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BG24 Newscast
September 29, 2023

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Natural cleaning products are safer for students, Earth

Lose those antibacterial cleaners, caustic drain cleaners and chlorinated cleansers, advises Ellen Sandbeck, author of three books on nontoxic living.

The synthetic chemicals they contain can be harmful to your family and to the planet, warns the rural Duluth, Minn., woman whose latest book, “Organic Housekeeping,” arrived in bookstores across the country earlier this month.

Sandbeck, 47, an organic gardener, graphic artist and worm farmer, advocates cleaning with natural products. Some are old standbys on grocery store shelves, including 20 Mule Team Borax, Bon Ami cleanser, Murphy Oil Soap, Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps and Mrs. Stewart’s Liquid Bluing.

Common household staples – such as white vinegar, salt, baking soda, ketchup and olive oil – also can be used for cleaning.

Baking soda, for example, will absorb odors, shine silver and pretreat laundry. White vinegar, straight or diluted with water, can clean toilets, floors and sinks. No odor is left and because there’s no residue, no rinsing is needed.

Sandbeck’s interest in nontoxic living started in sixth grade when she attended an environmental education class. Her aversion to chemicals gained fuel in the 1990s when she discovered she had a sensitivity to the chemical fragrances in laundry soap.

Sandbeck avoids not just scented products, but those with petroleum, pesticides, antibacterials and those with excessive packaging.

“It’s trying to do as little damage to yourself and the environment as possible,” explains Sandbeck, who shares a home with her husband, Walter, 17-year-old daughter Ariadne and two dogs. The couple’s 20-year-old son, Dmitri, attends the University of Chicago.

Sandbeck is not alone in her philosophy. Green Mercantile, a natural products store in Duluth, has seen growing interest in its expanding line of natural, biodegradable cleaning products.

Dianna von Rabenau, a longtime manager of the Whole Foods Co-op before becoming co-owner of Green Mercantile, said the trend that started with organic food grew to include environmentally safe cleaning products about four years ago.

“It’s not just about what people put in their bodies anymore, it’s about their environment as well,” she said.

Today, the store carries laundry soap, dish detergents, bathroom cleaners and stain and spot removers by manufacturers such as Restore, Seventh Generation, Ecover and Earth Friendly.

Sandbeck’s latest book is packed with tips and ideas on Earth-friendly home management, including getting organized, food safety and routine maintenance.

With a comprehensive index, it serves as a handy reference book on solutions to household problems and cleaning tasks.

Like her earlier books on nontoxic gardening and housekeeping – “Slug Bread ‘ Beheaded Thistles” (Broadway Books, 2000) and “Eat More Dirt” (Broadway Books, 2003), Sandbeck’s latest book is written with a healthy dose of humor. She makes no claims to having a pristine house. Rather, she tries to work with what she has, avoid extra work and stay clear of toxic chemicals.

While Sandbeck buys natural, biodegradable dish detergent and laundry soap from the local co-op, she often creates homemade cleaners out of simple household ingredients.

For an all-purpose spray cleaner, Sandbeck keeps a spray bottle with white vinegar and another with consumer strength (3 percent) hydrogen peroxide.

A spray from each on countertops and other kitchen surfaces, followed by a quick wipe, cleans and disinfects without leaving a residue, she says.

For sluggish or clogged drains, Sandbeck stays clear of chemical drain cleaners and instead uses a long skinny brush to keep drains clear above the J trap.

For more serious clogs, she uses an old-fashioned plunger or drain snake.

“Don’t let stuff go down the drain,” Sandbeck says.

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