Squeaky green: How to do an eco-friendly spring cleaning

Originally published in Taos News lifestyles:

Spring is almost here and perhaps you are already thinking of giving your home a well-deserved deep cleaning.

But the job can look overwhelming. You may want to develop an action plan to tackle it.

“The hardest part of starting spring cleaning is, precisely, getting started,” said Shalmai Hollingshead, owner and founder of Taos Green Clean. “But once you see results, they will be an inspiration to continue.”

Hollingshead suggests working in sections and keeping in mind that it may take more than one day to complete the task.

Another key aspect is choosing the right cleaners.

“Most of the products commonly used to clean contain toxic materials that affect the environment and our health, particularly when used in surfaces that we touch all the time,” said Kevin McCourt, assistant store manager for Cid’s Food Market. “That is why ‘green products,’ that is, environmentally safe cleansers, are best.”

One of the main problems with products that contain harsh chemical ingredients is the toxic residue they leave behind. It is later breathed in (like fumes given off by some carpet cleaners) or even ingested (chlorine used in dishwashers). Glass cleaners that contain ammonia can also irritate eyes and skin.

“The products we sell still clean dishes and floors, but are not so hard on the environment and don’t present a hazard to the users’ health,” said McCourt.

Now, we don’t always need to run to the store before cleaning.

“It is simple and fun to make your own cleaning products,” said Hollingshead. “When you mix a few tablespoons of hydrogen peroxide and a teaspoon of Castile soap with a vinegar and water solution and essential oils, you get an all-purpose spray that can clean just about anything.”

Both McCourt and Hollingshead praise Seventh Generation cleansers and disinfectants, sold at Cid’s, because of the company’s commitment to be absolutely transparent in the disclosure of all the ingredients they use in their products. Among them is the Disinfecting Multi-Surface Cleaner, that, according to its label “kills over 99.99 percent of household germs, specifically: Influenza A, H1N1, Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella enterica, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Escherichia coli on hard nonporous surfaces.”

However, one doesn’t need to worry about killing each and every germ.

“This is not a sterile world. It is full of bacteria and not all bacteria are bad,” said McCourt. “Our stomachs need bacteria to process food. If we don’t have ‘good bacteria,’ we will certainly die. And considering that we don’t live in hospitals, but houses, it doesn’t make sense to try to make our homes absolutely germ-free, which is, on the other hand, impossible.”

McCourt prefers to use concentrated products over those that come already prepared. “Many people like the cleansers that come ready to use because it saves them time, but by using concentrates we are saving the environment,” he said. “Besides, they allow users to control the amount of concentration they need for every cleaning job, depending on how dirty or greasy a surface is.”

He recommends the Natural Multi-Surface Concentrated Cleaner as a great option to cut through grease and grime.

But aren’t environmentally products more expensive than their nongreen counterparts?

“I doubt that green products cost much more,” said McCourt. “Citrus salt, for example, cleans very well and is reasonably priced. Even if they cost a little more, I’d rather not have my family exposed to poison.”

A wonderful book on this topic is “Clean and Green: The Complete Guide to Non-Toxic and Environmentally Safe Housekeeping” by Annie Berthold-Bond, which offers “485 ways to clean, polish, disinfect, deodorize, launder, remove stains, even wash your car, without harming yourself or the environment.”

All the information is neatly packed in its 160 pages of recycled paper.

Shalmai Hollingshead, owner of Taos Green Clean, offers these tips for spring cleaning:

• Break up your house into sections and do one section at a time. Start by cleaning the first room, working left to right around the room, and then work left to right around the house.

• Use color-coded rags so you won’t cross-contaminate the rooms by using the same rags in different parts of the house. You can even just buy washcloth packs in different colors and use them for cleaning, but the microfiber cloths work nicely.

• A simple solution of one part white vinegar to three or four parts water makes a great cleaner. To use it on the floor, sweep and then just spray and dust mop. White vinegar is effective in killing some molds, germs and bacteria because it is highly acidic. Vinegar is also a neutralizer and the odor will dissipate.

• Use a duster with an extension to reach the cobwebs in the upper corners of your home. If you don’t have a long-handled duster, just use a broom.

• You can add essential oils to your spray. Tea tree and lavender are antiseptic and antibacterial. And lavender is soothing!

• To clean your microwave, put in a bowl with water and some vinegar and cook until it boils. Carefully remove the bowl and wipe away all the stuck-on food. The vinegar will also help to eliminate the funky popcorn or bacon smells that microwaves can have.

To contact Taos Green Clean, an eco-friendly cleaning service, call Shalmai Hollingshead at (575) 779-9694, e-mail her shalmai@ taosgreenclean.com or visit her website http://www.taosgreenclean.com.