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Green parenting: Natural cleaners

Cleaning green can not only help save the earth, it can also put some cash back in your pocketbook and keep your family a little healthier.

Debra Miller of Davie saves money by buying gallons of concentrated biodegradable cleaners and mixing her own in a spray bottle. She tries to unclog drains first with elbow grease, using a plunger or snake. She polishes wood with olive oil.

"It's great for putting natural oils back in wood, it's inexpensive, and it gives a nice sheen," Miller said. "It also saves on the production of aerosols, chemicals and the can commercial furniture polish comes in."

When Miller chooses eco-friendly ways to clean her home, it's not only to help the environment, but to preserve her family's health.

One of Miller's two stepsons has asthma, so Miller stays away from harsh chemicals that emit toxins.

"I am more careful because of the inhalants," she said. "People don't realize how much goes into their passageways."

Miller, program manager with Kids Ecology Corps in Sunrise, looks for detergents without phosphorus, which is the Everglades' top pollutant, she said. She also tries to buy cleaners in cardboard, rather than plastic containers.

"The whole life cycle is better when considering the environment," Miller said.

Judy Kuchta of Hollywood picked up eco-friendly cleaning tips on camping trips as outings chairwoman of Broward's Sierra Club.

Kuchta is big on water as a cleanser. While camping, she uses boiling water and a small amount of biodegradable soap to clean reusable dishware. At home, she uses a steam cleaner without chemicals to cleanse tile floors.

Other surfaces are washed with water and a microfiber cloth, which can be laundered and used repeatedly.

"I hate all that disposable stuff, we waste so much," Kuchta said.

Cleaning green also can reduce your carbon footprint.

"If you clean without chemicals, you don't have that carbon dioxide buildup from the chemicals that goes into the atmosphere," said Maisie Ross, program leader, Family and Consumer Sciences, Palm Beach Extension Service.

Many green families are turning to inexpensive, homemade cleaners concocted from household products.

Ross cautions that while diluted vinegar, lemon or lime juices are effective cleaners, they do not kill bacteria. Alcohol and hydrogen peroxide can be used for that purpose, she said.

If you're in the kitchen, working with poultry or meat, "bacteria is not going to be killed unless you use bleach or an antibacterial cleaner," which should be used in moderation, she said.

Nicole Heigl of Miami Beach likes to use vinegar to clean her bathroom, but favors borax to clean toilets and keep her white countertops sparkling.

"I wet the countertops, drizzle borax on it, then wipe it up," Heigl said. (Borax can be toxic to children and pets -- keep well out of their reach.)

Heigl also found a Jemako brand cleaning cloth in Europe that she says cleans really well with only water.

"I mostly eat organic foods and I try to be as healthy as possible," she said. "I want my house to be healthy, too."


Maisie Ross, program leader for Family and Consumer Sciences at the Palm Beach Extension Service, offers these tips:

All-purpose cleaner: Mix one cup each of water and white vinegar in a spray bottle.

Carpet freshener:

Sprinkle baking soda on carpet to absorb odors. Wait a few minutes, then vacuum.

Stain cleaner:

Use baking soda as a gentle abrasive.

Air freshener:

Mix 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon vinegar or lemon juice and 2 cups hot water in a spray bottle.

Glass cleaner:

Mix 1 teaspoon corn starch, ¼ cup vinegar and a half gallon warm water in spray bottle.


• Find out what labels mean at

Consumer Reports

.• The Sierra Club's

Green Notes

.• More recipes and tips for natural