Archive for the ‘Household Tips’ Category

If You Can’t Garden, Clean!!!

Happy Spring!  Whether it feels like spring or not, there is a psychological lift to just spotting a crocus or two and knowing that winter is officially over.  It may be too early to start gardening, but it’s not too early to start a thorough spring cleaning!

If you don’t already use non-toxic cleaners, now is the time to switch!  Indoor air pollution, partially caused by the use of chemical based cleaners, is a much more serious problem than people realize and one of the reasons for increased cases of asthma and allergies among other diseases. Fortunately you can find several brands of non-toxic cleaning supplies at your local grocery store and many of the conventional brands are now making a less toxic product.  Be sure to read the ingredients though; some products claim to be “natural” when they really aren’t. Visit Environmental Working Group’s Cleaners database “Hall of Shame” for the worst offenders in cleaning products.

Seventh Generation, Mrs. Myers, Shaklee’s full line of biodegradable concentrated cleaning products, and The Optimist Company, a local Cape Cod company whose owner makes pure cleaning and laundry products in her own kitchen with cool biodegradable packaging, are all effective “clean” (toxin-free) products.  Start with an all-purpose cleaner, an abrasive scrubber, and a toilet cleaner.  You really don’t need a different product for each surface in your home.

Making your own cleaning supplies using baking soda, vinegar, and lemon juice is a fun and easy option too!  Baking soda cleans nearly everything from stained kitchen sinks to mildewed showers to tea stained coffee mugs to flatware to fruit or even teeth, and it’s cheap!  White vinegar works great on hardwood floors.  Easy, long-lasting microfiber cloths lift off dirt, dust and grime with no need for additional products.  Don’t be fooled into thinking that if there is no “clean” smell, then it’s not effective – fragrances are part of the chemical danger. (There are some organic cleaners containing safe, essential oils as a fragrance.)

Happy spring cleaning!

Recipe for All-Purpose Cleaner

All-Purpose Cleaner: Mix 1/2 cup vinegar and 1/4 cup baking soda (or 2 teaspoons borax) into 1/2 gallon (2 liters) water. Store and keep. Use for removal of water deposit stains on shower stall panels, bathroom chrome fixtures, windows, bathroom mirrors, countertops etc.  Keep out of reach of children.

Check out the short video on green cleaning your kitchen.

Some information compiled from http://eartheasy.com/live_nontoxic_solutions.htm#substitutions and http://www.greencleaningcoach.com/ 

For more green living  tips, visit greenwithbetsy.com.

 

Is Your Shower Curtain Toxic?

Don’t be fooled by the “new shower curtain smell” emitted when you buy a new plastic one.  That smell is actually an indication of the toxic substances that are released, or off-gassed.  Most shower curtains and curtain liners are made with polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic, which contains volatile organic compounds (VOCs), phthalates and metals, all of which cause a host of problems like respiratory irritation, damage to the central nervous system, headaches, fatigue, dizziness and even worse.   You also want to avoid shower curtains with anti-mildew treatment, antibacterial or antimicrobial claims.  Who knows what’s been added to make these unregulated claims and you don’t want to inhale chemicals in the shower curtain!

In a study recently published by the Center for Health, Environment & Justice entitled “Volatile Vinyl: The New Shower Curtain’s Chemical Smell”, claims more than 100 chemicals are released into the air when consumers open the curtain packages. The level of total VOCs measured was over 16 times greater than the recommended guidelines for indoor air quality established by the U.S. Green Building Council and Washington State Indoor Air Quality Program.  Seven of the chemicals released by shower curtains are classified as hazardous air pollutants by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Clean Air Act.  The heat and humidity in the shower may make the VOC concentrations even worse.

Alternatives to toxic PVC shower curtains?

Cotton, (organic cotton is even better), duck cotton, recycled sailcloth or hemp shower curtains, are best and available on line. If you can’t find cotton ones, synthetic materials are okay as long as they are made of the more environmentally friendly EVA, PVA, nylon, polyester or microfiber. Retail giants like Target and Bed, Bath and Beyond are now aware of the problem with PVC and are carrying non-PVC shower curtains and liners.  I just bought an inexpensive curtain liner made from 100% EVA Vinyl produced without chlorine.   So – stop inhaling toxic substances and replace your shower curtain now!  You’ll be happy you did!

Some information compiled from  http://healthyhomefocus.com/?p=925

For more green living tips, visit greenwithbetsy.com.

Clean, Fresh Babies

Lucie's baby JeanThere is no more special time in life than the anticipation of your first baby – pouring through baby development books, choosing a name, decorating the nursery, researching the best stroller and car seat, buying those adorable baby clothes, and finding the right laundry detergent that won’t irritate your baby’s soft newborn skin.  Many new parents wonder if it is really necessary to buy a specific, costly detergent like Dreft, just for baby clothes?

The answer lies in what kind of detergent you usually use.   If your detergent is loaded with dyes, fragrances, phosphates and optical brighteners, then yes.  But if you use a ”clean” laundry soap, or one without toxic additives, you don’t have to spend the extra money and run a separate load for baby clothes. 

Most conventional detergents now make a non-toxic product.  You can check out the toxicity level of your favorite brand or find the safest ones by going to the Environmental Working Group website, a well-respected consumer watchdog organization.  They analyzed over 2000 products and rated them according to concern for general ecotoxicity, biodegradation, and general systemic/organ effects.

Here are a few laundry soaps I recommend.

Seventh Generation products are fantastic– they contain plant-derived cleaning agents, soil disperants and non-animal derived enzymes; they are naturally biodegradable, phosphate-free and hypoallergenic. Seventh Generation products consistently score the safest rating and they are a genuinely eco-responsible company.

http://www.seventhgeneration.com/learn/video/brighter-way-care-baby

I like supporting local companies and cottage industries.  The Optimist Co, based on Cape Cod and run by a mother of two small children, makes fabulous laundry soap with 100% soap oil flakes and no chemical detergent. You can’t get much purer than the laundry soap she makes right in her own kitchen!  Shaklee, another eco-responsible company, offers a highly effective, chemical-free laundry soap as well, and for a non-toxic soap that does it all – clothes, dishes, body, hair – there is nothing better than Dr. Bonner’s Pure Castille soap.

One other thing, forget fabric softener which is highly toxic and full of harmful chemicals.  It also breaks down the fire retardancy in infant clothing.  Instead use dryer balls or add ¼ cup white vinegar to the rinse cycle.

Make the switch today to non-toxic laundry soap and protect everyone’s skin, especially your baby’s!

For more green living tips, visit greenwithbetsy.com

Information compiled from : http://babyclothes.about.com/, http://www.mnn.com/lifestyle/responsible-living/stories/7-least-toxic-laundry-detergents

 

Men, Ask Me Your Green LIfestyle Questions!

In an effort to reach a broader audience, I’m starting a series of posts pertinent to different groups – men, children, teens, new parents and grandparents.  Most posts apply to everyone obviously, but it’s usually women who take the lead in making greener and healthier changes in the home and for the family.  As Bella Abzug says, Women will not simply be mainstreamed into the polluted stream. Women are changing the stream, making it clean and green and safe for all…”  Or to quote Margaret ThatcherIf you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman.

The reality is it takes everyone’s commitment towards a more eco-friendly lifestyle to make positive changes for the environment.

So, I’ll begin with men.  Below are questions asked from a male reader.

Question:It’s slippery outside on my front walk.  What can I safely use besides salt to melt the ice?  Any other choice besides ice melting pellets?” Mark C., Charleston, MA

Answer:  Thanks for asking such an important question, especially with the polar vortex gripping most of the country!  Slippery walks are dangerous.

Rock salt is the most common and the cheapest ice melt, but it is damaging to vegetation, polluting and corrosive. Calcium chloride, urea and blends also contain a lot of salt and pollute the soil. Generally products labeled “Pet-Safe” are safer for the environment, but make sure to read the label for salt additives. Avoid sodium chloride, the worst of all salts.

From my research, there are really no toxin-free ice melts.  The least toxic products are the natural ones like sand, sawdust, wood shavings, kitty litter, or even fireplace ash that provide traction for walking on ice.  They don’t actually melt the ice however.  Their downside? They are messy – you definitely have to remove your shoes when you come indoors, which is a good idea anyway.

Question:  “The leather on my tv chair is getting hard and cracked.  What should I do about it?” Mark C., Charleston, MA

Answer:  Good question.  I know how important special chairs are.  My husband loves his chair too!  It’s best to keep leather chairs out of direct sun, which will bleach it and cause deterioration.  Heat makes it dry and crack too.  To maintain your leather chair, wipe it down regularly with a clean, dry cloth (avoid cleaning products not designed for leather specifically) and vacuum dust and debris from the crevices as you would an upholstered chair. Apply leather conditioner regularly to keep it soft and supple, but make sure you use a conditioner that won’t darken light leathers.  For those cracks you mention, you can buff small scratches gently with a microfiber cloth until their appearance fades.  And I’m sure you know, never let water stand on leather.  Good luck.

Information compiled from: http://www.wikihow.com/Care-for-Leather-Furniture

Home Comforts, The Art and Science of Keeping House, by Cheryl Mendelson, http://grist.org/article/de-salt-of-the-earth/

 

For more green living tips, visit greenwithbetsy.com.

 

Swiffer vs An Old-Fashioned Dust Mop

Below is a question from a reader about Swiffer.

Dear Betsy:

I just got the latest issue of Vermont Country Store catalog and inside is an old-fashioned wool dust mop, which up to 10 years ago I used and used to shake outside like my Mom used to do! 

This made me think about all the Swiffer products I use.  Hmmm – I’m wondering if anyone has compared cleaning efficiency of an old-fashioned dust mop vs Swiffer – certainly one is more economical.  The Swiffer products are expensive!  Thanks -

Jennifer M.

Winchester, MA

Hi Jennifer:

Great question!  I don’t know of any actual studies about the cleaning efficiency of an old-fashioned dust mop vs. Swiffer, but I know I prefer an old fashioned dust mop.  Swiffer disposable dry cloths are made of polyester and polypropylene and work well to pick up dust and grime from most surfaces, but so does an old-fashioned wool dust mop.  The natural lanolin in wool attracts and holds dust. Wool won’t scratch floors and gets better every time you wash it. I try to avoid single use products that go directly into the landfill, as well as petroleum-based products like polypropylene.

The Swiffer wet cloths are treated with propylene glycol and though categorized by the FDA as “generally regarded as safe”, that’s not assurance enough for me. According to Swiffer, the wet cloths may irritate skin and aggravate known skin conditions.” Considering that concentrations of toxic compounds are higher inside than outside, it’s best to avoid them when you can. Indoor air pollution, partially caused by the use of chemical based cleaners, is a much more serious problem than people realize and one of the reasons for increased cases of asthma and allergies.  Additionally, the chemically treated, single use wet cloths end up in the landfill leaching toxic chemicals into the soil and water table.

There is no question that Swiffer is easier than an old-fashioned mop, but what happened to cleaning with natural and safe ingredients like soap, water, baking soda, vinegar, lemon juice and borax?  All it takes is a little elbow grease and a good sponge mop.

If you insist on the convenience of a Swiffer, there are similar, more eco-friendly options.

  • Method Home floor cleaning mop with non-toxic compostable sweeping cloths.
  • Gaiam’s Spray Mop Kit where you add your own cleaner or nontoxic vinegar and water, spray the fine mist and mop up with a microfiber cleaning cloth (the eco-friendly cleaning rage today).  The set includes five washable MicroTech Cleaning Cloths.

    Gaiam’s Spray Mop

  • Amazon also sells a microfiber mop called E-cloth microfiber mop, as do Bed, Bath and Beyond and Whole Foods.

E-cloth Microfiber Mop

I hope this helps Jennifer– let me know what you decide.  Safe cleaning!

Betsy

Information compiled from www.treehugger.com, inhabitat.com, www.swiffer.com, vermontcountrystore.com, classic.akc.org

 

 

A Greener Back to School

Sadly, another summer zipped by and school is just around the corner!  Whether you have a kindergartener or a college student, there are lots of green things you can do to get your family ready for school.

For young kids:

I loved my trips to Staples with my kids to get new pencils and pens, fresh, clean notebooks, binders and folders for the first day of school, but buying everything new can be wasteful and expensive.  Instead….

  • Reuse last year’s unfinished notebooks. Just tear out (and recycle) the used papers and they are as good as new.   If you need new ones, buy notebooks with recycled paper or paper made from natural fibers like banana or coffee.
  • If last year’s binders aren’t in good shape, buy those made from postconsumer waste and water-based glue.  Fill them with recycled binder paper.
  • Reuse last year’s pencils and pens; if you need more, opt for pencils made from reforested wood or recycled newspapers. For young elementary age kids, get nontoxic, phthalate-free crayons.
  • Pack a healthy lunch in a recyclable lunch bag; buy bulk size wholesome snacks and put them in reusable containers rather than snack-size, throwaway plastic baggies. A piece of fruit is the most beneficial snack option.
  • Walk, carpool or take a bus to school to cut down on carbon emissions.
  • For after school sports, don’t forget your BPA-free, reusable water bottle.

For older students:

Follow the above tips and…..

  • Be ahead of the curve; try a solar-powered bamboo calculator.
  • Fun, eco-chic backpacks made from 100% recycled cotton canvas or other recycled materials and messenger bags made from recycled rice sacks with printed graphics are the new look.  They are a lot more environmentally friendly than the traditional polyester or nylon ones.

For college students:

Moving in and out of dorms creates a lot of waste.  The amount of cardboard and plastic packaging for the new bedding, bath and personal care products, school supplies, etc. is overwhelming and recycling bins are often not available.

  • Instead of always buying new, reuse some things from home and try not to bring so much stuff.  Dorm rooms are small and you can get away with less.  When you do buy new things, buy them at school and avoid shipping.  Target stores are everywhere and even sell organic towels and sheets!  For futons and other furniture, graduating students often donate their old furniture or look on-line at craigslist.com or freecycle.com.
  • Use low energy certified microfridges, computers and tv’s.
  • Share appliances with friends – not everyone needs every appliance.
  • Use power strips instead of extension cords to save energy and keep air conditioning to a minimum.
  • Install CFL or LED light bulbs and turn off the lights when you leave the room.  Make sure to unplug your phone charger when not in use to eliminate vampire energy.
  • Instead of stocking up on water bottles, use a BPA free water bottle instead.
  • For the late night munchies, eat organic fruits and snacks and compost the waste.
  • Choose green cleaning supplies like Seventh Generation for washing your dishes (forget disposable ones) or cleaning your dorm room.
  • Houseplants make great air filters and improve air quality.
  • Get involved with on campus environmental groups, or start your own.  Several colleges now have local raised bed gardens – volunteer to work in them.  Working with the soil is a great stress reducer and you’ll learn a lot.
  • Solo cups are “the” party cups, but they take hundreds of years to decompose and some recycling centers don’t take them.  Solo has a new product line of products that are made using recycled, recyclable or compostable materials called Bare® by Solo.  Set an example and go for those!
  • For papers, always use recycled paper and don’t forget to recycle used paper, bottles and those ubiquitous beer cans!

You are never too young or too old to start making a difference by living greener!

Enjoy the rest of the summer – the weather is spectacular!  I’ll be back after Labor Day….

 

Some information compiled from Whole Living, September 2012 and Natural Living, September/October 2012.

 

 

Fix It Instead!

For years I wanted a blender that you simply turn on and off, like the kind I remembered having as a child.  I was tired of the plastic, LED readout variety with so many blending options. All those options seemed unnecessary, and the blenders broke often.  I finally found a good, solid old-fashioned Waring Blender. I work my blender hard with chock-filled smoothies every morning, homemade soups and other liquefied food items, and even my Waring blender had a part wear out. I didn’t want to buy a new one because basically it still worked.   I wanted to replace the part that broke.

When I was growing up, small appliance repair shops were common.  Since then in this era of planned obsolescence with cheap, made in China everything – appliance repair shops and handymen have all but disappeared.

Boyett's TV

Boyett’s TV (Photo credit: Steve Snodgrass)

One of the best things about the internet however, is that you can find replacement parts on-line.  And that’s what I did.  I searched Waring blenders, found my replacement part and ordered it.  My blender works as good as new, and I saved an almost perfectly good appliance from the landfill.  I saved some money too.

In this throw away era of ours, we must think about reusing, repurposing and fixing what we already have instead of always buying new and recycling the old.  Of course some things have to be thrown out and it’s important to recycle them, but before you do, think first.  Can I fix this?  Can I use it for something else?    Who knows – maybe we’ll bring back the fix-it shops of long ago with a 21st century approach and create some new jobs.

Clever Uses for Spent Spices

I have many more spices in my spice cabinet than I actually use, and most have been there for years. Ground spices lose their volatile oils after a time and shouldn’t be kept longer than a year or two.   I’ve even heard 6 months.  Many of mine are way past their potency and won’t add much flavoring to food; yet, I can’t just throw them away.   I recently read an article with some clever uses for old spices, a few of which I want to share with you.

To freshen your carpet (and your vacuum), you can sprinkle old spices like cinnamon, thyme, cloves or nutmeg directly on your carpet and then vacuum up.  What a perfect alternative to a toxic room freshener!  Try a small area first to make sure the spice colors won’t stain your carpet before applying to the entire rug.

Strong-smelling spices are often used in insect repellents, and the same theory holds true in the garden.  Sprinkle your old pepper, oregano, sage, peppermint, cayenne, chili powder, etc. around your rows of plants to keep insect pests away.  It won’t hurt your plant and is definitely worth a try.  Gardening is often a battle between mother nature and man, like on our farm where we have at least 25 geese and goslings, as well as rabbits, hedgehogs and even a fox who all seem to eat the vegetables as quickly as they come up.  Chili powder, red pepper and cayenne apparently keep squirrels, rabbits and other animals away as well.  I just spread old pepper flakes around our corn – I’ll keep you posted about its effectiveness.

English: Pepper yet to be ripened, taken by me...

Here’s an unlikely tip. According to Organic Authority, adding a few teaspoons of black pepper to your laundry load will keep colors bright and prevent fading.  Why not?  It’s certainly not toxic and may prolong the life of your clothes.

Enhance your summer cookouts by adding your old spices to the charcoal.  Cooking them helps to release the remaining volatile oils. You’ll love the extra boost of flavor and the aroma.  You can also toss freshly picked herbs right into the charcoal.  I especially like rosemary.

The pigment from nutmeg, paprika, cinnamon and turmeric make safe, natural paints when mixed with water.  Or place old spices in a sachet to freshen your dresser drawers.

English: spices: (Turkey, travel, Istanbul, sp...

Specialty tea and spice stores selling small jars of spices or spices in bulk are gaining popularity.  Farmers’ markets sometimes sell spices too.  I prefer to buy them in smaller containers so I know that I can use them up before they lose their potency.   But if not, I really like the idea of reusing old spices in fun ways.

Information compiled from Earth911.com, Kathryn Sukalich, 10 Ways to Use Up Old Spices.

 

Green Moving

My husband and I are selling our house where we have spent 28 happy, important years. We raised our family here, expanding and changing the house as our family grew.  Now that the kids have gone, it’s time for another loving family.  We will move to a smaller place where we can lessen our carbon footprint.

Crystal earth recycle icon

I am sorting through years and years of accumulated “stuff”, making piles for giveaway, piles for recycling, piles for storage, piles for the kids. Vietnam Veterans, Big Brother/Big Sister, the Epilepsy Foundation and other service organizations gladly come to your home for unwanted items still in good shape or you can drop them off in their donation bins. Freecycle.org is another way to get rid of things.  Our town dump recycles electronics, appliances, books, metal, and clothes.  They also have a “dumptique” where you can dispose of discarded items – you barely get out of the car before someone grabs something!

I curse all the technology around the house that is obsolete almost immediately and comes with way too much packaging and the ubiquitous wires, plugs, and chargers that go with only one device.  I can’t believe all the CDs that no one listens to and cameras that no one uses now that we all have smart phones.  It’s shocking how quickly video games, players, and VHS tapes are outdated.   They can be donated thankfully, to thrift stores and freecycle.org.

Then, there are those things that can’t be donated or recycled and that I just can’t throw into the landfill, like dried-up make-up,  partly used personal care products, old partially used paint cans, spent markers and pens, half-burned petroleum-based candles, the countless samples doctors give out that definitely shouldn’t end up in the water table – the list goes on and on.  These items pose a real challenge.   GreenAmerica.org posted a list of where to recycle all sorts of unusual plastics like old yoga mats, Brita pitcher filters, and technotrash, and there are websites that offer ideas for reusing and crafting items like torn blue jeans. Unfortunately however, some items have to be thrown away.

It’s a lot of work to dispose of things properly, but it feels good, it’s cathartic.  I keep coming back to the thought however, that we all have way too much stuff!  Recycle, yes, reuse yes, but let’s reduce too!  Now, in my next phase the key is not to re-accumulate!  Who needs anything anyway?

If you aren’t familiar with Annie Leonard’s “The Story of Stuff”, it’s really worth watching this clever 20-minute animated documentary about the lifecycle of material goods.  Click here to visit her website.

 

Paper Napkins or Cloth?

 

“In a Gentle Way You Can Shake the World.” – Gandhi

When I came across this wonderful quote, I started thinking about gentle changes that positively impact the earth.  One such change is to switch from paper to cloth napkins.  It sounds silly, but here is the math.  If 50% of the U.S. population used 3 paper napkins a day, that would total 450,000,000 napkins for 1 day or 164,250,000,000 napkins over a 1-year period.  That’s a staggering number of paper napkins!

The manufacture of both cloth and paper napkins obviously uses resources and energy. According to a report published by the Environmental Paper Network, however, the paper industry (which includes all paper products) is the 4th largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions among United States manufacturing industries, and accounts for 25% of landfill waste and 1/3 of municipal landfill waste.  Additionally, in the manufacture of paper napkins, the chlorine bleach used to whiten them contains toxic compounds and the dyes in decorative napkins are also questionable.  And, paper napkins are only used once!

napkins

napkins (Photo credit: pinprick)

Cloth napkins alternatively, can be used over and over, often lasting for generations.  They can be energy intensive too, but there are several ways to minimize their environmental impact.

  • Unless it’s organic cotton, it’s best to avoid cotton cloth napkins.  Cotton is labeled the world’s “dirtiest” crop because of its heavy insecticide usage.  Instead use linen (which comes from the fibers of the flax plant), hemp, vintage or your own made from fabric remnants.
  • Reuse cloth napkins for 2 or 3 days, depending on how dirty they get.  Buy different colored napkins for each member of the family.  I jokingly match the napkin color to each family member’s personality, my napkin being green of course.  You can also individualize napkin rings.
  • Wash the napkins with regular loads of laundry with environmentally safe detergent, and air-dry them.  In addition to saving energy by air-drying them, I find I don’t have to iron them!

Paper napkins are clearly more convenient, and for entertaining large crowds, picnicking or eating on the run, they make sense. Just make sure to use recycled paper ones.  According to MotherNatureNetwork, “If every household in the U.S. replaced one package of virgin fiber napkins with 100 percent recycled ones, we could save 1 million trees.”

Most of the time, however, use cloth ones.  Dig out your grandmother’s beautiful linen napkins and find yourself brought back to a simpler, slower time when gathering around the dinner table for meals and conversation was routine. That’s a pretty gentle change to me!

Information compiled from greengroundswell.com, mnn.com and thedailygreen.com.

 

 

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