Green cleaning products you and the planet will love

Photo: istockphoto.com

Cleaning alternatives that really work. For most cleaning around the house, it's not hard to add some green to your routine.

Vinegar and water does nearly as good a job cleaning windows as any ammonia-spiked spray, and borax and baking soda are your allies in the fight to keep your kitchen and bathroom spick and span. But some cleaning projects -- getting that tile grout in the shower white again, removing oven-baked grease or getting out laundry stains -- have even people with the best of intentions resorting to polluting chemicals.

So we tried out a handful of products to find out what could replace the most toxic offenders in your cleaning arsenal. We focused on two companies Method, a San Francisco outfit that wants to make green cleaning products mainstream, and Nature Clean, a Toronto-based, family-owned company that's been making environmentally friendly products for decades -- and put their products to the test in a Canadian home populated by a two-year-old, a dust-sensitive dad and a pregnant magazine writer.

Dusting cloths and floor polishes
Method's slickly designed Omop is the hipster's answer to housewife-pitched products like the Swiffer --you can imagine some guy in Prada pulling this out from his closet. The mop comes with disposable but compostable dusting pads that lick up dust bunnies, as well as a washable pad that can be used wet or dry. The kit comes with a bottle of toxin-free floor polish that Method suggests pairing with the wet mop. The hardwood never looked so good.

Oven cleaner
Sure, you can use baking soda and a scouring pad to tackle baked-on grime, but conventional ammonia and-lye oven cleaners save a lot of elbow grease, right? Problem is, they also give off toxic fumes and can burn your eyes and skin. Nature Clean offers a barbecue and oven cleaner that's toxic-fume-free, hypoallergenic and biodegradable (its ingredients include corn and palm-kernel oil, as well as a substance derived from citrus rind). Spray it on, let sit 30 minutes and wipe away. It really works! (Though its strong perfume may encourage the scent-sensitive to prefer bicep-building baking soda.)

Tile cleaner
For regular tile cleaning, Method's tub + tile soap scum + stain remover cleans well and has a pleasantly mild, eucalyptus-mint smell. However, for the toughest of shower grime, you might want to whip out your Nature Clean oven cleaner. When paired with a scouring pad, we found it to be the best at getting the shower to look like new again.

Stain remover
Some conventional stain-removal products contain neurotoxins like benzene and xylene as well as formaldehyde. Nature Clean's Laundry Stain Remover is derived from a mixture of plant sources such as corn and castor oil and is non-toxic. It works well enough: a toddler's jacket came out of the wash looking great. But when it came to the daycare T-shirt, laden with dirt, food and washable paint, it still looked a bit like an art project even after cleaning.

Dishwasher rinse
That electric-blue liquid sure does a good job of keeping the dishes looking sparkly, but it can also send chlorine fumes into your air and phosphates down the drain. Nature Clean offers a biodegradable alternative called All Natural Rinse Agent that, load after load, kept both the cutlery and the glassware glinting.

Try your own green clean off
There are a number of household ecocleaning brands on the market. Experiment and see what works best for you.

  • Bio-life: This brand-new, affordable line of non-toxic, phosphate-free cleaners is sold exclusively at Shoppers Drug Mart.
  • Citra-Solv: Citra-dish, Citra-suds, Citra-clear and even Citra-drain are made from orange extracts, are biodegradable and not tested on animals.
  • Ecover: This Belgian-based company sells its wide range of green cleaners --from non-chlorine bleach to toilet-bowl cleaner -- in more than 20 countries around the world, including Canada. The company's environmental policy is that all products must biodegrade after you use them.
  • Method: Sleek designs by Canadian designer Karim Rashid and youthful product names have them competing with the major brands - though some Method products are made in China, which means greenhouse-gas-causing fossil fuels are burned to bring these products here. But they are sold at major chains across Canada, bringing green mainstream.
  • Nature Clean: All products are local to Ontario and available in bulk at Grassroots stores, giving them extra green points.
  • Seventh Generation: Has been selling its green line (shower cleaner, toilet paper made from unbleached, recycled paper and much more) since the late 1980s. Its cleaning products are all VOC- and toxin-free.