Archive for February, 2012

February 12, 2012

How I Clean My Counters with Vinegar

I’ve been bit by the cleaning bug this weekend, so you’ll have to bear with me here.  I just really want to share with you something that, if nothing else, will perhaps help you save a few dollars on the counter or other surface cleaner you may be buying.

A few years ago, Cook’s Illustrated published their findings of a study regarding the effectiveness of expensive produce cleansers.  You know, those spray bottles you see in the produce section touting their ability to get your vegetables squeaky clean?  They researched four different methods of cleaning* and came up with somewhat surprising results.  Apples and pears were split into four groups:

  1. Cleaned with antibacterial hand soap (not suggested by anyone, just done for purposes of the study)
  2. Cleaned with a vinegar solution (one part vinegar, three parts water)
  3. Cleaned with water and a scrub brush
  4. Cleaned with water only

Why they didn’t use a commercial vegetable cleanser, I’m not sure.  Perhaps their goal was actually to look for alternatives to these pricey solutions.  In any case, the one that worked the best?  The vinegar solution: it killed 98% of the bacteria on the surface of the fruit.

So, with that in mind, I’ve switched my cleaning supplies**.  I keep a spray bottle of one part vinegar to three parts water next to my sink and use it to wipe off my counters.  The funny thing is, that I actually rarely use this spray bottle for my produce. What can I say? I’m a person of habit, and I have just gotten so used to washing my apples with water and scrubbing a lot.

I use distilled white vinegar and water, and instead of having to measure out the portions each time, I spent a few extra minutes the first time I measured them out marking the points on the bottle where I should fill first with water, then with vinegar. Handy for a lazy person like me.

I don’t like commercial cleaning products and tend to avoid them. We did most of our cleaning with bleach (for the bathroom) and vinegar (for the floors) already anyway. We also invested in a few inexpensive wash cloths in fun green and blue colors and rotate them through.  Now, each night after we finish washing dishes, we squirt all the surfaces in the kitchen, including the kitchen table, and wipe them down with our cloths.

You might think our whole kitchen constantly smells like vinegar, but it doesn’t. That’s because the vinegar smell dissipates after it dries. Some people put orange blossom water or essential oils in their sprays, but I don’t like to because it just confuses my taste buds when I go to make and eat something with orange blossom water (imagine if those smells in commercial cleaning products were actually edible and suddenly you went to eat it in a dish – ew).

For the longest time I would get so frustrated, because I’d have to rotate through cloths so quickly (every day in some cases). I hate doing laundry (as I said, I’m lazy), and I just couldn’t keep up with these cloths. This is because they’d harbor the bacteria I would wipe up from the counters, no matter how hard and well I rinsed them out afterward. The smell alone was enough to gross me out, not to mention thinking that they canceled out any good I did using my vinegar solution with cross-contamination right back onto my counters.

And then suddenly, a couple months ago after years of this struggle, it dawned on me: If I use the spray bottle of vinegar solution to kill bacteria on my counters, couldn’t I do the same with these cloths?

Bingo! I have been able to extend the life of these cloths between washes and only switch them out once or twice a week now. Each time I use it to wipe something up, I rinse it well with hot water, wring it out, and then give it a few good sprays on both sides before hanging it up to dry above the sink. No more bacteria, no more smells, much less laundry. It’s a win all around!

How do you clean your counters? What’s your favorite cleaning tip?

Vinegar Counter and Surface Cleaner

1/4 cup vinegar
3/4 cup water

Mix vinegar and water in a spray bottle and use on counters and tables. I also spray my plastic meat cutting board after I wash it and leave it in the dish drain to dry. The vinegar and smell will dissipate as it dries.

*I can’t link directly to the Cook’s Illustrated article because it is under their pay-only portion of the site which doesn’t have universal access, so I have linked to an NPR review of the study as well as the Cook’s Illustrated homepage.

**A quick note on food safety: this method for cleaning counters would not be condoned by a health inspector, and it probably doesn’t kill 98% of bacteria like it does on the smooth skins of apples and pears. I haven’t done my own scientific analysis, but my personal experience suggests it’s pretty darned close. In over two years of using it I have no reason to believe it’s not effective enough.

February 2, 2012

Why We Shouldn’t Drink Bottled Water

I put “Tapped” on my Netflix cue over a year ago when I first read its brief description.  Bottled water is not good for the environment.  I knew that.  I also knew plastic causes cancer.  That’s probably why I put off watching this documentary.

Do not put off watching this documentary.  Watch it now.  And then tell all your friends to watch it.  Here is a preview:

First: Yes, “Tapped” is a one-sided documentary.  This is because the other side refused to interview for the film.

Okay, we got that out of the way.  The movie begins in rural Maine, where Poland Springs pumps Fryeburg’s municipal water into its bottles (Poland Springs is owned by Nestle, which owns Arrowhead, Calistoga, Deer Park, Ice Mountain, Nestle Pure Life, Ozarka, and Zephyrhills as well).  According to the interviews, residents were not made aware that the bottling company had requested and received permits until they began pumping.

My first reaction to this was that it was not news to me.  Then they said that bottling companies are selling bottled water at 1,900 times the price they are paying for the raw material.  I knew it was a significant margin of profit, and obviously there are other overhead costs, but seriously: 1,900 times the price???

But I did have my doubts about this film still at this point.  I root for the little guy.  But in the pond of little guys, there are little guys and there are smaller little guys.  These residents of Fryeburg, Maine were coming together and fighting the water industry.  They had the support of resident Jim Wilfong, a former cabinet member of the Clinton Administration. The average household income is $54,000 a year (for an average of around 2.2 people per household).


In other words, the democratic system was on their side.  What surprised me is this: they are still losing.


And not only they are losing.  The film continues down the Eastern Seaboard to North Carolina and Georgia, where droughts are occurring at the same time as Coca Cola and Pepsi are quite literally pumping the wells dry.  Next the film turns to Corpus Cristi, Texas, where the oil refineries produce the plastics that become the bottles we drink out of.  And here the story really turned into the sad case of the weak being preyed upon by the mighty: people who purchased their homes years ago when they received local jobs (not necessarily at the refinery) are now sick with all kinds of ailments due to the harmful particles in the air produced by the refinery.  They cannot sell their homes, because no one will buy a home nowadays that is so close to an oil refinery.  They are sick, and they are stuck next to the thing that is making them sick.  It is an Erin Brokovich tale without a happy ending.



Until this point, I could see the average bottled water consumer’s response might be “Well, this doesn’t affect me.  It affects communities far far away from me.”  or “It won’t affect me for a very long time.”

Let me now share with you the film’s opening statistics:  over 75% of the Earth is covered in water but only 1% of it is drinkable.  By 2030 two out of three people will not have access to potable water.

That means, statistically speaking, in only seventeen years, the people sitting to the left and to the right of you will not have water.  Scratch that: YOU likely won’t have water.

Okay.  Now that we’ve clarified this, let’s go back to the 50-minute mark of the film.  We all by now likely know that BPA is bad for us.  Very very bad for us.  While individual water bottles don’t have BPA in them, the 5-gallon water cooler is made of BPA plastics.

Let’s go back to that opening statistic again: likely your place of work has a water cooler. It is also likely that it is filled with a BPA 5-gallon jug.  Is this water potable? Although the FDA and EPA standards say that those jugs are safe (based off of 2 industry-funded studies reported to them for analysis), there are over 200 independently published, peer-reviewed studies raising concerns about BPA.  One study has indicated that even incredibly minor amounts of BPA can substantially damage human organ development and reproductive system. Potable water?  I think not.

Lastly, let me briefly touch on their discussion of waste, because it’s what gave the producers the idea to make this movie.  I want to talk about this in more detail on the blog here, but here’s a start.

There are trash pits all over our world’s oceans.  Two in the Pacific, two in the Atlantic, one in the Indian Ocean.  There are likely similar gyres in every ocean in the world.  Captain Charles Moore’s tests of water in the Eastern Pacific Garbage Patch showed in 1999 that there was 6 times as much plastic in the waters as plankton (which feeds marine life).  In 2008, there was 46 times as much plastic.   That is almost 8 times as much plastic accumulating in our ocean in only 9 years.



If you’ve made it this far, and you only remember one thing from this blog post that reads more like an activist platform than an informative post, remember this quote from Captain Charles Moore standing on plastic-strewn Kamilo Beach in Hawaii, where trash is washed up by the currents:

“Eliminating the scourge of bottled water will eliminate one of the biggest environmental problems that we face.”

It’s that simple. We can’t undo the damage that is done, but we can stop more from happening.  This isn’t global warming where the cause and effects are murky.  The solution is right in front of us: stop using bottled water.

Recycling is not enough.  Only 50% of Americans have curbside recycling, and in the US only 1/3 of the 80 million bottles used daily are recycled.

So here’s the takeaway for you: don’t drink bottled water except in disaster situations and when there is no otherwise safe water to drink.  Drink your tap water. Filter it if you need to.  Bottled water and the industries it supports (ahem – oil – ahem) do not only hurt your health, it hurts the health of your environment, the world’s environment, your municipal works, and your own access to safe, potable tap water.


For more information on the film “Tapped” visit:   This is an independent review not supported, requested, or sponsored by the film or its affiliates.