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Living the Green Life

Be a Friend of the Environment: Greener Home Products

Bin of reusable spray bottles, towels, sponge, and gloves
Make less harmful cleaning products at home.
Remember to wear protective gloves.

Have you ever looked at the ingredients list on a personal care or home cleaning product? Often, there may be ingredients you don't recognize and some can contain toxic heavy metals and designer chemicals. We sometimes forget that natural substances, familiar to us in our daily lives, often have great cleaning properties. Items like baking soda, salt, and vinegar can be used to help clean our homes and other places. Natural, organic products can be healthier for us and our environment. With the increased awareness of climate change in society, many of us are looking for ways to help our environment and small changes in our daily habits can make a big difference.

Some DEC initiatives to promote greener products:

Looking to make a difference with product choices for items you use regularly? We've included some recipes you can make for greener product alternatives. These recipes include natural products, many of which you may already have in your home.

Household Cleaning Products and their Greener Alternatives
Product Alternative(s)
All-purpose cleaner 250 mL water, 15 mL of unscented castile soap.

For a scented cleaner, add about 10 drops of an essential oil but use with caution as some can be toxic to your pets.
Drain opener Always try a plunger or other manual device first (like a drain snake)

250 mL baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), 250 mL salt, 125 mL white vinegar, 1 kettle boiling water
Pour baking soda, salt, and vinegar down drain and leave for 15 minutes. Pour in boiling water.

For maintenance: pour about 50 mL salt down the drain, followed by a kettle of boiling water, once or twice a week. Instead of salt, you could use 50mL washing soda (sodium carbonate), or 50 mL baking soda plus 50 mL vinegar.
Fabric softener Adding 50 mL baking soda to the wash cycle, or 50 mL vinegar to the rinse cycle, will soften your laundry just as well as the costly commercial liquids.

You can add wool dryer balls to the dryer to reduce drying time.

You can eliminate static cling without softeners by tossing a small wet towel into the dryer a few minutes before the end of the cycle. Remove the garments and hang them up as soon as the dryer stops and they will be wrinkle-free too.
Furniture polish (varnished, lacquered, or shellacked) 25 mL olive oil, 1 mL white vinegar, 1 L warm water

Mix ingredients and put into a spray bottle. The polish works best when warm; heat by letting the bottle sit in a pan of hot water. After applying, rub dry with a soft cloth.
Furniture polish (no protective coating) 15 mL lemon oil, 1 L mineral oil

Put into a spray bottle. Spray on, rub in, then wipe clean.
Bleach 1 part hydrogen peroxide, 8 parts water

Soak garments in this solution, then rinse. Note: For delicate fabrics that cannot be exposed to chlorine bleach.
Laundry detergent substitute To switch from commercial detergents to a more responsible solution, you will first have to get rid of the detergent residues now in your clothes. Use hot water and 50 mL washing soda for each load; do this once for all your laundry, then switch to:

Laundry powder or 250 mL pure soap flakes or powder, 25 to 50 mL washing soda (sodium carbonate)

If you have really hard water in your area, increase the amount of washing soda -- it's a very efficient water softener.
Dish detergent 500 mL grated hard bar soap or soap flakes, 4 L water

Grate bar soap. Place soap in a pot; add water and stir. Heat over medium heat until the mixture boils, stirring occasionally, until the soap dissolves. Lower heat and simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and let cool. Store in a tightly-covered container. (Not for use in an automatic dishwasher).
Automatic dishwasher detergents A homemade substitute can be made using equal parts of borax and washing soda; increase the amount of soda if your water is very hard.
Rug cleaners and spot removers Greasy soil and odors can be removed from carpets by sprinkling them generously with a mixture of two parts cornmeal and one part borax. Leave for one hour, then vacuum thoroughly. For spills, sponge the rug promptly with a mixture of vinegar and water. Then sponge with clean water, and pat dry.

Spot removers:
For Grease: Rub the stain with a damp cloth dipped in borax. Or apply a paste of cornstarch and water; let it dry and brush it off.

For Ink: For an ink stain on white fabric, wet the fabric with cold water and apply a paste of lemon juice and cream of tartar. Let it stand for an hour, then wash as usual.

For Red Wine: Clean immediately with club soda.

For Blood: Sponge or wash in cold water immediately. Add salt to the soaking water if stain is dry, then wash in hot or warm suds.

For Grass Stains: Rub with liquid dish soap, and launder.
Silver polish A clean, low-cost alternative is to soak silver items in this solution until they are clean.

1 L warm water, 5 mL baking soda, 5 mL salt, Sm. piece of aluminum foil
Tub and tile cleaner Baking soda and a damp cloth will clean a tub as efficiently as commercial scouring powders, which may contain bleach, phosphate builders, or corrosive ingredients. Use an old toothbrush to get at the grout. For a general-purpose scouring powder, try this recipe:

50 mL pure soap flakes or powder, 10 mL borax, 375 mL boiling water, 50 mL calcium carbonate powder

Dissolve the borax and soap in the boiling water. Cool to room temperature, add calcium carbonate, and pour into a sealed plastic or glass container. Shake well before using. If you want it to be more abrasive, add more calcium carbonate, 15 mL at a time, until it is right for you.

The above home product recipes are courtesy of the "New York Conservation Officer's Association Cookbook." Although this is a vintage publication, the home based products and recipes are not only timeless, but tried and true. But we do recommend trying a test sample area of clothing or wood or other surface prior to liberal application of a product. Also, some products may produce fumes -- ventilate accordingly, or react to those with allergies -- so please keep this in mind when selecting recipes to try in your home. All products are greener and safer than their commercial counterparts.

If you're not one for making your own cleaning products, learn about Safer Choice-Certified Products on EPA's website (leaves DEC's website).

Other DEC actions to encourage greener product use include the Polystyrene Foam Ban and the Bag Waste Reduction Law -- such measures are part of DEC's ongoing efforts to protect and preserve our environment.

Did you know that?

  • Prior to the Bag Waste Reduction Law over 23 billion plastic bags were typically used in New York State each year.
  • Polystyrene Foam, prior to the ban, was one of the top contributors of environmental litter -- causing negative impacts to wildlife, waterways, and other natural resources. It also littered our communities and natural areas.
  • Flame retardant chemicals are often difficult to break down, meaning they can remain persistent in the environment or a home for years.

Be a Friend of the Environment

Ready, set, grow - longer, warmer days are approaching and so is Arbor Day in April. Looking to plant a tree? DEC's Spring Seedling Sale is going on now until May 12th for you to purchase tree and shrub seedlings for a low cost.

Shanty removal - it is that time of year to remind those who ice fish to get your fishing shanties off the ice. Do so safely and as early as possible -- March 15 is the deadline. Don't let them fall through the ice and become hazards to navigation.

Wildlife and home sanitation -- bird feeders, garbage pails, grills, pet food, and other outdoor items can lead unwelcome wildlife your way. Make sure your garbage is secure and if needed use a bear-resistant-resistant product. Also, ensure your grill is clear of grease and keep it clean. These simple steps can help keep animals wild and away from your neighborhood. Learn tips to eliminate wildlife conflicts. DEC highly recommends that bird feeding activities cease by April 1st. They may resume after November 30th. Please heed this advice, especially if you live in bear country.

Greening your spring cleaning - time to start cleaning garages, sheds, basements, and more. Be sure to properly dispose of used paints and other unwanted chemicals. Read more about how to handle household hazardous waste and keep an eye out for organized collection dates in your community.

Youth camp registration -- the 2023 DEC Summer Camp season will open on Sunday, April 2, 2023, at 1:00 PM. Updates and changes can be found on the Camps webpage. Look ahead to summer and all of the memories to be made in New York's great outdoors! For those looking to work at an education camp, DEC also provides information about employment opportunities and how to apply.

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Electronic tax filings -- Tired of paperwork and clutter? Electronically file this year's tax returns instead and help reduce waste and save space. Also, for next year request e-statements (for paychecks, bank and investment statements and so forth) where available to save even more.

Reminder: your New York State tax return has a line where you can choose to return a gift to wildlife. This is an easy and simple way to support fish and wildlife conservation with a donation.

Like our greener household cleaning tips? Then be sure to visit this page next month when we explore Spring lawn/yard care. Remember to share your recipes and hints for greener products with us using #LiveGreenNY.

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