“I see people all the time spraying Windex on their countertop and then slapping down a sandwich — they don’t realize all the chemicals that are left on the counter from the Windex, like petroleum by-products. That’s like slapping gasoline on your sandwich,” says Aenne Carver, a master gardener who lectures on gardening and herb use.
“If you look at the back of Lysol — and I’m not picking on Lysol — but it says it is an astringent antibacterial and antifungal, and it also says to keep away from children and that it contains petroleum products. My guide rule is, if it says ‘harmful to inhale’ or ‘rinse your eyes immediately’ or ‘flammable,’ I don’t want that in my house.”
On Saturday, March 1, Carver will conduct a class called “Go Green with Herbal Cleaning Products” as part of the Natural History Museum’s adult-education program. Carver will show attendees how to make “natural and inexpensive” cleaning products to replace the “hazardous and expensive” brand-name versions. “In the olden days, women made all of their household cleaning products,” says Carver, who grew up watching her grandmother clean the windows with white vinegar and a newspaper.
Carver says the air inside our homes is ten times as polluted as the air outside. The greatest contributors to this indoor pollution are ammonia, formaldehyde, and benzene, released from common items such as paint, fabric, and building materials. “In order to conserve our energy resources, over the past 25 years our buildings have been efficiently sealed from the outside.” It is Carver’s belief that chemical vapors from the toxic ingredients in cleaning products contribute to the “dramatic increase in allergies and asthma” cases. “Luckily, in San Diego we can open our windows, but why even introduce these [chemicals] into our homes?”
Natural cleaning products that are free of toxic chemicals tend to be more expensive than popular brands. “Why spend $14.99 for a glass cleaner when you can make it for pennies yourself?” Carver asks. Though vinegar alone can be used to clean glass, Carver says it takes “a considerable amount” of elbow grease. She offers up her recipe for a natural glass cleaner: one teaspoon of liquid castile soap, six tablespoons of white vinegar, two cups of water, and about 30 drops of essential oils of your choice.
Castile soap is most often made from olive oil and sodium hydroxide. “I prefer Dr. Bonner’s castile soap,” says Carver. “He was from Escondido, and I first learned about his soap in the ’70s when I lived on a commune. It’s biodegradable — you can wash your dishes outside with it and brush your teeth with it. It doesn’t taste great, but when you’re camping it’s good for cleaning your hair and washing your clothes.”
Carver prefers to make small batches of glass cleaner because she would soon tire of the same scent. “You can make it seasonal — lavender and orange work well in the summer and spring, and eucalyptus, rosemary, and pine are good around Christmas.”
According to the Vinegar Institute, vinegar can be used to clean any area of the home, from the bathroom and kitchen to furniture and laundry. The organization’s website, versatilevinegar.org, states, “The acid in vinegar cuts through the grease and germs on your countertops and is also the ingredient that makes your favorite pickles so tart and safe to eat by inhibiting bacteria and mold.”
Vinegar can be used in the garden. “I use it to kill weeds and their seeds,” says Carver. “You have to be careful because it could kill your other plants, but if you have stubborn weeds coming out of the cracks in your driveway or isolated plants that you can’t get rid of, just pour white vinegar straight on it.”
Carver’s natural toilet-bowl cleaner is made with borax and white vinegar. “It’s great, like those volcanoes kids make in school — it bubbles up, so you really feel like you’re cleaning. Let it sit for several hours, and then you scrub it away.” As a substitute for Comet, Carver uses a mix of baking soda, kosher salt, and essential oil. “Baking soda is very acidic and deodorizes — it has good cleaning properties. It also scrubs and has a mildly abrasive kind of effect.”
Carver acknowledges that even she does not score a perfect ten on environmental friendliness. “I drive an SUV...what I tell people is, and the way I’m doing it is, try to change one simple thing a week and just keep to it.” One change Carver’s family has made is to switch from disposable bottled water to reusable bottles. “My other recent big thing is I’m really trying to get better at taking canvas bags for shopping. It sounds so simple, but it’s really hard to do. I have to think ahead.”
Go Green with Herbal Cleaning Products
Saturday, March 1
10 a.m. to noon
San Diego Natural History Museum
1788 El Prado
Cost: $35 members; $43 nonmembers
Info: 619-255-0203 or http://www.sdnhm.org (under Education tab)