Friday, April 12, 2024

How to approach spring cleaning in an eco-friendly way

April 2, 2024
Photo illustration by Alexis Schmidt.
Photo illustration by Alexis Schmidt. —
Photo by Alexis Schmidt | The State News

The melting away of snow doesn’t just expose the dirt hiding in the snowbanks; it also reveals the dirt and dust that’s accumulated in our homes, leading many people to participate in the phenomenon of spring cleaning. 

"It’s a nice way to get you ready for the summer," said chemistry engineering sophomore Aidan Frost. Frost uses spring cleaning as an opportunity to clean his kitchen and bathroom, organize his closet and vacuum.

But before breaking out your mop, flinging open the windows and queuing favorite music, you might want to be mindful of the cleaning products that are being used and the potential environmental effects. 

Household cleaning chemicals are known to leech into our soil, water and air, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. These chemicals find their way into the environment through aerosolized sprays, surface runoff into waterways, and from pouring used products down the drain.

This spring, some students that wish to clean their house and reduce stress on the environment are using home-made alternative cleaners. 

Re-usable Containers

High-density polyethylene, referred to as #1 plastics, and  Polyethylene terephthalate, referred to as #2 plastics, made up 53% of total plastics generated for containers and packaging in 2018. These plastics made up 41% of recycled packaging materials for a total of 1.5 million tons of the plastic recycled. This, however, leaves the remaining 6.1 million tons for the landfill.

Using empty spray bottles from old cleaning products is one way to repurpose this plastic and reduce waste. When repurposing, it is important to thoroughly clean the container before filling it with a new cleaner to prevent reactions between the old and new chemicals in the container. 

Vinegar

Biology sophomore Liz Hedger says she uses alternative cleaners throughout her home. Vinegar is chief among them, along with baking soda and olive oil, she said. 

"I just prefer vinegar because it’s so versatile and not expensive," Hedger said. She uses vinegar to clean her carpet, kitchen and tabletops, she said. 

"When I use it, I notice it doesn’t bleach my clothes or rub my hands raw." 

Vinegar has a long history of use when it comes to DIY household cleaning. It's a byproduct of alcohol production, and has been referenced in Babylonian texts and it’s residue found on the inside of Egyptian pots.

The National Sanitation Foundation recommends a 1:1 ratio of distilled white vinegar to water to dilute and make it safe for most surfaces. The cleaning mechanism in vinegar is acetic acid; this acid, undiluted, can be too strong and dull surfaces like electronics and hardwood floors or can damage surfaces like granite, marble, porcelain and rubber.

A vinegar solution alone can clean countertops, hard water deposits, stainless steel appliances, sinks, walls, glass, vinyl flooring and hardwood floors. A dilution of 5% is enough to remove food-borne bacteria in the kitchen. 5% acetic acid vinegar is also the most common form of distilled white vinegar sold in grocery stores.

Rubbing Alcohol

Rubbing alcohol is another versatile home cleaner that can be found in stores, according to english senior Maddie Turrill. A 1:1 ratio of rubbing alcohol to water is enough to leave windows, screens, and other glass surfaces streak free. 

Vinegar can be safely added to the solution to add a little more cleaning power, but is not needed in order to be effective.

Small amounts go a long way when using rubbing alcohol. An alcohol solution should be used sparingly in the kitchen and not around an open flame, as it is a flammable substance.

"I’m a big fan of using rubbing alcohol to clean glass," said  Turrill, who lives in an off-campus house. "That’s pretty much all Windex is anyways."

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Baking Soda (Sodium Bicarbonate)

Baking soda's primary use is as an abrasive to help scrub to clean stains and residue off surfaces. This paste, made by mixing the powder with warm water until you have the desired consistency, can be used to scrub grout, porcelain, countertops and stainless steel.

Another use Turrill finds for baking soda and vinegar is to clear clogged drains.

"You sprinkle in the baking soda and then pour in the vinegar and cover it. That forces the clog through," Turrill said. 

Baking soda can be used to clear clogged drains using two methods: pouring a half-cup of baking soda into the drain and letting it sit for five minutes in order to let the powder settle into the space. Then, pour in a half-cup of vinegar and let the reaction go until it stops fizzling.

This method relies on the reaction between baking soda and vinegar to break up the clog and push it through the pipe, according to Turrill.

In the second method, you follow the same steps as the first, only when it comes time to pour in the vinegar you will need to plug the top of the drain. This way the gas released by the reaction will not be able to escape and will push against the clog helping to dislodge it.

Bleach

The above cleaners are antibacterial, meaning they will protect users from most household illnesses and food borne contamination, but not viruses. If you are worried about properly disinfecting a space, or really want to know you killed whatever made you sick, you want to use bleach.

The CDC recommends that you wear gloves and clean in a well-ventilated room when cleaning with bleach. It is also important to never mix bleach with ammonia or products containing ammonia, this includes vinegar, in order to avoid creating harmful gases.

Regardless of the products you use to clean your home this spring, be mindful of the impact cleaning chemicals can have on your health and your environment. Properly ventilate your space while cleaning, look and see if any packaging can be recycled or used again, and don’t be afraid to seek out alternative methods to cleaning your space.

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