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.

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14 years ago

Thanks for the cleaning info as well as the KSCA coverage! KSCA holds a lot of promise in terms of regulatory chemical safety, but I believe that the science responsible for this safety should be revisited and reformed as well. Current animal models are, simply put, highly imperfect and out of date. Improperly tested chemicals are just as dangerous as those not tested. A report was recently produced, Toxicity Testing in the 21st Century: A Vision and Strategy, that specifically addresses the dangers of these archaic models with a clear-cut plan for updating tests, thus ensuring true safety for friends, family, and future generations (animals too!). This is a perfect time to usher in a revolutionary change not only to the regulatory legislation itself, but to the science that supports and enforces the legislation, by including language enforcing the vision of the National Research Council to improve the safety of us and our children though more proper and modern chemical toxicity tests.

The Minimalist
14 years ago

Great article. I’d edit your counter down to just your cookie jar, canisters and tray on a stand. Give yourself the gift of space as well as clean. Thanks for the kitty litter info. It’s an issue at my house too.

Beth Terry
14 years ago

Jennconspiracy — the pumice stone is not for cleaning the entire toilet. Just the really difficult mineral stains. I’m sure they used a brush or cloth for the rest of it. And yes, it was an actual stone. They showed it to me.

14 years ago

Hey thanks for the guilt trip, Beth. I like the part where you HIRE someone else to deep clean. I’ll have to check around Orange County and see if I can find someone like that.

Condo Blues
14 years ago

I some research on how to use orange peels. Several sources mentioned that natural orange oil is very good for cleaning. Some people use it to get rid of ants in the garden. I can’t find any information on if orange oil is bad for cats. But they don’t like it. One of the uses I found was to put orange peels in your garden to deter cats from using it as a litterbox.

14 years ago

Heh, this is a response to your ” Saving the Planet (aka Plastic, a**holes)” post, as I was working my own a** off on a school project when the post was originally posted.
I never accused you of corrupting the young, just chided you for not acknowledging your younger readers! ^.^
And I did it all with my usual immovable smirk/smile x)

And trust me, those four-letter-words…yeah, they lost their illicit-ness in like fourth grade D:
Not a particularly shocking or changing-viewpoint video, I must say though. He’s right, and I’d say that if it was just the human race at stake, we should just kick back and let ourselves burn with the world. But its not just us. Its the tigers, and the seals, and the kittens, and the polar bears, and the coatamundis, and the bonobos, and the lions, and the salmon, too. So we can’t just let ourselves burn with the world, because then we let all those other creatures burn with us. And its our fault, not theirs.

And Soots is quite adorable, I must say…almost as cute as my Hawk. Almost. (yes, Hawkfrost is a cat, live with it).

Oh, I also had just mention the large quantities of plastic that the sport of swimming…seriously, all the caps we tear through are encased in plastic, and all the swim suits…and I actually think both the suits and caps are mostly plastic. At least the cheap ones…I’m not sure if silicone is plastic, though.
Uff…I’m off to go work on some more school stuff…I hope I get a few more minutes to check in again soon…
Bye d:

Cousin Yellowstone
14 years ago

If the Kid-Safe Chemicals Act becomes law, what type of evidence will be used to determine whether a chemical is safe for children? I really hope companies won’t be allowed to “prove” the safety of the chemicals they produce by testing them on young laboratory animals. Not only do those tests entail a lot of suffering for the animals used, they also are of limited value in determining the risks a substance poses to humans. Consider that dogs can be killed by eating chocolate, which the vast majority of human children are able to eat safely. I’m uneasy about supporting the Kid-Safe Chemicals Act without more information on how the safety of chemicals would be determined.

14 years ago

A great and inexpensive addition to any bathroom and it also makes it much easier to clean is the Bathroom Bidet Sprayer from . You can clean yourself, the toilet, the tile, even diapers if you have any. This is a must have for the modern bathroom and it helps the environment by cutting down the use of toilet paper.

EcoLabel Fundraising
14 years ago

I am very thorough in cleaning around my home. Probably to a fault since my daughter was born. I really try to limit an harmful products around our home and I think it is clean. Green cleaning is very easy, I’ve found. One tip – H20 Mop. Love it, love it, love it. It just uses water to clean. It steams tile with hot steam, so you know it works. No products. I even cleaned a dog stain from the carpet and it worked beautifully. It is easier than pushing and wringing out a mop, too!

I’ve been thinking about getting a cleaning lady when our new baby comes. I think I’ll look up a green company too!


Lisa at EWG
14 years ago

Beth – Thanks so much for taking the time to listen in to the call yesterday and for spreading the word about Kid-Safe. With partners like this, we can make it happen!

14 years ago

This is totally fantastic, I have been looking into green cleaning alternatives for my apartment. I 100% can’t afford a service, but its nice to know that when I get around to using all of the green options I’ve been reading about my place with be so clean!

Have a good one!

14 years ago

I’m confused – how do you use a pumice STONE to clean a ceramic toilet? Doesn’t seem like it would get all the mildew under the rim and it would scratch. I use those things on my feets!

Your place looks awesome. The kitties are getting so big – they look like actual CATS not kittens now.

Green Bean
14 years ago

We have a local green cleaning service (also a cooperative) and I have to tell you that I’ve been lusting after it for quite some time. Of course, I cannot bring myself to justify the expense. But I do lust. Seeing your photos only makes me lust more.

Anarres Natural Health
14 years ago

When I was a property manager, I changed our 17 buildings from steam cleaning to a similar carpet cleaning process. As opposed to steam cleaning it did not leave carpets wet, or set protein stains.

Essential oils can be toxic to cats, whose livers work differently than ours.

Essential Oils Potentially Toxic to Cats Are:
(This list is not all-inclusive)

* Peppermint
* Lemon Oil
* Lavender Oil
* Melaleuca Oil
* Tea Tree Oil
* Cinnamon Bark Oil
* Wintergreen Oil
* Thyme Oil
* Birch Oil
* Other oils containing phenol


Finally, The Women's Voices for the Earth offer tested natural recipes for cleaning and has created a Green Cleaning Party program that you can do:
WVE is an awesome US lobby group!

Love & RRRevolution, Tracey

14 years ago

I checked out Emma’s Eco-Clean (the one that services the Peninsula), and they have specials available on their website. They also have a coupon in the Green Zebra coupon book (well worth the $25 price tag, IMO!).

Thanks for all you do, Beth. You’re inspiring! ^_^

knutty knitter
14 years ago

I’ve always avoided cleaning/air freshening/fly spray etc because I’m badly allergic to scented stuff. I also avoided most soaps and other stuff including all makeup. I was always rather sad about this as it included perfumes too but maybe I am lucky to be such a canary because my exposure to these things is very minimal. Orange oil sounds bad – I’m allergic to oranges too but otherwise I’m glad to know there are alternatives out there.

BTW I love your glass containers – wish I was somewhere handy to buy some.

viv in nz

14 years ago

Great choices for cleaners! Chem Dry is an excellent company
A hint from Mother Rob: Try using cardboard cut into 4″ X 4″ squares to put under your furniture legs- It is a green choice! (From my days as a Carpet Cleaner)Pumice stones are great to clean toilets, just remember if you choose to use one to keep it wet or it can scratch the glazing right off a toilet! Now Soots, Arya, You kitties wanna bath???