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Clean Wisely View Comments

Christopher Heffron

I’m a clean freak. There, I said it.

I buy hand sanitizer in bulk, I’m usually within arm’s reach of disinfecting wipes, and I have a deep fondness for color-safe bleach. I spend the excruciating flu season, or as I call it, “the dark days,” wishing I were in a Hazmat suit. Friends and family have gibed me about this for years, though my ears are deaf to it. This is how I’m built. But am I a smart clean freak? Until recently, no.

Perusing the ingredients of my kitchen, bathroom, and laundry cleaning supplies, I discovered words I didn’t think semantically possible. Let these roll off your tongue: diethylene glycol; benzyl ammonium chloride; nonylphenol ethoxylate. Never heard of them? You should. We all should. They’re ingredients found in most cleaners that we employ regularly. And they could be making us sick.

Ammonia, found in most window cleaners, has been linked to kidney and liver damage. The ingredients found in toilet bowl cleaner can be harmful or fatal if swallowed and can damage skin and eyes. In fact, in 2006 the American Association of Poison Control Centers reported that over 120,000 children under 5 were involved in incidents involving everyday household cleaners.

But there are alternatives for the health-conscious consumer.

When You Clean, Go Green

The Almighty Lemon

Mix lemon juice, vinegar, and water for kitchen sinks and countertops.

Mix lemon juice and baking soda to make a cleaning paste. This is good for cleaning bathtubs and bathroom sinks.

Cut a lemon in half. Sprinkle baking soda on the cut portion to clean plates.

—Tips by Sarah Aguirre

Do your homework

Go to to learn about the components of cleaning products and the risks associated with them.

Go retro

Remember when our grandmothers swore by the cleaning authority of vinegar? They were right—and ahead of their time. Vinegar, a natural byproduct of fruits, vegetables, and grains, is nontoxic, noncorrosive, and biodegradable. It’s also effective.

Make your own cleaner

There are dozens of Web sites—such as—that provide recipes for homemade cleaners.

Shop smart

Don’t want to fuss with making your own? Look into companies such as Seventh Generation that offer biodegradable, phosphate- and chlorine-free ingredients in their products.

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Catherine of Alexandria: According to the <i>Legend of St. Catherine</i>, this young woman converted to Christianity after receiving a vision. At the age of 18, she debated 50 pagan philosophers. Amazed at her wisdom and debating skills, they became Christians—as did about 200 soldiers and members of the emperor’s family. All of them were martyred. 
<p>Sentenced to be executed on a spiked wheel, Catherine touched the wheel and it shattered. She was beheaded. Centuries later, angels are said to have carried the body of St. Catherine to a monastery at the foot of Mt. Sinai. </p><p>Devotion to her spread as a result of the Crusades. She was invoked as the patroness of students, teachers, librarians and lawyers. Catherine is one of the 14 Holy Helpers, venerated especially in Germany and Hungary.</p> American Catholic Blog We exist because God is infinitely beautiful, infinitely good, and overflowing with a love that seeks to share itself. When he made us and placed us in this glittering created world, it was an act of pure generosity.

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