Three green things that shouldn’t mingle

This comes directly from my ‘what not to do’ column: Never mix hydrogen peroxide and vinegar and seal them in a container. But before I knew this was a bad, bad idea, I’d learned that peroxide and vinegar can be combined to form a sanitizer that is better than bleach. So, me being me, I went right to my cupboard and pulled out a large bowl, thinking I’d mix up a new and improved version of my DIY cleaning wipes solution.  I had everything ready when my husband walked by and asked, “Are you sure it’s safe to mix peroxide and vinegar?” This annoyed me because, well…I’m not sure why. But I stopped what I was doing and Googled the question.

Turns out, it was good he asked.

Here’s what I learned.

Hydrogen Peroxide

The good news: The fizzy substance that costs a couple of bucks for a brown bottle is on the EPA’s list of sanitizers. That means it can kill 99.9% of germs, like some strains of E.Coli, flu, and mold. It’s also not harmful to the planet and, unless you seal it in a mason jar with something it shouldn’t be mixed with, the 3:97 peroxide:water ratio available at grocery stores is generally harmless for us. You could even use it as a mouth rinse. (To read an article about the many uses for peroxide in Truth or Fiction click here.)

A word of warning: Greater ratios of HP to water are available at health food stores; but the purer the hydrogen peroxide the more dangerous it CAN be. (The 3% solution is potent enough to do most jobs, besides.) And, peroxide should NEVER be mixed with vinegar and sealed in a container. That can cause a chemical change that could form the highly corrosive peracetic acid. A whiff of that could damage a person’s lungs!

Back to the good news: But, from Michael and Judy Stouffer’s blog I learned that the chemical reaction that can occur when peroxide and vinegar are put into a container does not happen if they are combined in other ways. In fact, when the two liquids are kept in separate spray bottles and applied to a surface as a mist one after another, they actually become a safe and effective sanitizer.

In Michael and Judy’s article I read about a food scientist at Virginia Polytechnic Institute who’d researched this. She reported that when used sequentially this way, a peroxide and vinegar combination is safe enough to clean vegetables and fruit with,  while at the same time powerful enough to kill virtually all Salmonella, Shigella, or E. coli bacteria on heavily contaminated surfaces. The latter was confirmed by tests done at two universities.

This combo is even safe if accidentally consumed. And, if you’re worried about your strawberries tasting like vinegar, the taste and smell won’t linger. In fact, vinegar is a pretty good neutralizer of odors. That said, the recommendation is to spray the fruit with the two agents in a sort one-two punch, let the combo sit on the surface for a few seconds, then rinse.  The article claims that this spray combination is more effective for killing germs than chlorine bleach or any commercially available kitchen cleaner.

My next move

41zutfylr6l-_ac_ul115_I bought some misting spray bottles and plan to label two as either being for ‘peroxide,’ or ‘vinegar.’ (I want to be careful about mixing up the bottles when I refill them. Also, I chose aluminum, rather than clear bottles because I wanted something that would block out sunlight, which can cause peroxide to break down.)  (Click here if you’d like to check the bottles out on amazon.) I plan to use the one-two punch for my dishes. I’ve been concerned for some time about bacteria there, because we don’t own a dishwasher.

The moral to the story

Even along the journey to a greener lifestyle there are dangers to be aware of. I should never have assumed that two planet-friendly agents would be harmless when combined. There are also uses for even the most mild green cleaner that should be avoided. It’s important to stop and check. So, the next time I play mad scientist, I’ll Google the question: ‘is it safe…’ before I break out my mixing bowl.

Click here to read a blog post about more cleaners that don’t mix.


Germs vs. DIY Cleaning Wipes

For those of you on the edge of your seats wondering how my WetJet Swiffer now works with a sock soaked in Dr. Bronner’s solution on the head instead of a Swiffer pad, let’s just say it doesn’t exactly glide img_1550across the floor like it used to. Also, the plastic mop handle makes a terrible cracking sound each time I push on it. On the bright side, the sock picks up more dirt than the paper pad had and I can wash and reuse it. I figure if the mop handle breaks, duct tape can fix anything.

In regard to the DIY vinegar wipes, I’m still in love with them. Several friends have said they liked the smell, too, and one told me that img_1558her hands don’t feel dry after she cleans with them. I’d forgotten how my fingers would become powdery and dry from the chemicals in the Member’s Mark Disinfecting Wipes.

But after running around the house cleaning with my new wipes all week, I’ve remade several batches and have learned a few things. For starters, I’d originally suggested using 1/3 cups of vinegar and water, but I’ve found it best to use a little more than that, so that all the rags absorb the fluid. Also, for saturation purposes I now soak the cleaning cloths in the liquid before stuffing them into the mason jar. And finally, I’ve added lemon juice to the recipe. It helps improve the smell and I read somewhere that it can cut through grease. (See updated recipe here)

I’ll likely update it again soon, though. I did my homework and now know how to help boost the anti-microbial benefits of the wipes without using chemicals. I’ll blog about that next week. For now, here’s a bit about germs and how my DIY wipes hold up against them.

A bit about germs

images-1Germs are a category for things like viruses, bacteria, parasites, mold and fungi. They’re in every space that living organisms occupy. That means, while I’m sitting on my exercise ball at my desk, drinking coffee and typing on my laptop, I’m sharing every inch of that space with thousands of micro-organisms. But in a way, all those crazy little bugs that I can’t see have made me who I am.

Viruses are sometimes called pathogens. We can catch a virus, like a cold or the flu, by coming into contact with someone who’s sick. But they also hang out on surfaces, like door handles, shopping cart handles, cell phones, counter tops, or they can travel through the air. Each of us are probably exposed to viruses many times a day without realizing it. We don’t always get sick because, if we’ve been around the viruses before, our immune systems have likely learned how to fight them.

imagesAnother name for bacteria is microbes. E. coli and strep are examples of bacteria that can make us sick. But there are bacteria that keep us healthy, too.  In fact,  we all carry our own unique ecosystem of bacteria on, in and around us.  (To watch a video on the fascinating research being conducted by the Home Microbiome Project click here .)

Resistant Bacteria

Scientists are desperate to find images-2germ fighters that are more potent than the ones currently available. The problem is, overuse of antibiotics and disinfectants have made many viruses and bacteria resistant to the stuff that used to kill them. Just like our bodies learn how to fight the germs we’ve been exposed to, with enough exposure to sanitizing agents and antibiotics, germs learn how to stay healthy, too.

Common Sense and Good Cleaning Habits

Some folks need to be very careful about germs. For people with underdeveloped or weak immune systems a common cold could turn into something far worse. They might have to use chemicals that kill germs on contact. Daycares, hospitals, and facilities that have a public restroom might need to use bleach and other fast-acting disinfectants because the risk of spreading sicknesses is higher in those places.

But for me, routine cleaning habits in my homes, safe food handling and knowledge of how germs spread should be enough to keep me and my husband healthy. Maybe those products that kill 99.9% of germs should be used only when I know contamination of surfaces by harmful bacteria is likely; like when I splatter raw eggs on the kitchen counter or sneeze of all over my keyboard. Because then, I don’t want to spread live germs around and risk cross contaminating surfaces. But with the way I was using disinfecting wipes in my kitchen, the frequent exposure to chemical sanitizers could have made me sick in different ways than the germs had without me even realizing it. Plus, when I need to rely on these heavy-duty germ killers, I want them to work.

So, how do my DIY cleaning wipes hold up against germs?

The vinegar wipes contain two germ fighters: vinegar and lavender. Vinegar has been proven effective against some strains of the flu. It also worked well for removing the mold on my pet’s doggie door. Lavender can kill certain fungi and some germs, as well. With the two combined, they likely do all right for routine cleanings. They just don’t kill 99.9% of microbes to qualify as sanitizers, and they don’t kill the really bad stuff, like salmonella.

But here’s the good news. There are green cleaners that can kill those kinds of germs. And, theres a dynamite combination that’s green and can disinfect as well as bleach! But that’s for next week’s article.

Think green and I’ll see you then!