The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish
February 20, 2009

House Cleaning, Carpet Cleaning, & Kid-Safe Chemicals


I don’t think our toilet was this clean when we first moved in to our apartment. I personally have scrubbed and scrubbed with a brush and been unable to remove the mineral stains. Not that I’m a great housekeeper. I’m not. In fact, I suck. And Michael does his best, but you know, we just have other priorities. So Monday, to celebrate President’s Day, we had our place cleaned from top to bottom by the eco-friendly members of Natural Home Cleaning Professionals.

I say “members” because Natural Home Cleaning is a worker-owned cooperative whose goal is to support families to be economically self-sufficient. The company serves the San Francisco East Bay from Southern Richmond to Fremont. Workers are trained in natural cleaning techniques, encouraged to start with the least toxic products (like vinegar and water) and slowly work up to stronger products as needed. The strongest cleaner used is Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds.

One of the company’s goals is to prove to clients that natural cleaners can work every bit as well, if not better, than their harsh synthetic counterparts. And man, did they ever prove it to me! Look how the kitchen sparkles!

And the best part is that afterwards, the apartment didn’t smell like chemicals. It just smelled clean.

I spoke with the scheduler about methods and products and finally… plastic. I’m not sure NHC goes out of its way to avoid plastic containers and products like I do. So I focused on sponges. The rep wasn’t sure exactly what their sponges and scrubbers are made from, so I told her about Skoy cloths and expressed my hope that NHC will look into biodegradable options for wipes and scrubbers.

Natural Home Cleaners is supported by an organization called WAGES (Women’s Action to Gain Economic Security), which is dedicated to empowering low-income women through cooperative businesses. The WAGES web site lists several other sister co-operatives serving different regions of the Bay Area, including San Francisco, the Peninsula, and South Bay.

For those of you who live outside the Bay Area, The Ecology Center has a great list of green home and carpet cleaning services, as does Co-op America’s Green Pages.

So, how did NHC get my toilet so clean? A natural pumice stone!


Soots is confused. And not just because his mouth and nose disappear every time he looks at us straight on. He’s concerned that the dirt and fleas have disappeared from the carpet and that the place smells like oranges.

The day following our house cleaning, we had our carpets professionally cleaned. I chose a company called Chem-Dry which, despite its name, uses very few chemicals. Chem-Dry’s process relies on the power of carbonated water (about 1/5th to 1/10th as much water as traditional steam cleaners, they claim), heat, orange oil, and a heavy duty machine that scrubs the carpet into submission. OMG, as the texters say. You should have seen the hunks of black cat hair that thing sucked out. And we do, in fact, vacuum! (Well, Michael does.)

Chem-Dry offers stain protection treatment as well as carpet sanitizer, both of which I refused. I’m happy with carbonated water. I almost wish I could have skipped the orange pre-treatment, but it was on before I knew it. For protecting the legs of furniture, Chem-Dry normally offers Styrofoam blocks. This time, the technician had run out of Styrofoam, which I would have refused anyway. We substituted aluminum foil, which worked just fine.

Both the Ecology Center directory and Green Pages list eco-friendly carpet cleaners. Chem-dry, which has recently been purchased by Home Depot, is not one of them. But since California is in the middle of a major drought right now, I feel pretty good about choosing a company that uses much less water than most.


Kid-safeChemicalsActAfter my experiences with green cleaning this week, it was appropriate that I listened in on the Kid-Safe Chemicals Act conference call this morning. Presented by the Environmental Working Group, the call highlighted all the ways that our current Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), passed in 1976, has failed to protect us and why we need stronger legislation to require manufacturers of chemicals to prove that they are safe.

When TSCA was passed, 62,000 industrial chemicals were grandfathered in, meaning they were never required to be tested for safety. Since then, another 20,000-30,000 chemicals have gone on the market. In 30 years, only 5 have been banned. The law is so weak, that the EPA has not even been able to ban asbestos.

The Kid-Safe Chemicals Act would require manufacturers to pay for safety assessments of chemicals before they go on the market, and they must prove reasonable certainty that chemicals will not cause harm from aggregate exposure, meaning that if a chemical is found in formula cans and baby bottles and sippy cups (I’m thinking of BPA here), manufacturers must consider its cumulative effect from all sources, not just individual products.


I’m hoping a law like this will help to reduce the harm we are seeing from many plastics, including BPA and phthalates, as well as those in fragrances, dyes, and preservatives that manufacturers are not even required to list on labels at this point. If the chemicals are found to be unsafe and removed from the market, there will be nothing to reveal on labels in the first place.

This post will be included in the Green Mom’s Carnival, hosted at Tiny Choices on March 10. Please stop over there and read more ideas for green cleaning.