Environmenally friendly bathroom cleaning products?
June 27, 2006 10:14 AM   Subscribe

Are there environmentally friendly ways of cleaning the bathroom, especially to remove mildew from the grout around the shower?

I've been switching over to more environmentally safe ways of cleaning the apartment, which at this point are basically hot water, Dr Bronner's soap, and Simple Green. While I'm fine cleaning the bathroom sink and floor with castille soap, I'm still using bleach to get rid of the nastiest mildew on the shower tiles, and bleach-infused commercial products to scrub the tub, and I'd like to find an alternative.

I'm not at all well-versed in the household chemistry that many eco-cleaning sites seem to require (hard vs. soft water, for example) and words like "Borax" freak me out a bit, so be gentle and go slow.

If it matters, my main concern is not breathing in toxic fumes, and a huge secondary concern is not dumping toxic chemicals into the environment. I'm willing to pay for ready-made products, but I'd prefer not to spend $20 on a froofy toilet cleaner with imported Castilian bergomat.
posted by occhiblu to Home & Garden (20 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
A solution of vinegar & water might work, especially in the toilet. Baking soda can be made into a paste with water for scrubbing surfaces in the bathroom and kitchen.
posted by tastybrains at 10:23 AM on June 27, 2006

Shaklee has some amazing environmentally friendly cleaners

They're all non-toxic, biodegradable and highly concentrated - 160z of Basic- H makes 90 gallons of cleaner. I've been using them for years. You really can't beat them.
posted by cubedweller at 10:24 AM on June 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

Chlorine bleach diluted in water (see the instructions on the bottle for appropriate ratios of bleach to water) is a safe and effective disinfectant. You can add detergent to your bleach solution to clean and disinfect at the same time.

In Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House, Cheryl Mendelson writes that chlorine bleach is "recommended by the USDA and the FDA because it does not accumulate and leaves behind no toxic residue. It quickly breaks down, leaving ordinary salt and water behind."

Just don't mix chlorine bleach with ammonia or acids to avoid producing toxic fumes. If you're unsure whether a product contains ammonia or acids, don't mix it with bleach. Also, to ensure effectiveness, use exactly the recommended ratio of bleach to water, and keep the surface wet with bleach/water solution for at least five minutes before rinsing and drying.

The Mendelson book gives detailed, clear recommendations for how and when to use specific cleaning agents. I find that bleach, detergent, water, ammonia, and vinegar are all I need for 99% of my cleaning. I like them because they are simple, proven, well-understood chemicals.
posted by mbrubeck at 10:37 AM on June 27, 2006

I'm willing to cede the more restricted definition of "toxic" to you mbrubeck; perhaps "harsh" would have been a better word choice. But my goal is to stop using bleach entirely.
posted by occhiblu at 10:57 AM on June 27, 2006

(Thank you for the info, though; I'm glad to see that I'm not nearly doing the damage I thought I was! I'd just like to not have to deal with harsh chemically-smelling things when cleaning, and I'd like not to have big jugs of potentially poisonous things under the sink.)
posted by occhiblu at 11:02 AM on June 27, 2006

Method Home has some oif the stuff you're looking for, available online and at Target usually. Sun & Earth are another option, as are Green Earth Office Supply, although they may be more industrial than you want.

Disclosure: I found these products using the SustainLane e-Directory; SustainLane is my employer. If you want to expand your eco-friendly product base, they're a good resource. (From my understanding of the rules, this is a kosher link, yes? I'm kinda new here.)
posted by andifsohow at 11:14 AM on June 27, 2006

posted by desuetude at 11:24 AM on June 27, 2006

Vinegar and water should work. Try adding some of tea tree oil to the mixture. Actually, I think Dr. Bronner's has a Tea Tree Oil soap, but it might be too mild for cleaning your tub. If you need to scrub, try baking soda or Bon Ami cleanser.

Also, do you have enough ventilation in your bathroom? There shouldn't be that much mold and mildew. I find that running the exhaust fan while showering and afterwards helps keep my bathroom cleaner.
posted by hooray at 11:25 AM on June 27, 2006

I did read the previous thread; I'm trying to get grout-cleaning recommendations specifically.

There's not tons of mildew, just along the bottom tiles down at the tub, which stick out a bit and tend to catch the water (which also gets trapped a bit by my shampoo bottle sitting at the corner).
posted by occhiblu at 11:27 AM on June 27, 2006

...which is another reason why keeping huge jug of bleach for dealing with just one line of tiles in my apartment seems silly.
posted by occhiblu at 11:28 AM on June 27, 2006

I keep the mildewy spot in my bathroom under control w/a spray bottle of peroxide. Of course, if you don't use peroxide for anything else, you're still left w/a bottle of something with only one use.
posted by desuetude at 11:32 AM on June 27, 2006

Seventh Generation is pretty easy to find at supermarkets (around here, anyway).
posted by amro at 12:10 PM on June 27, 2006

A shower squeegee and 2 minutes of time when you finish a shower will essentially stop the problem. Mildew/mold needs water to thrive, and the squeegee sends 95% of the leftover spray water down the drain immediately, allowing the bathroom to dry quickly. Also, if you take your towel/robe (or whatever you use to dry yourself) to another room to dry, the humidity load in the bathroom drops much faster. I have a peg on the back of my closet door in my bedroom for this purpose.
posted by paulsc at 2:33 PM on June 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

Just to raise your household chemistry IQ, hard water refers to water with minerals in it. Water from underground wells and springs are great examples of hard water. Some municipal water systems also use hard water. Hard water commonly leaves deposits of "scale" in your shower and sink, which you need to scrub hard to remove. Also, in hard water, it is a little more difficult to get a good lather going with soap/shampoo. Health-wise, hard water has lots of essential minerals in it, and is sometimes infused with flouride to aid in tooth health.

Soft water is water without minerals in it. This is much more common in area where water needs to be extensively purified from its source, such as near a coast. For example, sea water is a common soft water source. It will be distilled to separate the salts and minerals and leave just the water. This water is usually more "pure" but does not have the essential minerals, flouride, and other goodies that hard water does. Soft water usually results in huge amounts of later - a little soap goes a long way! You won't get the same amount of scale buildup with soft water and it is usually easier to clean showers and bathrooms.
posted by galimatias at 3:46 PM on June 27, 2006

One of my books suggests using a toothbrush and lots of Bon Ami cleanser for problem mildew, and then turns the focus onto preventing mildew, for instance getting a squeegee to dry the shower and tub after showers.

Another book has a spray recipe: 2 Cups water and 2 teaspoons tea tree oil. Spray on problem areas, and do not rinse. Also a mildew soft scrub: Borax, enough liquid soap or detergent to make a paste, a few drops of tea tree oil. Mix together, until the consistency of frosting. Scoop the mixture onto a sponge, scrub and rinse.

Making sprays with peroxide or vinegar also comes up a lot in these books.

Borax is no big deal! You find it in the laundry aisle, it's often used as a "brightener" and added to detergent in the wash. I use it to make all-purpose cleaning sprays, laundry cleaning powder and liquid, powder cleanser for countertops, etc. If your skin is sensitive it's best to use rubber cleaning gloves when mixing up recipes. Definitely need to if you're using essential oils.

Mildew can be a pain in the ass. We have some caulking that goes sometimes pink, sometimes dark and discolored no matter what we do, have actually recaulked a couple of times and it always comes back. Not even sure what it is! I'm probably down to trying the squeegee thing myself.
posted by overanxious ducksqueezer at 4:33 PM on June 27, 2006

Arrgh, should add that you definitely don't want to get borax in your eyes, or ingest it, and you want to keep it out of reach of kids and pets. It's also a great ingredient in toilet bowl cleaners.
posted by overanxious ducksqueezer at 4:49 PM on June 27, 2006

What about those products made from special fibres which require only water to clean? I use a couple of products from Enjo Australia, and there must be equivalent products overseas. They're expensive, unfortunately, but they do work surprisingly well. I mainly use the kitchen glove and haven't used the bathroom one for mildew so I don't have direct personal experience of that.
posted by andraste at 6:25 PM on June 27, 2006

Borax isn't actually a particularly toxic substance. I mean, you shouldn't eat the stuff, but for household use it's not nearly as much of an irritant as bleach or ammonia.
posted by desuetude at 6:29 PM on June 27, 2006

Grout mildew in my experience comes off with the scrubby side of the pad, or a toothbrush, with or without soap. But for general bathtub stuff, I vote Bon Ami (haven't researched its enviro- properties myself but it came recommended). It's also really good for bathtub soap scum. Citra-Solv is my second favorite for bathtubs. But again, I find soap scum way more of an issue than mildew, so ymmv.
posted by salvia at 7:34 PM on June 27, 2006

Thank you all. I'll probably start with the hydrogen peroxide (since it is listed in a bunch of the products various people linked to), and if that doesn't work then Bon Ami (which Google does turn up as a fairly environmentally safe cleaner), and then if that's still not working maybe I'll venture into the terrifying world of Borax.

And it looks like I may need to go ahead and invest in some tea tree oil, too.

Thanks again for all the help!
posted by occhiblu at 9:33 PM on June 27, 2006

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