Tuesday, 28 Sep 1999

Rhinebeck, N.Y.

The light is changing now that we are past the harvest moon and officially into autumn. I live in a house that is passive solar, and the lower the sun gets in the sky for the winter, the more light streams in through the windows. In February, we don’t need lights inside at all during the day.

I know it seems mundane to go from a discussion of light streaming through the windows to the dirt I see on the window panes. But we’ll be having a big potluck dinner party here in a few weeks, and as this new light exposed the kid’s finger marks and the accumulated dirt since who-knows-when-we-last-cleaned-the-windows, I thought to myself today that I ought to do some pre-party cleaning.

Oddly enough, it was the issue of cleaning the windows that turned a huge number of well-intentioned, environmentally friendly people away from less toxic cleaning methods that use simple ingredients found in most kitchen cupboards. And it was the issue of cleaning the windows that partly inspired me to write Clean & Green. That is odd, too, because as my friends and family know, I am a woman who hates to clean!

These events coalesced because the newspapers at the end of the ’80s and leading up to Earth Day 1990 were full of tips for cleaning in ways that didn’t harm the planet, and the recommendation for windows was almost always to clean them with nothing but vinegar and water. Thousands tried this, and the result was streaky windows. I wish I had $1 for every time someone has said to me, “Well, I tried nontoxic cleaning and it didn’t work. I used vinegar for the windows.”

The problem was that the commercial window cleaner people had used before switching to vinegar left a very fine wax residue; the vinegar alone wasn’t enough to remove it, and the result was streaky windows. If everyone had simply added a dab of liquid dish soap to the vinegar and water, the wax would have been removed and the windows would have been cleaned perfectly! I’ll be making a batch of my Perfect Window Cleaner recipe this week by combining 2 cups of water, 1/4 cup of white distilled vinegar, and up to 1/2 teaspoon of liquid soap or detergent in a spray bottle. That’s all there is to it. (Make sure to label the bottle and keep it out of the reach of children.)

We have mineral-rich, hard water in which soap reacts to cause soap scum, so I use a liquid detergent instead of soap. I buy the detergent in a health food store where they can be found free of synthetic fragrances and dyes, and some are petroleum-free. Health food stores have some nice liquid soaps, too, if you are lucky enough to have soft water.

The connection between the streaky windows and Clean & Green is that throughout the ’80s I was virtually housebound with multiple chemical sensitivity. By hook or by crook, I had learned how to manage chores without petroleum-based products. Even more difficult, I’d come up with cleaning product alternatives for people such as my mother-in-law (she used every toxic product under the sun), so that I could visit them without being overcome by fumes. I’d even figured out the streaky window problem. When the eco-friendly cleaning articles began appearing in newspapers, I thought to myself, hey, I know more about this subject then they do … Hence the beginning of my writing career.