Eco-Saturday: Clean and green


If you’re looking for a quick, apartment-dweller-friendly way to save a boatload of money and do something nice for the environment, here’s one: Clean up your cleanups.

It’s always creeped me out that the health department dings restaurants a point or two on their safety inspections if it catches them with a bottle of bleach or other cleaning products out on the counter in the food-prep area. This is what they’re using to sterilize the table where they fix my food, but the health department isn’t cool with keeping it near the table? Something ain’t right here.

About 15 years ago, I learned that cider vinegar has antibacterial properties. It’s also much cheaper than Lysol (about $4 a gallon) and easier on the environment. Fill up a spray bottle and use it undiluted for tough jobs or cut it half-and-half with water to make it go further for ordinary use. Even at full strength, it’s cheaper than commercial cleaning products, and — because it’s basically food itself — you don’t have to worry about spilling something dangerous into your food if you happen to knock over the bottle while you’re cooking.

I recycled an old Windex bottle by filling it up with cider vinegar and using it for everyday cleanups. Vinegar is also handy for neutralizing pet odors (especially urine, as the acid in the vinegar neutralizes the alkaline ammonia in the urine).

I’ve also taken to using cheap washcloths in place of paper towels. Catch a sale, and you can get them for a quarter apiece or less. If they get hopelessly nasty, they’re cheap enough that you can toss them without feeling too guilty, but they hold up well enough that you can wash and reuse them for years. I don’t use them for everything, but I keep a few on hand for quick kitchen cleanups, so we end up using fewer paper towels — which is good for both the environment and our bottom line.