Green Cleaning Party

I can still smell a hint of the essential oils from this weekend’s Green Cleaning party in my kitchen. My dining room table is sparkling from the natural furniture polish that Sue and Kathy made for me. I am challenging my husband to trade the nasty can of phony lemon-scented polish that he loves for this stuff that includes real lemon oil and no questionable ingredients. Another woman is going to ask her husband to try one of the easy toilet bowl cleaners, like the vinegar and baking soda combo (that you mix inside the toilet) instead of the caustic cleaners that have to stay locked up at her house. Laura is excited about using some homemade products again, something she recalls learning to do years ago. We’re all going to experiment with homemade laundry detergent to see how it compares to what we’ve been using. And everyone took home spray bottles of simple vinegar and water cleaner, some scented with the essential oil of one's choice.

I want to thank the women who turned out for the party. Good sports, all of them. We began by watching brief videos from Women’s Voices for the Earth that explained how the nonprofit organization is concerned about chemicals in common household cleaning products. Then we set about to follow the recipes from the WVE Green Cleaning party kit to make our own cleaners. I had the ingredients all gathered: vinegar, baking soda, Castile soaps, essential oils and more. However, I had not found any time prior to the party to mix up any trial batches. I have to admit that I was still printing sets of recipe cards while everyone else got started with the actual mixing. Siobhan bravely started grating soap for the laundry detergent, cutting her finger. Some women were hesitant, not realizing that this might be a bit messy. Things seemed to get smoother from there.

Lavender was the only essential oil I had ever added to natural cleaners. For the party, it was fun to try some different scents and to let everyone see what fit their style. Lavender was still a favorite for everyone. Most liked the eucalyptus and lemon oil combination. The wintergreen was a fresh new scent that hinted of Christmas. Then, there was the real pine oil that, for some people, smelled too much like the artificially scented cleaners you can buy. Tea tree oil is supposed to be good stuff, but I don’t think anyone liked the way it smelled. The recipes for All-Purpose Cleaner, Furniture Polish and Creamy Soft Scrub all included essential oils.

The laundry detergent recipe did not call for a scent. Interestingly, scent creates strong connections for us. Kathy, who has long been working to find household products that are healthier for her son, was okay without the scent. She exclaimed, “I can’t wait to go home and do my laundry.”  Susan admitted, “I like how my laundry smells.” She’s not sure if she and her family are willing to give up that “clean” smell, even if it is from artificial fragrance.

Susan added, “The other thing I wonder about is how harsh this is.” Her concern stuck in my head as I sorted through the kit and found a note about the laundry detergent. It said that we should use caution handling the washing soda ingredient (harsher than baking soda), plus it says the detergent is not to be used on silks, woolens or vinyl. I really hope no one rushed home and washed a silk blouse before receiving my note about this! Suggestion to WVE: please put this caution on the laundry recipe card.

I am also cautious to not use vinegar on granite countertops, as I understand it can be too acidic for them. “Ooh, that smells weird,” said my oldest daughter while holding her nose! I was trying out the wintergreen oil in a bottle of cleaner I mixed up after the party. I thought it smelled great, but she was not impressed with the lingering minty odor. The smell reminded me that even though we are trying simple ingredients, they can be potent and even dangerous in the wrong amounts. The WVE materials mention that some people are allergic to pine oil. I need to keep the essential oils and other ingredients out of my children’s reach, just as I would with other cleaners.

I still need to grate some Castile soap and make my own batch of laundry detergent. I see the note about soaking whites in a hydrogen peroxide solution before the regular wash begins, so apparently we need to be more vigilant about doing that with the homemade detergent. One partygoer wondered if there was also a recipe for homemade automatic dishwasher detergent. We’ll find out.

For anyone less concerned about homemade cleaners being perhaps healthier for your family or better for the environment, you might still be interested in WVE's cost comparisons.  The group estimates that homemade all-purpose cleaner can cost around 38 cents for 32 ounces, compared to at least 4 dollars for a bottle from the store.  Laundry detergent:  an estimated 13 cents per load versus 48 cents per load for the prepackaged stuff.

For exact ingredients, directions and precautions for the Green Cleaning recipes, you can go to It should be interesting to see which “new” homemade cleaning products work for us.  We'll be sharing some feedback here in the upcoming weeks.

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