Ask The Expert: Affordable Natural Cleaners That Work?

By Barb Freda

It makes sense that the things we use to clean our houses not be toxic. But honestly, most of us don't have the luxury of switching to a "green" product for the earth's sake if it's going to leave behind grime and bacteria for our family to come in contact with. Especially if it's going to cost lots more than our regilar cleaner.

Trish Riley, author of "The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Green Living" and founder of Go Green Gifts, a starter kit for green living at home, is always cautious. "The way I look at it, you have to be careful. There are products out there claiming to be green, and honestly, they may be greener than their predecessors, but they are still not green enough."

Riley’s advice? Read the labels. "Read the labels for the cautions and the warnings. A caution isn’t as bad as a warning, but it indicates that you are working with some toxicity."

But Riley's also got a low-cost remedy for those who want to be a little gentler on the environment but aren't willing to shell out wads of extra cash to do so. Riley ends up using essential oils, which have natural anti-microbial action, for her household cleaning. "What I use a few drops of my favorite oils in a bucket full of hot water. Add some non-toxic soap such as Dr. Bronner’s or castille soap (a vegetable-based soap) if you need extra cleaning action. Let it sit a minute so it can disperse. I use it to dust first, then I use it to mop." Her favorite oils included grapefruit, lavender and other citrus oils.

She also suggests checking out Environmental Working Group and The Green Chemistry Institute as good places to start searching for information on natural cleaners. An article on EWG starts with good advice: natural doesn’t necessarily mean good for you—plenty of poisons occur naturally.

Perhaps the easiest to find and least expensive natural products are from Clorox's GreenWorks line (which now includes a dishwashing liquid!). Two other good companies to start with are Seventh Generation and Ecover. Seventh Generation products, in particular, are getting easy to find in your local grocery store, but the company has also teamed up with Target for wide distribution. This company makes a commitment to listing all the ingredients in its products—complete transparency even when it’s not required allows consumers, to make their own decisions. Method products also work well, are omnipresent, and sana a big mark-up.

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