Monday, May 4, 2009

Experimenting with Green Carpet Cleaning and Dish Washing

A couple weeks ago I was on a house cleaning spree and decided that the time had come to wash our filthy cream-colored carpets. We rent a Rug Doctor steam cleaner from the grocery store once or twice a year to get all the dirt and grime out of our carpets.

In the past, we always unquestioningly purchased several bottles of Rug Doctor carpet cleaning solution to use with the steam cleaner. But this time around, I got to wondering if there are alternatives to using this expensive, unnatural cleaning solution. Of course, I went straight to Google and started looking. I found several websites that recommended the use of a combination of liquid Castile Soap (i.e. Dr. Bronner's), vinegar and boiling water, among other things.

So after work on Monday night, I swung by Pic 'n' Save and rented the carpet cleaner, this time without buying the accompanying cleaning chemicals. My husband raised an eyebrow, but I convinced him to give my homemade solution a try. I took a plastic pitcher and filled it with a 50/50 mix of water and white vinegar, then added a few squirts of the almond-hemp Dr. Bronner's liquid castile soap I had bought a year ago and hardly used. The soap coagulated a little when it came in contact with the vinegar and cold water, but when we poured boiling water from our tea kettle over it and mixed it vigorously with a wooden spoon, it combined again. We used that solution, along with very hot water, in the steam cleaner.

The results? Beautifully clean carpets! My husband's skepticism faded when he tried cleaning a swatch with some leftover Rug Doctor solution and found that it was no cleaner than the carpet cleaned with my homemade solution. I also noticed, after the carpet dried, that it was extra soft. All in all, I'd say the experiment was a success.

I was so excited about this experience that I did more googling and discovered that a similar solution of vinegar, water and castile soap can be used in one's dishwasher. This was great news because I have been disappointed with the results of the eco-friendly dishwashing detergent I've used, which, with our puttery old dishwasher, leaves a grainy white residue on all of our dishes (especially inside our cups and mugs -- yuck!). So today I filled a repurposed 1-litre soda bottle with a mixture of vinegar, water, 3 Tb of peppermint castile soap (the more economical version sold by Trader Joe's) and 2 Tb of lemon juice. I poured it in the detergent dispenser and started a normal load.

As soon as the load finished I opened it up to air dry and was mortified to find a streaky, cream colored mess on most of the dishes. I actually washed the same load again, this time without any soap, and the residue remained! I guess this is the reality of experimentation. You win some, you lose some. Thankfully, when you do lose, you learn. So it's not a total loss.

I pondered this dish washing disaster for a few days. So I splurged and bought a bottle of Seventh Generation's liquid dishwasher soap, which did a nice job cleaning the dishes. However, it's expensive, and again, not very efficient when used with my dishwasher.

I've read mixed things about whether it's more eco-friendly to hand-wash or use a (high efficiency) dishwasher, so for the last year I've flip-flopped back and forth between the two options (well, sort of -- I don't have a high efficiency dishwasher).

Truthfully, with the way I wash dishes it's probably more efficient for me to hand wash them rather than use the dishwasher. I don't like dried food residue on my "clean" dishes, so before I put them in the dishwasher, I rinse them so thoroughly that they're practically clean before I load them in the machine. This is almost as time-consuming as hand-washing; however, when I hand-wash, the "clean" side of my sink is small enough that I have to wash, towel dry and put away and then wash, towel dry and put away more just to do one meal's worth of dishes. This is very slow-going with one person, and I can't always ask another person to tag team with me when I wash dishes.

This made me realize that I basically use the dishwasher as a drying rack -- I rinse, load, run, and then air dry, keeping the dishwasher open and letting the dishes sit until they are mostly dry. So I had an idea: why not hand-wash the dishes and the put them on the dishwasher racks to dry? Leave the dishwasher open until the dishes are dry, and then put them away? Then, when I hand-wash, I don't have to keep stopping when the clean side of the sink is full to towel dry and put away to make room for more dishes.

I tried this technique and it worked great! Now my dishes are clean, I'm not using electricity to run the dishwasher, I'm saving time on hand-washing, and not feeling guilty about having a dishwasher that I don't use. I'm not sure if this is a permanent solution, but for now it's working well for us.


  1. We have carpet & I hate it! Carpet is bad for indoor air. We can't afford to tear it out & put in wood floors yet. So, I'm going to rent a carpet cleaner now that you have given me the recipe for a natural carpet cleaning solution & clean it! Thanks! BTW, my parents make their own laundry detergent. I can get the recipe if you are interested.

  2. I read your blog and enjoy reading. thanks to share with us.

  3. Good idea.i like your idea. thanks to share.