Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Green Bathroom II: The Gleaming Bowl

Green cleaning is gentler to the environment and ourselves, but of course we draw the line at germs. Why is it so hard to identify eco-friendly products that disinfect or sanitize? The reason: They aren’t labeled as doing so. A Greenerpenny reader asks, “Could you please recommend a way to clean and disinfect the toilet bowl? I can'tseem to find a cleaner in the (green cleaning) market that specifically does that.” In what might be called the Disinfect Disconnect, products that claim to be disinfectants or sanitizers must be registered as such by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). However, EPA’s requirement that registered products be tested on animals prevents some companies from making the claim, says Martin Wolf, director of product quality and technology at Seventh Generation. “Our tests showed that our Natural Citrus Bathroom Cleaner with hydrogen peroxide kills germs, but we don’t test on animals,” Wolf says, noting that the company had unsuccessfully petitioned the EPA. Hydrogen peroxide itself is registered by the EPA as an antimicrobial pesticide--for use on hard surfaces in home bathrooms and killing anthrax bacteria, among other tasks. See in some tooth whitening gels, hydrogen peroxide is also less toxic than caustic chlorine bleach(sodium hypochlorite), which is commonly used as a disinfectant but can burn eyes, skin and respiratory membranes and harm aquatic ecosystems. To answer our reader’s question, Seventh Generation Natural Citrus Bathroom Cleaner is a good, easy green way to disinfect the bathroom. So is white vinegar, which in a Purdue University test was rated among “most effective” substances for reducing microbe populations in the bathroom--a category that also included chlorine bleach. See Back to the bowl, Martin Wolf recommends a “two-step method”: Use a toilet bowl cleaner and brush to scrub off stains and mineral deposits; Spray toilet seat, rim and lid with a cleaner containing hydrogen peroxide, let stand for five minutes, and wipe off with a sponge. For products, go to, Greenerpenny adds: You can scrub the toilet with baking soda and wipe surfaces with white vinegar. Wolf says there’s no reason to disinfect the toilet bowl below the water line. This makes sense to me. Once you scrub it, all dislodged residue, including any microorganisms, will be flushed down the drain. But you can add a little non-chlorine bleach or white vinegar to freshen the water in the bowl if you like.

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