Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sharing Your Home with Mice?

I know mice and other rodents can be a real pain.  They can be kind of cute until you find their droppings in your cutlery drawer--now that's disgusting.

So, let's think about the options for getting rid of rodents.  Maybe you'd like to send them to rodent heaven, but there might be a better and safer alternative.

Why Not Poison Rodents?

Well, you could poison them and they might die literally in your woodwork so you get to smell their rotting carcasses for quite some time.  Not really pleasant for either you or the rodent.

If you poison the rodent, and a wild animal eats the poisoned rodent, you could have poisoned the predatory bird or mammal--maybe even your pet, or your neighbor's pet.  And potentially, a child could access the poison although the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is working on this.

If you use a poison containing bromethalin, it has no antidote for pets who ingest toxic amounts.  It affects the nervous system and any pet that has significant symptoms has a very low probability of recovery.  I didn't make this up, I heard it from two veterinarians.  My vet said that pets that eat other rodent bait intended to affect the clotting ability of animals might be saved with Vitamin K.

She further requested that people not keep bromethalin baits in their homes, barns or property.  Read for the active ingredient if you're set on poison.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has banned several poisons, but unfortunately, this left a loophole for the bromethalin mentioned above.

Alternatives to Rodent Poison

See Beyond Pesticide's Minimizing Mouse Madness and check out information from the Daily Green below.
  • Seal cracks and holes in the house that can allow mice to enter. (You'll also save energy.)
  • Remove food sources that may attract them, such as trash, pet food or fallen fruit from trees. And store your food properly.
  • Housecats are nature's mouse predator. Never use mouse poison because your cat could easily ingest it along with the mouse.
  • Capture mice with live traps such as Havahart and move them far from the home.
  • Use snap traps with sensitive triggers that are more likely to kill quickly. Use as many as 10 traps near any known mouse hole, and position them about two feet apart along walls, with the bait-end against the wall. Use gloves or else your scent on the traps may make them ineffective.
  • Glue traps are unlikely to kill mice quickly, but can be effective. Keep them in place for at least five days so mice become accustomed to them.  But do you really want mice stuck to the glue and suffering until you find them to kill them?  or they starve to death?  Really not nice.
  • Repellent sound devices may or may not work, but are designed to annoy mice with a high-frequency sound that humans can't hear.  Hmm...wonder what pets will think of this?
  • Poison bait boxes can be used as a last resort. Look for tamper- and weather-proof boxes that use first-generation (multiple-dose) anticoagulants. Place them only in areas that are inaccessible to pets and children.  Remember these are dangerous and can cause unanticipated consequences.
If you do an internet search for "natural mouse repellent," you'll get more recipes for non-toxic alternatives to rodent poison.  A co-worker swears by peppermint oil on  cotton balls scattered about her house.

At the moment, I don't have any mice, but I do have a kitty.  Meow!

Photo Credit from Flickr

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Wal-Mart Just Ticks Me Off

Will the $82 million fine change Wal-Mart's behavior?  Somewhat I expect, but why do they have to get caught doing something bad before they act responsibly.  This May, Wal-Mart was fined $82 million for dumping hazardous waste in the trash or down the drain.  The New York Times reported that Wal-Mart also was taking returned pesticides and having them processed for re-sale without a permit.  This company makes big bucks, and they know they can't dump hazardous waste in the trash, down the drain, or repackage pesticides for sale without a permit.  If they didn't train their underpaid, under-employed, and under-insured employees to do proper waste management, then that is Wal-Mart's fault.  I don't know if the $82 million fine matched the savings of illegally dumping hazardous waste into our water system or selling us re-packaged pesticide, but I hope so.

I know some might not think this topic is entirely relevant to this blog about your own cupboards--except it is!  We need to change our habits of buying toxic products so we're not polluting our bodies, our family members' bodies, our pets, or the environment.  And we should be supporting companies that do the same.  I don't expect box stores to stop selling Proctor & Gamble toxic products--that's too big to ask of chain stores that rely on cheap goods that we, yes we, demand from the store. 

The only way we can get them to change is to stop buying their crappy products.  Can we make a difference?  Yes.  This September, Wal-Mart agreed to begin reducing it's products with certain toxins.  According to USA Today, prodding by health and environmental advocates caused Wal-Mart to act.  It's a big deal, but it's just a start. 

We can send a message to retailers by not purchasing items with toxic ingredients.  We can start by cleaning our homes with white vinegar, baking soda, and other non-toxic products.

Really, we can make a difference.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Clean Non-Toxic Oven

I finally cleaned my oven after about five years--I am just not that into cleaning.  I had help.  It was a few weeks ago and I wanted to make a video about cleaning the oven without toxic commercial cleaners.  So my co-worker Rachel and I cleaned the oven after finally settling on a recipe to try.  There are others that might work as well, but this worked great--so I'm going with it.  We mixed about a cup of baking soda with enough white vinegar to make a paste to stick on the ceiling and walls of the oven.

First, Rachel scraped out the oven with a wooden spatula to get ride of the crusty stuff that had accumulated there.  A wooden or plastic tool will not scratch oven surfaces like metal might.  Then she mixed a cup of baking soda and about a quarter cup of white vinegar.  I thought there might be a lava overflow when she did this on camera, but she chose just the right size bowl.

I think mixing baking soda (a base chemical) with vinegar (an acid) only makes sense when you use the chemical reaction as part of the cleaning process.  These ingredients quickly kind of cancel each other out unless you get them onto the surface as soon as possible so the reaction is still occurring.

Rachel took a pastry brush and painted the interior of the oven.  She had to get back to work, so I cleaned the oven after a couple hours with a green scrubby and water.  It worked great.  There was all kinds of black goo that came off--cooked on grease.  I cleaned the oven racks separately in the sink.

So after about several years of not cleaning the oven--it was clean, without using the very toxic commercial cleaner.

Unfortunately, this week I had a hankering for crispy baked chicken wings.  The recipe said to dunk the wings into seasoned olive oil and place them on a rack over a pan.  They tasted fantastic.  They were so crispy and good, but I did not need all that oil that ended up all over my clean oven.  It also stunk up my apartment as the stove vent does not send air outside, it just circulates the air through a filter.  Everything smelled like baked chicken wings and I was breathing the odor in my sleep.

So I was back to square one, and I just finished cleaning the oven again.  This time I put a pillow on the floor for my poor knees while I slaved away on the oven.  While I had my head stuck in the oven, I was thinking that people without the self-cleaning ovens have to do the same thing--only they stick their heads into an enclosed space with toxic fumes.

What's Wrong with Commercial Oven Cleaners?

This label reads, “DANGER:  CORROSIVE. CONTAINS SODIUM HYDROXIDE (LYE).  WILL BURN EYES AND SKIN.  HARMFUL IF SWALLOWED.  Avoid contact with eyes, skin, mucous membranes and clothing.  DO NOT ingest.  Use only with adequate ventilation.  Avoid breathing spray mist.  Wear long rubber gloves when using.   

The U.S. EPA also recommends wearing an apron and protective goggles when using commercial oven cleaners.  They further recommend having plenty of fresh air as well as ventilation in the room.  Difficult to do if you have your head in the oven!

The ingredients are not provided on the label, but on-line they are listed as:

2-Ethanol, (2-butoxyethoxy), Petroleum gases, liquefied and sweetened; Sodium hydroxide, and 2-amino-Ethanol 

Why Not Just Use the Self-Cleaning Function on Ovens?

There are pros and cons to buying an oven with the self-cleaning function.  They are much more well insulated and the doors have better seals so they may be more energy efficient if you don't use the self-cleaning function too often.  However, they can be more expensive to repair (due to hidden elements) and typically, you are not supposed to leave the racks in the oven for cleaning as the high heat (around 900 degrees F) can damage a finish on the metal racks.  You also might still have to clean the oven after using the self-cleaning function to at least remove the ash.

Well, I'm going to be more conscious about what I bake now, and I don't anticipate cleaning the oven again for a very long time.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Leftover Paint? Who Cares? PaintCare

What do Oregon, California, Minnesota, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Maine have in common?  They have all agreed to participate in the "PaintCare" program.   PaintCare was developed by the American Coatings Association--a voluntary non-profit organization representing the paint industry--so they know about paint!

 PaintCare is a stewardship program--that means they take the stuff back that you can no longer use.  That's the gist of stewardship--a manufacturer makes it and then they take care of the remaining end product so consumers don't just throw it in the trash.  If you live in one of the above states you can already do this with paint or you will soon be able to. 

How it works is when you buy a can of paint, you pay a small additional fee to pay for the program.   When you're done with your paint, you can return the unused portion to a collection point (such as a hardware store, your local recycling center or transfer station, or wherever makes sense in your area).

Currently, most people have no option but to put their paint in the trash.  Where I live, there are household hazardous waste collections (I run some of them for my work) where people can bring their oil-based paints and other coatings.  We don't take latex paint as it's REALLY expensive to handle hazardous waste, and latex is not considered hazardous because it's water-based.  Don't get me wrong, you wouldn't want to drink the stuff, but if it can go in the regular trash (only after it's been dried out-see below), then that's where it will go.  It costs about $45 to $60 per household to get rid of hazardous waste at our collections, and at collections held elsewhere it costs much more.  So...we don't want to include latex paint as there's a lot of it out there.

The PaintCare program will take oil-based and latex paint.  It's a good thing because more and more paints are latex.   

There are also some local paint collection programs around the country.  Some programs are year-round and just collect paint.  People can pick up a can there or it gets sent off for re-manufacturing or to a waste-to-energy facility.  These are often very informal programs.

Where Does the Paint Go?

Some of the paint collected by PaintCare will be remanufactured into more paint for consumers like you and me to purchase and use.  Some paint will be sent off to be burned as a fuel.  The ultimate goal is to remanufacture the paint, but it takes time to set up the structure to allow this to happen.  Partners need to be found to perform the remanufacturing and marketing of the paint.  PaintCare will work on this structure to provide the optimal use of our paint.

In Vermont where I live, the Chittenden Solid Waste District (near beautiful Lake Champlain--home of Champ, our very own Loch Ness Monster) produces a remanufactured latex paint called Local Color.  I have visited this facility, and it's very cool.  They filter and reblend unwanted latex paint making unique colors in batches.  When they get a bunch of blue paint, they mix it together to make a special shade of blue.  If you're going to paint the living room, you'd better make sure you buy enough of that shade as the next batch of blue might be slightly different.  If you are picturing people in paint-spattered clothing pouring cans of paint into a large vat, you would be correct.  It's a small operation, but it is such a great idea run by some forward thinking folks.

Keeping Latex Paint for Future Use

Leftover latex paint will last for years if you cover the can opening with plastic wrap, top with the lid, and make sure the lid (use its original container) fits securely so the paint doesn’t leak.  Then, and here’s the key step:  store the paint can upside down.  The paint will create a tight seal around the lid, keeping the paint fresh until you need it again. Store the paint where it will not freeze. If stored correctly, paint stays in good condition for a long time. If it mixes smoothly, it can still be used. Use leftover paint for touch-up jobs, smaller projects, or as a primer.

Drying Out Latex Paint for Disposal

If you can't use your latex paint or donate it, and you don't have a paint collection in your area, just dry out the paint and throw it in the trash.  Here's how to do this:

Let it dry in a safe location away from children and pets. Less than a half inch of paint will dry out easily when the lid is off.  Larger volumes can be dried with absorbent material such as kitty litter, shredded paper, or sawdust.  Once it’s dry, dispose of the dried out latex paint as garbage.  If you end up with empty, dry metal cans, you should be able to recycle these with scrap metal at your local facility--or you might think of an artistic use for them.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Dang Drain is Clogged

I went to a neighborhood picnic tonight.  It was great, but when I got home to clean up, the sink backed up--almost up to the level with my clean dishes.  Really gross!

It was late, but who wants to deal with disgustingness in the morning?  Not me.  I knew my old standby of baking soda and vinegar followed by boiling water was not going to do the trick alone.  And there is NO WAY I'm going to use the commercial drain opener that can actually cause blindness if you get it in your eyes.

So, I remembered my landlord using a trick with a plunger in the sink.  (And I googled it to make sure I knew what I was doing.  See WikiHow.)  I have a double sink, so I checked which sink seemed to be the problem by poking a wooden skewer down each drain.  The one on the right was just fine, but the one on the left was clearly plugged up badly which called for drastic measures.

I put the drain plug into the right sink (wearing rubber gloves--really nasty water), then I used the plunger on the left sink.  The plug in the right sink still let water come up as the seal must not be very tight.  It took a couple tries, but I did get the left sink to drain properly.  I followed this with a dump of baking soda down the drain, followed by the vinegar to create a lovely volcano effect.  I left this for 5-10 minutes and followed up with a boiling water chaser.

My sink is just fine, thank you very much--without using something toxic and absolutely dangerous off the grocery store shelves.

NOTE; That is not an electrical cord in the photo, it's for my water filter which is NOT electric.  Just didn't want you to think I was playing with electricity in the water as my co-worker pointed out!

Water back-up in double sinks
Stick test to determine which sink is clogged
Using plunger in hot water in left sink
Adding baking soda

Adding vinegar after baking soda
Still foaming after several minutes

Saturday, May 25, 2013

May is Asthma Awareness Month

There are many irritants and triggers to asthma.  And since it is Asthma Awareness Month, I thought I'd point out another reason to switch to non-toxic household cleaners.  Below are a list of irritants from the U.S.  EPA.
  • Secondhand Smoke
  • Dust Mites
  • Mold
  • Cockroaches and Pests
  • Pets
  • Nitrogen Dioxide (gas cooking stoves, space heaters)
  • Outdoor Air Pollution
  • Wood Smoke
  • Chemicals such as Household Cleaners

About Chemical Irritants and Asthma from the U.S.  EPA

Chemical irritants are found in some products in your house and may trigger asthma. Your asthma or your child's asthma may be worse around products such as cleaners, paints, adhesives, pesticides, cosmetics or air fresheners. Chemical irritants are also present in schools and can be found in commonly used cleaning supplies and educational kits.

Chemical irritants may exacerbate asthma. At sufficient concentrations in the air, many products can trigger a reaction.

Actions You Can Take

If you find that your asthma or your child's asthma gets worse when you use a certain product, consider trying different products.

If you must use a product, then you should:
  • Make sure your child is not around.
  • Open windows or doors, or use an exhaust fan.
  • Always follow the instructions on the product label.
  • Use a nontoxic product from the store or make your own.  See the recipes page.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Money Down the Drain

Buying commercial cleaners is not only adding toxins to your home, it's throwing money down the drain.

The cost of cleaning can be just pennies.  Nontoxic ingredients are cheap, cheap, cheap...and they work just as well as the smelly, toxic cleaners in the store.  Vinegar, baking soda, and liquid soap do not have frightening labels telling you how to call the poison control center. 

Think about what you're buying when you purchase a commercial cleaner:
  • Advertising and Marketing - The companies must convince the masses that the product is essential for a clean home.  New, improved, will rev up your sex life, make your neighbors jealous...
  • Chemical Engineering - Someone has to figure out how to make ammonia smell like a tropical rain forest--and make it a lovely green color!
  • Packaging, Shipping, and Shelf Space - OK, the nontoxic ingredients have the same issues, but I don't think the vinegar companies go to quite so much effort as the drain cleaners in their packaging designs.

What's the Difference in Cost of Typical Cleaning Products Versus Nontoxic Cleaners?

Using simple math (the kind I'm best at), I've calculated the comparable costs of nontoxic cleaners versus store-bought toxic cleaners.  Check it out!  (And hey, those are rounding errors--not my fault!)  Want to save some money and have a clean, nontoxic home?  Make your own cleaners....  (See the Recipes page)

Glass Cleaner - Windex Original costs $3.69 for 26 ounces or $0.14/ounce versus a nontoxic homemade cleaner costs $0.52 for 26 ounces or $0.02/ounce.  That's 86% cheaper.

All-Purpose Cleaner - Simple Green (boo, hiss! Greenwashing at its worst) costs $3.79 for 22 ounces or $0.17 an ounce versus a nontoxic homemade cleaner at $0.44 for 22 ounces or $0.02 an ounce.  That's 96% cheaper.

Abrasive Powder - Comet costs $0.75 for 14 ounces or $0.05 an ounce versus baking soda at $1.69 for 14 ounces or $0.12 an ounce.  OK, OK, this is one that's cheaper to buy the commercial brand, but you already have baking soda in the cupboard--and if you bought baking soda in bulk it would cost less than what I've calculated.  That's 25% more expensive for the box type of baking soda.

Abrasive Scrub - Soft Scrub costs $3.49 for 24 ounces or $0.15 an ounce versus a nontoxic homemade cleaner at $2.64 for 24 ounces or $0.11 an ounce.  That's 15% cheaper.

Toilet Bowl Cleaner - Lysol Toilet Bowl Cleaner costs $2.69 for 24 ounces or $0.11 an ounce versus $0.48 for 24 ounces of white vinegar or $0.02 an ounce.  That's 96% cheaper.

Drain Opener - Liquid Plumber costs $3.99 for 32 ounces or $0.12 an ounce.  A vinegar and baking soda cleanse costs $0.30 for one application to keep your drain clean or $0.04 an ounce.  That's 93% cheaper.

So, if reading the tiny print on the commercial cleaners doesn't make your palms sweat, then maybe saving some cash will get you to convert to simple, nontoxic cleaning.  That can be 100% safer!