Besides carbon footprint, energy usage, reducing/reusing/recycling, going green also means trying to move away from harsh and potentially harmful chemicals. This is especially true when speaking about detergents, soaps, stain removers and other household chemicals.
“Big chemical”, like Monsanto and Proctor & Gamble have developed these extravagant and complex chemical cleaning agents for household use, making them extremely cheaply and selling them at exponential profit. In reality most stain removal methods and soaps can be made from very basic and safe materials. The British TV show “How Clean is Your House” makes a habit of using materials like lemon juice, vinegar and baking soda to clean extremely dirty kitchens, bathrooms, etc. They could use “Mr. Clean” with its myriad of unpronounceable chemicals, but they don’t, and it works just fine… You will notice that any potent acid (like vinegar/lemon juice) and clean tough surface stains very well, baking soda handles odors and acts as an abrasive for getting out muck (think tiled counter tops, etc).
Making the decision to move away from harsh chemicals is not a difficult one, there are many ways to research and come up with options to avoid chemical detergents. The stain-centric site StainDiva has several different options for removing stains from clothes without chemicals, include a corn-starch method for removing armpit stains that I actually used and it was quite useful, worked wonders actually.
After doing some research you will find that most of the homemade/chem-free methods share the same characteristics. Acid helps to disinfect and dislodge stains off surfaces. Powders like corn starch or baking powder can get into fabrics and absorb grease. Oils act very much like soaps (in fact soaps are simply oils that attract other oils and dispels them). I have a friend who uses olive oil to wash her hair sometimes, and reports that it works really well (although I’m not sure if she uses Extra Virgin or not )
So making the move over to chem-free agents isn’t that hard. I think the easiest place to start is with surface cleaners. These don’t usually need to be as harsh as they are, and you can get by with using some white vinegar in place of your bleach or Mr. Clean. Keeping this in the cabinet under the sink is easy, takes only a few minutes of prep work and you won’t really notice a difference.
Making a change to your laundry habits may be more difficult. We do laundry often and even if we don’t think about it we become accustomed to our very own methods, even if it’s just use Tide detergent or something like that. Switching over to a more neutral and less harsh method might take some getting used to, but there are some options that have been popping up lately. Once of my favorites is “Seven Generation”, a series of environmentally friendly cleaning products that cites an old American Indian proverb that one should think of how ones actions affect seven generations into the future. Something I think is extremely pertinent to todays world, where we can’t seem to think even 10 years into the future.