Metal cleaners& polishes:. Brass: a soft cloth dipped in lemon-and baking-soda solution, or vinegar- &-salt solution. Chrome: baby oil, vinegar, or aluminum foil shiny slide out. Copper: boil the article in a pot of water with 1 tablespoon salt and 1 cup white vinegar, or try differing mixtures of salt, vinegar, baking soda and lemon juice. Gold: toothpaste. Pewter: paste of salt, vinegar, and flour. Silver: boil in a pan lined with aluminum foil and filled with water, a teaspoon of baking soda & a teaspoon of salt. Stainless steel: undiluted white vinegar.

Oven cleaner . Sprinkle baking soda on moist surface and scrub with steel wool. Also, Arm & Hammer Oven Cleaner is declared nontoxic by Consumers Union.

Scouring powder can be made from baking soda or table salt.

Toilet bowl cleaner can be made from baking soda and vinegar, or borax and lemon juice.

Tub and tile cleaner . Try scrubbing gently with baking soda on a damp sponge and rinsing. Or wipe with vinegar first and follow with baking soda as a scouring powder.

Window and glass cleaner. To avoid streaks, don't wash windows when the sun is shining. Use a vinegar-and-water solution or lemon-juice-and-water. Wipe with newspaper.

1. A PROFUSION OF PRODUCTS: What are they, what’s in them - and how many do we really need?


(Original source no longer available, see it at the TIP website:

Everybody Loves A Mystery - Just ask Robert Stack (Mystery show host): There's nothing like an unsolved mystery to get the blood going. So here's a megabyte of mysterious mayhem – The Case of the Clueless Consumer. Whodunnit? Our guess is Colonel Chemical in the cupboard with the cleaning product label. Here’s why: most household cleaner labels just don't fess up to things the way they should. If there's one thing everyone should know about labels on most household cleaners it's this: The most notable thing about them is what they're not telling you.

Household cleaners are regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, mandated by the 1960 Federal Hazardous Substances Labeling Act. According to the law, cleaning products need only tell you of any "immediate" hazard should the product be incorrectly used. This is why you'll see the words "Danger", "Poison", "Warning", & "Caution" on product labels. The law stipulates that manufacturers must give "the common or usual or chemical name of the hazardous substance, or of each component, which contributes substantially to (this) hazard." That may sound okay, but we beg to disagree. Here's what's wrong with the all too pretty picture product labels paint:

The best bet when it comes to traditional cleaners is to look for alternatives made from natural ingredients and whose labels offer a full disclosure of all ingredients. If you read a label on any product and find that you've still got an unsolved mystery on your hands, put it carefully back on the shelf, back away slowly, and call Robert Stack. Then make a healthier choice.


Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Magazine, October 2007


By Pat Mertz Esswein, Associate Editor Amy Esbenshade Hebert

HOUSEHOLD CLEANERS Better Choices: Companies don't have to reveal their secret formulas & may list slightly altered chemicals under other names. Look for cleaners that have survived tough scrutiny, such as Ipax's Green Unikleen multipurpose cleaner ( Unikleen is a Green Seal-certified cleaner (, which means it's biodegradable, contains no carcinogens & isn't toxic to humans or aquatic life. Green Seal has approved few consumer cleaners so far, but it will be adding more. For cleaners free of NPEs, phosphates, chlorine & other problem chemicals, also try Ecover, Seventh Generation & BioKleen brands. The EPA's Design for the Environment (DfE) seal has less-stringent requirements.


Some Safer Alternatives

( These items are available from drug and chemical-supply stores.)

Baking Soda – Can be used as a deodorizer in the refrigerator, on smelly carpets, on upholstery and in drains. Use to clean and polish aluminum, chrome, jewelry, plastic, porcelain, silver, stainless steel, and tin. Also use in laundry to soften fabrics and removes certain stains.

Borax – Can deodorize, inhibit the growth of mildew and mold, boost the cleaning power of soap or detergent, remove stains, and can be used with attractants such as sugar to kill cockroaches.

Cornstarch -– Can clean windows, polish furniture, shampoo carpets and rugs, and starch clothes.

Lemon Juice – Can deodorize clean glass and remove stains from aluminum, clothes, and porcelain. It is a mild bleaching agent if used with sunlight.

Soap (NOT detergent) – Castile soap is used as a shampoo or a body soap. Olive-oil based soap is gentle to the skin.

Steel Wool – Use as an abrasive to remove rust and food residues and to scour barbeque grills.

Vinegar (apple, grain, or wine) – Can dissolve mineral deposits and grease, remove traces of soap, mildew or wax buildup, polish some metals, & deodorize. Can clean brick or stone, & is an ingredient in some natural carpet cleaning recipes. Can shine windows without streaking. Normally used in a solution with water, but it can be used straight.

Washing Soda Can cut stubborn grease on grills, broiler pans, and ovens. Can be used with baking soda in place of laundry detergent, and softens hard water.

Here are some nontoxic recipes using the above ingredients:

Freshen air by opening windows for a short period; distribute half-filled dishes of vinegar around the house; boil cinnamon and cloves in a pan of water to scent the air; sprinkle 1/2 cup borax in the bottom of garbage pails or diaper pails to inhibit mold and bacteria growth that can cause odors.

9. WHY IT MATTERS TO YOU & YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD: Health connections to commercial cleaners.


By Amy Norton, 2-27-08 (Reuters’ site requires subscription. Instead, see:

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Children exposed to cleaning products and other household chemicals before or after birth may be at increased risk of breathing problems, results of a study published Wednesday hint. British researchers found that young children whose mothers frequently used household chemicals during pregnancy were at greater risk of wheezing than their peers. The more often their mothers used products like bleach, disinfectants, glass cleaner and insect sprays, the greater the children's odds of developing a wheezing problem by age 7.

SOURCE: European Respiratory Journal, March 2008.

Reuters Health Copyright © 2008 Reuters Limited.




Ingredients to Avoid:

Chlorine Bleach – Respiratory irritant and may cause or worsen asthma. Forms carcinogenic organic compounds when mixed with other chemicals.

Ammonia (glass cleaner) – Eye irritant. Can cause headaches and lung irritation.

Petroleum Distillates (metal polish) – Nervous system damage. Eye, skin, and kidney irritant.

Nitrobenzene (furniture and floor polish ) – Respiratory irritant. May be linked to cancer and birth defects.

Mothballs – Contain ingredients that are suspected carcinogens and can damage the central nervous system.

Hydrochloric Acid (toilet bowl cleaner) -- May cause blindness or burns if it is splashed & comes in contact with skin.

Spray Starch -- Usually contain formaldehyde & other preservatives that are possible human carcinogens.

2. THE DYNAMIC DUO : Two simple substances everybody has will meet most cleaning needs. Other natural helpers can do the rest.


by Aisha Ikramuddin. From The Green Guide.

1. White distilled vinegar disinfects and deodorizes. Acidic vinegar disinfects, deodorizes, & dissolves hard water scale, gummy substances, and tarnish. It also pulls dirt from wood.

2. Lemon juice cuts grease and polishes metal.

Lemon juice, also acidic, lightens stains and cuts grease.

3. Baking soda has many cleaning and deodorizing uses.

Slightly abrasive and alkaline, this soda ash (a mineral) byproduct neutralizes odors and makes a good sink, tub, oven and countertop scourer. To de-grease and sweeten sink and tub drains, pour 1/2 cup of baking soda down drain followed by 1 cup vinegar; let bubble for 15 minutes; rinse with hot water. For a "soft scrub," mix together baking soda and liquid soap. Make only as much as you need, as it dries up quickly. Deodorize: Place an open box of baking soda in the fridge. Sprinkle it on carpets before vacuuming. Line kitty’s litter box with about 1 cup before adding litter.

4. Washing soda is a stronger alternative to baking soda.

Found in the supermarket laundry aisle, washing soda is baking soda’s more caustic cousin. It’s stronger and also requires the use of gloves and more rinsing, so save for extra-stubborn stains. To clean extra-greasy ovens, apply a paste of 1 cup baking soda, 1/4 cup of washing soda, and water; soak overnight. The next morning, lift off soda mixture and grime; rinse well.

5. Borax kills mold. This alkaline mineral can be used like washing soda as a cleaner. It’s also a mold-killer but can be toxic when swallowed, so take care in using and storing it. You can find it in the laundry aisle of the supermarket. For an extra-strength toilet bowl cleaner, pour 1 cup of borax into the toilet before going to bed and, in the morning, scrub and flush.

For more on the benefits of natural cleaners vs. chemical ones, go to: Children's Health Environmental Coalition HealtheHouse, © 2001-2002 CHEC .

3. MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT MOLD: What really does the job on the mold, and what does a job on you? (Also see mold info in our Good Green Schools Guide, P. 10-11.


Bleach Mold Myth Expose' : Reports from bleach users worldwide about the failure of bleach to kill mold growth. the mold advice service

Also, 4 reasons why chlorine isn’t the right choice to kill mold. See: Note :. Bleach kills living mold but not seed-like spores. Bleach was as effective as water at long-term mold extermination in a 2004 OSU study.


Say Goodbye to Mold and Mildew , by Annie Berthold-Bond, Producer, Green Living Channels

Comments on TIP’s Mold Remedy Handout - Success!!

From a research scientist working in a marine environment.

4. ANTI-BACTERIALS: Who needs them? There is a real downside to “kill, kill!” unless you live in a hospital!


Dec 16, 2008,

By Food & Water Watch and Beyond Pesticides. Excerpts:

Who knew that washing your hands could harm your health and the environment? Thanks to the chemical industry, a hazardous antibacterial compound called triclosan is now an ingredient in many products Including soaps & cleaners. While consumers might think triclosan can protect them from harmful bacteria, it turns out that use of this dangerous chemical is no more effective than soap and water; and may be doing more harm than good. To make matters worse, triclosan persists in the environment, mixes with other chemicals to form more toxic substances, contributes to the growing problem of bacterial resistance to antibiotics & causes many human and ecological health problems.

A 2007 study in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine reports exposure to cleaning products accounts for 15 percent of all asthma cases. In response, manufacturers give us environmentally conscious labels that often are no more than empty promises. Says Emily Main, senior editor for National Geographic Society's Green Guide, "green-washing" is rampant in the household cleaning industry. Terms like 'bio-degradable,' 'natural' & 'eco-friendly' are meaningless.

" *********************************************************************************


© 2008-2009 Washington Post.Newsweek Interactive.

4-20-09 By Amy.Tannery In greenwashing, as in life, there are 7 sins, including the sin of hidden trade-off, of vagueness, & of no proof, says As the field of green products grows, so does the number of impostors. Below is one.

Clorox "Green Works" Products. Green Works launched under the pretense of bringing eco-friendly home-cleaning goods to the mass market. Several of these products, however, contain corn-based ethanol, targeted as neither cost effective nor eco-friendly. Many items in the line include sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), long criticized by scientists; the American College of Toxicology described SLS as a known skin irritant over 20 years ago. A few wares in the line contain synthetic dyes - it seems test subjects were put off by fragrance & dye-free formulas' resemblance to water, & perceived them as less effective. Perhaps, but Seventh Generation's "Free and Clear" line seems to be doing just fine.

Clorox labels all ingredients. But many could be replaced with more environmentally sustainable ones. Compared with other green options, like do-it-yourself home cleaners Green Works is hardly the best choice. Being the lesser of two evils is good- only if it truly is less evil. Clorox says this line is almost entirely "all-natural." But this term is relatively meaningless, as neither EPA nor FDA maintain a statute for what counts as a "natural" product .

ScamFactor: 4 out of 10

For Info On The “Green Hand Sanitizers” Scam, See:

7. PREVENTION PAYS : Of doormats and bare feet, of fans and wet blouses. (AND THE BIG “C” THAT MAKES IT HARD TO CLEAN!)

Just a few thoughts on staving off problems before they start:

1. Use door mats - and remove shoes at the door to deter dirt.

2. Run a fan & leave the light on after showering to fend off mold.

3. Can’t remember what the “wet blouses” were for - ideas?


8. GUIDANCE VS. GREENWASHING: Advice on avoiding “We’re Green!” fakes & making better cleaning choices.


Excerpts below - see entire story at:,3566,318832,00.html

1-2-08, By Steven Kotler. In 1960, the U.S. government passed the Federal Hazardous Substances Labeling Act, freeing companies from disclosing dangerous ingredients in household products unless harmful side effects appear immediately after improper use. Chlorine bleach must thus be labeled "poisonous" if swallowed, but not as "deadly" when dumped down the drain.

Yet deadly it is — and not only to fish. Mix bleach with many common toilet-bowl cleaners, & chlorine gas is the result. Mix it with ammonia & you'll get chloramines gases. Both are extremely toxic. When bleach mingles with certain naturally occurring compounds, the results are carcinogenic organochlorines — the same vile offenders found in the infamous, now mostly banned pesticide DDT.

That's only one example. Since World War II, roughly 75,000 chemicals have been introduced into consumer products, but less than 5 percent have been tested for health or environmental side effects. Many of these substances are found in common cleaners such as countertop disinfectants, bathtub scrubbers and dishwashing liquids. Unfortunately, routine testing of these has revealed some un-routine results. In 1989, the EPA estimated that fumes produced by common household cleaners were three times more likely to cause cancer than other air pollutants.

What is Triclosan? It appears in products as Microban, Irgasan (DP 300 or PG 60), Biofresh, Lexol-300, Ster-Zac or Cloxifenolum. Some antibacterial soaps use triclocarban in place of triclosan.

No Benefits : In 2005, an FDA advisory panel of experts voted 11 to one that antibacterial soaps were no more effective than regular soap and water in fighting infections.

Many Risks: Triclosan’s use in household products may actually contribute to more illnesses because it kills most–but not all–of the bacteria it encounters. The germs that survive emerge stronger & harder to kill. The American Medical Association in 2000 said that “there is little evidence to support the use of antimicrobials in consumer products” & that given the risk of antimicrobial resistance, “it may be prudent to avoid the use of antimicrobial agents in consumer products.”

The increased use of antibacterials in general has also been linked to increased allergies in children. Further studies specific to triclosan have shown that it affects reproduction in lab animals, produces toxic chemicals such as dioxin and chloroform when it reacts with other chemicals like chlorine in water, irritates skin in humans & might cause cancer. And a study by British researchers found that triclosan has estrogenic and androgenic hormone properties and exposure could potentially contribute to the development of breast cancer.

Is It Just The U.S.? The European Union classifies triclosan as an irritant, dangerous for the environment and very toxic to aquatic organisms, while public authorities in Denmark, Finland and Germany have issued statements advising consumers not to use antibacterial products.

Look for Retailers Who Do Not Sell Products That Contain Triclosan: Ikea and The Body Shop both sell only triclosan-free products. Whole Foods has many products that do not contain triclosan, but read the label because they don’t have a store policy banning it. Trader Joe’s has a similar practice.

At Food & Water Watch is an organization dedicated to the belief that the public should be able to count on our government to oversee and protect the quality and safety of food and water. See:

5. CLEARING THE AIR: Why are “air fresheners” on the EPA list of air pollutants? What about “fragrance”? What’s the real “smell of clean”? (See P. 15) Can you “grow” fresh air? (See P. 16)


INGREDIENTS : Basic ingredients in air fresheners typically include formaldehyde, aerosol propellant, petroleum distillates, and p-dichlorobenzene. They often also include terpenes such as limonene. Aldehydes, ketones, esters, alcohols & other synthetic fragrances are also used. A report issued in 2005 by the Bureau Européen des Unions de Consommateurs (BEUC) found that many air freshener products emit allergens and toxic air pollutants including benzene, formaldehyde, terpenes, styrene, phthalates, and toluene. [3] Air fresheners may also contain phosphates, chlorine bleach, or ammonia.

TOXICITY: Many air fresheners employ carcinogens, volatile organic compounds & known toxins such as phthalate esters in their formulas. A Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) study of 13 common household air fresheners found that most of contained chemicals that can aggravate asthma and affect reproductive development. NRDC called for more rigorous supervision of the manufacturers and their products.

The University of Bristol's Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) published findings indicating that exposure to volatile organic compounds through frequent use of air fresheners and other aerosols in the home was found to correlate with increased earaches and diarrhea in infants, and with increased depression and headaches in their mothers. [7][8]

In 2008, Anne Steinemann of University of Washington published a study of top-selling air fresheners and laundry products. She found that all products tested gave off chemicals regulated as toxic or hazardous under federal laws, including carcinogens with no safe exposure level, but none of these chemicals were listed on any product labels or Material Safety Data Sheets. Chemicals included acetone, the active ingredient in paint thinner & nail-polish remover; chloromethane, a neurotoxicant & respiratory toxicant; acetaldehyde & 1,4-dioxane, both carcinogens.

A plug-in air freshener contained more than 20 different volatile organic compounds, with more than one-third classified as toxic or hazardous under federal laws. Even air fresheners called "organic," "green," or with "essential oils" emitted hazardous chemicals, including carcinogens.

In 2009, two national epidemiological studies of health effects from exposure to air fresheners found that nearly 20 percent of the general population & 34 percent of asthmatics report headaches, breathing difficulties, or other health problems when exposed to air fresheners or deodorizers.



Besides Air Fresheners, many cleaning products contain “fragrance”, a catch-all term for a bunch of often unhealthy chemicals, hidden by trade secret law.

We hope to have a booklet on this soon. Meanwhile, see :

6. WHAT ABOUT WATER? If it steams, does it clean?

When are water filters wise?


Using a home portable or full size steam cleaner can be a useful option that doesn’t use any chemicals. Some allergy sites report that steam cleaning fights dust mites and mold. That, with the chemical avoidance, seems like a good idea. But do seek good information before buying - there are a variety of models for different uses. Contact TIP if you want help with this.


Streams contain many contaminants that are not removed by the water company. Here is a good, independent site with info on that:

Confused about whether you need to filter your tap water? And how to do it? Use this site to identify contaminants in your home tap water, find a filter that works, and more.


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How to Grow Fresh Air: 50 Houseplants That Purify Your Home or Office (Paperback) List Price: $18.

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