Friday, April 30, 2010

Chlorine-free laundry whiteners, brighteners

Chlorine bleach is too strong for our own good, and the planet's. It is highly caustic, meaning it can burn our skin, eyes and respiratory tracts, and capable of releasing nerve-damagine chloramine gas if mixed with ammonia or acidic substances. It harms aquatic life and reacts with decaying organic matter, such as leaves, to produce toxic trihalomethanes in our drinking water. Enough, already! You can use a commercial bleach labeled chlorine-free and based on hydrogen peroxide or oxygen (see list, below). Or D.I.Y. with some old-fashioned basic ingredients. For stain removal, I recommend presoaking the item in 2 tablespoons washing soda (a mineral powder) mixed with a gallon of water in a pan, or you can add a half cup to a washer load before you start it. A half cup or so of either mineral-based Borax, or lemon juice or white vinegar in a gallon of water will also brighten and help lift stains. Use gloves to protect skin when handling these ingredients, which are caustic, though not as strong as chlorine. Remember to hang laundry in the sun, a powerful whitener and disinfectant, plus you'll save 723 lbs. of carbon dioxide emissions and at least $50 per year on your energy bill by hang drying only half your loads.

For more green living tips and statistics about how small things add up to big changes, see my book, Do One Green Thing; for new lifestyle and product news, come to .

Look for the label "Chlorine-free" on bleaching products from the following makers:

Arm & Hammer
Clorox 2
Country Save
Seventh Generation

Monday, April 19, 2010

Top green liquid dish soaps

A botanically- rather than petroleum-derived dish soap is gentler on hands, eyes and lungs, and aquatic life it eventually touches after going down the drain. I have vetted the ingredients in the recommended products on this list, and found them to be free of the "Lose It" ingredients one should most avoid in liquid soaps: APEs and NPEs, fragrance, sodium laureth sulfate and other ethoxylated ingredients, and the antibacterial chemical triclosan. Meaningful third-party certifications are noted; in a heartening trend, most of these products have received the Environmental Protection Agency's Design for the Environment (DfE) seal.

CLOROX GREENWORKS: DfE; in tests by the Organic Consumers Association, it had no detectable traces of 1, 4, dioxane, a suspected carcinogen that can be released as a byproduct in certain manufacturing processes.

DR. BRONNER'S CASTILE SOAPS certified fair trade, USDA certified organic plant ingredients, 100% post consumer recycled packaging. No detectable dioxane in OCA tests.

ECOS (EARTH FRIENDLY PRODUCTS) DfE Although I don't like grapefruit really, I like their gentle grapefruit dish liquid.


MIESSENCE MIENVIRON DISHWASHING CONCENTRATE (with certified organic plant ingredients, ranked a top 10 for health by GoodGuide


SEVENTH GENERATION leaping bunny, and the greenest bottles after Dr. Bronner's, with up to 90% PCW for dish soap and aiming for 100%.

More information on choose it/lose it ingredients for ever category of home product can be found in Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth Through Simple, Everyday Choices, by GreenerPenny editor Mindy Pennybacker.

For a list of DfE certified products, go to

Get updates of new enviro studies and green products, and enter free raffles for green products and publications, at

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Green Cleaning without Greenwashed Toxicants

With Earth Day right around the corner, television and radio stations are rife with advertisements for companies touting what they're doing for the environment. And while there are a number of companies making genuinely green products certified as nontoxic by independent third parties (like Martha Stewart’s new Clean and, surprisingly, Clorox's GreenWorks lines of cleaners, both brands registered with the EPA's Design for the Environment program), there are still quite a few companies trying to greenwash people into believing that potentially toxic products are green.

Take, for example, Simple Green. The company has long advertised its neon-green all purpose cleaner as green, but a recent test by the Environmental Working Group found that it contained 93 air contaminants, including 2-butoxyethanol (the cleaner's main ingredient), which can cause severe respiratory irritation and has been dubbed a possible carcinogen by the EPA. EWG also detected formaldehyde, another carcinogen, and acetaldehyde, another respiratory irritant.

Even if you don't immediately feel the ill affects of these cleaning product chemicals, others in your home might. Children are perhaps the most vulnerable because their smaller bodies absorb more chemicals, pound for pound, than an adult's, but older adults are at risk, as well. A recent study from South Korea found that the volatile organic compounds (chemicals that exist in products but evaporate into air during use) could impair the lung function of older adults and possibly even exacerbate heart conditions.

So if you're looking to Do One Green Thing this Earth Day, learn how to make your own cleaning products! As long as you're the chemist, you can control what goes in, and what you inhale, while you're cleaning.

The easiest cleaners to make involve nothing more than ordinary white vinegar, baking soda and water. Vinegar and baking soda have been found to kill strains of mold and mildew, and vinegar is a mild disinfectant. Both can be mixed with water and sprayed on countertops. For a basic all-purpose cleaner with a little more oomph, mix 2 cups of baking soda with ½ cup of a liquid plant based soap, like Dr. Bronner's, and add three to four drops of vegetable oil. It's a good soft, non-scratching scrub for scouring countertops as well as your bathroom sink.

For dusting surfaces, invest in a microfiber cloth. Popular in Europe and getting popular here in the U.S., these marvelous cloths are made from synthetic fibers split into hundreds of smaller, thinner, "micro" fibers that capture dust so securely that even shaking the cloth won't release them. They work best when you spray a little water on the surface—no chemicals are needed. When the cloths need to be cleaned, you just boil them (laundry detergents can break down the tiny fibers and make them less effective). But do be alert when shopping; cloths are often made with different fiber lengths for different purposes, like general purpose cleaning, window washing, and dusting. A window-washing cloth won't work well as a dust cloth, so make sure you buy what you need.

See the Washington Post staff review of several green cleaners they tested, and their top picks (including sticking with white vinegar and baking soda for the bathroom!)

--by Emily Main

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Greenest Reusable Bottles, Plastic and Non-


These light but sturdy bottles, all made to be reused, will not leach toxic Bisphenol-A (BPA) or phthalates.*

Lightweight, Unlined Stainless Steel (R)

Earth Lust
Eco Canteen
Ecousable (F)
Enviro Products
Guyot Designs
Kleen Kanteen
Thermos (I)
ThinkSport (I)

Glass (R)

Living La Vida Verde
Reduce Your Footprint (RYF)

Lined Aluminum (R)

Laken **


BPA-free Plastics

Cambelbak Better Bottle, TM
Katadyn, PET, and (F) at Cabela’s, com (F)
Nalgene Everyday and Wide Mouth, TM
Nalgene Wide Mouth HDPE (R )
Novara Flowers widemouth bottle, at
Rubbermaid (PP) Chug Sport, Sippin' Sport ***
Sawyer (PET)
Somafab Crystal (PP)
Tupperware (PP) all kids' bottles; company is phasing out PC.

*Under normal use. Plastic bottles may leach chemicals if heated.
**Old aluminum bottle epoxy linings contained BPA. Bottles made since August 2008 have BPA-free poly linings.
***Choose Rubbermaid Chug & Sip bottles made with PP, not the PC ones

PET: Polyethylene (#1), most-recycled plastic
HDPE: High-Density Polyethylene (#2), widely recycled
PP: Polypropylene (#5), not widely recycled
TM: Eastman Tritan copolyester (#7)
PC: Polycarbonate #7, made with BPA.
PS: Polystyrene #6, not recycled; can leach carcinogenic styrene
PVC: Polyvinyl chloride (#), not recycled, can leach toxic phthalates and lead

F: Bottles with filters also available
I: Insulated with glass or stainless

Excerpted from my book Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth Through Simple, Everyday Choices (St Martin's Press, 2010).

For more green news and product tips on food, cleaning, personal care, plastics and more, come to our home page,, where you can also send me an email and ask me questions.

Mindy Pennybacker

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Are plastic produce bags safe & green?

No plastic is truly green, in my opinion.

Most produce bags, as opposed to deli wraps, used in conventional stores are made of #2 high density polyethylene plastic (HDPE) (safeway, they’re marked in chasing arrows) or #4 low density polyethylene (LDPE) plastic. HDPE #2 and LDPE #4 are conventional plastics made from petroleum, a non-renewable resource. Deli counter wraps are usually #3 polyvinyl chloride (PVC) which can leach hormone-disrupting phthalates into your food.

Green supermarkets such as Whole Foods also use #7 PLA bioplastic bags made from plant sources, such as corn. These are different than #7 polycarbonate (PC) plastic, which is made with Bisphenol-A (BPA).

Neither #2, #4 or #7 PLA plastics have been found to leach chemicals into food. They can be reused so long as they haven't collected food residues where bacteria grow.

Unfortunately, no plastic bags can be put in municipal recycling bins, incidentally, even in those that accept #2 milk jugs and shampoo and detergent bottles.

But many Whole Foods stores take all plastic bags back for recycling.

As an alternative, I recommend Green Depot’s reusable produce bags,, or the many choices at

Wednesday, April 7, 2010



The products in the following list are made of plastics that have not been found to release the worrisome chemicals Bisphenol-A (BPA) or phthalates, both linked to abnormal development, or carcinogenic styrene into food, heated or not.

Top plastics to avoid are Polycarbonate, with the recycling # 7, made with BPA, PVC, #3, made with phthalates, and polystyrene #6, made with styrene.

Quick check: What’s the number? Turn it upside down. Good and bad plastics are usually identified by a recycling code number* stamped on the bottom inside the chasing arrows triangle. No number? Check the the list below. Not there? When in doubt, don’t buy!

*See the Choose It/ Lose It plastics by recycling numbers, below, excerpted from my new book, Do One Green Thing. Note: #7 is a catch-all code that encompasses several different plastics.

Caution: Never microwave in plastics, even those labeled “microwave safe.” Studies have shown that any plastic can release BPA at high temperatures.


Choose Reusable Food Ware made of #5 Polypropylene (PP)

While not widely recyclable, PP is safely reusable.

Quick check: Is it clear or cloudy? Polycarbonate (#7PC) is mostly clear and transparent; #5 PP has a milky, opaque look.

GP recommends:

Recycline food containers, dishes, kichenware and cutlery (all #5). A GP tippety-top green pick, Recycline uses 100 percent recycled #5 plastic, including yogurt containers you can drop off at many Whole Foods stores.

Also PP are
Martha Stewart Collection plastic food containers in handy sets, sold at Macy's.

Lunchbox/ picnic lidded sandwich & food containers from Reusable Bags and Laptop Lunches

Gladware containers and lids (all).

Ziploc containers and lids (all)

Farberware/ Frye Citrus, Fresh Keeper and Monterrey containers & lids; leak-proof seals use BPA-free #1 polyethylene (PET)

The Container Store Klip It and Tellfresh (#5)

Rubbermaid (mostly all #5), a GP tippety-top pick for disclosure of its materials, the company provides a list of its BPA-free products here.

Don’t choose: Rubbermaid’s Premier, Stainshield and Elegan containers, and Chug and Sip bottles with the #7 (PC) on the bottom, or EasyFinds containers, which had trace amounts of BPA and phthalates in Good Housekeeping tests**, but lids were fine.

Tupperware (mostly #5 or #7 (PES); leak-proof seals use #1 PET) . Tupperware’s new product line, released in April, 2010, contains NO PC, hurray! Its microwaveable products are now #7 PES, which is PC-free.

Don’t choose: Tupperware’s PC #7 Rock n’ Serve microwave line and Elegant serving ware. Although no longer being produced, they may still appear on store shelves or at yard sales.


Caution: Cling wraps on most deli counter meats & cheeses are #3 PVC, which contains toxic phthalates. The following are made of #4 LDPE (low-density polyethylene), a plastic that has not been found to leach BPA or phthalates.

Natural Value Plastic Wrap and Sandwich Bags

Best Yet Clear Plastic Wrap

Glad Cling Wrap and Freezer Storage Bags (most)

Don’t choose: Glad Press n’ Seal and Food Storage Bags, contained trace amounts of BPA and phthalates in GH tests. **
Saran Cling Plus
Ziploc Food Storage and Freezer Bags
Hefty Baggies

Reynolds Clear Seal-Tight plastic wrap


(from Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth through Simple, Everyday Choices)


#1 PET or PETE (polyethylene terephthalate) containers are the most recyclable, but not so healthy to reuse. Studies indicate that with worn or heated PET containers may release di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, linked to hormone disruption and cancer.

#2 HDPE (high-density polyethylene) is widely recyclable.

#4 LDPE (low-density polyethylene) is used in some food wraps and sandwich bags.

#5 PP (polypropylene) is not generally recyclable, but safe to reuse.

#7 PES (polyether sulfone) is BPA-free, according to Consumer Reports. ***

#7 PLA (bioplastic made from corn, sugarcane, etc.) is not recyclable in most cities, nor is it compostable except in industrial composters using high temperatures.


#3 PVC (polyvinyl chloride, vinyl), releases carcinogenic dioxins during manufacturing and can leach hormone-disrupting phthalate plasticizers. PVC is used in many cling and stretch food wraps and films.

#6 PS (polystyrene), that white spongey stuff of takeout coffee cups and clamshells, can leach styrene, a possible human carcinogen, when heated or in contact with fatty foods. #7 (miscellaneous), includes polycarbonate plastic, which contains hormone-disrupting bisphenol A.
#7 PC (polycarbonate), clear plastic popular in sports bottles & food containers, is made with and has been found to release BPA.



Excerpted from my book Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth Through Simple, Everyday Choices (St Martin's Press, 2010).

For more green news and product tips on food, cleaning, personal care, plastics and more, come to our home page,, where you can also send me an email and ask me questions.

Mindy Pennybacker