Ask Annie B., For The Home

5 Best Ingredients for Green Cleaning Recipes

cleaning brush

Ask AnnieDear Annie, I know I need to start to go green, but I’m so overwhelmed by everything I read that I don’t know where to start! What do you suggest? What about with green cleaning recipes? – Christine, MA

Dear Christine, I know going green can seem overwhelming! I would say, take it step by step. Don’t try to do everything at once, but focus on changing one aspect of your routine at a time. I’d definitely start with green cleaning! A quick and easy way to stop polluting your home right now!

Green cleaning is easy and inexpensive, and I’ll give you all the basics you need: Here are my five best tips for non-toxic cleaning formula ingredients:

Baking Soda
A commonly available mineral full of many cleaning attributes, baking soda is made from soda ash, and is slightly alkaline (its pH is around 8.1; 7 is neutral). It neutralizes acid-based odors in water, and adsorbs odors from the air. Sprinkled on a damp sponge or cloth, baking soda can be used as a gentle non-abrasive cleanser for kitchen counter tops, sinks, bathtubs, ovens, and fiberglass. It will eliminate perspiration odors and even neutralize the smell of many chemicals if you add up to a cup per load to the laundry. It is a useful air freshener, and a fine carpet deodorizer.

Washing Soda
A chemical neighbor of baking soda, washing soda (sodium carbonate) is much more strongly alkaline, with a pH around 11. It releases no harmful fumes and is far safer than a commercial solvent formula, but you should wear gloves when using it because it is caustic. Washing soda cuts grease, cleans petroleum oil, removes wax or lipstick, and neutralizes odors in the same way that baking soda does. Don’t use it on fiberglass, aluminum or waxed floors—unless you intend to remove the wax. (Arm & Hammer is one brand that sells washing soda and the familiar yellow box is commonly found next to Borax in the laundry section of the supermarket.)

White Vinegar and Lemon Juice
White vinegar and lemon juice are acidic—they neutralize alkaline substances such as scale from hard water. Acids dissolve gummy buildup, eat away tarnish, and remove dirt from wood surfaces. White Vinegar and Lemon Juice Heinz company spokesperson Michael Mullen references numerous studies to show that a straight 5 percent solution of vinegar, the kind you can buy in the supermarket, kills 99 percent of bacteria, 82 percent of mold, and 80 percent of germs (viruses). Heinz can’t claim on their packaging that vinegar is a disinfectant because the company has not registered it as a pesticide with the EPA. But it is common knowledge in the industry that vinegar is powerfully antibacterial, and even the popular CBS news show “48 Hours” had a special years ago with Heloise reporting on tests from The Good Housekeeping Institute that showed this. White vinegar and lemon juice are acidic—they neutralize alkaline substances such as scale from hard water. Acids dissolve gummy buildup, eat away tarnish, and remove dirt from wood surfaces.

Mold Killers and Disinfectants
For a substance to be registered by the EPA as a disinfectant it must go through extensive and expensive tests. EPA recommends simple soap to use as a disinfectant There are many essential oils, such as oregano, cinnamon, clove, and tea tree oil (an excellent natural fungicide), that are very antiseptic, as is grapefruit seed extract, even though they aren’t registered as such. Use one teaspoon of essential oil to 2 cups of water in a spray bottle (make sure to avoid eyes). A grapefruit seed extract spray can be made by adding 20 drops of extract to a quart of water.

Sodium Percarbonate
Let me add a sixth ingredient, late addition to my repertoire, and that is sodium percarbonate, a wonderful whitener. Try my favorite brand of sodium percarbonate, Oxy-Boost! It is very concentrated, so you don’t pay for fillers!

Caution: Make sure to keep all homemade formulas well-labeled, and out of the reach of children.

Have a question for Annie? Write to her at annie [@] thetruefind [dot] com!


By Annie B. Bond, the best-selling and award-winning author of five healthy/green living books, including Better Basics for the Home (Three Rivers Press, 1999), Home Enlightenment (Rodale Press, 2005), Clean & Green (1990), and most recently True Food (National Geographic, 2010 and winner of Gourmand Awards Best Health and Nutrition Cookbook in the World). She has authored literally thousands of articles and was named “the foremost expert on green living” by Body & Soul magazine (2009).