The “Green-Clean Challenge” Begins

December 20, 2008 by  
Filed under Blog, Cleaning Supplies, Front Page, Slideshow, Tips, VOCs

Some old friends called us while driving through Iowa. Could they stop and visit? “Sure,” we said. “Love to have you.” We hung up the phone, scanned the house, and looked at each other in a bit of panic. We had 30 minutes, tops, before they would be at our door.

“If you attack the bathroom,” Julia said. “I’ll handle the kitchen.”

Tools of chemical warfare under the sink. Photo: Julia Wasson

“No problem.” I collected all my weapons: broom, dustpan, brush, mop, bucket, and rags. I felt like a soldier going off to war. Next I gathered my ammunition — the bottles of spray cleaners and disinfectants that would make me an army of one against a very nasty tub and the “toilet from hell.”

This is easy, I thought. I’ll just let those little scrubbing bubbles do all the work. I sprayed down the tub and shower walls with one solution, squirted a thick blue liquid around inside the rim of the toilet bowl, sprayed another blue liquid onto the mirrors, and topped it all off with some foamy white stuff on the sink. While they were soaking away the dirt to make my job easier, I closed the bathroom door to sweep.

I almost didn’t get out alive. My eyes began to water, and my throat began to swell. My chest hurt. I began to feel faint. Was I having a heart attack?

Gasping for air, I yanked open the bathroom door and plopped down in the hallway. It only took a few minutes to recover, but the scare stayed with me.

After our guests had come and gone, I decided to do some research. What I found was that the chemicals in my cleaners had almost done me in. I had carelessly mixed an ammonia-based cleaner with another that contained bleach.

Granted, I shouldn’t have mixed them, but this army of one had not been trained in chemical warfare. According to the Washington Toxics Coalition, the most dangerous chemicals in the world are right under our sinks. They include corrosive drain cleaners, oven cleaners, and acidic toilet-bowl cleaners.

Does fighting germs require toxic chemicals? Photo: J Wasson

Does fighting germs require harsh chemicals? Photo: Julia Wasson

I read on. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) found in oven, carpet, and other cleaners containing Toluene, Nitrobenzene, Chloride, Methylene, and Ethylene glycol have been shown to cause asthma, cancer, skin rashes, permanent eye damage, and serious long-term organ damage. I decided it was time for a change.

So I began searching for cleaners that advertised themselves as “organic,” “green,” “natural,” or “eco-friendly.” I’ve been collecting homemade recipes, too. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be testing them all. You’ll get my honest opinions about the products I try. I’m calling it the “Green-Clean Challenge.” Let’s find out together how well the green cleaners really work. Can they do the job as effectively as their chemical-laden rivals? Can they clean our bowls and bathtubs without cleaning our clocks?

If you have suggestions for non-toxic cleaning products you trust, please let me know. Let’s open a dialog about how to clean our homes without harming the environment — or ourselves. Share your tips for a healthy home. If we try them and like them, we’ll publish them. Write to me at

Gotta run. It’s my turn to clean the kitchen.

Joe Hennager

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)


23 Responses to “The “Green-Clean Challenge” Begins”

  1. S Jordan on December 20th, 2008 10:51 pm

    Having been asphyxiated in the shower many times, I sincerely hope your readers will provide some info on green cleaners that (a) really work and (b) don’t help you into an early grave!

    BPGL: Thanks for the excellent work, your articles are always interesting and I’m getting greener every day!

  2. Joe Hennager on December 23rd, 2008 5:42 pm

    Dear S. Where is “Hints from Heloise” when I need her? Yes, I hope to discover some ingenious cleaning methods. I will become the bathroom cleaning specialist in my family. Stay tuned.

  3. Pure Clean Kim on December 21st, 2008 2:45 am

    Good Luck in your mission Joe. I spent tons of cash and lots of time testing cleaners for my green cleaning company until I landed on a company called Seaside Naturals, they are out of Vermont. We have used most of their cleaning products since we opened in 2007. The only product we found some problems with is the glass cleaner, after being in the container for a time we were starting to grow some mold. According to Seaside, that may be a side effect of using natural essential oils however they are looking into that problem and I’m sure they will fix it before long. It may have simply been a bad batch of water on my part. So..I would give them a try and see what you think, we have found them very effective.
    Many green cleaning product are simply water that smells good with little or no effectivness when it comes to actual cleaning. We are in the process of testing some of our own mixtures in the hopes that we will make our own products and be self sufficient green cleaners!
    I wish you luck in your mission, I’m sure it will be an interesting journey of discovery and disappointment, much like mine 🙂

  4. Joe Hennager on December 21st, 2008 9:40 pm

    Thanks Kim, the challenge right now includes Green Works by Clorox, one by Soy Clean, and another by Full Circle. We will include Seventh Generation soon. I will attempt to contact your Seaside Naturals. Sincerely appreciate your input. Want to write an article? Joe

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  6. Anne Russell on December 21st, 2008 5:55 pm

    Petrotech makes some really good cleaning products for pets and pet odors.

    I always keep the De-Skunk Coat Cleaner on hand. It works well, it’s organic, and it’s available at PetSmart.

  7. Joe Hennager on December 23rd, 2008 5:46 pm

    Anne. This is a cleaner I could often use in my bathroom.

  8. Anne Russell on December 21st, 2008 5:57 pm

    Forgot the website:

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  12. The Carpenters on December 28th, 2008 1:16 pm

    Why not use the house cleaning products the grandma used? Baking soda, vinegar, lemon juice, exc. I am pretty sure (although I am just getting into natural products) that these are all natural cleaning products. Please correct me if I am wrong.

  13. Anne Russell on December 28th, 2008 2:34 pm

    Do you have the “cookbook” for these things? My grandma was a “Rosie the Riveter” and I never saw her clean anything. I wonder if adding baking soda to vinegar would cut down on the vinegar smell?

  14. Joseph Hennager on December 28th, 2008 11:26 pm

    Dear Carpenters and Anne Russel, You are both absolutely correct. BPGL is anxious to learn about all of those old cleaners, however, please be very careful mixing soda and vinegar. I used to use those two in various combinations to make my toy rockets fly.

  15. Anne Russell on December 28th, 2008 11:43 pm

    I’ll just wait for the cookbook.

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  17. Karen Nichols on January 6th, 2009 4:14 pm

    I almost gassed myself in a similar way, Joe — by unwittingly mixing ammonia and bleach. Only the ammonia didn’t come from a cleaner, but from cat urine. I used a bleach based cleaner to clean the litter box. Wow, what a reaction! Just one more reason to ditch the bleach.

  18. Joseph Hennager on January 21st, 2009 11:55 pm

    Good to hear from you Karen. I have read that ammonia can damage cells in children’s lungs from 20 feet away. Bleach has the same affect but from less distance. Never let your children near the stuff. No wonder asthma is so rampant. Good luck. Joe

  19. Anne Russell on January 21st, 2009 11:41 pm

    So, I use this cleaner called Kaboom, by Orange Glow International (grocery store stuff). I use it in the shower (fumes and all) because it’s the only thing that gets the tile, and the glass doors clean. Recently, I used it in the kitchen sink, just a bit, trying to get some ugly stains out, I didn’t bother with rubber gloves, it literally took the skin off of one of my fingers. Ouch. There must be a better way……

  20. Joseph Hennager on January 22nd, 2009 12:01 am

    Anne, let’s see, with a name like Kaboom, make sure it’s not flammable. Try sand- blasting those stains out. It is less harmful to your skin. Don’t quote me on any of this. Joe

  21. john on October 30th, 2009 4:49 pm

    Lets just stick to the store bought things and world will be ok tomorrow.

  22. Julia Wasson on October 30th, 2009 5:23 pm

    Can’t say Joe and I agree with you, John, but you are welcome to share your opinion.

  23. Oven Cleaning Chessington on February 25th, 2011 8:21 pm

    Yes all the stuff grandma use to use when she wasn’t doing all the other diy stuff, is actually natural. A good all round recipe is

    1/3 cup baking soda into a spray bottle and then fill the rest up with boiling water. Use like a normal cleaner.

    Mix 3/4 cup baking soda, 1/4 cup salt, and 1/4 cup water to make a thick paste.