Sunday, February 17, 2008

In defense of baking soda.....

A friend of mine recently stumbled onto my blog and through mistaken identity believes that I might be an expert on all matters green. Very flattering but not true. In it, my friend asked the question "What is the best (green) cleaning product?" along with two links to two products touted as green. While I'm not an expert, I do love a good question and started thinking about what makes a greener better product. I don't like to say which product is better, especially when I have no means of testing or citing a definitive study but I did find the choices interesting, for the purpose of discussion I'll call them cleaner "the 60s" and the other "New Kid on the Block"

"The 60s" is an environmental based cleaner that has been around for a long time, long before "An Inconvenient Truth" or the notion of Green being hip and cool. One of the things about "the 60s" is they realize there are limitations to their natural formulation based on citrus oils and other biodegradable ingredients in relation to commercial cleaners and they are forthcoming about them on their website. My sense is that Simple Green was created as a product based on values, and has probably evolved over time as they learn what works and doesn't.

"New Kid on the Block" is a green product that comes from a major manufacturer and I'm sure it works, but my skepticism comes in is that this is clearly a product primarily meant to meet a market. It probably satisfies some basic set of environmental regulations, but I'm not sure it's been tested over time. Usually, failures of the product are dismissive saying this is the tradeoff of green vs effectiveness.

I'm more inclined to go with the "60s" as the "better" product due to the experience they have gained trying to be eco and effective. It's a product created to fulfill a mission, not just a market. I have used "the 60s" and say for most applications it works quite well.

This begs the question of what is a safe cleaning product, most commercial cleaning products are fairly caustic and utilize chemistry to do their bidding. No problem in a safe environment, but what happens when inhaled or flooded down the drain. So what's a good gauge of safe, and I thought about Michael Pollan's "In Defense of Food" a new book that is a follow up to the wildly successful "Omnivore's Dilemma" In "In Defense of Food," Pollan summarizes his nutrition advice to 'Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.' In the words "Eat food" he recommends looking at the labels of foods and asking, do the ingredients listed resemble food?

The same could be said of cleaners, if you take a look at the ingredients does it seem safe? Are there warnings that sound excessively dangerous. If you accidentally spill the cleaner on you, will it hurt you. If so, it's probably very effective at "cleaning" but if clean is something you can use, probably not "clean" just nice and shiny.

In looking for safe cleaners, one ingredient that is quite effective is baking soda. You can use the old stuff in your refrigerator to clean tile, sinks and tubs and it's mild abrasion doesn't scratch surfaces. A little elbow grease might be necessary, but you won't need to ventilate your bathroom for an hour after use. It won't burn you. So while not perfect for all applications, it's quite usable for many. So that's a better cleaner that's also inexpensive.

So have I answered the question, which is the better cleaner? Probably not, but I hope that I've offered some signposts in the absence of a comprehensive comparison.


At 7:01 AM , Anonymous Andrea said...

Hehe. This is funny :P
Well, that's one thing you and your bro have in common- environmentally friendly.
It's definitely rubbing off me! Although I was alright to start off with, but getting better!

At 9:44 PM , Anonymous CindyW said...

Bon Ami Polishing Cleanser and Cleansing Powder fall into "the 60s" category. They've been around forever and they do not carry the "eco" price tag either. Similar newfangled "green" cleansers have the "eco", "green", "biodegradable", "earth-friendly" label on every inch of the label real estate. And they fetch 3x the price. There is an interesting article on Harvard Business Review that talks about green consumerism and why it won't flourish:

At 4:25 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey, speaking of Michael Pollan, have you seen this article?

A letter to the next Prez about kitchen gardens and victory gardens, there's a similar idea going around from Kitchen Gardeners Int'l called Eat the View.

Love your blog btw. Discovered it recently looking for ideas, I'm from the South Bay too so it's nice to see real life ideas that will work for my hometown of choice.



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