Green Cleaning

Green Cleaning: We are frequently warned about the potential dangers of some of the chemicals used in everday cleaning products. And then there are the worries about the damage they may do to the environment.

All in all, wouldn’t it be great to get by without them? And yet a lot of so-called green cleaning products, at least anecdotally, tend not to work that well. Is there a way to clean, and be green, and still get your house gleaming?

To find out, I call in a man who knows. Donnachadh McCarthy is an environmental expert who provides green audits for homes and businesses. As soon as he arrives at my flat he inspects my collection of cleaning products – and is horrified. In fact when I see everything grouped together for the first time – the bleach, vicious limescale removers and all sorts of lurid surface cleaners – I am actually rather shamed.

“You have an extraordinary range of chemicals in your flat,” says McCarthy. “You have to ask yourself: are they polluting the atmosphere and damaging ecology? Are they not good for your health? And how much waste are you producing – can the empty bottles be recycled?.”

I am issued with instructions for my new core cleaning kit: (organic) white vinegar, borax (a mineral cleaner), bicarbonate of soda, some lemons and a selection of natural brushes and recycled cloths. Is this really going to do the job?

It requires some effort to assemble the kit. I struggle to find organic vinegar and borax locally, and the lemons confuse me. Do I buy ones that are Fair Trade but have come from South Africa? Or ones in plastic netting that have come from Spain? Fair Trade is good, says McCarthy, but the main considerations, from an environmental point of view, are transport and how the product is grown. “My preference is for shorter food miles over organic, if they are both grown outdoors,” he says.

Kit assembled, I spend the whole day cleaning, with help from McCarthy, tips from friends and colleagues, and a book called Natural Stain Removers: clean your home without harmful chemicals, by Angela Martin. Almost everything requires a bit more work and the novelty of mixing up pastes and solutions wears off quickly, but I admit I am amazed at the results and I feel virtuous, even if everything does smell of vinegar.

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