It might not seem like baking soda could do the work of bleach. But Alaska Community Action on Toxics suggests that there are effective alternatives to potentially harmful household cleaners. The Anchorage-based nonprofit’s Green Cleaning Service disinfects a growing number of the city’s homes and businesses with everyday items like vinegar solution and vegetable oil soap — and they say they’re getting good results.
It’s like any other cleaning service – three workers holding buckets and spray bottles and sponges are going through a large house top to bottom, making the place sparkle. But here, there is no bleach, no chemical soaps, no electric-blue toilet bowl cleaner.
Green Cleaning Service manager Antonio Huaiquivil says his team uses nontoxic products to clean everything from the bathroom to the kitchen, from metal to glass. Sometimes the products they use are kind of surprising. If you wanted, you could eat them.
“You are able to clean just with salt,” Huaiquivil says. “And the other thing we use is lemon juice. Some metal you can clean with lemon juice, pure lemon juice, have a really really nice result.”
Alaska Community Action on Toxics, or ACAT, has been running a Green Cleaning Service for the past two years, with clients across Anchorage. ACAT claims some chemicals included in very common household cleaning products — even cleaning products labeled “green” — have been linked to health issues such as cancer, asthma, and reproductive ailments.
But all of the products the Green Cleaning Service uses — whether they’re homemade or purchased — are verified by ACAT’s in-house research on toxic contaminants.
ACAT’s provides free estimates, and asks for a suggested donation of $25 per employee per hour of cleaning. The program also offers tips for creating your own nontoxic products.
“We try to teach and change a little bit the lifestyle,” Huaiquivil says. “That’s the main goal. Janitorial services — you can find many janitorial services. The idea to create this kind of mission-related business is to change a little bit the lifestyle in people and show them that they can have alternative.”
Before coming to ACAT, Huaiquivil was the Refugee Services Coordinator at Catholic Social Services, helping newly arrived immigrants find jobs in Anchorage. The Chilean expat now employs two refugees from Somalia. Since the business has grown a lot, especially in the last few months, he plans to hire a third person.
“I know the need of people who are newcomers in United States and I want to give an opportunity to them,” he says.
One of the team’s clients, Melissa Fouse, says she appreciates that aspect, too.
“What I like about it is I’m supporting a nonprofit that’s doing important work,” she says. “And I’m providing employment to people who need it.”
Plus, she says, she prefers having fewer chemical smells around. “I’ve had plenty of bleach exposure in my life and I’m done with that!”
Huaiquivil points out that winters are long here, and most Alaskans spend a lot of time indoors, increasing exposure to potentially harmful chemicals. Plus, what is flushed down the drain can end up affecting watersheds and wildlife, too.
“If we try to be environment friendly,” Huaiquivil says, “I believe that’s the best thing you can do in your life and I’m really proud for that.”
And maybe it’s just nice to know that if you’re looking for a lemon-scented cleaner, you could try… a lemon.