Diary of a New Green Mom: Natural Cleaners & Panic at the Store
Every few weeks a magical thing happens in my home–it gets cleaned. An energetic and talented godsend named Betty arrives early and stays as morning stretches into late afternoon (giving you a clue as to how dirty my apartment gets).
At Betty’s last visit, she left a note asking me to replace products she prefers to use. Given that I had three weeks to fulfill her wishes–and Betty was coming at 9:00 a.m. this morning–I waited until yesterday to do so. I took the note, written in marker on paper towel (I don’t make things easy for people) with me to the store:
I need: Comet, Clorox, Pledge, Windex
I was running late from a meeting, trying to get home to relieve the babysitter as I scoured the aisles of Walgreens for these products. I remembered everything but the Pledge, so I stopped again at our local gourmet (expensive) market and picked up an alternative from their more natural and organic choices.
At one time, before I was married, before the kids, I would have spent hours dissecting every ingredient listed on every product–and then checked its safety on various scary websites. I had rather bad obsessive compulsive disorder, and I was focused on germs and chemicals. It was disruptive and exhausting. I made many phone calls to customer service and to the poison control center questioning if I’d be okay after having had skin contact with certain cleaning products or chemicals. (Once I spilled the contents of our dog’s flea medication on myself. That phone call was epic.) And then when I was pregnant with our first, and for some strange, glorious reason (hormones?), it all got much, much better.
So seeing the gentler, kinder household cleaner options on the shelf, I was reminded that I really do hate using bleach and harsh chemicals. A little bit of panic returned as I thought about what my kids and we might be inhaling. When I clean my apartment myself (and I swear that I do), I use mostly products that are kind to the environment, such as Method bathroom cleaner, Method toilet bowl cleaner, Seventh Generation wipes, Method All-Purpose Cleaner, and Method wood polish. And Windex. (I have yet to find a glass cleaner that works better.)
But I had just paid a lot of money for the products I had gotten–and I no longer have to act on every anxious thought I have–so I left them out on the counter and hoped Betty wouldn’t notice or mind my switching out the Pledge.
We were all still home when she arrived this morning (it was 9 a.m., remember?). I was trying to get the kids out with the babysitter so I could leave with my computer to start working. This, of course, took an hour. During that time, wonderful Betty started on the kids’ bathroom, and I began sneezing. My eyes watered. My sitter insisted the kids stay in the living room to avoid the overwhelming fumes from the bleach.
I told Betty I’d be right back, and, overdressed for the oven-like heat wave we are having, I sweated my way back to Walgreens–where I found very few options to traditional cleaning products, unfortunately. I was able to find Ecover automatic dish detergent but nothing else that I needed. So off I went to the local pricey store again to replace the products I’d bought the day earlier with Mrs. Meyer’s Surface Scrub, Earthworm Carpet & Upholstery Cleaner, and J.R. Watkins All Purpose Cleaner. (These products run $6 to $10 each at the store I went to.)
By now you may be thinking, “Hey New Green Mom, why didn’t you think of this before? Aren’t you a NEW GREEN MOM?”
Why, yes. Yes, I am. For some reason, I had an almost complete disconnect with my brain while buying products my trusted cleaning person asked for. I know that she is good at what she does and that she has favorite products. And because she is in my home, doing an extremely important job for me, I want to make her happy.
So sheepishly I returned to my apartment and showed Betty the more gentle products I had just bought, asking her to try them over what she had asked me to buy (confusing?)–and that I’d love to get her thoughts on their effectiveness. In the past, I have had some complaints about some of the natural cleaners I’ve bought–hence my insistence on Windex.
This process of becoming more “green” has been a little anxiety producing as I go back and forth between wanting to use better and safer products and remembering how it felt to be terrified all the time of toxic face creams, shampoos, laundry detergents, and hand soaps–and so desperately not wanting to return to that place.
But I am committed to finding better, sustainable, earth- and family-friendly products, services, and foods for my family–and to finding balance and meaning in that process. When we started this conversation in June, I told you I was interested in finding not only good, safe products and services, but also those companies that give back to communities and the planet. I found that these companies have some encouraging programs:
Method partners with TerraCycle for a program in which families can send their used soap refill packaging in to be recycled; Method and TerraCycle will send 2 cents for every packaging to the charity of the collector’s choice.
According to its website, J.R. Watkins supports recycling and sustainable living through its practices and gives back to the community by supporting many local and national charitable organizations.
Mrs. Meyer’s also has comprehensive conservation, education, and recycling programs.
Interestingly, S.E. Johnson, the makers of Windex and Pledge, among other widely used household products, addresses the issue of using natural vs. traditional ingredients on their website. The answers to some pressing questions are provocative, and maybe confusing.
My home, by the way, is clean and smells glorious thanks to Betty and a combination of traditional and naturally based products: Betty insists on using bleach in the showers; I am a fan of Windex for the mirrors, and we are moving toward using “healthier” cleaning products. (Sadly, I did notice that a couple of products weren’t opened.) At some point, my home will be rid of dangerous cleaners once again. In a house with children, there are obviously many reasons to keep and use only non-toxic products. This time, I aspire to do this guiding by perspective and reason–not fear.
This will not be an easy or perfect transition. I still, justifiably, worry about germs and dirt hanging around. I know that bleach is remarkable at disinfecting the bathroom; my experience has been iffy with natural dishwasher detergents (as well as glass cleaners as I said); and I am completely insane about the grout in my shower. Truly, undeniably insane.
But we’re moving along this path, and I’m learning what I am comfortable–or not–doing in my home. I’m hoping that with some forethought, my next stumble and recovery won’t cost me quite as much time or money as this one did.
No part of this post was sponsored. All opinions are my own.
Wendy Bradford is a mama of three, wife, writer, spin instructor, ardent New Yorker and blogger at mamaonetothree.com.
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