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How to be clean and green

Parties promote natural, make-it-yourself alternatives to store-bought cleansers.

By Lisa SchroederContributor to The Christian Science Monitor / October 23, 2008

Party guests whip up a baking-soda-based cleanser for kitchen use.

Lisa Schroeder

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East Islip, N.Y.

On a brisk fall evening on New York’s Long Island, party guests gather in Barbara Weir’s home to chat about the news and whip up batches of eco-friendly cleaners.

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Green-cleaning parties – where guests create quick, easy, and cheap environmentally-friendly household cleaners in a festive setting – is a fast-spreading grass-roots effort pioneered by Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE), an advocacy group based in Missoula, Mont.

The party concept started when WVE put out a report in 2007 called Household Hazards in which they examined more than 200 chemical ingredients in commercial cleaners. The report found that many of those chemicals were harmful to the environment as well as “linked with asthma, infertility, birth defects and reproductive harm,” says WVE spokeswoman Ali Solomon.

The group decided the best way to reach consumers about this issue and offer alternatives to store-bought cleaners was through a fun party. WVE spent months researching do-it-yourself green cleaners (they tested and perfected the recipes with professional cleaning companies), created a party kit, and launched their first party on March 20 this year.

The party idea quickly spread by word of mouth and there now have been more than 450 nationwide.

At Mrs. Weir’s in East Islip (after snacks and a DVD on commercial cleaners), the guests were ready to make ecocleaners. They gather around a kitchen countertop lined with natural ingredients. Baking soda, distilled white vinegar, vegetable glycerin, castile soap, olive oil, and essential oils would soon become all-purpose cleaner, soft-scrub, and furniture polish. These would be decanted into the old spray bottles and glass jars that guests had brought.

After looking over recipe cards, everybody starts measuring, stirring, and exclaiming how easy and fun it is. “That’s it?” says Kate. She’d just stirred together equal parts vinegar and water, and was done making the all-purpose spray. Kate tries it on a bathroom mirror, as Weir jokes that she’s free to try it on all the glass doors as well.

Some of the chemicals of concern in the WVE study, commonly found in laundry detergents, all-purpose sprays, and disinfectants, include: alkyl phenol ethoxylates (found to harm aquatic animal and plant life), monoethanolamine, ammonium quaternary compounds (both linked to asthma), glycol ethers and phthalates (linked to fertility and reproductive problems).

Greg van Buskirk has been a Clorox scientist since 1980. “I do believe that misinformation is causing people more concern than is justified by the actual data,” he says. Clorox rigorously tests all its products, says Dr. van Buskirk, so “the risk of people getting something like cancer or birth defects is zero.” Also, “there’s “no significant impact on the environment due to bleach usage,” he says.

But these commercial cleaner studies only look at single household use, says Ann Blake, an environmental and public health consultant. The chemical ingredients are cumulatively dangerous, she says. “What the fish and wildlife are getting is a constant dose of [chemicals] at low levels,” says Dr. Blake. “And that’s what’s causing the environmental disruption.”

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