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Grandma’s Spring Cleaning: Dirty Secrets of the Clean Modern Home


The thought of spring cleaning brings back memories of a top to bottom, labor intensive, white glove worthy house cleaning marathon. My grandmother-in-law, who bless her soul is independent at 94 years of age, still takes down the drapes every spring to be cleaned and changed. Up until a few years ago all of her windows inside and out got a top to bottom washing (frames, glass, screens and all) shiny enough to make most auto-detailers blush. Blooming daffodils, buds on trees, the return of the song birds are all components of spring that I welcome every year. Allergies and spring cleaning are not.
I will admit that I am the type of mom who prides myself on spending quality time with my kids over my mop, but let’s face it grandma may have something to emulate. Those spiders making webs in the corner behind the sofa and dust mites sleeping on the ceiling fan blades really should find their way out, and spring is as good a time as any to do it. But what I truly emulate about great-grandma’s spring cleaning isn’t the white glove results she gets, but the way that she gets her house that way.

You see when grandma was young and took on the chore of cleaning her house, she didn’t have the chemical detergent concoctions that most of us clean with today. Her cleaning products were not only effective, but they were naturally derived, eco-friendly, non-toxic substances; that this “green hip organic mom” emulates. So as I am doing my share of spring cleaning before summer officially arrives, I decided to take a closer look at the difference between the products my grandmother used and the ones my mother introduced me to growing up.

One reason that I have grown to appreciate the products my grandmothers used is the simple fact that all of my grandmothers out lived my mothers. You see, in my life, my mom, my father’s second wife, and mother-in-law were all out lived by their mothers. I have watched my grandmothers persevere through the final years of their lives with the pain of loosing their daughters too early to cancer. Through taking a closer look at the differences in products used by these generations, I hope to shine a light on some of the links to cancer in our current household environment.

Before doing this, it is important to highlight a big unknown in this comparison. Since the explosion of the petro-chemical industry after WWII, tens of thousands of chemicals have been developed and are used every year in household products. Many of these chemicals have not had substantial testing before coming to market. Many of the same cleaners now used in industry can be found in household products. But unlike industrial cleaners, American household cleaners have no legal requirement to label products with ingredient lists. As a result, consumers have limited access to information on exactly what is in their household cleaning products.
With this in mind, let’s take a look at what we are able to uncover about the cleaning products used across these generations.

Task: Cleaning the windows
Grandma’s cleaner: Vinegar and water are a great solution for streak free windows from a nontoxic edible formula.
Mom’s cleaner: Ammonia, the base of modern glass cleaners, is considered a high health hazard by the US Department of Labor because it is corrosive to the skin, eyes, and lungs. It is highly flammable and creates a toxic gas when mixed with chlorine. Since manufacturers are not required to include all of the ingredients on labels, consumers can unknowingly be in contact with a multitude of undisclosed chemicals.

Task: Souring sinks, tubs, pots & pans
Grandma’s cleaners: Bon Ami For 120 years, Bon Ami has claimed that they are the cleaner that “Hasn’t Scratched Yet”. This gentle abrasive uses a soft mineral, feldspor in combination with basic soap to sour effectively. Baking Soda, a.k.a Sodium Bicarbonate has been used for years to clean everything from teeth to pots and pans.
Mom’s cleaner: Comet Active Ingredient: Sodium dichloro-s-triazinetrione dihydrate 1.2% Toxicity: very strong irritant; corrosive to mucous membranes; allergic contact dermatitis. 98.8% undisclosed ingredients

Task: Washing clothes
Grandma’s cleaner: Soap is made by a fairly simple process called saponification, in which oils and lye mix and become soap. Soap has been used safely for centuries dating back to the Romans. Borax is made of a naturally occurring mineral comprised of sodium, boron, oxygen and water. 20 Mule Team® Borax has been used for decades and does not contain phosphates or chorine.
Mom’s cleaner: Laundry Detergent was first developed in Germany during WWII due to a shortage of oil needed to make soap. The development of petrochemicals allowed synthetic chemical surfactants to be combined with penetration builders creating a laundry detergent free of soap. The ingredients in modern laundry detergents are mostly unknown to consumers due to slack labeling requirements. You will find many warning and caution statements required by law. Concerns include cancer causing contaminants and hormone disrupting phthalates.
This is a short list which simply skims the surface of choices we make on a daily basis inside our own homes.

The fact is that we do have the freedom to make choices about what products we use. New products are emerging as safe, effective alternatives utilizing green chemistry. One such product is a probiotic household cleaner, which utilizes good bacteria similar to those in our digestive track to kill bad bacteria and eat away soap scum, mildew and stains. This is a wonderful alternative to antibacterial solutions which kill both good and bad bacteria contributing to the rise in resistant bacteria. As we look more closely at nature for our solutions, more exciting developments such as this are sure to transform the choices the next generation makes to handle spring cleaning.

For more information on probiotic household cleaners go to:

Bio Pure Probiotic Household Cleaner


Author: Better Choices

I am a mother, wife, dancer who works as an organics and eco-business consultant. My passion is to find healthier, sustainable options in everyday living and share them with others. I believe that individuals can be agents for change in both the quiet privacy of their homes, and in the noisy public forums of communities and the world at large. I created Better Choices to be a positive agent for change, hopefully inspiring others to do the same. I offer education through seminars, blogs, social networking, and private home MiSpa Parties. I provide support to a team of Miessence Independent Representatives who are fulfilling their own goals through building businesses to support a sustainable future.

2 thoughts on “Grandma’s Spring Cleaning: Dirty Secrets of the Clean Modern Home

  1. I reposted this blog in memory of Aase who passed away this week at 98 years of age. Her ability to manage a household, and keep a light-hearted disposition in any situation, I will always admire.

  2. very informative and educational Valerie. And of course, it was nice to hear a little about Grandma Aase too. Thanks for writing this and re=posting.

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