If we are to believe social media, and the perfect pictures we often see on Instagram. We all live in squeaky-clean, shiny homes and wear whiter-than-white, fresh-smelling, soft-to-the-touch clothes. To achieve this ideal, we are persuaded that we need a whole host of cleaning liquids, powders and potions. Our homes are under constant chemical attack. And given the recent COVID-19 pandemic, keeping our homes ‘germ free’ is a full time gig. But can we use more natural born cleaners instead?
Harmful Chemicals Cleaners
Many of the ingredients in conventional cleaning products have a nastier side. Every year, millions of gallons of toxic chemicals are dumped down the drain, ending up in rivers, seas, polluting water and harming fish and marine life. Many products release gases called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can cause skin, eye and airway irritation, headaches, dizziness and nausea, and they also pollute our indoor air quality. So, can we keep our homes clean without wreaking havoc on the environment or damaging our health? Can we find more natural born cleaners to help us?
Speaking to some Hong Kong women, the answer seems to be a resounding “yes”. Hong Kong mum Laura Paul has made a concerted effort to clean her house in a more eco-friendly way. “I bought an eco-friendly cleaning spray, just to try, and found it worked better than the chemical-based cleaners – and it was much more gentle on my nose and skin when cleaning the house. When cleaning my house now, I mostly use microfibre static cloths with a bit of water if needed. Our family definitely benefits in many ways. Most importantly, there is less exposure to chemicals by using natural cleaning products.”
Natural Store Cupboard Solutions
One Hong Kong mum who is fully versed in the use of natural born cleaners like, vinegar and baking soda is mum-of-two Barbara Ashbrook. Barbara explains,
“I suppose I have always used eco-friendly products on my home since my parents made it part of their (and our) day-to-day life. When I moved to Hong Kong, I could not find certain products and I was not familiar with brands from Asia, so I went back to my grandmother’s recommendations. I now use white vinegar, baking soda, hydrogen peroxide and lemon juice to tackle most jobs. Fanda pharmacy is getting very suspicious about our excessive use of hydrogen peroxide! We don’t exclusively clean our home in an eco-friendly way, but we try to be very conscious about it. We would like to teach our children about keeping the environment clean, and the impact that ‘regular’ products might have on it. We often point out the sewage in Hong Kong’s harbour and the dead fish that we watch while we are floating from atop the Star Ferry.”
Unlike Barbara and Laura, mum Therese Tee does not use either eco-friendly or natural born cleaning products. Instead, she uses water. Therese, an ENJO (chemical-free cleaning system) consultant, explains:
“I have been using ENJO fibres for the past four years – they have all been certified and tested to remove 99.9 per cent of all dirt and bacteria – and just water. It is the only truly green way to clean your home chemical-free because it uses only water. There is no need to rinse any detergents or chemicals. Other so-called ‘environmentally friendly’ cleaners take up to 28 days to break down in the waterways, and, at the end of the day, they are still chemicals. Would you let your kids drink it? Not to mention the ridiculous amount of rubbish generated from these cleaning products. I saw how my eldest daughter Brianna’s dry skin improved. Children are so susceptible to all the residue from chemical cleaners and from breathing all the VOCs in these cleaners. Many adults also complain about the smell of bleach and cleaners making them nauseous. Daily exposure to these toxins that many voluntarily buy and bring into their homes really isn’t healthy.”
Cutting down on – or kicking – our conventional chemical cleaner dependency could have many benefits. Using more natural born cleaners would give a much-needed helping hand to our beleaguered environment and our homes may become healthier spaces. But you don’t have to go completely cold turkey, switching from industrial strength bleach to old-school baking soda overnight. Barbara concludes, “If every family did just a little bit, the future environment for our children would look brighter.”
Greening Your Cleaning
Barbara Ashbrook offers the following tips to keep things spick-and-span, using just a few simple household ingredients, such as baking soda, white vinegar and hydrogen peroxide.
• Clean Windows: Put equal parts vinegar & water in a spray bottle. Simply spray on, then dry with a soft cloth.
• Remove Bathroom Mould: Put 3 parts vinegar & 2 parts water in a spray bottle, spray onto mould, leave for half an hour & rinse.
• Polished Floors: Mix half a cup of hydrogen peroxide with five litres of water for a mild floor wash.
• Furniture: Dust with a damp cloth.
• Polish Wood: Give it a coat of beeswax when spring cleaning.
• Unblock Drains: Mix 1 cup of salt & half a cup of baking soda, pour down the drain, then pour down a kettle full of boiling water.
• Burnt Baking Trays & Saucepans: Put a layer of baking soda & hydrogen peroxide on the tray and let it sit for half an hour. Add more baking soda over the top, then wait a bit longer. When you scrub it off, it will look like new.
• Polish Sterling Silver: Put a layer of aluminium foil in the bottom of a small bowl, cover with 1 cup of hot water & 1 tbsp each of salt, baking soda & dishwashing detergent. Let the jewellery sit on the foil for 10 minutes, then rinse in cool water & dry with a soft cloth.
• Bathroom Smells: Mix a paste of baking soda & lemon juice (consistency should be like a pancake mix). Spread the paste over the toilet right down to the floor, leave for 15 minutes, then spray with white vinegar and let it fizz. Once it has stopped fizzing, wipe with a damp cloth.
• Soften Clothes: Use white vinegar instead of fabric conditioner. Barbara says, “It does the same job as shop-bought fabric softener, & it doesn’t clog the washing machine. I was told this by a top maintenance guy years ago, & I have used it ever since. The clothes won’t smell of vinegar.”
• Stains on White Fabric: Soak fabric in 3% hydrogen peroxide before washing.
In the past few years we have seen an emergence of eco-friendly stores popping up all over Hong Kong. Many are offering solutions on how we can be more environmentally conscious about the products we buy, how we shop and how we can make small changes. Check out a few for yourselves.
*This post was originally written in 2017 and updated in 2021.