River Wissey Lovell Fuller

Green Living

March 2002

Cleaning your home without chemicals

The aim of this column is to publicise good ideas for both the committed and the reluctant environmentalist. I have some ideas to contribute but for this to really work I will need your ideas too. So please keep writing to me at the address below and together we might just make a difference. Here are a few more ideas from my wife on household cleaners.

Household cleaners are big, big business, and the message is you're just not clean enough! This is, pardon the pun, total garbage. New research suggests that over-enthusiastic cleaning of the home can contribute to various auto-immune diseases such as M.S, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis and others. The array of cleaners at the shops reinforces the over-cleaning message; most of them are unnecessary and damaging to you and the environment.

Real soap is one of the best cleaning agents; most "soap" is actually solid detergent, a by-product of the petrochemical industry. Real soap is made in a simple, low-waste manner, degrades easily once used, is mush less harsh to skin and is far more versatile. You can use soap for anything from washing the dog to washing the car. An excellent all-purpose soap is the Marseille block, an enormous 600g block of olive oil soap available from the Natural Collection (0870 331 3333). There are no unnecessary chemicals in this to hurt you, the dog or the environment. It can be used to scrub floors, work surfaces, the fridge, the walls, hand-wash clothes, loo-seats, and after all that, you can safely use it on yourself, and this mountain of soap lasts a long time. Added to this it has no fancy packaging to end up in landfill sites, and no waste. It will replace nearly all the specialist cleaners the big companies try to convince you that you can't live without.

Sink blockages are a big problem, but much of the problem can be avoided by buying metal plughole covers that trap gunk, hair and food residues so they can be safely disposed of later. Also, avoid letting fat go down the sink, as this builds up in the pipes and eventually blocks them. A kettle full of boiling water poured down the sink is a useful treatment, but your best investment is an old-fashioned sink plunger. Block off all air outlets with a spare hand and plunge away. This gets rid of many blockages as well as most commercial sink unblockers without putting pollutants into the environment. I have to say, the warnings on most bottles of sink-unblocker is enough to scare me.

One last tip for stubborn sinks comes from Pat Thomas' book, "Cleaning Yourself to Death". Pour a mixture of 200g of bicarbonate of soda and 100g of table salt down the offending sink. You may have to poke it down with your fingers. When this has gone down, pour 200g of vinegar down the sink. The reaction is wonderful; when the alkali of the soda meets the acid of the vinegar, they bubble furiously and push the abrasive salt through the blockage. After twenty minutes, pour boiling water through to finally clean it out. This is far cheaper and more environmentally friendly than the foaming cleansers on the market.

Bicarbonate of soda is a marvellous cleaner, used for many purposes from oven cleaning, toilet cleaning to deodorising fridges and carpets. Its huge range of uses are detailed in the book I mentioned above, which I would highly recommend to anyone, as it explains the dangers of modern cleaning ingredients and gives alternatives that are safer for us and the environment.

A word about air-fresheners - don't! Most air-fresheners do not freshen the air, some work by masking odours with heavier artificial ones and others work by deadening the sense receptors in the nose. However they work they are not good news for us or the environment; the packaging is difficult to recycle, the chemicals can hang around and pollute the air and water, and they are known to cause headaches and allergic reactions. First line of action against smells is basic cleanliness; second, is opening a window. A simple and safe air freshener is a few drops of essential oil diffused in a room, or used with water in a spray bottle. Or you could be exotic and experiment with incense sticks. An excellent brand, made by hand and using real essential oils and scented woods is available from Greater Goods 01761 417040. These are also Fair Trade items, and smell fantastic!

Nigel and Vivienne Tuffnell

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