Archive for Monday, October 12, 1998


October 12, 1998


The final Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) collection of the year will be from 8 a.m. to noon Saturday at 711 E. 23rd. To ``polish off'' a successful year, Community Mercantile has partnered with the city's recycling division to promote nontoxic and natural cleansers to all participants at the collection event. Mercantile volunteers will distribute savings coupons for nontoxic household cleaners as well as give away a few ``goody baskets'' stuffed with organic treats and nontoxic products.

An excerpt from Karen Logan's book ``Clean House, Clean Planet'' details the effectiveness and simplicity of using nontoxic cleaning products in our homes:

``Let's get ready for a safer home. At a minimum, you will need some baking soda, white distilled vinegar, and some liquid soap or detergent. You'll also need several clean, empty spray bottles, a couple of squirt bottles and a shaker container. You'll want some good rags and a few sponges (both white nylon and green scrubbers), and a bucket always comes in handy.''

Seven basic essentials

Now that you're ready, let's get really acquainted with the good guys.

  • Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) -- deodorizer and mild abrasive. Derived in the United States from a mineral found primarily in a 50-million-year-old dried-up lake in Wyoming, baking soda is one of the miracle natural cleansers. Not only does it absorb odors, it acts as an effective but mild abrasive in cleaning sinks, bathtubs and counters. It is nontoxic to humans, inexpensive and versatile.
  • Liquid soap (vegetable oil-based, castile, or glycerin) -- dirt remover. Liquid soap removes dirt by dissolving the oils that bind the dirt to the objects. Soaps derived from vegetable oils are better for the earth than detergents derived from petroleum products because they biodegrade in the environment more easily and are made from less polluting ingredients.
  • White distilled vinegar (acetic acid, usually in a 5 percent solution) -- powerful deodorizer, all-purpose natural cleaner and cleaning rinse. Vinegar dissolves soap film from leftover mineral deposits from evaporated water, repels grease and grime, helps to prevent mold and mildew and even freshens the air. You can use essential oils like peppermint and lavender to soften its naturally strong scent.
  • Lemon (or lime) juice -- naturally acidic cleaner. Lemon juice is a powerful cleaner for mineral build-up, tarnish and grease.
  • Salt -- grease buster, antibacterial and power cleaner. Salt absorbs oil readily and, combined with water, can destroy bacteria in its vicinity through a dehydrating action. The least expensive of all the homemade ingredients, it has a variety of cleaning uses, from absorbing grease to cleaning copper.
  • Essential oils -- fresh, clean scents and antibacterial action. Lemon, lavender, peppermint and tea tree oils are all natural scents. Refreshing and even edible, food-grade lemon and peppermint oils can make great cleaning fragrances. For a powerful, super-clean smell, use the popular tea tree oil, a broad-spectrum antibacterial agent and fungicide.
  • Purified water -- the universal solvent. Water is truly the most basic cleaner of all! But minerals in water can inhibit the cleaning action of any soap or detergent. Hard water makes cleaning hard. Purified or distilled water is usually soft.

The pH scale

To understand cleaning, you need to know just the littlest bit of chemistry. All chemicals have a pH. The pH scale ranges from acid to alkaline and is numbered from 0 to 14. Knowing the pH of a chemical can help you determine whether it's safe to use.

A chemical with a pH of 7 is neutral and, if you are looking just at the pH, usually fairly safe to use. Chemicals with a pH on either end of the scale are usually dangerous because they can burn or dissolve matter. A pH of 1 is highly acidic, and a pH of 14 is highly alkaline. Soaps are generally alkaline. A mild soap has a pH of 8; a harsher soap may have a pH of 10. Drain cleaners can be as corrosive as pH 14, and toilet-bowl cleaners as acidic as pH 2. But you should be aware that pH doesn't tell the whole story. Even though the extreme pH's are usually quite hazardous, there are exceptions. Lime juice has a pH of 1 and is quite safe to use.

Acids and alkalis tend to neutralize each other. That means when mixed together, they tend toward a neutral pH of 7. Mixing baking soda and vinegar is a good example. Baking soda is mildly alkaline and vinegar is mildly acidic. When mixed together, they neutralize each other and form carbon dioxide gas and water at a neutral pH of 7.

Now that you know a little bit about cleansers and pH, you can go on to learn how three of the basics -- baking soda, soap and vinegar -- work together.

Mixing three of the basics

Here are the rules for mixing baking soda, liquid soap and vinegar. Pay careful attention. It's important to know how they work together.

  • What happens when I add liquid soap to baking soda? You get a great cleaner! Soap and baking soda are both alkaline. Mixing them together makes a nice, soft, effective cleaner. Most dirt and oils are acidic. The alkaline in the soap and baking soda neutralizes the acidic dirt. That's one of the things that makes soap clean so well. Minerals in the water interfere with cleaning. Baking soda helps to soften the water and neutralizes the minerals, making the soap clean better. Baking soda also helps to lift the dirt up and away from the surface you want cleaned. Soap and soda are simple cleaners that give simply beautiful results.
  • What happens when I add vinegar to baking soda? The baking soda will dissolve into carbon dioxide gas, the same gas we exhale during breathing. Vinegar is a mild acid, and baking soda is mildly alkaline. Together, they neutralize each other in a chemical reaction that creates carbon dioxide and water. The carbon dioxide gas in this concentration is harmless. Try this experiment yourself. Add a little vinegar. Hear it fizz? That's the baking soda dissolving into carbon dioxide.

A scented vinegar rinse washes any residue away. Caution: Don't add vinegar to a baking-soda cleanser and then close the lid! The gas from the reaction between baking soda and vinegar could make a bottle swell dangerously or break or even make the lid pop off. If you need to soften the baking soda in a jar or bottle, please use warm water to dilute it instead.

  • What happens when I add vinegar to liquid soap? Caution: Adding vinegar directly to liquid soap or detergent will ruin it. Don't mix the vinegar and soap directly together. Always add the vinegar last. Vinegar is a mild acid and soap is mildly alkaline; therefore, they neutralize each other. That means the vinegar dissolves the soap. Built-up soap film looks ugly and collects dirt. A fresh vinegar rinse cleans it away.

For recipes to create your own nontoxic cleansers, call the Lawrence Waste Reduction and Recycling Division at 832-3030.

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