Living Lightly

Green Cleaning a Classroom

Green Cleaning a Classroom

Never before I was a parent did I think the words, “Don’t lick that!” would come out of my mouth quite so regularly. Kids don’t merely touch things – they like to have whole body experiences with them.

Fast forward to the first time I saw my preschooler helping clean his classroom with the “pink stuff” in the spray bottle. “What’s in that?” I asked. No one knew. Mind you, this was the same kid whom I found sucking on a nozzle of Formula 409 (before my green conversion). The guy at Poison Control didn’t know what was in that either. Surprisingly, ingredients don’t have to be listed on cleaning product labels. Nowadays with some searching, you can find Formula 409 ingredients on the Clorox website, but even more revealing is the analysis of it on the Environmental Working Group’s Healthy Cleaning Guide.

Even without on-label ingredients, the Hazard Statements on the back tell us plenty. Formula 409, for example, recommends that if it gets on skin or clothes, wash for 15-20 minutes and call Poison Control. What’s in it that makes that necessary? It’s the manufacturers themselves who are raising the red flags over their own products. And though I’ve picked on 409, the hazards of most conventional cleaners are just as high. Plug the product in to the EWG Guide to do your own homework.

When it comes to cleaning schools, then, give me products whose ingredients are effective yet don’t carry threats to human health. It’s human health we’re trying to protect here after all.

With non-toxic cleaners, kids can get involved in the cleaning too. And it is good for them to be part of caring for their classroom. It gives them a sense of pride, a sense of ownership. Wouldn’t it be great to hear them say, “Hey! I just cleaned up this mess!” At least one can hope.

Check out this quick tutorial of a few ways to clean a classroom – or anywhere else for that matter – “greenly”.

Recipes mentioned in the video:

All-Purpose Cleaning Spray

Combine in a spray bottle:

1 Tbsp. (15 mL) Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds OR 1/4 c. (60 mL) Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Liquid Soap

1 quart (1 L) of water

20 drops tea tree essential oil (optional)

Glass Cleaner

Combine in a spray bottle:

Half distilled white vinegar and half water

GIY Wipes

1 1/2 c. (360 mL) filtered, distilled, or boiled then cooled water

1 Tbsp. (15 mL) Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Liquid Soap or 1/2 Tbsp. (7.5 mL) Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds

1/4 tsp. (20 drops) tea tree essential oil

Roll of paper towels (for disposable wipes)

Squares of old t-shirts or microfiber cloths (for reusable wipes)

Put the paper towels or cloths in a container. Mix up the solution ingredients and pour it over the wipes. Let the wipes sit for 20 minutes to soak up the liquid.

Further reading

Sal Suds cleaner shows >60% biodegradation after 28 days per ISO 14593

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Adrian Vidales says:

Thank you very much for this useful information! I was guessing the same after I posted the comment, advertising and peer pressure can be hard to fight against. Keep it with your post and your videos which are great.

Finally, you clean or would clean the toilet (not the bowl) body with the all purpose cleaner? Or what would be your recommendation?

Thank you, have a great day!

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Adrian – Yes, the All Purpose Spray (the 1 Tbsp. to 1 quart of water) is great for the outside of the toilet – as well as countertops, cabinets, and any such surface that can get wet.

Adrian Vidales says:

Hi Lisa! First of all I’m impressed that you answer almost or all the comments you receive (some after some time but I haven’t found one without response) and this is making this blog a favorite after just hours of finding it.

This year I started GIY (love it, is it your term?) most of the cleaners I use at home and most of the recipes I’ve found mentioned Dr. Bronner’s castile soap but I didn’t made those because I never heard of that product in any store of my town or even the country but recently I found it in a store so I’m excited to try it and your post are increasing that excitement. I have some questions:

I’ve found different ratios from your post and comments for the Sal Suds All Purpose Spray, so which one you recommend me? I’ll use it for toilet, painted wood, painted walls, stainless steel sink, granite counter and any I can add, I was thinking a ratio of 1:64 if my calculus are correct from one of your comments.

Also the dish soap to wash the dishes at hand, my method is putting water in a little pot adding dish soap and soaking my cloth to scrub the dishes. So counting this, which ratio you recommend to make the dish soap using Sal Suds? In this one I was thinking 1:4 but I’m not sure as this will be diluted in more water.

And finally (sorry for the length of the comment) in this post you mention you were converted to green, as part of the creators of the Dr. Bronner’s family wasn’t that in you since the beginning?

Thanks you for all the posts and the effort you make answering the comments with valid sources supporting what you say.

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Adrian – Thanks! Dialoguing with people has always been core to Dr. Bronner’s. My grandfather used to have his phone number on the bottles and would answer the phone himself! Well done on your GIY (yep, my term!) journey.

Different ratios for Sal Suds – The ratios are fully customizable to your situation. The only risk is using more Sal Suds than you need and running out of it too soon. My ratios are starting points for you to adjust as needed. For the All Purpose Spray, I generally go with 1 Tbsp to 1 quart of water. I guess this would be a ratio of 1:64 as you calculated. For the dish washing, if I’m picturing your set-up properly, I think you can even dilute the Sal Suds more. The 1:4 ratio is what I keep in my bottle by the sink, but then I always squirt that into more water in the sink or a pot. Perhaps go 1:10, or even more diluted if you find that’s too much.

I agree with you that it does seem I should have been “green” from the get-go. But I guess it’s part of our contrary human nature that I had to figure it out for myself. Although we certainly had plenty of Dr. Bronner’s products in the house, I felt drawn to more popular conventional products as a teenager – bc of advertising, peer pressure, wanting to “fit in.” So it was later as an adult when my reason kicked in, that I realized for myself that lowering chemical exposure in myself and my family was a valuable thing.

Karena says:

“Everyone” says that tea tree oil is anti-microbial, but in trying to verify this, I just keep finding internet links that go all over the place, but always only to other places that say the same thing – I haven’t found any original sources. Do you have links to any actual studies that demonstrate this?

Karena says:

I’ve really enjoyed my microfiber cloths – especially for glass. Unfortunately, it sounds like this may be about the environmentally worst textile material that exists! I put a few references below, but an online search will reveal so, so many more.

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Karena- Good on you for being aware of this issue. The primary concern about microfiber is in our clothing. In particular, low-quality garments that shed fibers easily that contaminate the water supply and then the garments wind up in a landfill just a season or two after purchase. It is something we should all read up on and consider in the quality and longevity of the garments we purchase. Patagonia has taken a lead in examining microfiber’s effect on the environment and is conducting two studies (read about them here They’ve also developed the Guppy Friend washing bag to catch fibers shed by washing synthetic fabrics (, which I’m trying out. (Although I’m not sure where the fibers go once they are captured in the bag.) Of the various alternatives for cleaning rags, each has its ups and downs. Cotton does an okay job of cleaning, but it is also one of the most pesticide-thirsty and genetically engineered crops. An organic source for that would be key as well. Paper towels or other disposables contribute to our ever-increasing piles of waste. Every decision has its consequences. I would love to hear your thoughts about this and will continue to share mine as they develop.

Herb says:

for the tea tree oil, could one use a little of your tea tree soap in place of essential oil?

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Herb – You don’t want to add more soap into the dilution than the recipe calls for, but you most certainly can use the Tea Tree Castile Soap in the recipe for the added antibacterial boost.

About Lisa Bronner

My grandfather was Dr. Bronner, my family makes soap, and I share ways to use it plus tips on greener living.

Learn about my book, Soap & Soul!

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