Coming clean when you clean

You can play a crucial role in easing the hazardous-waste problem by selecting cleaning products that don’t give off toxic emissions or accumulate as household hazardous waste.

Changing the hazardous-waste patterns of industries comes at great expense and effort and often involves lengthy political and legal battles. Changing your purchasing patterns at home, on the other hand, is simple, thrifty and healthy. It can also support those industries that don’t add to the toxics problem.

What’s the alternative?

A basic stock of baking soda, borax, washing soda and white vinegar -- all easy to find in your grocery store -- can tackle many household cleaning jobs.

Baking soda cleans, deodorizes, softens water to increase sudsing and cleaning power of soap, and it can be used as a cleanser. Borax cleans, deodorizes, disinfects and softens water. Washing soda cuts grease, removes stains, disinfects and softens water. White vinegar cuts grease and freshens.

In the laundry, experiment with using less detergent. Softened water may clean a full load of clothes with as little as one tablespoon of detergent.

Mixing your own cleaning substitutes

Air freshener:

All Purpose cleaner: Mix one gallon hot water and one-fourth cup vinegar.

Bathroom cleaner: Baking soda

Blood stains: Club soda and cold water

Brass Cleaner:

Chrome cleaner: Apple cider vinegar or baking soda and rum with soft cloth

Countertops: Mix vinegar with warm water and salt

Copper cleaner:

Deodorizers: Vinegar or lemon juice.

Disinfectant: Mix on-half cup borax with a gallon of warm water.

Drain cleaners:

Floor polish: Club soda

Garage floors: To remove grease, sprinkle spot with fresh cat litter. Let stand for a few hours, then sweep up.

Glue/decal remover: Soak in white vinegar.

Ink stains: Pump hair spray and water.

Laundry aids:

Leather cleaner: Vinegar

Linoleum floor cleaners:

Mildew cleaner: Mix borax with warm water.

Oven cleaners:

Pet stains/odors: Mix one-fourth cup vinegar in one-fourth cup liquid soap. Rub in the mixture, blot the stain and rinse with water.

Pewter cleaners:

Rug spot-cleaner: Dishwashing liquid

Rug or upholstery all-over cleaning: Vacuum, then sprinkle with dry cornstarch, baking soda, borax or cornmeal, and vacuum again.

Rust remover: Warm vinegar and scrubbing will remove rust from dishes, sinks and teapots.

Shoe polish: Try olive oil, walnut oil, beeswax or lemon juice.


Sinks: Mix vinegar with warm water and salt.

Stainless steel cleaner: Wash with one quart warm water and three tablespoons baking soda. Rinse with hot water.

Stains: General household stains can usually be cleaned with borax.

Toilets: A strong solution of a natural acid, such as vinegar, will remove most lime scale.

Tub and tile cleaner: Baking soda and water.

Window cleaners:

Wood floor cleaners:

Wood furniture polish: Mix one part lemon juice to two parts mineral or vegetable oil.

Wood scratches: Mix one teaspoon each of lemon juice and mineral oil.

For more information

Cheaper and Better: Homemade Alternatives to Storebought Goods, written by Nancy Birnes and published by Harper and Row.

Compassionate Consumer Catalog, for pre-mixed, non-toxic household products, 141-44 25th Ave., Whitestone, NY 11357.

EcoBella catalog, for pre-mixed, non-toxic household products, 125 Pompton Plains Crossroad, Wayne, NJ 07470

Nontoxic, Natural & Earthwise, written by Debra Lynn Dadd and published by Jeremy Tarcher. Hundreds of alternatives to household toxics.

Toxics: Stepping Lightly on the Earth, an eight page guide on practical ways to detox your home, offered free by Greenpeace, 1436 U St., NW, Washington, DC 20009

SOURCE: The Consumer’s Handbook for Reducing Solid Waste. Washington, DC, U.S. EPA, August 1992