Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Green, Eco-friendly New Year's Resolutions & Lifestyle Tips, 2012

New year's resolutions often lean toward the diet and health related, and ultimately green issues ARE health issues, many even diet-related, so why not create a completely green new year's resolutions list for 2012?

There really are countless ways in which we can improve as a society and as individuals when it comes to respecting and preserving our natural environment and resources, so if some of these don't speak to you, do some research and find others that do.

Here's my list:
  • Stop with the plastic bags! We all know this one, but I'm a big offender. Way too often I'm caught shopping without my reusable bags. Always keep a reusable grocery bag (or 2) with you. Read this article about the garbage pit in the middle of our Pacific Ocean. Most of the pit is plastic. There are other plastic products in our daily life, too, that we need to curb use of -- plastic drinking bottles, food "jars" -- begin buying more bulk goods, re-use old jars and containers or buy glass ones that can last a lifetime as storage containers.
  • Get involved! Volunteer or join a community group, place of worship, take a class. Building strong social networks and closer community are good preventive measures when it comes to protecting the environment and our health.. Perhaps you make a new friend or acquaintance in a class who can drive with you to the grocery store or on other errands, you both can save money, a precious resource, and keep our air cleaner. We share information and things. Maybe you tell a new classmate about the local farmers' market she hadn't known existed, or she shares her children's old clothing with you for your children. This list could go on and on.
  • Unplug 'em! Many of the techno devices hanging around our homes and offices use nearly as much energy while off as they do on. The remedy is either to unplug them entirely or plug them into a power strip that can be turned off when they're not in use. The money and energy savings can be hefty.
  • Grow some of your own food! Even if you live in the city you can plant a window box with tomatoes and herbs, or join or start a neighborhood community garden. If you've more space, good for you! Growing food is good for body and soul. It connects us to nature, to our families and neighbors, it CAN shrink our food bills, it's good exercise. It's also local and hopefully organic, so lessens our footprint with regard to petroleum products.
  • Vote green with your green! Daily voting with our wallets is one of the best ways to influence companies to green their practices from top to bottom, side to side. Newsweek makes knowing the largest national and global companies' footprints an easy task. They survey, crunch and regurgitate relevant information and data to give us their now yearly Green Rankings.
  • Plant a tree! Shel Silverstein was right, trees give and give to us. They provide not only shade and color, but substantial and necessary social, environmental and financial benefits. They can cool your home in the summer and reduce your energy use, indirectly they can increase your home and community value. Planting trees and shrubs can attract local birds, insects and animals and restore it to a more serene and natural setting. And it's advised to enlist an expert arborist to care for those trees you already have and to assist you in choosing new ones that are appropriate for your landscape and home placement.
  • Re-use items! It saves money and earth's resources, reduces air and water pollution. There are so many items we use daily that we CAN re-use repeatedly if we just take the moment to clean it, fold it, wrap it. A few examples of items I try to re-use regularly are rubber bands (I've created a colorful ball that contains them and looks like a small sculpture at my desk), paper (I print on the backs of all full-sized pieces and staple together pads for notes from envelopes and smaller pieces), foil, plastic bags, and many glass jars I wash, dry and re-use as long as I'm able. I will look for more ways in 2012 that I can re-use instead of buy new.
  • Watch your seafood! Our oceans and sea life are vital resources integral to a healthy planet and people. The Monterey Bay Aquarium makes choices easy with their Seafood Watch website and handy pocket guides and smart phone and mobile apps.
  • Plug the holes! Filling gaps around doors and windows is easy because we can see and fill them, but finding the usually plentiful "invisible" holes in our homes requires performing a blower-door test for a nominal (in the end money-saving/energy saving) fee. Most of our heat and cooling is lost through these larger "invisible" crevices that can run from basement to attic. Once you find them you can seal them with non-toxic caulk or foam.

Monday, December 26, 2011

How to Clean Even Hard-to-Remove-Spills From Glass & Ceramic Stove Tops - Eco-friendly, Frugal Home Tips

I'm of the firm belief that most specialty cleaners are not only overly priced, but are often not the best products for the jobs they are marketed for, and often do not work at all.

Current case in point are the cleaning products made especially for cleaning ceramic and glass top stoves. I know this because we recently purchased one of these ranges and while cooking our holiday meal this weekend the applesauce bubbled out of its pot and onto the glass where it quickly caramelized then burned to a dark black, hard-as-rock recalcitrant mess.

To remove the easy to get schmootz and cooking debris I went over the surface with a warm water and dish soap soaked sponge. Remaining was the black rock-textured blob of burnt sugar, so I pulled out the next weapon from my cleaning arsenal , a heavy duty scouring pad, which took the surface off the burnt sugar but no matter how much elbow grease I put into the task, it could not budge the lithic blob entirely. At this point I pulled out the specialty cleaner, made only to clean glass and ceramic stove tops like ours. Let me be frank here, the specialty cleaner did NOTHING toward removing the cooked on sugar. I began to panic mildly at this point, thinking I'd ruined our brand new, not inexpensive appliance, but pulled out the one tool I knew could make short shrift of the rock, IF it didn't scratch the surface, which I was pretty sure it wouldn't, but was fearful because all the literature that comes with the range says NOT to use anything rougher than a scotch-brite-like scouring pad and the cleaning product they say to use--which doesn't work. What is a cleaning woman to do?

Break the rules, of course. I first squeezed a large dollop of dish soap directly onto the spill. Then, slowly and carefully I scrubbed in a circular motion with one of my favorite green cleaning tools, a metal scouring pad, on a small patch to test. Miraculously, the black began lifting easily, and as I thought, it did NOT scratch the surface a bit. Within a minute or two of scrubbing in this way, then wiping with a clean, wet sponge to remove the loosened residue, the stove top was sparkling like the first day we got it!

Disclaimer: Please don't take my word for this with your glass or ceramic stove top. I'm only vouching here for my first hand experience and success. Always make sure to TEST a new cleaner or implement in a very small, inconspicuous area before going gangbusters with it.

Friday, December 23, 2011

How to Remove Wall Paper With Vinegar and Water - Eco-friendly Home Renovation Tip

I'm super handy, but was intimidated by the prospect of having to remove the old grungy wall paper from the 1/2 bathroom in our new home.

I knew I wanted to tackle it without the noxious hardware store formulas made solely for this task, but was not confident that using the white distilled vinegar I'd heard worked as well, really did.

Well let me cut to the chase here. It does! Save waving a magic wand over it I can't imagine an easier way to remove wall paper than with vinegar, water, and a little elbow grease.

And preparation, planning, and patience go a very long way in making the task even easier. Here's, step-by-step, what I learned.

Before starting make sure to have handy all you will need:
  • something to put all the waste and debris in (large garbage bag, cardboard box, etc...)
  • bucket
  • a few cotton terry towels
  • paint spatula (wider than 2" is best)
  • utility knife
  • hot tap water
  • lots of white vinegar (Buy by the gallon. Have several on hand to start. You may need more.)
  • ladder or step stool
  • work gloves (optional)
1. Make sure work area is well lit.

2. Fill bucket with approximately 1/2 hot tap water and 1/2 white vinegar.

3. Soak towel in the water and vinegar solution. Wring lightly. You want as much water as possible in the towel, but not so much it runs down your arms and soaks your shirt sleeves.

4. Using utility knife find a corner edge of the paper and lift top plastic-y layer of the paper off, if this is possible. The paper was laid in strips, so just remove strip after strip. What remains is the pulpy backing paper and glue, which is much easier to remove if you can lift this top decorative layer off. As you're removing this, you may need to either cut around light fixtures and cabinets with the utility knife or remove the pieces to get paper beneath them, if there is any. In my case, it largely lifted and pulled out from behind these pieces, so was quite easy.

5. If the top layer of the wall paper does not lift, don't despair. Simply score the paper in order to allow water and vinegar mix to soak in and soften the glue.

6. Wet an arms-length sath of either the pulp-glue backing or the scored paper. In either ase, you will need to use several towel's worth of the solution to get enough of it into the paper and glue to soften it for removal. Let it sit and soften for a minute or so before going to the next step.

7. Using paint spatula begin gently but firmly scraping in systematic, efficient rows. If the paper is not budging or it's not lifting easily soak it with more of the water and vinegar mix and let sit another minute or so before scraping again. It's very satisfying once you get a rhythm going and see the paper collecting on the spatula, revealing the wall behind. Before you know it you're half way done!

8. After you've removed all the paper by repeating steps 7. and 8. on all the walls, you will need to go over the entire surface a time or two more with the solution, scrubbing and rubbing a bit to get all the glue up.

9. Using a clean towel go over the entire surface with only hot water a time or two in order to remove the vinegar and any remaining glue residue.

10. Let the wall dry well before preparing it for painting or whatever wall treatment you've planned.

photo by flickr member nolaclutterbusters

Thursday, June 30, 2011

How to Clean Stainless Steel With Green, Eco-friendly & Organic Homemade Frugal Polisher-Conditioner Made From Kitchen Ingredients

Because they don't know there are options, people regularly waste hard-earned bucks on expensive (and unhealthy) specialty cleaners to keep their stylish stainless steel appliances clean and smudge free.

They should be happy, and maybe surprised, to learn that two salad dressing ingredients sitting in their kitchen cabinets can keep these surfaces just as clean and shiny as the overpriced, frou-frou specialty products.

To clean all your stainless steel surfaces, simply sponge wipe with dish soap and water solution. If that doesn't get the greasy prints, cut them with a light spray of white distilled vinegar and wipe again. It's helpful to keep some white vinegar in a recycled spray bottle under your sink with your other eco-friendly cleaning supplies.

After you've cleaned the surface, condition and buff it with ....olive oil, or peanut, or any vegetable oil you have stocked. The key, I've found, is to not use too much oil at once and to use a little bit of elbow grease. On a cotton cloth daub oil to start, then add as needed. Buff stainless steel in small circular motions until you've covered the entire area. The oil does exactly what the oil-based expensive cleaners do -- fill the fine grain to repel fingerprints and smudges and reflect light smoothly off the surface.

photo by flickr member bedroom.eyes

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Product Review: Eco-friendlier, Greener Seltzer Soda Water Maker Carbonator - Soda Siphon ISI 2247 Red

Sometimes going green doesn't seem so green. Case in point: I've got a seltzer drinking habit I don't want to part with, but I'm not comfortable with the plastic bottles my bubbly comes in .

So I did some research and the alternative I came up with, not a perfect answer mind you, but the best I'm able to do right now, is this handy seltzer soda water maker by ISI, a brand that chefs and restaurants often choose.

There are fancier and more expensive soda water makers out there, but the simplicity of this classic design will outlast those more complicated -- a wise concept I learned and have benefited from repeatedly over the past 25 years since a pony-tailed rock climber I took a trip with shared it with me. I'd asked him why he didn't have some of the newer, fancier gadgets I'd seen other climbers with and he replied, "The fewer the parts, the less chance of something breaking, something going wrong." OK, perhaps not as critical a concept when one's considering seltzer makers instead of hanging from rocks one shouldn't be hanging from, but useful and pertinent, nonetheless. And, if my point with this change is lessening my impact, the storage bottles and counter display stands that accompany the fancier makers are extravagant, especially knowing I can make the beverage by the glass or re-use bottles I already have for storage.

And make sure to stock up on CO2 chargers. If you buy them in this larger quantity you'll end up paying about 45-cents per cartridge, so over time you will recoup your initial investment on the maker and your seltzer will be cheaper than the prepared store-bought fizzy drink. Also comforting is the fact that cartridges are steel and fully recyclable.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

How To Make Your Own Eco-friendly, Non-toxic, Green Yoga Mat Cleaner

Doing yoga is supposed to be pleasant and calm-inducing , but if the mat you're practicing on is grimy and smelly it can be distracting and diminish the healthful experience.

It's worth the little bit of time it requires to make the cleaning and care of your yoga mat a part of your regular yoga practice.

I recommend the following monthly, green bathing ritual for your yoga mat.

Fill your bathtub a quarter to half way with cold to warm water. While the tap is running add a large dollop of your favorite natural hair shampoo, something like Burt's Bees Pomegranate and Soy Shampoo, and a few small drops of your favorite essential oils, maybe peppermint and lavender, so they disperse. Unroll and submerge your yoga mat in the water. Swish it around a little and let it soak for a few minutes. Along with the warm water, the shampoo will help loosen the schmootz and help break down the body oils on the surface of the mat. The essential oils will help to disinfect the mat and lend therapeutic soothing and lifting aromas. With a clean sponge wipe the mat, making sure to get its front and back side.

Drain dirty water from the tub and rinse the mat under the faucet quickly so as to not waste water. Holding the mat over the tub let it drip dry for a few moments. Finally, hang your mat to dry outside in the sun if you're able. Sunlight is a natural, free disinfectant. Otherwise, hang inside over shower curtain rod or wooden clothes drying rack.

Monday, May 16, 2011

10 Free Green iPhone Smart Phone Apps - Ms. Green-Clean NYC, "Best Cleaning Service" - New York Magazine

It's definitely smart to use our smart phones to guide and keep us on the green path. Having clever eco-resources at our fingertips is increasingly important as our daily choices become more numbered and nuanced.

Because I'm a great fan of my Apple iPhone I will feature ten of my favorite green-conscious, earth loving iPhone apps, and all of them FREE! Some of these work on droids, too.

Here goes (They're presented in no particular order)...

1. iRecycle from earth 911 - Makes it easy to find recycling locations, even for items such as cell phones, paint, motor oil, plastics and more, anywhere in the U.S.

2. Carticipate - Save money on gas while helping the environment by carticipating with friends, family, groups, or co-workers. Coordinate driving plans, carpool, or a ride share by indicating where you are going, when, and post your ride. We will match you to local carticipants going your way.

3. Whole Foods Market Recipes - Even if you're not shopping at Whole Foods, this is a priceless resource for coming up with easy, healthy meals for you and your family.
4. Wild Lab Bird - My current favorite. It lets you be a citizen scientist, allowing you to learn about, engage with nature and identify the birds around you.

5. Seafood Watch - The Monterey Bay Aquarium puts out this very important and useful app. that provides up-to-date recommendations for ocean-friendly seafood and sushi.

6. Greenpeace's Recycled Tissue Guide - Saving our trees is easier with this app that makes it quick and easy to determine which paper products are easy on the Earth and which are not.

7. Green Gas Saver - A remarkable application that lets you monitor your fuel effiency and warns you if you are driving too fast or turning too hard.

8. Good Guide - Makes it fast and easy to find safe, healthy, and green products, instantly delivering the information you need, when you need it most—in a store and on the go.

9. Twavel - Ed Begley, Jr. loves this app. that makes it fun for you to make green travel choices and shows how even little differences you make soon add up to a significant benefit to our environment.

10. iLocavore - Based on your current location this app supplies information from the database to find area producers, independent retailers featuring local and domestic goods, and restaurants featuring local foods.

*Bonus App - iCarbonCalc - Helps you determine your contribution to global warming and further helps you understand the composition of your carbon footprint and to identify potential carbon savings.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Ask Ms. Green-Clean: How To Clean Painted Rattan Or Wicker Outdoor Furniture The Eco-friendly Way

I've been thinking for awhile of launching a series of blog entries dedicated to green home care and cleaning questions, so when I received a client question this week in my email box it seemed a perfect opportunity to launch this first in the "Ask Ms. Green-Clean" series.

Ronnie asked:

"I know you're the expert on this, so I was wondering if you could offer a suggestion as to how I could clean white tables and chairs that I leave out on our terrace. I already tried Clorox and bleach, but that didn't seem to make much of a difference."

When I first asked Ronnie what the white material was he replied that it was leather woven around metal. But I thought it was strange that outdoor furniture was made from leather since it's not a material that fares well in nature's elements. I thought perhaps he was mistaking a good textured vinyl knock-off for leather, and a few emails later he seemed pretty confident that the material woven around the painted metal frames was rattan, which made sense. It's commonly used for outdoor furniture.

I'm assuming the black he speaks of on the white painted rattan is a fine, but obstinate mildew or mold and maybe some dirt mixed in if the pieces weren't covered or stored inside during the cold weather months.

Ronnie will be happy to learn that his furniture can be restored to its former white easily with a bit of eco-friendly dish soap like Ecover's, a mild abrasive like Bon Ami or baking soda, a microfiber cloth, and a healthy serving of elbow grease.

This is how to approach it. Fill a bucket with warm water. Soak and wring out your microfiber cloth well. Rattan is a natural fiber and even though the furniture in question is painted, there are always chips and cracks where water can seep in, so you don't want to use a lot of water. Put a dollop, dime- to quarter-size, of dish soap on the cloth. Sprinkle a little bit of the Bon Ami or baking soda and gently but firmly scrub in back and forth motions, going with the weave of the rattan or wicker. The black mildew and dirt should begin to lift. Continue this on all the black parts, rinsing and wringing the cloth, and reapplying dish soap and abrasive as needed.

Once you're finished scrubbing a piece, with a clean, wet microfiber wipe the entire piece down to remove the soapy, gritty gray residue. You may have to repeat a few times and move the cloth in different directions to get all the residue from in between the strips. There's also a chance you'll have to quickly hose the piece down to entirely remove the residue. In this case, hose it quickly to minimize possible water uptake, then quickly dry thoroughly with as many clean and dry microfibers as necessary, making sure to get underneath. It's probably best to do the cleaning on a warm, sunny day, so the pieces can further dry and air out.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

how to make envelopes from old new york magazines - "best cleaning service" eco-friendly ms. green-clean

Blame it on an early morning coffee binge and Pandora radio. Something made me choose the Linda Ronstadt station instead of the old-lady Bach station I usually listen to. The first song that plays is "Willin'" and I'm immediately thrust back to 1974 Oxford, Ohio, the quaint college town where I grew up a latchkey kid, the middle sibling of three. It's summer, my older sister, younger brother and I are barefoot and hanging out with Penny and Judy, wise, beautiful college students who live in the gray house across the alley from us. I worship them. We're listening to Linda Ronstadt and making envelopes from old magazine pages. Peace and love surround us. Even at conservative Miami University there are college students streaking naked in the streets, flying their freak flags, questioning authority.

Fade back to this morning, I'm writing in my journal and drinking coffee by a window, my daily ritual. I'm moved to turn on Pandora and moments after hearing Linda's lovely voice, I'm up from my seat and fishing a recently-read issue of New York Magazine from recycling, playing on the floor making envelopes, bathed in some of the best memories from my childhood.

When you gift yourself still, non-productive time, memories and music can make you green. Give it a try!

P.S. - Making envelopes from old magazines is a great interdisciplinary craft to share with kids or do for yourself! There really are no mistakes you can make. I un-did an old envelope I re-use for various tasks just to visualize what needed to be cut away. I carefully tore a page from the magazine, folded it in fours, cut snow-flake style, then taped three of the four flaps. Voila!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Go Green To Save Green: Making Eco-friendly Choices Can Save You Money

Our grandparents had it right, I think. The old depression mentality that made people save, re-use, fix and mend instead of buying replacements knee-jerk style when items lost their lustre.

A few of the tips I'll share here make my husband think I'm slightly off my rocker, but I'm far from perfect when it comes to making green choices. One thing that makes it easier and doubly satisfying to keep me on the green path is thinking that not only am I making good choices for the health of mother earth and her inhabitants, but I'm saving money. I'm pretty simple that way! Maybe some of these tips will resonate with you and become part of your daily green habits.

1. Save rubber bands. I've created a ball that my friend's kids love bouncing when they visit. I've seen them sold at stationery stores for $5 or more.

2. When you think there's no toothpaste left cut the tube diagonally and find up to five more brushings worth of paste.

3. Air dry your clothes. It saves on electric costs AND clothes last longer.

4. Re-use old cotton t-shirts, socks and pajamas for dusting cloths.

5. Make double sided prints on paper. Re-use paper from junk mailings. Print or write on clean sides when the document's not important.

6. Borrow library books instead of buying.

7. Unplug appliances and lights that are not in use. Most of know now that even when they're off they use electricity.

8. Give up paper towels and napkins. Use cloths that can be used many times before washing and re-using.

9. Take the stairs instead of the elevator.

10. Walk, bike, or carpool when possible.

11. Close curtains in the summer to keep out the sun.

12. Clean your refrigerator coils annually to keep it running efficiently.

13. Weather strip and calk.

14. Buy from bulk bins when possible. Saves on packaging, often money.

15. Turn off your computer completely. Don't just leave it in sleep mode.

Monday, March 14, 2011

After Dinner Gardening: How to Grow An Avocado Tree from Seed

I was raised sowing and caring for plants, and earned a college degree in Botany, but you don't have to be a green-thumb or live in the tropics for that matter, to grow a tree from an avocado fruit's large seed.

The photo here is of an avocado I rooted and planted for a client in her Central Park West apartment about 2 years ago. You can see that it's thriving in the middle of New York City!

All this reminds me of one of my all-time favorite plant books, a classic titled "The After-Dinner Gardening Book" by Richard Langer. He provides entertaining anecdotes of his botanical escapades and good directions for collecting seeds and other growing parts from the fruits and vegetables from our kitchen tables, planting, and caring for them. I came upon the book as an adult and love it, but it's a great book to share with children, too.

The best online directions for growing your own avocado tree can be found here.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Hand Paper Shredder, Made by Humans, Non-electric, No Battery Needed

I discovered this ingeniously designed, toothpaste tube-sized hand paper shredder recently. It uses no electricity or batteries and for those of you, like me, who strive to be green and who need a shredder, but don't have piles to process and don't want another furniture-size appliance to clutter your office or home, there is nothing better. Mine sits on my desk right next to my pen holder.

To use it, you simply hold over your recycling receptacle, fold paper in half lengthwise, insert into slot, and turn the ends in opposite directions. The linguini-like ribbons come out the other side. It's designed by Made By Humans and can be purchased here for $23.99.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Made Of New York - Handmade Reclaimed Wood Furniture - Eco-friendly & Sustainable

I just came across this smart new local and eco-friendly furniture company and am so excited by what they're doing I had to share it with my readers and clients right away.

Made of New York is the business name and directly from their website is this description of what they're doing:

"Made of New York is a collection of home essentials inspired by everyday life and the fundamental simplicity and functionality that is so typical for NYC. Each piece is hand built using reclaimed authentic Manhattan timber that we salvage from old buildings in the city." Visit them online at

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