Energy Adviser: Cleaning green can help

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Kermit the Frog was right, "It's not easy being green." Fortunately, when it comes to cleaning green, it's getting easier all the time.

The Environmental Protection Agency defines green cleaners as products made with environmentally friendly ingredients to preserve human health and environmental quality. However, there is little regulation around the term "green cleaner," so it's important to do your research.

Despite some confusion when browsing the store shelves, many of us are motivated to clean green because it's good for the planet and reduces human health risks. Almost all commonly used cleaning products contain chemicals that potentially cause health effects, including respiratory ailments, skin irritation, neurological disorders or cancer.

To eliminate toxic chemicals, some folks opt for making DIY cleaners. Recipes for using a few safe and inexpensive ingredients such as plain soap, water, baking soda, vinegar, washing soda, Castile soap, lemon juice and Borax can be found online. While home-made cleaner recipes can satisfy most household cleaning chores, make sure you follow the recipes.

Although many commercial cleaners labeled green may be less toxic and a little bit healthier, without third-party validation or government regulation companies can make unsubstantiated and misleading claims. So finding out if products you use are green takes a bit of effort.

A first step is to check whether your favorite green cleaner or detergent is one of the 2,000 listed on the Environmental Working Group website (http://www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners). Or you can check the EPA's Designed for the Environment site (http://www.epa.gov/dfe). Many of the thousands of products listed by this site carry the DfE logo on their packaging. If your favorite cleaning products are listed at either place you are home free -- maybe.

"Not all green cleaners are created equal," said Cindy Rimer, vice president of sales and marketing for Vancouver-based BioKleen. "There's a lot of wordplay in this business and that places a burden on the consumer." BioKleen has numerous products listed on the EWG website. All its products meet the Whole Foods requirements for sustainability, Rimer said.

Rimer advises consumers to start by checking the product label. All ingredients should be fully disclosed, as required for selling in Whole Foods markets. Every ingredient should be plant and mineral based and biodegradable. Even the fragrance used should provide a cleaning benefit and be natural. If any ingredient listing is vague and not stated in scientific language, consider that a red flag.

Next check for how much of the product to use per load and how many loads the packaging promises. BioKleen rates its 64-ounce laundry detergent for cleaning 128 loads of laundry for high-efficiency washers and half that for low-efficiency washers, Rimer said.

Finally there are the humane, sustainability and safety concerns to look for. The product should not be tested on animals. Nor should it contain nonrenewable oil-based ingredients. No ingredient should be carcinogenic to humans.

But that's just the consumer side of the green-cleaner cycle. Rimer said consumers should also be aware how products are manufactured, packaged and shipped. Manufacturing shouldn't use an excessive amount of water. The final product should contain little water and should be packaged using small amounts of cardboard and plastic to reduce waste, as well as lower the shipping weight. Products that weigh less reduce shipping costs and greenhouse emissions during transport. Whenever possible, consumers should purchase products made locally, which reduces emissions even more.

Being careful to choose products that are easier on the environment is better at home but also better for our water supplies, where many of these products eventually end up. Cleaners made especially for use with less water and, better still, cold water can even help lower your energy bill through reduced water heating costs.

Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to ecod@clarkpud.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.