By Mimi Towle
As winter wanes and dust bunnies morph into dust beasts, we all start to think about spring cleaning. To avoid inhaling a lungful of the neurotoxins and carcinogens found in many household products–tetrachloroethylene, sodium sulfate and haptane, to name a few—consider a healthier, greener approach. We asked three industry experts, Debra Lynn Dadd, Jan Mendez and Jay Tompt, how they get the grime out of their lives.
Long before the celebrated union of blue and yellow became big business, folks like Jan Mendez and Debra Lynn Dadd were promoting planet-friendly cleaning products. Mendez runs Novato-based Oz Cleaners, a Bay Area nontoxic housecleaning service that’s been in business since the mid-1980s. Former Marin resident Dadd, dubbed “Queen of Green” by the New York Times, is the author of Home Safe Home and the recent Really Green and gives environmentally minded consumer advice on her website, debraslist.com. Jay Tompt recently founded Plan It Hardware, a San Francisco–based distributor that scrutinizes products for toxins, environmental impact and social responsibility before sending them to retailers with a "greener choice" sticker of approval.
“When we looked at the kinds of products typically sold through hardware stores, we discovered that many contain chemicals that can cause cancer, reproductive harm and other negative health effects,” he explains. “Through Plan It, we hope to make greener, safer products more widely available.”
What’s your approach to cleaning floors?
DLD: I have hardwood floors and usually all I need to do is use a damp mop. We take a preventive approach with regular vacuuming, so dirt doesn’t get ground into the floors.
JM: We clean hardwood floors using a solution of one cup vinegar to one gallon water. Have a spray bottle with the same solution on hand for spot cleaning.
JT: Bonakemi and Orbeco are great product lines for hardwood floors, linoleum or carpets.
Cleaning polished natural stone?
DLD: Aqua Mix Sealer’s Choice Gold was recommended by one of my readers.
JM: Natural stone needs to be sealed so stains do not penetrate. If the stone is sealed, all that is required and recommended is warm water.
JT: Homewood is our choice for natural stone.
Cleaning a bathtub?
DLD: I use Bon Ami.
JM: Bon Ami or even baking soda, or 20-Mule Team Borax.
JT: Advanced Generation products work well on porcelain surfaces like tubs and toilets.
DLD: I use vinegar and water, half and half, in a spray bottle.
JM: Vinegar and water in a spray bottle with a few drops of Dr. Bronner’s.
JT: Begley’s Best Window Cleaner has all vegan ingredients. His all-purpose cleaner has a cradle-to-cradle certification.
DLD: I like to use borax or baking soda or vinegar or Bon Ami.
JM: Sprinkle borax on the toilet brush and scrub away. Borax is a great germicide and deodorizer and harmless to the environment.
JT: Advanced Generation’s bathroom cleaner or calcium lime and rust remover.
DLD: It’s been so long since I’ve cleaned a drain. I have these little fine mesh strainers on my drains and they really work. It really has been years since I’ve had a clogged drain.
JM: I would try the volcano method with a half cup of baking soda followed by a half cup of vinegar and let the blockage deal with that for a while. I’ve also had success pouring a kettle full of boiling water down the drain.
JT: Drainbo is a microbial product that is both nontoxic and actually good for the water system. And it keeps your drains clear, too.
The 2008 Marin Green Zebra guide will save you lots of $$$$ when shopping local restaurants, markets, eco-friendly retailers, spas, yoga studios and much more. Priced at $25, it can mean savings of over $10,000, and a portion of the proceeds benefit Marin Organic School Lunch Program, which serves 12,000 children throughout the county every week. The Zebra Guide can be purchased at local retail outlets including Andronico’s market, Elephant Pharmacy and Point Reyes Books. A full list of locations can be found at thegreenzebra.org/marin/buy.php.
New Green Homes
Google “new green home developments” and you’ll be able to select from about 15,600,000 results. Add the word Marin to the search, and the findings are slim. “Here in Marin, the bulk of green home building is done by individual homeowners,” says Alec Hoffmann, green building coordinator for the county. Live Oak Estates in San Rafael, a 30-acre, six-home development that’s one of the first green multi-home projects in Marin, is actively marketing its 3,500-to-5,000-square-foot sustainably built, energy-efficient homes.
Are customers willing to pay a bit more for solar heating and Forest Stewardship Council–certified cherrywood floors? Developer Mike LeValley of San Rafael hopes so. “It has yet to be proven if the public will truly accept the higher costs of green building in exchange for a promise of improved indoor air quality and/or reduced operating costs,” he concedes. “Buyers are usually more interested in short-term savings at the expense of a long-term benefit.” Yet he’s confident that here in Marin, some will make the investment.
The greatest challenge has been “skirting the bleeding edge of being in green development,” LeValley says. Using certified lumber, low-VOC (volatile organic compound) paint and carpets, and high-efficiency heating, cooling and air-filtering systems doesn’t come cheap. “For all the talk about the strength of the green movement, it continues to be challenging to succeed from a business perspective,” he allows.
Mark Richmond, a consultant on the Live Oak project with 15 years of green building experience, has seen exponential growth in the field in just the last two years. “It will soon be the case that if you are not building green, it will be bad business,” he says. But as of now, “the biggest challenge for any green building project is typically being able to get a team of professionals who are truly committed to the green goals of the project. Live Oak Estates is lucky to have a developer who is committed to green and is willing to let the entire team work hard to deliver a great green project.”
Greenwood School Sells Green
Greenwood School in Mill Valley, known for its commitment to the planet’s well-being, has teamed up with local company EO Products to develop a line of fresh-smelling, effective cleaning products. “We felt this was a natural alliance,” says EO cofounder and co-CEO Susan Griffin-Black. “Our daughter attends school there, and we were looking at an alternative way to do fundraising. What we created were practical, everyday products that perform, smell great and are safe and wholesome.” Available directly from eoproducts.com.
The beloved early adapter resource for stylish sustainability, Organic Style magazine has been resurrected. Eco-entrepreneur and Marin resident Gerald Prolman has purchased the brand Organic Style and will be publishing a quarterly magazine online. “In our online Organic Style magazine, we’d like to not only introduce our readers to the growers, artisans, environmentalists, humanitarians and visionaries who we believe are truly inspirational,” says Prolman, “but also serve as a resource for those interested in learning more about the environmental movement.” Check it out at