There are many times when, on a trip to the grocery store for some household staples, I begin to think about all of the various ingredients within the products that I’m buying. This is not just the food I’m talking about, but the many household cleaning items that we use on a daily basis, such as for wiping down our kitchen counter tops, cleaning out our microwave, and overall disinfecting of cabinets, counters, door knobs, and other items that are touched constantly. Once you begin to realize the amount of objects that are touched by your family members on a daily basis, you will start to understand my concerns about the ingredients going into them.

One of the best ways to limit your intake of these potentially harmful ingredients, at least on a cleaning basis, is to create your own cleaning solution! Mixing up your own home cleaning shampoo not only reduces the amount of toxic products used in it, but also helps put your mind at ease, knowing your family is not being exposed to any sort of harsh chemicals, toxins, or other pollutants. These potentially harmful residues can build up over time, leading to issues with both home and health.

This recipe for a great cleaning solution was shared from Chem-Dry Carpet Cleaning.

For a great cleaning solution, that can be used on a wide variety of objects from surfaces, to carpets, to furniture, to clothes, is as follows:

Eco-Friendly Home Cleaning Shampoo

Use this shampoo anywhere you would use a normal cleaning product such as a fabric cleaner, a disinfecting cleaner, or just a “remove the dirt” cleaner to ensure that you are providing your family with the healthiest household environment.

  1. Distilled White Vinegar – It’s important that you choose white vinegar – NOT apple cider vinegar – because the various coloring and/or dyes within apple cider vinegar can lead to major problematic stains on furniture, upholstery, and other fabrics.
  2. Mild Detergent Soap such as Dawn or Dial are typically the best choice to combine for your solution. You don’t want a harsh cleaner with a lot of solvents and potentially harmful ingredients, so it’s best to stick to something relatively low-key and toxin-free. I prefer using a non-scented or very light “linen” scent, feel free to create solutions with scents like apple or cinnamon, however.
  3. Essential oils are added into my cleaning solutions if I want a scented product to ensure that there are no harsh chemicals while still leaving a very pleasing smell. Many individuals don’t like the smell of vinegar (myself included), so the essential oils are great for covering this while not being too powerful.
  4. The last ingredient – water! Pure, clean water. In general, a good mix is a cup of vinegar, a tablespoon or two of mild detergent soap, about 5-10 drops of essential oils, and 2 cups water. This is the recipe and portions I use when filling up a re-usable spray bottle.

If you want a greener way to clean your carpet, how will you know when you find it? After all, there’s no single quality or ingredient that qualifies a cleaning solution as “green.” That said, there are some qualities that you’ll want to watch for, as well as others you may prefer to avoid. Let’s start with the positives – terms such as biodegradable, plant-based, or renewable.

When most people think of the term, biodegradable, they’re thinking of a substance that can be broken down into natural materials without causing harm. But this isn’t exactly true. Biodegradable is actually a broader term that includes substances or objects that can be broken down by bacteria or other living organisms; many substances we wouldn’t want to handle fall within this category, like lye or ammonia or methane. In short: It’s usually good to be biodegradable, but read the fine print.

Plant-based cleaners are growing in popularity, and you won’t have to go far to find solutions with ingredients such as lemon, palm, or coconut oil. Each of these ingredients are natural, renewable, and biodegradable (in the best sense of the word); these are all pluses. That said, each of these ingredients can be (and are) mixed with additives that are less eco-friendly; these can include dyes, artificial fragrances, sulfates, or other chemicals. Being plant-based is a great start, but you’ll again need to read the fine print.

Renewable is another encouraging term. If something is renewable, it can be grown – just like the corn, lemons, sugar, or other crops that make up plant-based cleaners. Renewable excludes substances that can’t be grown – particularly unfriendly substances based on petroleum. The key here, as above, is to make sure that your renewable cleaning solution doesn’t also contain additives that are not as kind to the environment.

When it comes to removing carpet stains, many homeowners have tried do-it-yourself solutions – and some of them work pretty well. White vinegar and water can be an effective combination. Others also employ ingredients such as baking soda, borax, or salt to tackle carpet stains, with good results.

Cleaning an entire carpet with do-it-yourself solutions is more difficult to do, but some professional cleaners offer solutions that are eco-friendly. Olympia’s Meridian Chem-Dry, for example, uses carbonated water as the primary ingredient. Chem-Dry’s flagship carpet cleaning solution, The Natural, uses only ingredients found in nature; as a result, their carpet cleaning solution is safe for both children and pets. (But don’t forget: Just because something is natural doesn’t mean it’s safe.)

You know that biodegradable, plant-based, and renewable are good terms to see when you’re looking for a green cleaning solution. What terms do you want to avoid? Phosphoric acid and chlorine are two common ones. You’ll also want to avoid carpet cleaners that include isopropanol, butoxyethanol, or ethanolamine; the former ingredient is harmful to breathe, while the latter two can irritate the skin.

Even if you’re dedicated to the idea of being eco-friendly, it can be difficult to find effective cleaners for every occasion. Not every cleaner you use will be perfect. But take heart. The more we buy green products, the more companies will work to perfect them. Maybe someday, every product will be green. Until then, we’ll do the best we can – starting with the way we clean our carpets.

If you’re shopping for new windows, you probably already know that energy efficiency is one of the biggest selling points for replacement windows. That’s the way it should be. Efficient windows can regulate temperature and reduce the need for heating and cooling, rewarding you with lower utility bills. But before you’re ready to replace your windows, you’ve got a question: How do you know which windows are the most energy efficient?

First, you’ll want to look for windows with the blue ENERGY STAR seal. On average, ENERGY STAR-certified windows (and doors and skylights) can reduce your energy bills by 12%. If you replace old windows with new ENERGY STAR-certified models, you’ve already taken a huge step in the right direction. But there’s even more you can do to find the most efficient windows.

If you see an ENERGY STAR seal on a window, you’ll know that the window meets ENERGY STAR’s requirements for U-Factor and Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC) for your climate zone. Understanding what these terms mean can help you find even more efficient windows.

U-Factor refers to the degree to which a window allows non-solar heat transfer; examples include heat escaping through your window on a cold winter evening, or heat seeping in on a hot summer day. Energy-efficient windows reduce U-Factor by employing multiple panes of glass, sandwiching spaces filled with gases that don’t conduct heat very well, such as argon or krypton.

The less heat transfer, the lower the U-Factor. Energy-efficient windows should have U-Factors of .30 or less.

SHGC refers to the fraction of solar heat that passes through a window. The ideal SHGC varies, depending on the climate. Energy-efficient windows adjust SHGC by employing glazing, low-E coatings, and tints. In warmer climates, blocking the sun’s heat is preferable to letting it in, so the ideal SHGC values are lower. In cooler climates, collecting the sun’s heat is best, and ideal SHGC values are higher.

The Department of Energy has categorized the US into four different climate zone, ranging from the warmest zone, the Southern zone, to the coolest, the Northern zone. In the Southern zone, an ideal SHGC value is 0.25 or less; in the Northern zone, where it’s better to let in more heat, the ideal SHGC value can be 0.42 or even more.

Replacement windows from Renewal by Andersen are an excellent example of what can be done to increase energy efficiency. Renewal’s high-performance windows employ low-E coatings, which block out heat-producing infrared light while allowing natural, visible light to pass through. Their windows also employ multiple panes of glass; in between the panes is argon – a gas that conducts heat as two-thirds as well as the air we breathe.

It’s worth noting that there’s at least one other important factor in the energy-efficiency of replacement windows: Installation. In order to work as intended, windows need to be installed correctly and precisely. If any corners are cut – say the window doesn’t perfectly fit the opening, for example – then performance can be compromised. If you’re set on having the most energy-efficient windows you can, be sure that the quality of your installer is every bit as good as the quality of the window itself.