Home Work:  Greenly Cleaning

Originally written in October 2007

I’d always thought of myself as growing up in an environmentally conscious household. I turn off the lights when I leave a room. I buy energy-efficient appliances. I recycle, reduce, and reuse.

Yet despite all those good habits, I kept using commercial cleaning products for years and years. If asked, I would’ve said that all the TV spots in the world hadn’t influenced me. It was just that it was easier … quicker … more convenient … probably even better to buy the latest spritz-n-smear product.

That started to change when I married my husband. The man I love has a very sensitive nose and is prone to sinus infections. Early in our marriage, we agreed that I’d be responsible for any cleaning that required Noxious Household Chemicals (as we dubbed them), and in turn he’d vacuum, take out the garbage, and assist with other household chores that didn’t send him into a sneezing fit. I thought this was a pretty good compromise, and for years it worked pretty well. When I started telecommuting, I continued to find time to clean when he was away at work, ideally several hours before he was due home, so that the Noxious Household Chemical odors would have faded by the time he walked through the door.

When he started telecommuting, too, things changed again. I could no longer find a time where he was out of the house long enough for me to clean, at a time when it would be convenient for me to clean. The state of the house began to slip towards “pigstye” while we tried to figure out what to do.

The “eureka” moment came after I’d dumped some old baking soda into our kitchen sink. I was distracted by a cat before I could wash it down the drain, and when I returned a few minutes later, I noticed that the stainless steel was much more shiny where the baking soda had been. Very much more shiny.

Suddenly, Grandma’s advice about baking soda as a scouring powder sounded a lot better.

True to my geek roots, I hopped on the net to investigate, and discovered The New Homemaker, a website dedicated to stay-at-home moms. Their Clean and Organized section was my first dip into the modern “green cleaning” movement. On our next grocery run, I picked up an economy-sized box of baking soda and a large jug of vinegar, then attacked the kitchen.

To my surprise, not only did my homemade concoctions clean the counters and stovetop, they did a better job of cleaning than everything we’d bought over the years. My husband commented that our sliding glass doors hadn’t been so clear since we’d first moved in. Once I started buying essential oils from Texas Natural Supply, the house stopped smelling like we’d left a jar of pickles open. Our six cats seemed to approve as well.

Oddly enough, the biggest benefit for me has been physical. Housework is not a sedentary activity, and I’m noticing a definite improvement in my stamina and muscle tone. The challenge of creating and testing new cleaning methods continues to give me incentive to overcome my previous procrastination when it came to scrubbing the bathtub or cleaning the stovetop. Now the house stays cleaner from week to week and month to month, without making me resent the investment of time and effort.

When telecommuting, you’re in the house for hours if not days at a time. Since we made the switch to green cleaning, we don’t feel trapped in a musty-smelling house, which means our work time is more productive and our leisure time is more enjoyable. The ingredients I need for green cleaning are cheaper than Noxious Household Chemicals, so we’re also saving money. What better way to improve your work-life balance?