Cleaning the bathroom can be daunting, even if you're armed with traditional cleaners laden with bleach and strong but perhaps environmentally unfriendly ingredients. But what if you want to go green and still get the toilet bowl, sink and tile to sparkle?
Start by stocking up on white vinegar and baking soda.
These two staples of the kitchen can help keep your bathroom clean in a way that's safe for the environment.
A little bit of chemistry helps explain why. "Vinegar, because of its acidity, can be good for (cleaning) hard water and soap scum," said Rebecca Sutton, a senior scientist with the Environmental Working Group, a public interest group devoted to protecting health and the environment.
Baking soda, on the other hand, is alkaline, said Annie B. Bond, author of books on green living, including "Home Enlightenment" (Rodale, 2008). Mix the baking soda it with some water and make a paste, and it can be used as a scrub.
And don't forget the soap — a mild castile soap made from olive or vegetable oils.
Just as the move toward green in general is growing, so is the interest in green cleaning products, said Urvashi Rangan, director of the consumer safety group for Consumer Reports. The number of products on the market has grown.
"Within what we have looked at, anecdotally speaking, we have seen some green cleaners start to perform better and better," she said.
What makes a cleaner green?
"In my book, green has to be both good for health and the environment," Bond said.
Many conventional cleaners can damage both, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA advises consumers to be alert for "signal words" on labels. Among them: danger-poison, corrosive, severely irritating, highly flammable, highly combustible or strong sensitizer.
It recommends products that are biodegradable and solvent-free, have a bio base, such as pine or citrus, and are low in volatile organic compounds.
However, labels aren't always a great source of information about what's in a cleaner; companies aren't required to list all the ingredients, although some do.
Sutton cautioned consumers to be alert for "greenwashing," in which a company promotes the one green aspect of the product but doesn't give the full picture of other ingredients.
"A lot of folks, because of the quandary, are moving toward homemade cleaners — vinegar, baking soda, a lot of recipes you can find out on line," Sutton said.
The effectiveness of these cleaners largely depends on the size or depth of the job.
Rangan said some homemade bathroom-cleaning products are "better suited for people who are not leaving the hard cleaning jobs until the last moment."
Also, she said, vinegar is "not going to kill some of the bacteria you want to kill if, say, you had someone sick in the house." Alcohol or hydrogen peroxide might better serve that purpose, and "soap gets you a long way," Rangan said.
"Stronger isn't necessarily better, and sterilization and disinfection isn't always the goal," she said. "Know when you've got an issue going on."
Some solutions for typical bathroom trouble spots:
Vinegar will help get rid of the soap scum. If you need to scour, try a paste of baking soda and water.
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