Home, Sweet-Smelling Home: 14 Easy Tips

Eliminate odors in the home the cheap, green way — without using dangerous synthetic air fresheners. From Green Housekeeping by Ellen Sandbeck

It is rare that a home always smells sweet. Some foods are just plain smelly, others reek only after they have been burned. And most of us conduct the occasional refrigerator “experiment.” Here are some ways to exorcise those unpleasant odors without poisoning yourself with synthetic “air fresheners.”

Track down the source of the smell. If it is not a member of the family, get rid of it.

ELIMINATE ODORS
Clean Out Your Refrigerator
Throw slimy vegetables and rotting fruit in your compost bucket. Wash the slime out of the fruit and vegetable drawer. Put rotting meat in your freezer until garbage day. Wash sour milk off the refrigerator shelves.

Put an open container of baking soda in the refrigerator. The baking soda will absorb odors. Replace it after about six months. Use the old baking soda for cleaning jobs or to unclog a drain.

Empty the Garbage
If the inside of the can is wet, wash it out and let it dry. Sprinkle some baking soda in the bottom of the garbage pail to absorb odors.

Burned the Dinner?
If something has burned but is no longer producing actual flames, turn on the range hood to suck the smoke out of the house. If the weather is above freezing, open some windows.

You can try to placate your smoke alarm by whirling a vinegar-dampened towel over your head. Some of the smoke will catch in the towel, and the vinegar will neutralize the smell.

Damp and Dank
Molds and mildews are often rather malodorous. If they are growing in your undersink cabinet, you need to fix the leak and dry out the cabinet. Wash out the cabinet with vinegar and borax to kill the mold and mildew. A portable fan can be used to speed up the drying process.

Garlic and Onion Odors
Hot water sets in these odors. Cold water removes them. Wash your odoriferous cutting boards and hands in cold water. Rinse well.

ADD BETTER SMELLS
Warm a little vinegar on the stove
while you are cooking fish, cabbage, or other strong smelling food.

Burn an unscented candle to help dispel odors. Be careful to keep the candle out of the reach of children, pets, and mischievous breezes.

Pour equal amounts of vinegar and water into a spray bottle. Spray a little vinegar into the air to dispel strong cooking odors.

Pour a little vanilla extract on a cotton ball in a saucer and set it out on a countertop.

Heat cinnamon sticks and cloves or cut-up lemons in saucepan of water on the stove. If the smell is too tantalizing, make mulled cider instead: Heat apple cider with a cinnamon stick and a few whole cloves in a saucepan over a burner turned on low. Do not allow the cider to boil. Let the cider small permeate the house until you can’t resist it any longer. Pour the cider into a mug. Drink.

GROWING CLEAN AIR
Green plants are the only true air fresheners. They produce oxygen and also remove toxins and particulate matter from the air.

Houseplants with scented leaves can make indoor air smell wonderful. Stroke the leaves of fragrant houseplants such as scented geraniums, lavender, thyme, rosemary, and mint to release their fragrance into the room. Or pick a couple of scented leaves and simmer them in a saucepan of water.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ellen Sandbeck, the author of Green Housekeeping (Copyright © 2006 by Ellen Sandbeck) and Green Barbarians: Live Bravely on Your Home Planet, is an organic landscaper, worm wrangler, writer, and graphic artist who lives with (and experiments on) her husband and an assortment of younger creatures — which includes two mostly grown children, a couple of dogs, a small flock of laying hens, and many thousands of composting worms — in Duluth, Minnesota.

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11 Tips for Dealing With Your Piles of Papers

For help clearing out the avalanche of printed materials in your home, follow these helpful tips from Green Housekeeping by Ellen Sandbeck

Magazines
Most of us subscribe to magazines because we are vitally interested in their subject matter, which is exactly why getting rid of old periodicals can be so difficult. Force yourself. If you don’t recycle constantly, you may be crushed by a slippery avalanche of magazines.

  • Keep only the magazines you need for reference, then process them as quickly as possible: Take notes, copy information into your computer, or rip out useful articles and file them away. After you have saved the information you need, donate the magazines to schools, artists, or other people who will use them; recycle the leftovers.
  • Do not read materials you are attempting to recycle. Yes, you probably didn’t read every single word in every single magazine, but life is short and recycling piles up. If you missed an article, you can read it at the public library.
  • Don’t store dated material. Your computer magazine is nearly obsolete as soon as it rolls off the presses. It is unlikely to become more timely when you take it out of storage.
  • Many magazines offer online subscriptions. Consumer Reports, for instance, has a searchable online archive of all their articles, reports, and ratings, and you can subscribe to the online service without receiving the actual magazine. With an online subscription, you can easily find any article and need never fear losing information.
  • Everyone has a complete collection of National Geographics! Yes, they are gorgeous, but they have no resale value. Unless you are going to use them in an art project within a year, give them to a school or an artist who will. Our public library not only possesses a complete collection of the magazine — dating back to its first issues in the late nineteenth century — they also have a complete index. This means that I can go to the library, look up any subject I’m interested in, fill out a request form, and have the issue I need in a few minutes. Finding the same issue in a home collection is unlikely to be as quick and easy.

Newspapers

  • Share your newspaper with a close neighbor; you’ll cut your costs and your recycling chores in half
  • Home collections are not usually indexed, catalogued, or systematically shelved, and an organized collection of newspapers in a private home is the least likely scenario of all.
  • If you are working on a research project and need clippings, mark the page with the article while you’re reading the paper (brightly colored Post-it notes, which can be stuck to the edge of the paper, work well and can be reused several times). After everyone in the household has finished reading the paper, you can clip the article, file it, and recycle the rest of the paper.
  • Don’t keep piles of papers so you can read them later. You won’t. Piles of newspapers will choke the life out of your home. I can guarantee that once you have saved a stack of newspapers to read later you will not be able to find the information you are looking for.
  • Many articles are available on the Internet, and many libraries maintain extensive collections of newspapers on microfiche. Your librarians are trained professionals who can help you find any issue you need.
  • Piles of newspapers are like flammable underbrush in a forest; they need to be cleared out or they endanger the rest of the ecosystem.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ellen Sandbeck, the author of Green Housekeeping (Copyright © 2006 by Ellen Sandbeck) and Green Barbarians: Live Bravely on Your Home Planet, is an organic landscaper, worm wrangler, writer, and graphic artist who lives with (and experiments on) her husband and an assortment of younger creatures — which includes two mostly grown children, a couple of dogs, a small flock of laying hens, and many thousands of composting worms — in Duluth, Minnesota.

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Essential Green Cleaning Products: How to Clean Your Home Naturally

We waste a great deal of money and precious storage space on specialty cleaning solutions when we actually only need a handful of versatile nontoxic products to clean an entire home. From Green This! by Deirdre Imus

Back to the Basics: Essential Cleaning Products
… I want you to go look under your kitchen sink, or inside your utility closet, or wherever you keep your household cleaning products. You probably have a lot of different bottles stashed away — most Americans do.

So, what did you find in there? Window/glass cleaner, toilet bowl cleaner, spray bleach, detergent, fabric softener, dryer sheets, spot remover, spray starch, automatic dishwashing detergent, hand dishwashing liquid, furniture polish, oven cleaner, scouring cream, shower cleaner, tub and tile cleaner, carpet shampoo, and probably several other products you can no longer remember why you bought in the first place.

When we greened Hackensack University Medical Center, the janitorial staff had been using twenty-two different cleaning products. This inflated figure was pretty typical of the hospitals and other institutions — including schools — that we visited. Some places were using up to twenty-five or thirty different products. By the end of the greening process at Hackensack, we’d cut that number down to eight core and eleven total, half of what they used to order.

Like hospitals, we waste a great deal of money and precious storage space on specialty products. You actually only need a handful of versatile nontoxic products to clean your entire house.

  • All-purpose cleaner for floors, counters, kitchen surfaces, bathrooms, tubs, tiles, carpets, spills, and stains
  • Window/glass cleaner for glass, windows, and all stainless steel
  • Automatic dishwashing detergent
  • Hand dishwashing liquid for pots, pans, dishes, fine china, glasses, teapots, coffeepots, silver, and anything else you don’t want to put in your dishwasher
  • Laundry liquid
  • Baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate, is unbelievably useful in every room of your house. It can neutralize acid, scrub shiny materials without scratching, unclog and clean drains, extinguish grease fires, and remove certain stains. Baking soda can also be used to deodorize your refrigerator, carpets, and upholstery. It can clean and polish aluminum, chrome, jewelry, plastic, porcelain, silver, stainless steel, copper, and tin.
  • Distilled white vinegar works much better than any toxic disinfectant you can buy. It contains about 5 percent acetic acid, which makes it great at removing stains. Vinegar can also dissolve mineral deposits and grease, remove traces of soap, remove mildew or wax buildup, polish some metals, and deodorize almost every room of your house. You can use it to clean coffeepots, windows, brick, stone, carpets, toilet bowls — just about every surface in your house except marble, in fact. A tablespoon of white vinegar added to the rinse cycle also acts as a wonderful fabric softener. While it’s normally diluted with water, in some cases, it can be used straight. I recommend using organic vinegar, which is slightly pricier than the nonorganic kind but still a lot cheaper than most consumer cleaning products.
  • Lemon juice is a natural odor-eater that combines well with other ingredients. It can be used to clean glass and remove stains from aluminum, copper, clothing, and porcelain, and nothing works better on Formica surfaces. If used with sunlight, lemon juice is a mild lightener or bleach. Squeeze the juice from half a lemon into the wash cycle to get rid of odors on clothing.
  • Table salt is great at removing rust. With lemon juice, it can clean copper. When mixed with vinegar, salt polishes brass. Salt is also a key ingredient in an effective, all-natural scouring powder.
  • Hydrogen peroxide can be diluted to remove stains from heavily soiled whites and other clothing and a number of surfaces. You can dip a cotton swab in diluted hydrogen peroxide to remove stains from thick white curtains.
  • Essential oils
  • Ketchup can be used to clean copper and brass.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Deirdre Imus, author of Green This! Volume 1: Greening Your Cleaning (Copyright © 2007 by Git’R Green, Inc.), is the founder and president of Deirdre Imus Environmental Center for Pediatric Oncology®, part of Hackensack University Medical Center (HUMC) in New Jersey. She is also a co-founder and co-director of the Imus Castle Ranch for Kids with Cancer, and the author of the bestselling book The Imus Ranch: Cooking for Kids and Cowboys.

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The Greenest Way to Hand Wash Your Dishes

10 tips for washing dishes quickly — and greenly — from Green Housekeeping by Ellen Sandbeck

Water is an infinitely precious yet finite resource. Just ask anyone whose water comes from a private well or who has lived through a drought. There was a severe drought while I was growing up in California. We all learned to wash using a minimum of water and consequently less soap. “Drought washing” is much easier on the environment than the water-wasteful kinds, and I think it is far less disgusting than washing dishes in a sinkful of greasy, scummy water.

The Hand Washing Technique
The perfect sink for hand dishwashing has a big, deep, single bowl and built-in drain boards on both sides. Most double sinks are annoyingly small and cannot accommodate large roasting pans or long-handled skillets.

The perfect hands for manual dishwashing are clad in rubber gloves.

1. Keep greasy pots and pans away from dishes. Greasy dishes are much harder to wash than nongreasy ones, and why make more work for yourself? You can put hot water and dish soap in the greasy pots and pans and let them soak on the stove until you’re ready to tackle them.

Filling a sink with soapy water to wash dishes is wasteful as well as inefficient. Not all the dishes used at a meal will be equally dirty, but if they soak in a sink together, the dirty dishes get a little cleaner, while the nearly clean dishes get a lot dirtier.

If your water is really hard, letting the dishes soak in the sink can get truly disgusting. A sink full of mineral-laden water, dishes, and dish soap can congeal overnight into a sink full of greasy, gelatinous scum.

2. To remove a hardened, burned-on crust from a pot or pan, fill it with a solution of 2 tablespoons baking soda per quart of water and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and let the pan cool. The carbonized crust will lift right off.

To clean burned crust out of a large roasting pan or glass baking dish that cannot be heated on top of the stove, pour in the baking soda solution and heat the pan in a 350 degree oven. When the water begins to steam, turn off and let the pan cool.

3. If you have somewhere to stack your dirty dishes other than in the sink, do so.

4. Scrub your sink with a clean, soapy dishrag.

5. Put all your dirty cutlery in the sink, run hot water on the dishcloth, then squirt some dish soap (preferably organic) on the dishcloth.

6. Scrub the cutlery pieces and stack them in a corner of the sink or in a rinse basket. When all the cutlery is scrubbed, rinse it with hot tap water and put it in the dish drying rack. (Researchers who have studied these things have concluded that air-dried dishes are far more sanitary than dishes that have been dried with a towel. Air-drying is also, perhaps not coincidentally, less work.)

7. Next, start washing dishes, taking them off the counter, or wherever they are stacked; wash them with a soapy dishcloth, and stack them in the sink.

8. When your sudsy stack reaches the top of the sink or you’ve washed all the dishes (whichever comes first), rinse the dishes with hot water and put them in the dish drainer.

9. After the dishes are clean, wash the glasses and stack them in the sink. Rinse them off and put them in the dish drainer.

10. After you have washed all the dishes, you can start washing the pots and pans. They have been soaking awhile by this time, and should be a little easier to tackle.

About the Author
Ellen Sandbeck, the author of Green Housekeeping (Copyright © 2006 by Ellen Sandbeck) and Green Barbarians, is an organic landscaper, worm wrangler, writer, and graphic artist who lives with (and experiments on) her husband and an assortment of younger creatures — which includes two mostly grown children, a couple of dogs, a small flock of laying hens, and many thousands of composting worms — in Duluth, Minnesota.

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Why Are You Wearing Lead on Your Lips?

Lead in lipstick is a real — but avoidable — danger. From Green Goes With Everything: Simple Steps to a Healthier Life and a Cleaner Planet by Sloan Barnett, a regular contributor to NBC’s Today show

We’ve read a lot recently about lead in children’s toys, and about how quickly toymakers have yanked those products off the market when the lead was discovered. But lead in lipstick doesn’t get either the same kind of media play or the same kind of rapid corporate response. Millions of women unwittingly smear lead on their lips every day. The consumer organization Campaign for Safe Cosmetics recently hired an independent laboratory to test red lipsticks bought in Boston, Hartford, San Francisco, and Minneapolis. Why red? Because that’s the color where lead is naturally more present.

The results were sobering. Of thirty-three brand-name lipsticks tested, 61 percent contained detectable levels of lead, with levels ranging from 0.03 to 0.65 parts per million (ppm). Without a study like this, you have no way of knowing how much lead is in the lipstick you use; it’s never listed as an ingredient.

Is the amount of lead in lipstick significant? That’s hard to say, but here’s one way of looking at it: One-third of the tested lipsticks exceeded the FDA’s 0.1 ppm limit for lead in candy.

Well candy, sure. But who eats lipstick, after all? Answer: We do. Any woman or girl who uses lipstick does. Every day. Glamour magazine figures the average woman inadvertently consumes some four pounds of lipstick in a lifetime. We do it simply by eating, drinking, and licking our lips.

Lead is a proven neurotoxin. What’s more, it accumulates in the body over time. Even very small exposures add up. That’s why it is understood now that there is no “safe” level of exposure to lead. If you’re pregnant, lead can cross the placenta and may enter your unborn baby’s brain. Lead has been linked to miscarriage, reduced fertility in men and women, hormonal changes, menstrual irregularities, and delays in the onset of puberty, among other health problems.

But here’s one of the most interesting things about the study: Almost 40 percent of the lipsticks tested, all of which were red, had no detectable levels of lead. Clearly, red lipstick doesn’t have to contain lead. What’s more, cost isn’t a factor. It didn’t matter whether the lipstick was expensive or cheap; some had a lot of lead, some didn’t. The more expensive brands are just as likely to contain lead as the cheaper drugstore brands.

Here’s a list of lipstick brands to which the Environmental Working Group’s database gives a high safety rating:

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sloan Barnett, author of Green Goes with Everything: Simple Steps to a Healthier Life and a Cleaner Planet (Copyright © 2008 by Sloan Barnett), is a regular contributor to NBC’s Today show and the Green Editor for KNTV, the NBC affiliate in San Francisco. She has been a television and print journalist for more than ten years, and wrote a popular consumer advice column for New York’s Daily News for nearly a decade. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and three children. For more information, please visit greengoeswitheverything.com.

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4 Questions to Ask When Shopping for Green Cleaning Products

How to read labels so you know for sure the product you’re buying is safe. From Green This! Volume 1: Greening Your Cleaning by Deirdre Imus

When shopping for green cleaning products, you should always pay close attention to the label. If you can answer “yes” to the following questions, then you can trust that the product you’re buying is safe.

Does it Disclose All Ingredients?
Because the manufacturers or household cleaning products aren’t required by law to do so, you should look for companies that voluntarily disclose their ingredients – and tell you that they do. Look for products that say right on the bottle, “We disclose all ingredients.” That line is a good indication that you’re dealing with an environmentally responsible company.

Does It Tell You Where Those Ingredients Came From?
The label should also tell you if its ingredients are synthetic or naturally derived, as in the label of this environmentally safe all-purpose production:

“This product contains purified water, naturally derived surfactant (from plants or botanicals such as corn, soy, or palm kernel), natural fragrance (from essential oils, plants, or botanicals,) and contains no preservatives.”

Is the water purified? Is the fragrance natural? Does it tell whether the surfactant is derived from plants or chemicals? These are the questions we need to start asking.

Depending on the product, there might be a few more ingredients listed as well, like a complexing agent or a chealant. That’s fine — as long the label tells you the source of those ingredients, whether they’re synthetic or plant-/vegetable-based.

You also might see words like “anionic,” “nonionic,” and “cationic” preceding the surfactant. These refer to the charge of the surfactant and not its source. Don’t be fooled by these and other scientific-sounding terms. You need to know where that surfactant comes from, not what charge it is.

Beware of vague-sounding phrases like “quality-control ingredients” or “cleaning agents.” What do these words even mean? Do they indicate the source of the ingredients or not? If you can’t answer these simple questions you probably shouldn’t be using the product.

Do Those Ingredients Biodegrade?
A label should tell you if its ingredients are in the environment. Most plant- and vegetable-based formulas do.

Is it Free of Toxins?
Avoid cleaning products that contain any of the following:

  • Aerosol propellants
  • Ammonia
  • Chlorine bleach
  • Heavy metals
  • Known or suspected carcinogens, endocrine disrupters, mutagens, and teratogens
  • Phosphates
  • Synthetic dyes, fragrances, and optical brighteners

If you see any of these items on a product label, keep shopping.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Deirdre Imus, author of Green This! Volume 1: Greening Your Cleaning (Copyright © 2007 by Git’R Green, Inc.), is the founder and president of Deirdre Imus Environmental Center for Pediatric Oncology®, part of Hackensack University Medical Center (HUMC) in New Jersey. She is also a co-founder and co-director of the Imus Castle Ranch for Kids with Cancer, and the author of the bestselling book The Imus Ranch: Cooking for Kids and Cowboys.

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How to Disinfect Your Home — Naturally

An elegant and simple solution to killing bacteria in your home, from Green Housekeeping by Ellen Sandbeck

Susan Sumner, a food scientist at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, contaminated fruits and vegetables with salmonella, shigella, or E. Coli bacteria, then sprayed the produce with hydrogen peroxide, vinegar, or both. Hydrogen peroxide was one hundred times as effective as vinegar, but vinegar and hydrogen peroxide worked together to kill ten times as many bacteria as were killed by peroxide alone.

This is a very elegant and simple solution to a vexing problem. The bacteria are not just moved around to cause trouble elsewhere; they are — to paraphrase from the movie The Wizard of Oz — not just merely dead, they are really, most sincerely, dead.

Implementing a Domestic Spray Program
I have been using this dual spray system for years, and frankly, it couldn’t be easier. Vinegar and hydrogen peroxide are natural substances that are produced by living organisms. Our own bodies produce hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) as a byproduct of metabolism. Hydrogen peroxide is essentially a water molecule with an extra oxygen atom attached. When hydrogen peroxide is exposed to heat, light, or organic material, it releases its extra oxygen; pure water and oxygen are produced by this reaction. Pure oxygen is extremely toxic to microorganisms, which is why hydrogen peroxide is such an effective antiseptic. It is rather gratifying to watch hydrogen peroxide bubbling and foaming as it kills bacteria; when the bubbling stops and cannot be restarted by the addition of more peroxide, the deed is done.

Vinegar and hydrogen peroxide are utterly harmless to humans, pets, and the environment. The dual sprays don’t linger on surfaces, so rinsing is unnecessary, and microbes can’t acquire resistance to them.

Setting Up the System

  1. Buy two plastic spray bottles in two different colors. One bottle must be completely opaque, and as dark a color as you can find. (My bottle is black.) This dark opaque bottle is for the hydrogen peroxide, which degrades if it is exposed to light or heat.
    Vinegar and hydrogen peroxide cannot be kept in the same bottle because hydrogen peroxide is delicate and readily breaks down into pure water.
  2. Buy a big bottle of consumer strength (3 percent) hydrogen peroxide at the drug store or grocery store. Fill your dark spray bottle with hydrogen peroxide and store it in a cool, dark place. (Do no attempt to use laboratory strength — 30 percent — hydrogen peroxide. It is a very strong oxidizer that starts fires.)
  3. Buy a gallon of distilled white vinegar at the grocery store.

Using the System

  1. Disinfecting raw foods:
  2. PRODUCE
    When you are washing fruits and vegetables, rinse off the dirt and grit, then spray them with vinegar and then with hydrogen peroxide. The peroxide, which has no taste, rinses the vinegar off the produce. No further rinsing is necessary.

    MEAT
    Spray red meat, fish, or poultry with vinegar, then with hydrogen peroxide. No rinsing is necessary.

  3. Disinfecting processed foods:
    If you are really worried about germs, you can spray down your food packaging when you bring it home. (Waterproof packing only, please!) Dry the package with a clean, dry kitchen towel after you spray. This will work for milk cartons and bottles, yogurt containers, cheese, and processed meat packaging. Do not spray any type of cardboard. It is not waterproof and is also very dry, and hence probably sterile.

    I do not spray all the food packaging I bring into the house because I believe in giving my immune system a chance to flex its muscles. But if I find that meat juice has leaked onto a yogurt container on the way home, I will certainly wash off the yogurt container and spray it with the dual sprays.

  4. After you clean meat, fish, or poultry, wash the sink with a dish cloth and dish liquid, then wring out the cloth before you throw it in the kitchen laundry basket. (I usually hang damp kitchen towels on the side of the kitchen laundry basket to dry.) Next, spray the sink with one bottle, then the other. Use the sprays on any handles and doorknobs you touched while your hands were full of meat juice. If you dislike the lingering smell of vinegar, spray vinegar first, then chase it with hydrogen peroxide.
  5. Use the sprays to disinfect the countertops, refrigerator, stovetop, or any other kitchen surface that worries you. There’s no need to rise afterward.

Do not use these sprays on marble countertops. Vinegar dissolves marble, and hydrogen peroxide may damage it. Clean your marble countertops with dish soap and water. (Vinegar dissolves calcium-based stone, such as marble, limestone, dolomite, and calcite and may etch the surface of other natural stone.)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ellen Sandbeck is an organic landscaper, worm wrangler, writer, and graphic artist who lives with (and experiments on) her husband and an assortment of younger creatures — which includes two mostly grown children, a couple of dogs, a small flock of laying hens, and many thousands of composting worms — in Duluth, Minnesota. She is the author of Green Housekeeping (Copyright © 2006 by Ellen Sandbeck) and Green Barbarians.

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