Get A Green Clean
When your house is dirty, turn to safe, herbal products to scrub it up

By Sandy Maine

Most people will admit that they don't always enjoy cleaning their homes. Could it have anything to do with the synthetic, sometimes toxic, and intensely fragrant supplies? Only 20 percent of the 4 million household chemicals created since 1915 have been tested for adverse health effects. And of the chemicals found in ordinary household products that have been tested, more than 150 appear to cause cancer, allergies, birth defects, or psychological disorders, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Because of our chronic exposure to household and cosmetic products, 15 percent of Americans have become chemically sensitive, according to the National Academy of Science, meaning these people experience varying degrees of allergic reactions to chemicals.

Luckily, safe and effective herbs can help you get a green clean. Simple herbal cleaners can transform an arduous and sometimes noxious task into a new and positive experience. What's more, you'll enjoy a healthy environment along with the sparkle of a scrubbed-up home.

Chore No More
You can use a variety of herbs to tidy up your home, but the ones discussed here are especially easy to grow yourself. They're also nontoxic and versatile. Not only do they work on household grime, but they also repel insects, kill germs, and give the air a fresh and appealing scent. If the idea of making your own herbal concoctions is intimidating, you can find ready-made supplies containing these herbs at your natural products store.

Lavender (Lavandula spp). Lavender is antiviral, antifungal, antibacterial, and fragrant. The scent of this calming herb mixes well with those of many other herbs, making it an excellent choice for cleaning. Choose versatile lavender for room fresheners, tile and sink cleansers, and all-purpose spray cleaners.

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis). Lemon balm has a warm and radiant essence, as well as antiviral and antidepressant properties. This perennial herb grows easily in most climates and soils. You can use it in any housecleaning formula that warrants a fresh, clean scent, but lemon balm is especially good in kitchen cleaning mixtures because its citrus scent harmonizes well with the food-storage and preparation center of the home.

Peppermint (Mentha piperita) and spearmint (Mentha spicata). Refreshingly clean and pungent, perennial mints mix well with other herbs and help lift your mood and boost your energy when you clean with them. Use mint oils in bathroom cleansers because they mask unpleasant odors and leave a lingering freshness.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis). Rosemary has a fresh and pungent essence. Its scent strengthens the central nervous system and supports mental clarity. Choose rosemary for cleaning bedrooms, sickrooms, and offices. Considered one of the least irritating herbs, rosemary is a good choice for people with skin sensitivities. However, avoid adding rosemary to cleaning products during pregnancy.

Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana). The witch hazel tree grows throughout North America and makes an excellent base for herbal cleaning products and scented room sprays. Witch hazel contains tannic acid and gallic acid, as well as mildly fragrant volatile oils. You can buy the dried twigs and bark from any herb supplier, or you can find the liquid extract at your local pharmacy. If you want to make your own extract, put two cups of dried twigs and bark into a glass jar and cover with 90-proof vodka. Put on the lid and store the jar in a cool, dry place for a week. Strain off the liquid and use it in an air freshener (see "Safe Solutions").

Herbal Atmosphere
Whatever herbs you choose for your next cleaning project, keep in mind that getting geared up doesn't have to be a complicated science project. In fact, scrubbing the house can be fun, according to Ryn Burns, a Wellesley Island, New York-based herbalist. "Using herbs and essential oils to clean your home allows you to create just the atmosphere you prefer," she says. "You can create different scent zones or seasonally appropriate fragrances to suit your living and entertaining desires. To add energy to your spring cleaning regimen, consider the fresh, green scents of lavender and peppermint or some light herb florals, such as bergamot (Monarda didyma) or geranium (Geranium maculatum). A nice, light woodsy combo for spring might be spruce fir (Picea spp) and peppermint. Moving on toward summer, try light citrus combinations of lemon (Citrus limon) or lime (Citrus aurantifolia) with herbal scents of rosemary or coriander (Coriandrum sativum)."

So trust your instincts and enjoy chore day. With a little experience—and experimentation—you'll have simple, natural supplies that let you avoid chemicals and get a clean, green home.


Sandy Maine is a mother, homekeeper, and the CEO of SunFeather Natural Soap Co. located in Potsdam, New York.