Smelling supposedly nontoxic Simple Green makes Ellynrose Sheehan wheeze.
A longtime asthmatic and allergy sufferer, Sheehan avoids the popular all-purpose cleanser. But other commercial products didn't exactly make breathing easy, she says.
Rub hands with a salt-sprinkled piece of lemon to remove garlic, onion or fish odors.
Revive wilted lettuce by refrigerating in a bowl of water with 4 tablespoons lemon juice.
Peel hard-boiled eggs easier by adding 1 teaspoon lemon juice to cooking water.
Place fish atop lemon slices while grilling to prevent sticking
Shine copper cookware and clean stainless-steel sinks with a salted lemon wedge
Rub faucets with a cut lemon to remove hard-water stains and soap scum
Grind lemon peels in garbage disposal to freshen it
Add lemon juice to cooked rice, cauliflower or potatoes to enhance foods' white color
Rub a grater with cut lemon to remove soft cheese or sticky foods
Make gremolata, an alternative to salt, with lemon zest, finely minced garlic and chopped parsley
Soak fingernails for five minutes in 1 cup water and juice from half a lemon to clean and whiten
Rinse scalp with 1 teaspoon lemon juice in 1 cup warm water to control dandruff
Rinse mouth with lemon juice, then water to freshen breath
Gently clean and exfoliate your face with lemon juice
Rinse hair in 3/4 cup water with juice from half a lemon then sit in sunlight to add blond highlights
Soak rough hands and sore feet in equal parts lemon juice and water then massage with olive oil
Soothe poison-ivy rash and insect bites with undiluted lemon juice
Dab nasal membrane with a cotton swab soaked in diluted lemon juice to stop a nosebleed
Gargle with lemon juice to soothe a sore throat
Treat athlete's foot with a mixture of lemon and papaya juices
1 cup baking soda
1/4 cup borax
Several drops essential oil
1 cup rubbing alcohol
1 cup warm water
1 tablespoon distilled, white vinegar
So she found simpler solutions for cleaning with common household items such as baking soda, vinegar, rubbing alcohol and lemon juice. A recent Ashland class showed Sheehan and a dozen other participants how eight all-natural ingredients used in different combinations can make 12 cleansers that keep both the home and environment healthy.
"When you actually look at some of the chemicals in the everyday products ... being able to use natural products makes a lot of sense," says Sheehan, 33.
Mixing up one's own cleansers makes sense on several fronts, says Kari Gies, education coordinator for North Mountain Park Nature Center. Ingredients are not only nontoxic, biodegradable and renewable. They're inexpensive, promote buying in bulk and foster reuse of containers, which eliminates packaging from the waste stream.
For a $12 class fee, the Nature Center provided baking soda, borax, rubbing alcohol, distilled vinegar, vegetable oil-based soap and essential oils for each participant, along with containers for samples of tub-and-sink scrub, soft scrub, window wash and all-purpose cleaner.
"There's a lot of overlap how they're used," says Gies. "It's not an exact science."
The cleansers are so basic, in fact, that Gies anticipated participants' laughter over her "recipes." But each ingredient has time-tested attributes.
Baking soda, chemically known as sodium bicarbonate, tackles grease by turning it into soap. It also deodorizes, softens water and gently abrades. Borax, chemically known as sodium borate, deodorizes and softens water while disinfecting. It's particularly suited to cleaning painted surfaces, wallpaper and floors.
The strongest food acid, lemon juice is strong enough to kill most bacteria. The juice also neutralizes alkaline substances, such as hard-water scale. It dissolves grease, removes tarnish, deodorizes and whitens.
Also a mild acid, vinegar removes mildew, stains and odors; it can be used like lemon juice for many tasks. Along with rubbing alcohol, it's antibacterial.
Essential oils from botanicals don't just add aroma to cleaning agents. Many are antimicrobial, says Gies. Although essential oils are relatively expensive by volume, a little goes a long way, and they can be added according to preference.
"If you're using the essential oil, your house is just going to smell so nice," says Gies. "It's not going to smell hospital-clean."
Gies acknowledged Americans' penchant for sanitizing and suggested society's standards of clean are a bit too high. The ideal seems at odds with warning labels indicating that many common cleansers — even "green" formulas — are "slightly toxic," she says, and could kill a person if ingested in large-enough quantities.
As for liquid soaps, the safest, most environmentally sound type is made from vegetable oil, says Gies. Dr. Bronner's is a commonplace brand and comes unscented or in several aromas.
Sheehan didn't purchase all the suggested ingredients after taking Gies' class but did remove a carpet stain with baking soda and vinegar. Because economy is one of her goals, Sheehan says she plans to use up her commercial cleansers but will add alternatives over time.
"I always have baking soda and vinegar on hand," she says." I knew that those two things were natural and safe."
And there's little chance that natural cleaning agents will damage a home's fixtures or furnishings, says Gies.
"You're not gonna do this wrong," she says. "You're not going to mess up your house.
"You are going to like cleaning — I think you will."
For more information on Nature Center classes, see www.northmountainpark.org or call 541-488-6606.