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posted: 8/20/2011 12:01 AM

Green cleaners tackle dirt but vary in strength

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By Rosa Colucci
Scripps Howard News Service

We've all seen the commercials. Just spray on a cleaner and magically, as it drips down the surface Voila! It's clean!

But is it? Really?

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We all want an easier way to clean our home. Somewhere along the way, we have been sold the idea that it can be done fast and with little or no elbow grease and that all of these magic chemicals will make life easier. Sometimes, they do. Most times, it's just overkill, cleaning the surface while exposing you to an alphabet soup of chemicals and volatile organic compounds that irritate your skin, eyes and nasal passages.

After I eliminated 95 percent of the household chemicals in my home (I still use a "regular" automatic dishwasher detergent), I found that I could breathe easier, and my sense of smell was much improved. Most importantly, my house was still clean.

Most of the environmentally friendly cleaners on the market today do a really good job cleaning up most messes. But not all are up to the biggest challenges -- bathroom and kitchen surfaces. Getting a surface clean requires breaking the bond between the surface and the dirt. "Green" cleaners work best when they are sprayed on the surface and permitted to soak in for a minute or two. This gives them time to break that bond and dissolve the solids, permitting them to be easily wiped away.

Here's a brief overview of some green cleaners:

iQClean: New product line, Green Awards Winner 2010 for Packaging. Sold in a refillable bottle; small refill cartridges can be purchased separately and mixed with water, reducing plastic waste and transport costs. ($4.99, refills are $1.99)

Method: Established green-product company whose line includes cleaning products and some personal-care products. Fresh, natural-based scents. Available at Target and Giant Eagle. ($3.99-$5.49)

Martha Stewart Clean: New line of products manufactured by the Hain Celestial Group. Full line of household cleaners is fragrance-free and sulfate-free. Available at The Home Depot. ($3.99-$4.99)

Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day: Large stable of products that provide green cleaning with aromatherapy. Products are scented with natural essential oils and mixed like perfumes with top, middle and base notes. ($3.99-$4.99)

Seventh Generation: Established line of home and personal-care products created by one of the pioneers of the green-cleaning movement, Jeffrey Hollender. Most products are unscented or naturally lightly scented. Available at most retailers. ($4.99-$7.99)

Here is how some of these products stacked up in home trials:

Glass: While most of the cleaners did an adequate job, Martha Stewart's Glass Cleaner was the best for my money, even picking up streaks that others left behind. Her formulation of corn-based ethanol (alcohol) and vinegar outperformed both chemical and green cleaners.

Bathroom: Most green cleaners do a good job cleaning sticky hair spray and bathroom gunk if you let the spray sit for a few minutes. Bathtub rings are another matter. To erase them, you really need an abrasive sponge or non-scratching powder like those available from Method or Mrs. Meyer's.

Of the sprays, I preferred the Mrs. Meyers when I want a scent and Martha Stewart for unscented. iQ did not perform well, even with a scrubbing sponge. Method also makes a daily shower spray (ylang-ylang scent) that does a nice job of keeping the shower in good shape between cleanings.

All-purpose cleaners: Method All-Purpose (clementine scent) worked great on my appliances and yucky stove. I loved the smell, and it left a great shine. Mrs. Meyer's Countertop Spray does a great job and has a bonus: When the bottle is empty, you can refill with a mixture of its all-purpose cleaner and water. Martha Stewart and Seventh Generation are good for the unscented crowd, but I prefer a scented cleaner in the kitchen.

Other products: Finding a green automatic dishwasher detergent is really hard. Dishwashers release vapors during the drying cycle and therefore are a big source of indoor air pollution. They should be run only when full. The best performer was Mrs. Meyer's, which is a little pricey at $7.99 for 20 gel packs.

Other products that are new to the market are green disinfectants made from Thymol, a component of thyme oil and anti-bacterial cleaning wipes. These products kill 99.9 percent of household germs, including influenza, and are easy to use. Method and Seventh Generation both carry a large assortment of products.

Whatever products you choose, go green. It will drastically improve indoor air quality, reduce your overall chemical exposure and help keep the water supply clean.

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