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Cleaning Green

The Green Kitchen on Facebook Live (Notes)

If you caught my Facebook Live event on The Green Kitchen, here are some notes to help you connect with resources that I mentioned for the three topics I covered: composting the lazy way, incorporating reusable cloths around the house so you can ditch paper towels, and replacing non-stick cookware with healthier options. When there is a specific brand that I like, I’ve linked that exact one. When it’s whole a category I talked about, but I don’t have a brand preference, I’ve provided a search on Amazon for you based on some key words. Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links. If you click through and buy something, I may receive a small commission at no additional expense to you.

1. Composting the Lazy Way

Americans represent 5% of the world’s population but generate 30% of the world’s garbage. The average American throws away 4.5 pounds of trash a day. What we reduce and reuse can make a difference! Commercial recycling should always be a distant third to the other two R’s. However, recycling at home–like through composting–is an impactful, doable step.  

Previous Posts:

The book that got me started was Composting by Liz Ball. It is simple and non-gimmicky.


Products relating to composting if you don’t want to DIY:

2. Reusable Cloths

Read more…


The Paper-Towel-Free Kitchen

Some people call them unpaper towels; some people buy cute ones on Etsy. Some people ditch the paper ones because of cost; some people are convicted about the environmental impact of production, bleaching, shipping, or a lifetime in a landfill. Me? I offloaded paper towels years ago because of cost and environmental impact. As for what I call them, the unglamorous term rags comes to mind. But, really we call them kitchen cloths (to distinguish from the different colored ones we use to clean the bathroom or yet another set we use as diaper wipes). Our are free, because we made them from old, holey cotton t-shirts. If the old fabric doesn’t absorb because of years of being washed with detergent (this is called repelling), you can boil it to strip it and make it absorbent again. We love that these are free, no-sew, last for years, and then are compostable when done (or at least trashed without guilt). $0 for 5+ years of use is pretty awesome in my book! (I don’t count in laundry costs because we have to wash our kitchen towels and kids’ bibs anyway.)  So, how do you cut a shirt into rags? You certainly can just go at it with scissors any way you’d like, but here is how we do it:
Read more…


No More Cleaner Clumps

In green cleaning, I use several different powders: borax, baking soda, washing soda, oxygen cleaner (sodium percarbonate), citric acid. Some of these clump up in the humidity of our basement and are unusable. So, what’s a green cleaning family supposed to do? Don’t throw these products away! Instead, pull out your food processor and prepare for magic. What isn’t a food processor good for? This wonder-worker is no single-tasker.

Step 1:
Dump the clumps in to a food processor fitted with the normal blade. Some of the powder will get very fine and billow out of the machine. You may want to cover it with a towel.

Step 2:
Whir away. Let the dust settle. Open the lid.

Step 3:

Transfer the powder into an air-tight container.
Also, you could pop in a packet of silica gel if you have one leftover from something else.
Those terracotta brown sugar bears (and other shapes) work, too.


Why Green Inside & Out? All of This Fun!

Cost and environmental impact are among the reasons why I switched to green greening our house inside and out, but as a parent I’ve discovered an added benefit: even the tiniest tot can get in on the action!

Inside, I feel comfortable with the kids being around our cleaners.. At 2.5, V is eager to spray and wipe everything he possibly can. While sometimes we just go with plain water, it is nice to really benefit from his eagerness. Baby E is still too oral to help that way (even green cleaners shouldn’t be eaten), but I can tote him around on my back while I work without worrying about dangerous fumes.

Scrubbing the tub with green cleaners
The same holds true outside of the house. With a pesticide-free yard, our kids can go free-range: Baby E can explore on his own and eat a handful—or three—of clover or chickweed. Toddler V can play dump truck with grass clippings with his bare hands for an hour while I use the quiet reel-push mower right next to him.


Mowing Helper
Getting used to the feel of grass

Digging in the dirt pile in the backyard
With organic gardening, we get the fun of watering, digging, catching slugs, and eating veggies together. Everyone can lend a hand!
Square Foot Gardeners
Little Helper
Green cleaning looks different: things are clean, but not perfectly spotless. Green yards look different: we have more clover, plantain, dandelions, and chickweed than actual grass. But, the payoff is that we can enjoy them as a whole family more fully.

V & Dave 2012
E & Dave, 2013
Babywearing helps keep baby in on the outdoor action


Make Your Own Kitchen Cleaner

1 t washing soda
2 t borax
½ t shredded castile soap (Shredding tips here. I prepare several bars worth at once.)
2 cups hot water
Essential oils

16 oz spray bottle
Measuring cup
Measuring spoon (teaspoon)
Add dry ingredients to bottle via funnel. Don’t worry about dry ingredients sticking in the funnel at this point. Add the water via the funnel to rinse the dry ingredients down into the bottle. If the mixture clumps and sticks in the funnel, use the skewer to break up the clog. Add the essential oils directly to the bottle, so none is wasted by sticking to the funnel. For the kitchen mix, I like 2 drops tea tree oil, 5-6 drops of sweet orange, and 2-3 of bergamot.

Shake before using. Spray and wipe with a dry cloth. For especially sticky spots, spray and wipe with a cloth saturated with clean, hot water.

Yes, it really works! I have been using this mixture for several years and it was part of The Big Clean when we bought our trashed foreclosure home.

(This recipe is based on the Castile Cleaner recipe found in the fabulous book Green Clean.)

Foaming Hand Soap

Making foaming hand soap is super-easy and saves money by lessening concentrated soap usage. While you can certainly buy a foaming soap dispenser from Bed Bath and Beyond, Target, or online, I’ve chosen to reuse empty disposable foaming soap dispensers gathered from others. I figure, why pay for something new when I can get life out of something that would otherwise go in the trash or recycle bin? From Freecycle I’ve received empty Dial Complete and Bath and Body Works foaming soap dispensers. The Dial ones work great; I haven’t tried the Bath and Body Works ones yet.

The recipe is simple: 1 part soap to 3 parts water. I just estimate 1/4 of the volume the bottle will hold. Don’t nitpick over the amount–a little off in either direction is no big deal. The goal is to have it well-diluted while still being thick enough stick around for the recommended 20 seconds of washing. Personally, I use Dr. Bronner’s Unscented Baby Mild Liquid Castile Soap which is vegan, fair trade, organic, and friendly to the water supply. (Note: I used to say 1/10 soap to water, but I found that this was rinsing away too quickly to get that that recommended 20 seconds of washing.) 


Squirt in the soap then fill the rest of the bottle with water, leaving enough space for the bulky pump to fit in. Watch out for foaming as you fill the bottle! 



Sometimes I scent each batch of soap using essential oils (start with 10 drops, but you may need even double or triple that you get the level of scent you want), but usually I just leave it unscented.


Glass Cleaner

I’ve used this uber-simple glass cleaner for years now with no problems. Then, I used it to clean the nasty, nasty windows at the new house and fell in love with it all over again.


  • Water
  • Vinegar
  • Spray Bottle
  • Bucket (optional)
  • Black & White Newspaper (at least a couple of weeks old)


  1. Whatever the quantity desired, use a one to one ratio: one part water to one part vinegar. For most jobs, mix the water and vinegar directly in the spray bottle and squirt on. For heavy jobs, mix the water and vinegar in a bucket. Heartily apply it to the glass with a cloth or sponge.
  2. With either method, wipe dry with the older, non-colored (or minimally colored) newspaper. The newspaper is abrasive enough to scrub off sticky grime but soft enough to leave a streak-free finish.
  3. Repeat if necessary.

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Improved Homemade Dishwasher Detergent

I posted quite awhile ago about my homemade dish detergent (and why we use it over conventional) and how we were using it in spite of cloudiness. Reader Special765 suggested adding citric acid to the mix to help. That did the trick! It took us some time to get the amounts just right for our water conditions, but I feel like we finally have it perfected. Here is the new and improved recipe:

One Batch of More Green for Less Green Dishwasher Detergent
(Yields about 70 loads)

Dry ingredients:

  • 3 cups baking soda
  • 1 cup borax
  • ¼ cup citric acid*

Wet ingredients:

  • Essential oil (optional)
  • Vinegar

Mix dry ingredients in a container and shake to mix. Keep wet ingredients on-hand for each load of dishes.

Shake dry mix before each use and then open container pointing away from your face. Moisture causes clumping and activates the citric acid so make sure your container is air-tight. We got a container similar to this at a yard sale for $1. For extra protection, consider adding a dried out brown sugar bear (or the like) to absorb any moisture. I suspect any piece of terracotta will do.

For each load, pour the detergent to the lowest line on the dispenser cup (for us this is 1 tablespoon). Most people use too much detergent and go to the top of the cup, but more is not necessarily better— and is probably not what your machine’s user manual suggests. If 1 tablespoon is also the right amount for your machine, one batch of this detergent will last for 70 loads.

I add 2 drops of essential oil per load on top of the dry mix. Generally I use tea tree oil, which has natural antiseptic properties, but if I’ll be in the kitchen I’ll put in a smell I really love like bergamot or sweet orange since the scent will be released in the steam that comes out of the machine.

I’ve stopped using the rinse-aid compartment for vinegar. Instead, I put a healthy squirt of vinegar in the bottom of the dishwasher (between 1/8 and 1/4 cup). I use an old, plastic sports bottle with squeeze top for this. It is so handy to just grab and squirt! Adding more vinegar than the rinse aid dispenses seems to do the job better. My bottle is similar to this. Used ones are abundant and dirt cheap or free, so no need to buy new plastic!

This mixture is just right for the water in my area, but you may need to play with the ratios for water conditions in your area.

*To find citric acid locally check at an Indian grocer (probably the best chance for a good price, since they will likely sell by the bag and not in a pricey brand-name bottle). Also try specialty supply shops that sell things for making cakes, candy, soap, or cheese; or try a health food stores (e.g.Healthway, but it is pricey there). You also can buy it online.


Mold Abatement in the Basement

Mold can be serious business, but I think that the hysteria about it enters the realm of being big business. Mold education is always a more effective first step than panic. Because the house we bought has some moisture issues, I looked into educating myself about mold and moisture problems and found some excellent resources that helped me feel very good about managing things in our new place.

First, I read A Brief Guide to Mold, Moisture, and Your Home, a PDF from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Then I took an online mini-course: Introduction to Mold and Mold Remediation for Environmental and Public Health Professionals from the EPA. I was able to complete all 9 chapters and all of the tests in one night. (This course is for general education, and is not a certification.) The EPA also has this great chart for cleaning. Home Depot and others sell mold kits, but proceed with caution. Mere traces of mold spores are expected; mold is all around us outside. Indoor mold growth (beyond a small, normal amount like in the fridge or bathroom) is really the problem.

Many people think that bleach is the default mold cleaner, but this is not correct. While bleach is an effective mold killer on non-porous surfaces, it is not effective on porous surfaces. In other words, it will kill mold on a tile floor, but unless your grout is sealed that makes part of your floor porous. Drywall is also porous. I don’t think bleach is best for anything ever so I wouldn’t even consider it for non-porous surfaces. Hubby uses it to clean his home brewing supplies and won’t change his ways, but I personally don’t ever use it. Here is some more info on bleach & mold and why bleach is not the best choice.

So, with bleach out as an option, what is left? Here are the steps that we took:

  1. Find the cause of the moisture and abate it You will just have to keep repeating the following steps if you don’t take care of the problem. Our problems were: ineffective gutters dumping water on the foundation of the house, an against-code plumbing system creating huge amounts of moisture, and previous owners heating the basement via dryer venting, which is moist heat.
  2. Get your gear on Use the EPA’s cleaning chart (linked above) to assess the gear that you need. For our level of mold I wore rubber gloves, a mask, and glasses. I also elected to wear long pants and a long-sleeved shirt that would be washed right away.
  3. Give a topical cleaning The vinegar spray I’ve mentioned in the past is good for light mildew (like in the bathroom). So first we sprayed and wiped the walls with that: Scented Vinegar Spray: 1t borax, 1T shaved dry castile soap, 1/8c vinegar, 2c hot water, 5-10 drops of essential oils (Green Clean p.136). I suggest making half of the oil drops Tea Tree Oil since it has natural antiseptic properties.
  4. Kill the mold and clean topically again I made blend of hot water (1/2 gal), vinegar (1/2 gal), and borax (1 cup)* and wiped that on the wall with a sponge and let it sit for 30 minutes. Don’t be afraid to get things really wet (provided it is warm and dry enough in the room for it to dry within several hours.) Then I reapplied and waited for another 30 minutes. Then I wiped one last time with just hot water, really scrubbing this last time. I used a wet/dry shop vacuum to dry up floor. *I made smaller batches that that, but for simplicity’s sake I’ve provided the recipe in a 1 gallon quantity. I used my green cleaning books along with this site to devise that solution and timeline.
  5. Seal the wall and cover the stains Mold can stain. Even if you’ve removed and killed the mold, you may still have staining. So, it is time to cover that up and seal the wall. We used this primer-sealer.

    About primer: zero VOC primers are easy to find, zero VOC primer-sealers are not. Zinsser makes a zero VOC primer-sealer option, but it is not available in my area, so we went with the conventional kind that I linked to. Zinnser’s conventional latex primer-sealer actually is low VOC, they just don’t label themselves as such. (Most latex paints are low VOC but are not labeled as such. Read this to learn more about what qualifies as low VOC and then check the MSDS sheet for your favorite paint. Beware, however, of oil-based paints labeled as low VOC. A low VOC oil-based paint can have about three times the amount of VOCs as a conventional latex paint. I learned that the hard way. We bought 5 gallons of oil-based, low VOC Kilz primer-sealer. After using it for a weekend and it stinking up the place, we switched to the Zinsser and sold the Kilz on Craiglist. I can’t believe I made that mistake and got hoodwinked into using something because of the label instead of reading the MSDS.

The step I didn’t mention, because we didn’t do it, is removal. Also wearing the proper protective gear, removing pieces of flooring, drywall, etc. is certainly an option—and the best option in some cases. We looked at one house and the basement had black, moldy slime that had grown up from the floors, onto the walls, and up as high as the light switches. That was not the house for us! That house needed every single thing removed from the basement.

We are at about 3 months out and none of the mildew has returned! On to the pictures…

Before–Large Room in Basement
Mildew is primarily from the gutters not working and thus water collecting near the house. Plus we’ve got general filth and ickiness down there. In these pictures, brownish spots are filth, blackish spots are mold. The room has much more grime that it does mold. But, it still has to be dealt with.

After Mold Remediation
Walls: after steps described above. Floor: cleaned with Murphy’s Oil Soap and my mother-in-law’s amazing floor electric scrubber. The goal was to get it clean enough for the movers to put down boxes. At some point, all of the flooring in the basement will be replaced. I would like to do it soon, but we have bigger priorities and an area rug can help cover it up.

Before–Other side of the big room in the basement (leads to the second kitchen which is a scary place that we have only done demo work in)

After Mold Remediation
(The stairs are very ugly because of chipped paint. I just brought home floor paint samples to decide on for painting them. Yay!)

Before: Other view of the big room and the craft closet

Before: Close up of the craft closet. This is the worst mold in the house. We’d seen much, much worse in other houses so we weren’t daunted by this. But, it is certainly was enough to indicate a water problem and enough to warrant careful abatement. The mold here is from toilet leak in the bathroom on other side of wall that went on for so long and was extreme that the moisture rotted the bathroom subflooring and rusted everything metal nearby. Someday I’ll share those scary pictures.

Craft closet after mold remediation (including priming)

Unpacking in the craft closet

Unpacking in the big room. The basement is not heated, so we haven’t done much down there but unpack some things and make sure that everything is up on blocks and nothing touches the walls until we make it through a few more months with no moisture problems. So far, so good! In theory, we could play video games down there now (that is what it is set up for) but it is too cold.

Come summer, hopefully it will feel refreshing down there and we’ll start some real work.


Eco-Friendly Area Rug Cleaning – For Free!

If you live in Northern Virginia, today you can get your area rugs naturally “dry-cleaned” for free today thanks to the snow! Any time it dry-snows (meaning the snow is sugar-like in appearance and cannot form into a snowball) and the temperature is below 25° F you can take advantage of nature’s special natural cleaning power and use the snow to clean area rugs. Honestly, in NoVa I don’t think these conditions converge very often. I have been interested trying snow cleaning for several years and it just has never worked out for one reason or another. But, today is the day!

I learned about snow-cleaning from one of my favorite books, Organic Housekeeping: In Which the Non-Toxic Avenger Shows You How to Improve Your Health and That of Your Family, While You Save Time, Money, and, Perhaps, Your Sanity by Ellen Sandbeck. (What a great title!) Snow-cleaning has long been used for very fine wool and silk rugs, but it should work for any rug. I decided to try it out with my beloved Turkish rug, which hasn’t been cleaned, as far as I know, (besides vacuuming) since we bought it in Turkey circa 1987. Yowza!

Here’s what to do:

First, you need to cool off the rug so it doesn’t melt the snow when you lay it down. Roll up the rug and put it in a cool (preferably unheated) area of your house for a few hours. Once sufficiently cooled, take it outside and lay it pretty side down (this is actually called pile-side) on the snow. I put mine on the snow-covered back porch. Beat the underside of the rug (which is facing up) with a broom. You can also stomp on it, but as a child I was fascinated by the Turkish ladies beating rugs hanging from their balconies, so beating was the obvious choice for me even though this rug was on the ground. Beat, beat, beat or stomp, stomp, stop. Then pick up the rug, put it in the fresh snow of a different spot and repeat. For me, the initial beating spot wasn’t black or anything so dramatic, but there were lots of hairs and a sufficient amount dirt, etc. Repeat beating/stomping and moving the rug until the snow underneath remains clean enough to your liking.

Then the tricky part—cleaning the snow off the rug before bringing it in. Ellen makes it sound so easy, “6. Sweep the snow off the rug 7. Roll the carpet up and bring it inside” (252). It was not quite so succinct for me.

I flipped the rug over (pile/pretty-side now up) and swept the snow off the rug. That part was fun and easy, but the snow kept falling on it. If you have a covered area (with clean ground), I recommend moving there. I swept off the snow in one part as best as I could, then rolled up the rug a smidge, then swept the newly exposed part of the back-side, then swept a little more of the pile-side, then rolled a little more, etc. until the whole rug was rolled up. I am not particularly coordinated so this part was rather awkward for me. Having a second person to help with this step might make it as easy as Ellen suggests it is. Alas, hubby is out today—so I de-snowed the rug alone. I got off as much snow as I could and then brought the rug inside for one final sweep-off in the basement. Unfortunately, even in our mostly-unheated basement it was warm enough to melt the small amount of remaining snow. So, my rug ended up ever-so-slightly damp. Since the aim is to keep the rug as dry as possible, really, really try to get off as much snow as possible outside.

Right now I have the rug hanging over the shower curtain rod in the bathroom to let it air out (it isn’t dripping or anything). It looks great—the colors really pop again— and I can’t wait to put it back in place later today.