How to be green while you clean: CoolMom demo, recipes & all

(From left, Juliann Everett, Lisa Olson, Natasha Hissong, Tauna Evans)

Story and photos by Mary Sheely
Reporting for West Seattle Blog

Michelle Gaither wants you to know that sometimes being environmentally friendly isn’t about what you do, but what you don’t do.

“I don’t know much about oven cleaning in general because I don’t really do it,” she says only half-jokingly to a group of women from West Seattle and beyond who’ve come to High Point’s Bridge Park Retirement Living for a green cleaning demo. Gaither is a technical research coordinator for the Pacific Northwest Pollution Prevention Resource Center (PPRC) and also a member of the group CoolMom, a growing Seattle-based nonprofit that “unites moms to take action on climate change through education, lifestyle change, and advocacy,” which organized the event.

Lifestyle change is the goal of the demo (which happened this past Wednesday night). Gaither explains what she means about cleaning her oven:

(Story continues – with recipes and links too! – after the jump)

Instead of using chemical cleaners that could find their way into the surrounding air and water, she lines the bottom of her oven with foil. She advocates against washing children’s clothes after every single wear “unless you have really dirty kids.” Instead of using a corrosive drain cleaner, she prevents clogs with a simple hair-catcher for the drain. And she warns against phthalates, common additives linked to a growing number of health issues.

Speakers include Casey Coulombe, the CLEARCorps Team Coordinator/Supervisor for the American Lung Association.

He recommends against using air fresheners that require burning or contain artificial fragrances.

Sara Hanson-Andreu (above), Community Relations Manager for Bridge Park, says that she wanted to host the green-cleaning program in part because High Point is itself a green community, and Bridge Park follows those guidelines “including low-flow toilets, because you all wanted to know that,” she says.

Janice Sullivan (above), owner of the environmentally friendly Perfect Touch Cleaning Service, hands out blocks of cedar for attendees to use as air fresheners and moth repellent. “Part of my service is to (not just) do the housecleaning, but to educate everyone, too,” she says.

But making green cleaning products is why we’re here, so the group decamps to three tables to mix up homemade surface scrubs, glass cleaner, and disinfectant with little more than baking soda, water, and essential oils.

The “recipes” are easy and straightforward, and there’s no penalty for going a little over or under on any one ingredient – an extra drip of peppermint oil won’t spoil your counter scrub, and if you accidentally add too much baking soda, a little more water is an easy fix. Soon recycled jars and spray bottles are filled with concoctions to try at home.

“It’s one thing just to hear about green cleaning products, but when you actually start mixing them up and taking them home, it’s a lot more empowering and fun,” says West Seattle CoolMom Natasha Hissong.

Tarah Helliwell, the mother of a three-year-old, made the drive from the University District to mix up her green cleaners. “I want to use less toxins both around the house and when I’m disposing of them. I want to use things that are better for my son,” she says.

Mardy Maskill traveled a considerably shorter distance – she’s a Bridge Park resident.

She says, “I just thought, well, I’d come and see what it was about.” (In the photo, she’s checking out essential oils.)

That’s the thing about CoolMom, says Laura Elfline, currently the West Seattle Chapter Coordinator.

“You could almost say ‘cool families’ because we do have dads on our email lists and families with two gay fathers. We have some grandmothers on our list. The membership is not just moms,” Elfline says. “And the moms that are on our list vary greatly from stay-at-home moms with small kids to those who have teenagers and work full-time. I have twin three-and-a-half-year-old girls and I run two businesses.” (One of those businesses is Mighty House Construction, a sustainable construction company Elfline recently started with her husband, and that has grown to the point that Elfline is looking for a CoolMom to take her place as West Seattle Coordinator.)

The big challenge is going to come when everyone goes home to try out their newly made cleaning products – how well do they work? Gaither says, “I’ve been using vinegar and water with a dash of dishwashing detergent as a glass and counter cleaner for five years, and I love it. The soft scrub I haven’t used that much, but I’m going to give that a whirl in my sink. Vinegar’s supposed to be good for mold and mildew. … You know, some of the things you can do is to avoid using cleaners in the first place. That’s really simple.”

That doesn’t translate to “have a dirty house.” As Elfline says, “One of the things I always ask myself is, ‘Do I really need this, or is there an alternative that I already have at home that I can use?’ or maybe I can just get away with using water and a damp rag. One of the greatest takeaways that we want people to get is that there are decisions to be made about how you clean your house, not just how you were taught to clean your house. You really have the power to make a difference in your consumption and your participation in the cleaning-products industry.”

The West Seattle CoolMom group meets the first Wednesday of each month from 7-8:30 pm, most often at C&P Coffee, 5612 California SW. To learn more about attending, starting your own CoolMom group, and get tips on simple things you can do at home to save energy and reduce your carbon footprint, visit Other sponsors of Wednesday’s event included American Lung Association of Washington, PCC Natural Markets (WSB sponsor), and Perfect Touch Cleaning Service.


Make Your Own Green Cleaners
Want to try your hand at green cleaning? Here are the recipes from the Green Clean event, along with helpful links supplied by Michelle Gaither.

All-Purpose Cleaner (Great for Glass)
1 cup white distilled vinegar
1 cup water
2-4 drops essential oil (optional)
2 drops liquid dish detergent

Creamy Soft Scrub
I cup baking soda
1/3-1/2 cup liquid castile soap (to desired consistency)
2 tsp. vegetable glycerin (acts as a preservative)
2-4 drops essential oil such as lavender, tea tree, rosemary or other (optional)
Mix together and store in a sealed glass jar; shelf life of two years.

Natural Disinfectant Spray
1 cup distilled water
1/2 cup white grain vinegar
4 drops lavender oil
4 drops tea tree oil

Non-Toxic Toilet Bowl Cleaner
1 cup borax
1/2 cup white vinegar
Flush to wet the sides of the bowl. Sprinkle the borax around the toilet bowl, then drizzle with vinegar. Leave for several hours before scrubbing with a toilet brush.


Green Cleaning Recipes from the American Lung Association of Washington (PDF)

Green Cleaning Recipe Cards from (PDF): Color or Black and White

Women’s Voices for the Earth Safe Cleaning Products Initiative

Host your own green cleaning party with help from

Learn more about phthalates

3 Replies to "How to be green while you clean: CoolMom demo, recipes & all"

  • Heidi Siegelbaum January 11, 2010 (8:51 am)

    What a great story! Nothing like practical rubber hits the road advice. Most people are absolutely shocked when they find out what is in commonly purchased consumer products and the work that Michelle and her colleagues are doing go such a long way toward helping consumers make healthier, more cost effective choices.

    These issues are also particularly important for kids and more mature adults who may be more susceptible to the effect of chemicals. Cheers to all.

  • Mary T January 12, 2010 (4:53 pm)

    Hi, this is Mary, the story author. Can I just say, I used the all-purpose cleaner today (yes, I made my own, too) and was amazed at how fast it cut through the grease on my stove. I should have listened to my mom! : D

  • Bill January 13, 2010 (10:59 am)

    “Michelle Gaither wants you to know that sometimes being environmentally friendly isn’t about what you do, but what you don’t do.”

    Exactly….if you really care then ‘don’t’ have more than one child.

    Coolmom is an oxymoron!

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