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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

An Old Fashioned Green Spring Clean

Air Date: Week of

Steve Curwood speaks with Living on Earth's own news editor Constantine von Hoffman about environmentally friendly and low impact ways to welcome back the spring around the house.


CURWOOD: It's Spring, and we've been bottled up in our houses all winter long. It's time, now, to shake out the carpet, scrub extra hard in some places that may not have seen the light of day in recent months. But you know, some ways of doing that are a lot easier on us and our families and the earth than others, and with us now to sort all this out is Living on Earth's news editor and sanitary engineer, Constantine Von Hoffman. Now, what's the first thing you found out that's important for spring cleaning, from your research?

VON HOFFMAN: Well, I found out that the best thing you can have is a good grandmother-in-law.

CURWOOD: Really.

VON HOFFMAN: My grandmother-in-law gave me this fine 25th anniversary cookbook from Edmund Lutheran Church in Maple Grove, Minnesota. In it are not only more recipes with more brand name items than you can shake a stick at, but also ways to clean your house that are not only environmentally friendly but cost conscious.

CURWOOD: All right. So, being public radio, what's the cheapest way to clean up with spring cleaning?

VON HOFFMAN: Open your darn windows, okay? Let all that good air in, let all that stale air, that dusty, polluted air that's been building up in your house over the winter, let it out.

CURWOOD: Okay, now I assume that we're going to have to do a little scrubbing? So what are the right chemicals? You brought in some; this looks like a conventional toilet bowl cleaner, and I see on the back of it, it says that it's got -- ugh, hydrochloric acid. What did the grandmothers say I can use instead?

VON HOFFMAN: Well unfortunately the grandmothers recommend elbow grease, not chemical warfare. They say use a little vinegar, a little water. That'll keep your toilet bowl clean. But you have to do it often.

CURWOOD: Now what about -- you know, the clogged drain? We've got these power chemicals that will, you know, get right through the grease in my drain.

VON HOFFMAN: Well, you know why we have those clogs? 'Cause you're like me: lazy. If you regularly dump a cup of salt, a cup of baking soda and one kettle of boiling water down your drains, that's going to take care of most of the build-ups. Now, if you get a nasty, ugly grease build-up, something that just won't budge otherwise, it's time to go to the snake and we're not talking, oh, a python. It's time to turn to mechanical measures; that will clean it right out of there.

CURWOOD: Okay, now what about polishing up the furniture in the house? We have some lemon oil furniture polish; this stuff looks great. It says, "contains petroleum distillates; harmful or fatal if swallowed. Keep out of reach of children." What do the grandmothers say I can use instead?

VON HOFFMAN: You know, they liked this stuff until they realized they were going to have to use it on their own dining room table. At which point they said uh uh. And they recommended using a little olive oil, a little lemon juice, mix them together, spread them around. That will keep all your furniture nice and polished. You can get a nice vinaigrette going, too, if you have the time.

CURWOOD: Now, one last area of the elbow grease department, the windows. Spring time comes, it's time to clean them. It's okay to use the blue stuff or the green stuff, right?

VON HOFFMAN: It's okay, but a) it's expensive. This stuff runs a buck forty-nine for a quart. And b) it's not very effective. Consumer Reports did a study that said water is just as effective as half the stuff that's on the market today.

CURWOOD: Well, I guess I'm a cheapskate, I guess I should try water. But if I don't want to use just water, what can I use to --

VON HOFFMAN: Well, if you want to improve on the water, add some vinegar to it.

CURWOOD: What about getting my woolens ready to be stored all summer? You know, the moths will get in there and I'll come and it'll be confetti instead of a sweater.

VON HOFFMAN: Actually, the moths won't do it. It's their kids, the larvae. You know what trouble kids can be. If you take your woolens, toss them in the dryer, run it for about 10, 20 minutes, that will bake out the larvae nice and good. Then you want to take your clothes, put them in a good, tight plastic bag, add a lot of cedar, you know, so you get that good cedar aroma out of it. And then in the fall, you'll have nice complete clothes again.

CURWOOD: Without toxic mothballs.

VON HOFFMAN: Without toxic mothballs.

CURWOOD: The green way to get into Spring from Living on Earth's own Constantine Von Hoffman, our news editor and now chief sanitary engineer. See, there's another promotion.

VON HOFFMAN: Oh thanks, Steve, I appreciate that. Could you pass the sponge?



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