My Swiffer Duster has got to go!

Are you as tired of my blogs about toilet paper made from recycled junk mail and washable cleaning cloths as I am? Sure, it was fun figuring out how to make DIY wipes out of plant-based solutions and old socks. But now that these are a part of life in my house, the process of targeting the next paper product in our pantry that might hurt the planet, researching it, finding alternatives, trying to convince my husband to go along with the change, and then writing a blog post about it is starting to make my eyes glaze over. The good news is, I only have three more paper habits to worry about: my Swiffer Duster, paper napkins, and coffee filters.  Then I can wrap it up and look into my trash can to decide where to green next.


I’ve been a loyal customer of Swiffer since they were first advertised in the 90’s. I was always quick to buy their next innovationsimg_1536, too.  Most recently, I’ve come to love swabbing my floors with my WetJet Bissell steamer or doing high/low cleanings with my 54″ extended-reach Swiffer Duster. For years they’ve saved me from having to deal with yucky mops or sneeze-inducing feather dusters. Instead, I’d just remove the cloth pads or fluffy mitt thingy and toss them in the trash. So easy.

It’s not so easy on the planet, though.

It wouldn’t be a far leap to assume that anything designed to be used once and thrown out is going to be bad for Mother Earth. Still, I felt this little pang inside at the thought of having to clean without those51w3cqqvhal-_ac_us160_ thin chemical soaked cloths. I searched the Web hoping my assumption was wrong. Sadly, articles in TreeHugger and other eco-blogs told me it was not. Because of the number of Swiffer refills I’d use and toss during my bi-weekly cleanings, 51ojcct5efl-_ac_us160_(not to mention those of every other person on the planet who use Swiffer,) and how those same paper pads wind up in landfills and how the cleaning agents on the floor mopping sheets seep into the ground, and let’s not forget the bleach and water used in manufacturing, the articles have pretty much said that if I care about the planet my Swiffer habit has got to go.

And then there’s that little thing called ‘greenwashing.’

Swiffer is a line of disposable electrostatic dusting cloths made by Proctor and Gamble. The design for these time-saving products came from Continuum Innovation. That company’s CEO, Gianfransco Zaccai, has claimed that Swiffer products are green and sustainable, because consumers use less water when washing floors with them than with an old fashioned mop and bucket.

This claim has made eco-watch groups mad enough to want to throw that wash bucket at him. From a blog post by Jennifer van der Meer I’d learned that ‘greenwashing’ is the act of trying to pass off unsustainable products as eco-friendly through branding, packaging and mislabeling. (Now I have a name for why I can’t simply choose green products based on their labels.) Many groups have accused P&G of doing just that with its claims about Swiffer. However, in BrandingBeat I’d read that Proctor and Gamble has indeed made an effort to reduce its impact on the environment by reinventing its packaging for some products.

That may be so, but in regard to the Swiffer line, I don’t buy the water-saving claims of Zaccai. I know for a fact that I’ve used and tossed boxes and boxes of those cleaning pads over the years, only to buy more. And, since the 1990’s the shelves at my supermarket have always been stocked with Swiffer supplies. So, I’m guessing a lot of folks have been doing the same thing. That means that Swiffer refill manufacturers use plenty of water and who knows what else when they keep pumping out those refill cloths.

A hack for my Swiffer Steamer

img_1550With my Swiffer Steamer I’d found that if I cut up a pair of old socks they fit perfectly on the head. I keep the socks in a mason jar with about 10img_1535 squirts of Dr. Bronners and a half cup of water. They work great as DIY floor wipes.The Swiffer can be a little hard to push along with the sock instead of the paper pad, but it’s not too bad and, while the paper pad is designed to just pick dust up off the floor, the socks pick up dust and dirt very well.

(A word of caution about DB: I’d read that it can leave a film on some wood floors. I haven’t noticed this on mine, but I did see residue on my cherry wood dresser. I’d used the Dr. Bronners wipes to dust there, as well. ( GoodGuide has a list of other green wood floor cleaners to consider.)

Goodbye to my Swiffer Duster

I was very happy that the sock idea worked well on my steamer. I’m not gonna lie, I won’t buy another one, but for as long as this one lasts, I’d like to continue using it. Unfortunately, a sock on my Swiffer duster is not going to work as well.img_1573

I even put a plastic tie around it to hold it in place. It made it stay on all right. But then I had to be careful to not scratch my TV screen when I dusted there. Plus, the sock just felt weird and floppy and too thin to clean with.

Amazon to the rescue

So, I went on Amazon and found a washable duster img_1578with a 62″ inch long extendable handle. (Here’s the link, if you’d like to check it out.) I just got it in the mail today. Let me tell you, this thing is long! It’s not long enough for me to dust my ceiling fan, which is really high up, but it has an adjustable head, so I can clean high spots on an img_1587angle. The only thing is, even though the Amazon ad said the head was washable, there really is no way to remove it from the smaller dusting handle that attaches to the extension rod. I wouldn’t put it in the washing machine with the handle, unless it was inside something, like one of the dog beds. I’ll give that a try and update this blog post when I do.

And, finally: just in case you were wondering if I was any less cluelessness

When I had originally started to blog about paper I automatically assumed that disposable cleaning wipes were in the same category. But during a recent trip to Price Chopper I noticed that cleaning wipes are not in the aisle with paper products. They’re actually in with the cleaning stuff. They also might be more of a textile, like cloth, and not paper at all. So, my DIY cleaning wipes and Swiffer refills would have been better covered when I green my broom closet, where I keep the cleaning supplies. There’s a bright side, though. This was a complicated corner to work through. Now it’s greener. And, I’m happy it’s done!










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!

DIY cleaning wipes

I’ll confess that I’m not much of a do-it-yourselfer. That said, now that I’ve made my own cleaning wipes, I’m a little in love with the idea. It’s super easy to put together a jar full.  Plus, they’re just as easy to use as the Member’s Mark Disinfecting Wipes my husband buys from Sam’s Club. All I needed to do was cut up one of his old t-shirts instead of throwing it away, put some vinegar or Dr. Bronner’s castile soap, water, and an essential oil into a pitcher and pour it into a mason jar on top of the rags.

Here’s the recipe I used. There are also many on-line to choose from.


1, 1.5 cup size mason jarIMG_1499



Enough cut up t-shirts or socks etc. IMG_1504to stuff it full



3/4 cup vinegar, (it can be a little on the heavy




IMG_15011/2 cup water



1/2 cup potato vodka

5 drops of each of the following essential oils: lemon, wild orange, and DoTerra On Guard or the equivalent, like Thieves or Protect.

Mix liquids into a bowl or pitcher. Add rags to mixture and work liquid through so all rags are damp. Stuff mason jar full of rags.

img_1558 Put lid on and tighten. Store in dark area. (I keep a jar in cabinets under our kitchen and bathroom sinks.)



1, 1.5 cup size mason jar

Cut up t-shirts and socks, etc.

Twenty squirts of Dr. Bronner’s soap

1/3 cup hydrogen peroxide

1/3 cup water

Follow same directions as a above.


They’re convenient for light cleaning. I use the vinegar ones on my formica counters, stove, fridge, mirrors, windows, and for wiping around in the downstairs bathroom. The Dr. Bronner’s wipes work well, too. A little goes a long way with it!

They get rid of dirt. I used the Dr. Bronner’s wipes on my bathtub and the ring inside it dissolved after just a little rubbing. The vinegar ones cleaned the smudges off the bottom of my front door and left my bathroom mirror shinyimg_1550. Also, I cut up some of my husband’s socks that he was going to throw out. They fit perfectly over the head of my WetJet Swiffer. (At first, my husband couldn’t figure out why I was so excited about old socks.) I put them in a mason jar with the Dr. Bronner’s solution. They  worked great for cleaning my hardwood floors. Now I have reusable, washable Swiffer pads instead of disposable ones!

They’re better for the environment. Both vinegar and Dr. Bronner’s are plant based and are harmless to people, pets and the planet. Plus, the cloth wipes can be washed and reused instead of thrown away after a single use, which means we’re not adding more non-biodegrable trash to landfills. After I clean with one of the rags, I just toss it into my bin of used cleaning cloths. When the bin fills up I run a load of laundry in hot water and bleach.


Vinegar can damage stone and tile.  It’s fine to use on some surfaces, like formica and glass, but not on others, like stone and tile. Because of its acidity, it can cause streaking in stone and can eat away grout on tiled surfaces. I also wouldn’t use it on my wood floors. But the Dr. Bronner’s wipes are fine to use anywhere.

Dr. Bronner’s is expensive. My husband nearly blew a fuse when I told him I paid $33.00 for a half-gallon jug of soap. “But we can use it for everything from doing dishes to cleaning our pets,” I said.  The fact that I would use it for more than just wipes didn’t help him come around.

Neither works as a sanitizer. There’s a difference between cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting. In terms of cleaning, which simply means removing dirt from a surface, both the  vinegar and Dr. Bronner’s do the job. But they don’t kill 99.9% of germs to qualify as sanitizers.  Disinfecting is even a step above that. A disinfectant kills 100% of microbes. But, from what I’ve read about microbes, they’re a part of life. In fact, exposure to them might help strengthen our immune systems. Unless my husband and I worked in a hospital or chicken coop, where we risked bringing home germs like streptococcus on our clothing, I really don’t need to keep sanitizing surfaces in our home ten times a day the way I’ve been. Repeated exposure to anti-microbial cleaners isn’t good for us either.

But we do occasionally prepare raw meat, chicken, and fish, which can leave germs like salmonella on our kitchen counter. I also work with toddlers, so I need to sanitize the toys I use. And, let’s not forget our four animals, that can scamper through the doggie door with germs like E. coli on their paws. There are a few agents that the EPA says work well enough to kill those kinds of germs. Of them, bleach is considered the best. But the chemical can be hard on the environment and on people’s health. There are plant based options available, though. I’ll get into that next week.

Neither cleaner will remove mold. That’s another job for bleach. But if there’s a green alternative, I’d prefer to use it. I’ll find out about that for next week, too.

The smell of the vinegar is not for everyone.  My husband keeps repeating the same question every time he walks through the laundry room: “That smell doesn’t bother you?” I’ll admit, the lavender maybe takes the solution from having a very, very strong vinegar smell to just a very strong vinegar smell. It still makes my eyes tear. On the other hand, Dr. Bronner’s comes in pleasant smelling fragrances or fragrance free. I bought the peppermint-scented soap. It smells nice.


In my opinion both types of cleaning wipes work fine as alternatives to disposable ones for cleaning at home and each would be good to have around for different tasks. But if my husband really hates the smell of vinegar, the Dr. Bronner’s soap version can work anywhere and is excellent. (He said he would suffer the smell if it meant not spending big bucks on soap. What he doesn’t realize is, though vinegar is cheaper it can’t be used everywhere the way Dr. Bronner’s can. The way I see it, we’ll be saving money on Swiffer pads and cleaning wipes, so the cost will balance out.) I will need to look into some kind of green sanitizing agents for home and on the job, though. That’s my homework for next week’s post.

See you then!





Green Labels

Here’s something I wish I’d known about before having started this blog. There’s a database called  GoodGuide, which verifies the greenness of lots of companies. I stumbled upon it this past week, during my search for a green alternative to the disposable cleaning wipes my husband and I use.  Not long before that, I’d spent half an hour in the cleaning product section of Price Chopper comparing disinfecting wipe labels.  I realized then that the level of scrutiny needed to read between the lines there was enough to make me nauseas.

It would make things a lot easier on my journey towards a greener lifestyle imagesif I could rely on product labels. But, like with the organic food industry, where if a manufacturer uses a few organic ingredients it can label its products ‘organic’, a company can get away with printing ‘green’ on product labels by being just a little environmentally friendly.  Am I wrong for hating that I have to play super sleuth to figure out which ‘green’ products are truly green?

The other day I came home from Price Chopper with a brand of wipes called Sun & Earth in my 41MjBbWmHxL._AC_US160_reusable cloth shopping bag. It seemed like a great option. The wipes smelled like citrus and cleaned well enough. The label on them listed all  ingredients and shared the many ways in which they were environmentally safe, cruelty free, and safe to use. I didn’t stop with reading it, though. I went on the Sun and Earth‘s website and learned that the company had been in business since the 1980’s and had held an eco-conscious core value from the beginning. They also have lots of different cleaning products, some which Price Chopper carries! I was so ready to retire my magnifying glass and become a loyal customer.

But then I should have stopped there.

The thing is, I needed to find out if there were independent ratings or blog post reviews for Sun & Earth.  That’s when my Google search led me to GoodGuide, which will now be my go-to site for verifying green claims. GoodGuide scientists rate products on a 0 to 10 scale for health, environment, and social impact. They gave Sun & Earth  just 4’s for environment because of some ingredients and company practices. Off S & E’s label and website, I would never have guessed that.

Surprisingly, the cleaning wipes for Green Works, which is owned by Clorox received 7.5. Seventh Generation also scored well97-PRODUCT_01-754_814-1392313962869.  GoodGuide also gave high ratings to products from a soap company called Dr. Bronners, which, as I’ve since learned from my daughter, anyone who leads a green lifestyle knows about.

Dr. Bronner’s makes something called Castile soap: 41pLIP1lq8L-1._AC_US160_a plant-based soap that is safe for the planet and can be used for 14 different household and personal hygiene tasks, according to the company. Here’s the good news, (although my husband may not agree,) with Dr. Bronner’s we could potentially jump way ahead in terms of making our lives greener. We could use Dr. Bronner’s to wash our dishes, scrub our cars, clean our floors, do our laundry, wash our hands; all things for which we currently use products that are not environmentally friendly. We could even brush our teeth with it (although the thought of that makes me gag a little).  But what I’m most excited about right now is that I can use Dr. Bronner’s to make a solution for my own reusable cloth cleaning wipes. YAY! Click here to find out how.

So, I am officially turning in my sleuthing cap and leaving the green detective work to GoodGuideUnknown. I’d rather dress up in goggles and a lab coat anyway! For next week: DIY cleaning wipes, unless of course, I blow myself up.