Spring Cleaning — Naturally

Sound Consumer | March 2001

by Harvey Varga

spray bottle
The urge to clean and organize awakens after the dark days of winter. It's a common pattern not only in our homes, but throughout nature as the cold and darkness give way to the brilliant brisk days of spring.

It seems that "civilized" humans have lost sight of our natural instinct to work with our environment in the renewal and cleansing process. While "elbow grease" is an environmentally friendly, petroleum-free product, most of the household cleaners and cleansing processes we employ are not.

Most of the ingredients used in commercial cleaning products are tested on animals — not humans — and testing isn't as comprehensive as it could be. What we do know is that the manufacturing of most commercial cleaners under the sink is responsible for tons of hazardous waste being released into our environment. The use of these compounds is another matter; even if they're labeled "biodegradable," their breakdown may not be complete before being discharged.

In 1989, the EPA concluded that indoor air quality carries a higher risk for personal exposure to toxic chemicals than outdoor air. Toxic cleaning products are one factor in the demise of our indoor air quality, along with emissions of building materials and furnishings.

As consumers, it's important to consider the effects of our cleaning efforts. Using only earth and critter friendly cleaning products is important for personal and environmental health. The evolution of these products from idea to retail has been remarkable.

Evolution of a naturalist
As a professional housecleaner in the Seattle area, Heather Caro worked with commercial cleaning products on a daily basis for 12 years. Her health concerns became the primary reason she began exploring options for a healthier way to clean. Using traditional commercial cleaners for years in her house-cleaning business, Caro began to react adversely to the chemicals. Continued exposure caused Caro to become increasingly sensitive to common chemicals used in commercial products. She says she came home ill every day after exposure to the cleaners. Finally, she decided she had to make some changes.

Using an old book of simple recipes for basic cleaning supplies, Caro began mixing her own natural cleaning formulas. Although she began feeling physically better immediately, the homemade products did not clean her clients' homes effectively. For the next two years, Caro worked with a chemist to formulate environmentally safe products for effective cleaning. The result is a successful line of biodegradable products made from renewable resources that are every bit as effective as standard commercial cleaners.

A dirty job
Caro's many years of cleaning houses gave her a good feel for what is needed to do the job. Her products are versatile. The Window Cleaner cleans windows, counter tops, stovetops, appliances, walls, toilet seats and more. The Basin, Tub & Tile Cleaner can also be used to polish brass and copper and clean tough stains off floors. The Oxygen Bleach Cleanser is her number one selling product because it works so well as a scouring powder with the bleaching action of sodium percarbonate instead of chlorine. Sodium percarbonate is made from washing soda and hydrogen peroxide. The All Purpose Soap can be used to clean everything from the kitchen to the bathroom. Some additions to Caro's product line are in development and will include laundry soap, dishwashing liquid and fabric softener, as well as a kid's cleaning kit and a few baby care items.

Rarely do our actions declare a fervent end to the affairs of a particular season. Take advantage of this time — naturally. Use natural products as you dive into the seasonal efforts of spring cleaning.

Heather Caro lives on Bainbridge Island. Her website, www.heathersnaturals.com, has information on her products as well as cleaning tips and general information.

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