The kitchen is one of the hardest-working rooms in the house – so how do you keep it clean while staying green?
How we act in the kitchen can be contradictory. While we try to fill our fridges with organic, pesticide-free produce, we smear cleaning chemicals all over our food preparation areas, ready to ingest with our next meal.
We can’t help but be paranoid about germs and microbes lurking on our chopping boards, kitchen cloths and work benches – no one wants to eat gastro-inducing bacteria with their dinner. But instead of trying to kill every germ with disinfectant, it’s worth considering removing germs with hot, soapy water and wiping the surface dry with a tea towel.
The National Health and Medical Research Council recommends this cleaning method in its guidelines for childcare centres. And a Swinburne University of Technology study has found that using plant-based non-hazardous detergent in warm water is as effective in reducing surface bacteria as disinfectants.
Try these other tips for a clean kitchen that won’t hurt the planet:
It’s the kitchen sponge that commits the crimes against kitchen hygiene, with some alarmist studies showing an unclean sponge contains more bacteria than a whole bathroom. While it can be tempting to soak the sponge in chlorine bleach, there is a simple eco-alternative. Steam will kill bacteria, making the dishwasher the perfect place to disinfect not only your pots and plates, but also the household sponge. Oh, and run the dishwasher with a cup of vinegar instead of detergent once a month or so to keep it in sparkling shape.
There’s nothing like a shiny, silvery sink to delude you into thinking your kitchen is cleaner than it really is. To get the sink really clean without leaving an invisible layer of toxic residue, fill it up with hot water and let it sit for 20 minutes to an hour before draining and wiping with a small amount of bicarbonate of soda. For an extra shine, wipe with white vinegar, which is great for removing stains, dissolving scale and soap scum and polishing metal.
It’s the spatters and grime from preparing food that make the kitchen that much more difficult to clean than the lounge or a bedroom. While a chemical army is not necessary, most of us will need a cleaning product that can dissolve grease and lift away dirt. Using hot water with a squirt of plant-based detergent should be strong enough to cut through most kitchen grease. If you need to go the extra mile, there are plenty of kind-to-the-planet all purpose surface cleaners available (see opposite page).
Avoid caustic drain cleaners, which can pollute the waterways. Regular drain maintenance is better than waiting for disaster to strike. Pour a half a cup of bicarbonate of soda followed by half a cup of vinegar down the drain once a month or so. Rinse with hot water. When a drain is sluggish, see if a plunger will unclog the problem. If that doesn’t work, buy a biological product such as Actizyme, which eats the organic material causing the clog.
Look for cleaning products that list all their ingredients. In general, plant-derived ingredients are better for the environment and human health than petroleum-based ones. Try these:
This is one of the best products for cleaning sinks and stove tops. Use an old plastic container with holes poked in the lid (try a yoghurt container) to sprinkle small amounts of bicarb on the surface. Remember – never use too much of a good thing! Less than a teaspoon of bicarb is all you will need to clean a kitchen sink or stove top. Using too much bicarb creates unnecessary work wiping away chalky residue.
This one smells disinfectantly delicious, no doubt because it uses essential oils of lime, lemon, orange, lemongrass, mind, eucalyptus and pine. The New Zealand manufacturers say the cleaner has been dermatologically tested to be kind to skin, plus it carries NZ’s Environmental Choice tick.
The bad news is that this is made in America and imported to our shores, but the good news is that this is one of the few dishwasher detergents that is phosphate and chlorine-free. This detergent relies on acrylic polymers and a low-sudsing surfactant to disperse dirt and prevent water spots. It claims to have a green apple fragrance, but is not especially enticing to sniff.
No one seems to have succeeded in creating a dishwashing detergent that isn’t poisonous, and this New Zealand-made powder is no exception. However, it isphosphate, ammonia and chlorine-free. Ingredients listed are palm and coconut surfactants, silicates, carbonates, citrates, sodium meta silicate, cellulose, fatty acid derivative, citrus oil and protease. It’s super-concentrated, so you need only use 15 mL per load.
The smell and colour of this product are deliciously enticing and the Australian manufacturers say the fragrance is derived from natural and renewable sources. This is a concentrated dishwashing detergent (10 mL per wash) to use in a sink rather than a dishwasher.
This article was first published in G magazine.