Monday, March 9, 2009

Green and Clean: There is No “Away”

Sewage flowing to the sea. Photo credit Flickr Stones 55

When I learned that the topic of this month’s Green Mom’s Carnival is Green and Clean, I laughed out loud – this assumes that one actually does clean. And as everyone who knows me knows, cleaning is not exactly my strong suit.

But after thinking about it for a week, I do have something to add to the conversation:

There is no “away.” Everything that leaves our homes via the trash can, the recycle bin or the drains, goes SOMEWHERE. Which is why it really does make a difference what we use when we clean.
Here at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage we have are not connected to a city/county sewage system. We do not have, as my poor sainted mother sobbed, palm dramatically placed on her forehead, “indoor plumbing.” We do have running water*, both hot and cold. But after it has been “used” it does not get washed/flushed away to a place where we no longer have to consider the consequences. Instead, we use other methods to disperse our grey water.**

Grey water from our home is piped into one of two shallow trenches filled with sand and gravel and topped with soil in a seldom-used part of our yard. Slowly, it percolates back into the earth. Because of this, we are mindful of what we use to clean. Elsewhere in the community other solutions are utilized - for example, grey water from the Dancing Rabbit Community Building goes into a constructed wetland shared with Skyhouse, where the water is filtered naturally by plants and eventually ends up in our cattail pond.

Over the years I have found that I have gravitated to cleaners that either smell good or not at all. Strong "fragrances" not only give me a headache they make me wonder what all that scent is trying to cover up. It is only in the last ten years as I have actually researched what is in my cleaning products that I realize that my instincts were right on. The lower on the "cleansing chain" the better.

Many of the products listed below are products that we sell in the Mercantile. While it seems that I am using this blog being a forum to sell merchandise, it is actually just the opposite. The Mercantile sells only products that I believe in, that I have used myself and trust. I figure I am a guinea pig for you all - many products have not made the cut. And while these are all my subjective opinions, I would never try to sell you something that I would not use myself...

For Scrubbing the sink and tub: I use Bon Ami . I love this stuff. My grandmother used it; as a child I considered it horribly old-fashioned. My mom used the much more modern Comet (did anyone else sing a camp song to the tune of “Bridge on the River Kwai” with the words “Comet, it makes your teeth so green, Comet, it smells like gasoline…”?). When I moved out on my own I switched back to Bon Ami, deciding that being old fashioned was far preferable than having to inhale whatever was in Comet. Now I know the reason I was so repelled. Comet contains stuff that I would not want to be sprinkling on my garden. Enough said.

Windows: Vinegar and water work really well - they can be mixed in a spray bottle or in a bucket, which ever you prefer - and wipe dry with either newspapers or old sheets. This combination leaves windows sparkly and gorgeous!

Floors: Downstairs we have a poured concrete floor. For this I first vacuum, then do a plain water mop, followed by a mop with a dilution of Orange Plus All-Purpose Household Cleaner and water. Also good Citrisolve. On our (reclaimed) wood floors upstairs I use Ecological Floor Soap with Linseed Oil.

Dishes: Oh dear, this is where I must expose my soft underbelly of eco-sin. I do not have a dishwasher (well, I do – her name is “Alline”). I have tried so, so many “green” dishwashing liquids and find them all appallingly inept. Nothing quite compares to Dawn, the great love of my life. I rationalize my use of Dawn by knowing that I don't use very much, and that everything else that I use is totally eco-groovy. Yes, it is still a rationalization, but it really does cut the grease. Nothing else I've tried (and I've tried many) works as well. I use washcloths that I crochet myself and Twist sponges - they are entirely compostable, and I love the loofah scrubbing surface.

For Laundry: I pretreat all stains with either Everyday Stain and Odor Remover (it works every bit as well as SHOUT, without the toxic smell or ingredients). For bloodstains I've found a brief soak in hydrogen peroxide works really well. Then it goes in the washer with either Soapnuts (these are VERY cool!) or Moon Works Laundry Soap. Moonworks is highly concentrated and so a little goes a long way. I like that in a laundry soap!

Then, of course, I hang my laundry out on the line to dry. Winter and summer. Really. It takes a bit longer in the winter, but eventually it all gets dry. And nothing, absolutely nothing smells as glorious as sheets dried in the sun and wind. A little slice of heaven.

Baking Soda is the other miracle ingredient - I use it in the cat box (along with Swheat Scoop litter) and scrub all kinds of things with it.

Enough of this. I feel that I do an adequate job, which is a step up from what I learned at my mother's knee: she kept the vacuum cleaner in the middle of the living room floor, and would dust it occasionally. When someone dropped in she would exclaim "oh! I was just about to vacuum!" This way, she never actually had to...
Do you know where YOUR cleaning leftovers go?

*We collect rainwater off of our roof and collect it in a 3,000-gallon concrete cistern under our house. We have an electrical pump that pulls the water from the cistern to the taps(sinks, bath tub & shower), running it through several filters. The water tastes divine. Our hot water comes from solar panels in the front of our house.
**Any water that has been used in the home, except water from toilets, is called graywater . Dish, shower, sink, and laundry water comprise 50-80% of residential "waste" water.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. I actually use an eco trader joe dishwashing soap and like it very much. I also like 7th generation dishwashing soap too. I love your rainwater cistern and wanted on in the worse way. My irrigation person talked me out of it and I had the perfect area to do it in. In NJ, you have to have drywells to reduce storm run-off. I could have easily put a concrete one right in front of the drywells.

    One day I will have my rainwater harvesting system...

    I love bon ami too and adore my soap nuts.

    As always, great post, Alline.

  3. I'm a BIG fan of Bon Ami, too. But on the Soap Nuts... so far, I'm not impressed. I'll try again.

  4. Spring has been teasing me, warm for a day or two then back to below freezing. I do not have a dryer so I always air dry my clothes. I found a clothes drying rack to be a great environmental and money saving addition to our home.

  5. the phrase where does it go once it goes down the drain was a real eye opener for me....

    oh, I never thought about that

  6. Thanks for the flashback, you just described my Grandma/Mother of Bon Ami/Comet choices and why I used Comet up to last year when my green sisters convinced me to live a better way.

    Looks like the real issue is making whatever decision is made, stick on the next generation.

    Hope I can visit your place some day. Sounds like heaven to me.


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