Table of Contents
- Green Cleaning Products and Tips
- DIY Recipes for Low Cost Green Cleaning Supplies
- Plain Liquid Soap
- Baking Soda
- Lemon Juice
- Green-Washing of Store Brand Household Cleaners
- Cleaning Products to Avoid or Restrict
- Some Well-Reviewed Green Household Cleaners
Why Clean Green?
The biggest concern with many typical cleaning products is their adverse effect on indoor air quality. People spend around 90% of their time inside, which is where most exposure to pollutants occurs. Indoor air is often 2 to 5 times as polluted as outdoor air, and in certain cases can be many times worse. That “fresh” smell associated with a recently cleaned building may in fact be produced by compounds that are harmful to human health. Without proper ventilation, toxins can collect inside and cause respiratory or other health symptoms. Even common cleaning products sometimes contain carcinogens, allergens, hormone disruptors, and various other harsh or toxic chemicals. Repeated exposure to these compounds has been linked to symptoms ranging from headaches, depression, allergies, and rashes to decreased fertility or cancer. According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, cleaning products are one of the top five substance classes involved in reported toxic exposures.
Aside from health effects, it is also important to consider the impact of products on the environment, in their extraction and manufacture as well as where they end up. Cleaning products that go down the drain can be especially harmful, and some are known to bioaccumulate in wildlife. As another example, detergents are conventionally made from petroleum, a high-impact, nonrenewable resource. Billions of pounds of paper towels and toilet paper are used each year, often bleached and from virgin pulp, and even warm-air hand dryers have a surprisingly large carbon footprint. Green cleaning at its best is an integrative process that includes cleaning supplies, equipment, and fixtures, as well as the cleaning products themselves.
There is currently no third-party organization dedicated to testing and regulating cleaning products. Labels that claim a product is “natural,” “environmentally friendly,” or “non-toxic” are virtually meaningless, as those terms have not been defined with set standards and therefore are an easy way of greenwashing customers. Likewise, “unscented” can easily mean there are fragrant compounds in a product to mask unpleasant chemical smells. There is no requirement for companies to list the ingredients in their cleaning products, which results in words like “fragrance” or “carrier” appearing on labels. Look for brands that do disclose ingredients to make it easier to avoid toxins.
Green cleaning is an important component of indoor environmental quality. A green cleaning policy is a prerequisite under LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance v2009, and there are six credits available for other green cleaning practices (EQc3.1 High performance green cleaning program; EQc3.2 Custodial effectiveness assessment; EQc3.3 Purchase of sustainable cleaning products and services; EQc3.4 Sustainable cleaning equipment; EQc3.5 Indoor chemical and pollutant source control; EQc3.6 Indoor integrated pest management). In LEED v4, the prerequisite and several of the credits will still apply, although some are slightly recategorized. See the LEED v4 credit library for details.
Green cleaning (flickr: athriftymrs.com)
Labels and certifications that can help consumers choose green cleaning products include Green Seal, Greenguard, Cradle to Cradle, EcoLogo, BioPreferred, and the EPA’s Design for the Environment (DfE). The Transpare product registry and the Environmental Working Group Guide to Healthy Cleaning are good places to find additional safety information on various cleaning products.
Cleaning needs vary widely based on building size and use. For commercial buildings, it’s worthwhile to consider sustainably sourced paper products, biodegradable trashcan liners, high-speed hand dryers, and efficient equipment in addition to nonhazardous cleaning products. Some janitorial service providers specialize in green cleaning while others may be willing to adopt new practices. A knowledgeable cleaning staff is especially important in healthcare facilities, schools, or other buildings where cross-contamination or improper disinfecting of “touch points” could pose serious problems.
Green cleaning in the home is simpler. Green cleaning products are very cost-competitive, and homemade cleaners can even help save money! Microfiber cloths and cleaning solutions made of baking soda, vinegar, castile soap, and other common ingredients are sufficient for most household applications. Here are a few easy recipes to try:
- All-purpose cleaner: Mix 1 part white vinegar to 1 part water in a spray bottle.
- Multipurpose scrub: Mix baking soda with enough water to make a wet paste. Put paste on a sponge or brush and scrub. This scrub is good for sinks, stoves, tubs, fridges, and counters. For countertop stains, let the paste sit for a while on stains before scrubbing. Sprinkle on kosher salt for tough spots.
- Disinfectant: Mix 2 cups water, 1 tablespoon liquid castile soap, and 1 teaspoon tea tree oil.
- Glass cleaner: Combine 1/4 cup rubbing alcohol, 1/4 cup white vinegar, 1 tablespoon cornstarch, and 2 cups warm water in a spray bottle. Shake well. Wipe glass surfaces with newspaper to reduce streaks.
- Laundry detergent: Mix 1 cup soap flakes, 1/2 cup washing soda, 1/2 cup baking soda, and 1-2 tablespoons oxygen bleach (optional).
- Toilet bowl: Sprinkle toilet bowl with baking soda, drizzle with vinegar, let soak for at least 30 minutes and scrub with toilet brush.
- Drain cleaner: Pour 1/2 cup baking soda into drain followed by 1 cup vinegar. Let it sit and fizz for 15 minutes, then rinse with hot or boiling water.
- Air freshener: Set out fresh or dried flowers. Alternatively, boil a pot of water with cinnamon, vanilla, slices of lemon, or other spices. Deodorize carpet or the fridge with baking soda.
- Protect the health of building occupants
- Reduce costs associated with sick leave, poor productivity, and low retention rates
- Decrease pollution, resource depletion, and global climate change
Green Cleaning Products and Tips
In my former profession, you had to choose the right bomb for the right target. The same could be said for a sensible approach to household cleaning. Strive to reduce the “collateral damage” of using overly harsh chemicals on household surfaces, while still achieving overall cleanliness in the home. Blasting your bathroom with ammonia and bleach will certainly get the job done, although not without irritating your skin, eyes, airways, and with prolonged exposure, your nervous system.
Before children, you may have sprayed away at mildew and grime without ever considering the contents of your cleaning products. However, understanding a child’s unique vulnerability to toxins changes everything, and over 150 chemicals found in the home have been linked to allergies, birth defects, cancer, and psychological abnormalities.
Fortunately, there is hope. You do not have to give up your health for a clean home. A few non-toxic DIY mixes of common products can deliver more punch than you might expect for minimal cost.
DIY Recipes for Low Cost Green Cleaning Supplies
Green cleaning supplies from the store are definitely more convenient, but for those who want to make their own, try these recipes.
Plain Liquid Soap
These gentle soaps, found at natural food stores such as Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, are made with natural oils, such as olive, palm, and coconut rather than petroleum or animal based products (e.g., castile soap, made from 100% plant oils, became popular with the Dr. Bronner’s brand).
DIY Recipes/Suggestions for Use
- Make a citrus scented, all-purpose scrubbing paste with a fresh lemon, baking soda, and a plant-based liquid soap.
Use baking soda as a non-abrasive scrub or to absorb odors in trashcans and the fridge. Baking soda also combats oil and grease stains.
- Use baking soda and a spray bottle of vinegar together to scrub away the ring around the tub. Leave a box in your bathroom for impromptu cleanings of the tub, toilet, and sink.
- Sprinkle baking soda in your kitchen sink and scrub.
- Make it fizz! Pour baking soda and vinegar down a drain to unclog it.
- Mix 4 tablespoons baking soda and 1 quart warm water to clean nearly all the surfaces in your kitchen: stainless steel appliances, countertops, and more.
100% distilled white vinegar is the strongest form of vinegar for your home. This all-natural cleaner tackles soap scum, dirt, mineral deposits, and creates an environment that inhibits mold, mildew, and bacteria.
- Buy distilled white vinegar in a gallon jug and make spray bottles of concentrated or diluted vinegar for everyday cleaning (but do not use on granite, marble, or porous stone countertops.) Add orange or lemon peels to the bottles to avoid the vinegar smell.
- Keep a spray bottle of vinegar in the bathroom to keep your shower curtain free of mildew.
- Clean out your coffee maker with a solution of half water and half vinegar.
- For hardwood, vinyl, or tile floors: mix ¼ cup vinegar, 1-gallon warm water, and a few drops of essential oil, if desired. No need to rinse.
The acid in lemon juice removes dirt, grease, and rust stains. When mixed with salt or baking soda, it creates an all-natural scouring paste.
- Use four tablespoons of lemon juice with half a gallon of water instead of Windex on windows and mirrors (add vinegar or soap to remove tougher residues).
- Polish wood furniture with two parts olive oil and one part lemon juice for a fresh-smelling shine.
- Use a half of a lemon and salt to clean cutting boards. Wet the surface, sprinkle salt on the board, and then rub half of a lemon on the surface.
Green-Washing of Store Brand Household Cleaners
If you are not a home ingredient mixer, carefully select green cleaning products and beware of “green-washing.” Green-washing is a form of marketing spin or green labeling that companies use to pad their profits and promote their public perception. In the world of household cleaners, the words “green” and “natural” are completely unregulated, and a product with a speck of an organic essential oil can label itself organic. Only foods are certified organic.
Companies that make household cleaning products aren’t required by law to print a full list of ingredients on their packaging. There also aren’t any testing requirements for most of the chemicals in cleaning products.
Making the cleaning situation even more perilous, current laws do not require household products to list ingredients. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that only 7% of cleaning products adequately disclosed their contents, while 53% of the products under review had lung-damaging ingredients. Several products tested contained poisons and suspected carcinogens, such as formaldehyde (used as a preservative for some citrus, pine, and scented oils), chloroform (this toxic vapor escapes in the fumes of bleach products), and the chemical 1,4-dioxane (a common contaminant in detergents).
If you want to check household cleaning ingredients, search more than 2000 products online on the EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning or the U.S. Department of HHS National Institutes of Health Household Products Database.
Cleaning Products to Avoid or Restrict
Having a baby crawling on your floors, licking windows and mirrors, and pulling up on the rim of your toilet can change your perspective on cleaning products. The following is a list of EWG’s Hall of Shame most toxic household cleaners, which includes most of the cleaning products that I used while growing up.
Consider replacing these products on your shopping list, if you are concerned about chemical exposure:
Simple Green All-Purpose Cleaner, Citra-Solv Cleaner and Degreaser, Scrubbing Bubbles Foamer, Mop and Glo Floor Cleaner, DampRid Mildew Stain Remover, Spic and Span Floor Cleaner, Easy-Off/Walmart/CVS Oven Cleaners, Drano Clog Remover, Glade Air Freshener Spray, Air Wick Automatic Air Fresheners, Febreeze Air Effects, Comet Powder, Old English Furniture Polish, Great Value Furniture Polish, Spot Shot Carpet Stain Remover, Static Guard spray, Target Up and Up Toilet Bowl Cleaner, and Lysol Toilet Bowl Cleaner with Lime and Rust Remover.
Some Well-Reviewed Green Household Cleaners
Brand recommendations (using factors of cost, green ratings, and online reviews):
Think Simple Green and Green Works are environmentally friendly cleaning products? They’re not! In fact, there are far too many companies with cleaning products they call “green” but as you can imagine, there’s a lot of green washing out there. When Seattle Green Cleaner was founded, we used Mrs. Meyer’s products. After 2 years of using the products (which many customers loved) we found out they’d been purchased by a larger company and the ingredients changed. We immediately switched to a different cleaning product that is very eco-friendly called Bio Green Clean. For a list of all cleaning products we use, check out our Cleaning Products page. We’re continually researching cleaning products and cleaning supplies to ensure that as a green company, we stay true to our name and keep our cleaners and our customers safe.
We’ve found a great organization called Environmental Working Group that has compiled a list of popular cleaning products, which they’ve graded A-F.
“In a ground-breaking initiative to uncover the truth about toxic chemicals in common household products, the Environmental Working Group has unearthed compelling evidence that hundreds of cleaners, even some of those hyped as “green” or “natural,” can inflict serious harm on unwary users. Many present severe risks to children who may ingest or spill them or breathe their fumes.” Check out their “Hall of Shame” list – you may be shocked!
Have a question or comment or know of a terrific product? Feel free to comment and we’ll respond ASAP. Together we can make a difference!
Jennifer L Troyer, Founder
Seattle Green Cleaner, LLC
For a cleaner home and a cleaner conscience ™
Foods and food components can become contaminated by Listeria at any stage in the food chain, but evidence from outbreaks of listeriosis highlights food-processing environments as key contamination sites. To get the full story on Listeria from contamination to control, QA contacted Dr. Don Liu, assistant research professor at Mississippi State University and author of the Handbook of Listeria monocytogenes, scheduled for publication in early 2008 by CRC Press.
WHAT IS LISTERIA? The term “Listeria” refers to a pathogenic Gram-positive, short, rod-shaped bacterium within the genus Listeria, i.e., Listeria monocytogenes, which is an adaptive, intracellular pathogen capable of causing a severe foodborne illness (listeriossis) in humans. There are five other species in this genus that do not usually cause disease in humans, but because they resemble L. monocytogenes, they can add complexity to the laboratory diagnosis of listeriosis.
A variety of food products (meat, milk, cheese, fish and vegetables) offer an ideal medium for Listeria growth and an effective agent for transmission of listeriosis, since Listeria bacteria are:
- relatively nutritionally undemanding and grow well on a number of non-selective microbiological media.
- highly adapted to grow at diverse temperatures (-0.15° C to 45° C), pH (4.3 to 9.4) and salt (10 percent NaCl and 200 ppm NaNO2) ranges.
- capable of enduring virtually all routine food processing procedures.
WHAT CAUSES LISTERIOSIS IN HUMANS? Listeriosis occurs in various animals, including humans, most often affecting the uterus at pregnancy, the central nervous system or the bloodstream. In humans, consumption of contaminated food is believed to be the principal route of infection, however this disease also can be transmitted by cross-infection during the neonatal period.
Infection most often is recognized in the immunocompromised, the elderly, the pregnant, and unborn or newly delivered babies. Although infection can be treated successfully with antibiotics, human infection has a mortality of 20-40 percent. This is attributable to the fact that listeriosis in humans often presents uncharacteristic influenza-like initial symptoms, and it is not always diagnosed until it is too late for antibiotic therapy.
A wide range of food types has been associated with transmission. These foods are generally characterized by their ability to support the multiplication of L. monocytogenes, having been processed with extended (usually refrigerated) shelf lives, consumed without further cooking and contaminated with high levels of L. monocytogenes.
The minimal infective dose for listeriosis is unclear, although it is likely to vary considerably between individuals.
WHERE DOES LISTERIA COME FROM AND HOW DOES IT GET INTO THE FOOD PLANT? Listeria bacteria are found throughout the natural environment, and are especially abundant in runoff water, sewage, soil and vegetation from which they invariably find their way into various food materials. Because of their ability to withstand extreme conditions, these bacteria remain largely unscathed after many food-manufacturing processes.
Contamination of foods may occur pre-harvest, especially in those that contact soil such as fruits and vegetables. In addition, an extremely wide range of mammals, birds, fish and invertebrates has been reported to carry Listeria spp. in the feces without apparent disease, so environments contaminated by animal feces frequently contain bacteria from this genus.
During post harvest, foods and food components can become contaminated at any stage from food processing to retailing or in consumers’ homes. However, evidence from listeriosis outbreaks highlights the risk of contamination from sites within food processing environments. Listeria can be introduced from the environment into a food processing plant especially where hygiene barriers are insufficient and it can persist for considerable periods of time.
HOW CAN LISTERIA BEST BE DETECTED AND IDENTIFIED IN THE FOOD PLANT? Listeria rods measure 0.4-0.5 by 1-2 ìm, and so cannot be seen with the naked eye. In addition, they are indistinguishable from other bacteria under microscope. For these reasons, specific identification of Listeria relies on the application of biochemical, serological or molecular methods. Further, because most clinical, food and environmental specimens contain low numbers of the bacteria, samples need to be processed and cultured (enriched and isolated) before Listeria can be reliably detected and identified.
There are several official, standardized protocols for L. monocytogenes enrichment and isolation, but the FDA protocol, which is designed for use with any food product, is the most common method in the U.S. Other primary protocols are USDA, designed for isolations from meat, poultry and egg products, and ISO, the most common in European countries.
After enrichment and isolation, Listeria can be identified through biochemical, serological and molecular procedures:
- Commercially available biochemical test systems are routinely applied in clinical and food-testing laboratories. But biochemical tests always have the potential for strain vagaries or inconsistencies.
- Many immuno-based kits also have been marketed, most of which detect Listeria spp., not L. monocytogenes specifically. The AOAC Research Institute database (www.aoac.org) has a list of commercially available test kits for Listeria.
- Results of biochemical and serological testing, however, may be ambiguous at times, because they assess the phenotypic properties of Listeria, which often vary with changing external conditions, growth phase and spontaneous genetic alterations. In addition, phenotypic tests are very time-consuming, delaying result availability.
- To address the issues of phenotype procedures, a new generation of genotype-based methods, targeting the nucleic acids (DNA or RNA) of Listeria, has been developed. As these nucleic acids are intrinsically more stable than proteins and less prone to influences by outside factors, these procedures are much more precise and less variable than the phenotype-based methods — and they are much faster and more sensitive.
- A plethora of genotype-based tests that direct at a variety of genetic elements have been designed and described, with testing evolved from unsophisticated non-amplified DNA hybridization procedures to the all-encompassing nucleic acid amplification technologies — e.g., polymerase chain reaction (PCR) — coupled with a real-time detection capacity.
WHERE IS LISTERIA IN A FOOD PLANT? Listeria is capable of attaching to any food-processing surface including wood, steel and concrete. There is evidence that some pathogenic Listeria genotypes show enhanced binding to these surfaces and readily form biofilms that enhance their resistance to disinfectants and sterilizing agents commonly used in the industry.
Although Listeria can survive and grow in virtually all types of foods, ready-to-eat cheese and meats are especially important sources of transmission for listeriosis, since Listeria often replicates in these food products under storage conditions before being consumed.
WHY IS IT SO DIFFICULT TO ELIMINATE? Contamination by a single strain of L. monocytogenes can affect a single environment for several years. Sanitation efforts are usually insufficient for elimination because listeriae survive in niches within plants where sanitation is not sufficiently effective and this bacterium can persist and remain undetectable for years.
- L. monocytogenes can survive pH levels as low as 3.0, thus the use of low pH during processing of cured dried sausages and other fermented specialties is unlikely to completely eliminate this bacterium.
- Pasteurization (usually at 68° C) and cold storage (at 4° C) are typical temperature-related measures applied to foods, but some L. monocytogenes strains are known to survive this processes.
- Although heating food at very high temperatures will result in elimination of all bacteria, it generally isn’t desirable as it can adversely affect food taste and appearance.
- L. monocytogenes grows readily at 4° C, thus prolonged storage of food in refrigerators favors the replication of this bacterium, which can cause a serious problem if the stored food is consumed without further cooking. In addition, there is evidence that L. monocytogenes thermotolerance may actually increase after prior exposure to sublethal temperatures.
- Salt is an essential ingredient used for preparation of dried sausage and corned beef. As L. monocytogenes can survive at 40 percent NaCl for a long period and grow at up to 10 percent NaCl, it is unlikely to be terminally affected by conventional food-processing salt treatment.
- Listeria’s capacity to endure harsh pH and salt conditions is advantageous to its survival in the environment and food-processing facilities, since hypochloric acid (bleach), chlorine, potassium hydroxide, sodium hydroxide and quaternary salts are frequently applied as detergents and sanitizers to remove organic residuals from food processing surfaces, equipment and plants.
SO WHAT CAN BE DONE? As Listeria species grow poorly in nutrient-deficient, unpolluted seawater and springwater and thrive on nutrient-rich, contaminated waters, sewage and sludge, an obvious strategy to lower the occurrence of Listeria in the environment is to remove as much residual nutrient in the runoff waters from farms and processing plants as possible, thus leading to slower growth of Listeria bacteria therein.
Implementation of routine screening procedures to monitor the presence of Listeria in various environmental specimens will also enable one to take prompt, corrective action when Listeria bacteria reach unacceptable levels, and prevent the spread of listeriosis in animals and humans.
Pre-Processing. Is important to adapt appropriate farming and husbandry practices that reduce and eliminate the occurrence of L. monocytogenes in vegetables and farm animals. For instance, use of organic fertilizers free of L. monocytogenes contamination in vegetable growing will lead to cleaner raw materials for downstream processing. Use of clean containers and water for pre-processing handling also will ensure a lowered level of contamination.
In order to reduce the incidence of listeriosis in animals, there are several issues that need to be addressed.
As animals invariably become infected with Listeria bacteria via contaminated feed and water, it is vital to ensure that only dry silage and water free of Listeria bacteria are fed to the animals. In addition, frequent cleaning of animal housing and exercise areas may help decrease the incidence of listeriosis.
It is necessary to implement a monitoring system to test any animals showing clinical manifestations of listeriosis, then separate and treat infected animals. Prompt diagnosis and treatment will help limit the spread of the bacteria as well as subsequent infections from cases of abortive listeriosis.
Future development and application of vaccines against L. monocytogenes and L. ivanovii will help prevent outbreaks of listeriosis in animals.
During Processing. Direct contact with contaminated processing equipment is a major cause of L. monocytogenes occurrence in food products. Adoption of Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) measures during processing (e.g., thorough cleansing of in-process products and food-contact surfaces, clear separation of staff functions and scrupulous personal hygiene) has led to significant reduction of contamination in finished food products.
Use of heat treatment (e.g., hot steam, hot air or hot water at 80° C) is effective in cleaning and sanitizing skinning, slicing and brining equipment, and in eradicating L. monocytogenes from food plants.
Visitors and staff job rotation are potential risk factors for increasing L. monocytogenes contamination, thus control of personnel and designated hygiene and uniform program is critical for control.
Optimization and application of more effective, innovative combinations of detergents and sanitizers may help eliminate L. monocytogenes in food-processing environments.
Post Processing. Implementation of monitoring and quality control procedures represents the most effective post-processing measures against foodborne pathogens including L. monocytogenes.
Ensure that the finished food products meet recommended tolerable levels of L. monocytogenes in the specified product categories before releasing to retail markets. Implement a one-week post-processing storage plan for ready-to-eat (RTE) meat products, as this has been found to inhibit listerial growth, and decrease L. monocytogenes in many RTE products.
Continue publicizing best practices in home food handling, where storage of foods at incorrect refrigeration temperatures often contributes to heightened risk of listeriosis.
The author is staff editor of QA magazine and can be contacted at [email protected]
New findings on Listeria elimination
In August 2006, FDA-approved spraying meat with phages as a safe way (GRAS status) to eliminate Listeria in food. Phages (or bacteriophages) are viruses that invade only bacterial cells and cause bacteria to lyse, or dissolve, and die. Thus, they provide an alternative to antibiotics for treating bacteria without other unwanted side effects such as buildup of resistance. Being species-specific, phages used to destroy Listeria bacteria do not recognize other cell types and are harmless to human hosts.
- L. monocytogenes infections usually occur in urban populations and in the absence of specific contact with animals.
- Human listeriosis has a marked seasonality, with a peak in cases occurring during the late summer and autumn.
- The incidence of infection increases with age so that the mean age of adult infections is over 55 years.
- Men are more commonly infected than women older than 40, and since women are infected in the child-bearing years, the overall sex distribution is biased towards males in the elderly immunocompromised.
- In 1986, the U.S. reported an incidence of 7.1 cases/million persons/year. That number has been reduced to 3.1. Estimates on the incidence of listeriosis in European countries range from between less than 1 to more than 7 cases/million/year.
- The incubation period in humans between consumption of contaminated foods and clinical recognition of the disease varies widely between individuals from 1-90 days, with an average for intra-uterine infection of around 30 days.
- The contamination level in foods associated with infection has revealed an average contamination level of 102-106 CFU/mL/g in the majority of the cases.
- Contamination by a single strain of L. monocytogenes can affect a single environment for several years.
- The most frequent reason for a L. monocytogenes contamination of raw foods is poor hygiene during milking or slaughter. But contamination rates of raw meat and meat products can be similar or even higher than that found in dairies.
- Contamination rates of vegetables vary. If a plant is contaminated, more than 50 percent of the vegetables can contain L. monocytogenes, even after heat treatments at 90° C for 4 seconds.