YES! But How? :: Cleaning

Dry Cleaning, Cleaning Baseboard Heaters, Recycling Cooking Oil, Heating systems, Teapot Cleaning, Silver Cleaning and Brass Cleaning


I know that dry cleaning is hard on the environment, and it isn't cheap. What are the alternatives? —Juan, via e-mail

About 80 percent of dry cleaners use a chemical called perchloroethylene (perc) to clean your clothes. The federal government considers perc a potential human carcinogen.

The best alternative to dry cleaning is to buy clothes that do not require dry cleaning. That said, many things that are labeled “dry clean only” can be washed by hand. Natural fabrics, such as linen, silk, and wool, have been around much longer than dry cleaning and careful hand-washing will keep them in fine shape. Use a gentle, low-alkaline detergent such as Ecover Laundry Liquid Wash, as regular laundry detergent is often too harsh. Roll wet clothes in a clean towel to absorb excess water and then allow them to air dry. Never wring or twist delicate items.

If you want the clean, pressed appearance that dry cleaning provides, you can take your clean clothes to the dry cleaners and ask to have them pressed only.

If you must make a trip to the dry cleaners, you have some choices. Three different technologies are emerging as substitutes to perc. About 30 percent of clothes labeled “dry clean only” can be cleaned using the Wetcleaning method, which uses water in computer-controlled machines to clean clothes. The second alternative uses a silicone-based solvent in conventional dry-cleaning machines. The third choice is a new method that submerses clothing in liquid carbon dioxide. Check your local directory to locate dry cleaners that use any of these alternative methods.

—Krista Camenzind


How do I safely clean my electric baseboard heater? —Cyd, via e-mail

Dirt and dust will keep your heater from operating at optimal efficiency. Clean your heaters seasonally by shutting off the heater and using a vacuum. A brush attachment can facilitate the process. Use a soft cloth to wipe off excess dust on the surface of the heater.

—Erin Cusick


I have about a third of a gallon of olive oil that has “turned” and am wondering how to dispose of it. I know it's a bad idea to pour it down the drain, especially since we have a septic tank, but I'm not sure of a good way to dispose of it. —Sue Kienle, via e-mail

Alternatives for recycling or re-using your rancid olive oil include the following:

  • Locate a restaurant-owner who will agree to include your oil with the next batch of kitchen waste oil and grease that he or she sends to be rendered—the process of turning grease or oil into fertilizer or animal feed.
  • Locate a bio-diesel vehicle owner who can use the oil as fuel.
  • Donate the oil to a horse barn for use as hoof polish.
  • Add the oil, in small quantities, to your compost pile. Waste management officials advise against mixing oil in compost, as it will attract animals, but unofficial composters state that small amounts of vegetable oil in large amounts of wood shavings or dried leaves would be fine.

—Pam Chang


My wife and I are currently in the midst of a New England house hunt. We are curious to know which heating system (electric, natural gas, oil) does the least damage to the environment. Also, are electric floorboard heaters more or less of an environmental issue than forced air? At the current moment, alternative energy sources are not an option (finances). —Brian Flinn and Kathy Krausevia e-mail

Though no fossil fuel sources are renewable, natural gas is usually rated as the most efficient, and oil is rated least efficient and most expensive. Wood heat, while renewable, contributes more carbon dioxide to our atmosphere than do any of the fossil fuels.
Zone heating offers the ability to control the temperature in individual rooms through units like baseboard heaters. This will help minimize extraneous energy usage compared to centralized heating systems, such as forced air, that would heat your home as a whole.

Heat pumps are also an excellent option. They use between one third and one half less energy than electric furnaces.

Initially, as you look for a new home, evaluate the site and its surroundings. Unobstructed windows to the south will provide a good deal of warmth through the winter, whereas windows on the north side will draw heat away. Also, keep in mind that two-story homes are easier to heat than are one-story homes of equivalent square footage.

Simple, and often low-cost, weatherization techniques will ensure the efficiency of whatever heating system you end up with in your new home. Test for air leakage around doors and windows and attempt to caulk and weather-strip these areas. Install double or triple-pane windows or storm windows to help trap heat. In homes with central heating systems, examine the ductwork for leaks; inadequately sealed ducts will account for the greatest loss in heat and can contribute to poor indoor air quality. Contact your local utility or state energy office for other conservation tips, coupons and rebates on energy efficient products, or to find out about having a home energy audit.

While you may not be able to invest in your own alternative energy system, you can support the emerging clean energy industry by purchasing renewable energy certificates called “Green Tags.” The money you use to buy Green Tags goes to renewable energy producers, such as wind farms, as a sort of private subsidy. Green Tags are a tax deductible donation and can be purchased in any region of the country. You can find Green Tags by visiting Bonneville Environmental Foundation online at
Erin Cusick


I've been collecting used teapots from markets in England to give as gifts to friends. Do you have a recipe to clean the insides of teapots and another for cleaning silver? —Sue, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

The tannin found in tea is a naturally browning substance and could be the culprit for your stained teapots. To clean a tea-stained china teapot, fill the pot, including the spout, with nearly boiling water. Drop in two teaspoons of borax and let the mixture sit for one hour. If the stain is stubborn, let the mixture sit overnight. Wash the teapot in hot, soapy water and dry with a towel.

To eliminate mineral deposits, fill the teapot with ice cubes, slices of a whole lemon, a tablespoon of salt, and a splash of water. Swish the mixture around and leave overnight.

Another option is to fill the teapot with two cups of vinegar and bring to a boil. Simmer for ten minutes and rinse well.

To avoid collecting excess moisture inside your teapots, put a sugar cube in them when they are not in use.

A simple solution to clean silver is to combine approximately one liter of room temperature water, three tablespoons of baking soda, and three tablespoons of salt in a bowl. Add a small piece of aluminum foil and immerse the silver in the solution. Your silver should shine again in a matter of seconds.

—Megan Tady

Any suggestions on a green-friendly brass cleaning product? —Diane, Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin

Brass cleaning products, like Brasso, are flammable and corrosive because they are filled with toxic substances such as ammonia, sulfuric acid, hydrofluoric acid, and phosphoric acid. The health hazards of these chemicals range from irritated skin to blindness.

Getting your brass to look new doesn't have to be dangerous. In fact, most refrigerators hold the necessary elements needed to make a safe and green-friendly brass-cleaning product. Any food item that contains natural acid will remove tarnish, including ketchup, sour milk, vinegar, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, and tomatoes.

One recipe you can use to clean brass and copper is to mix one teaspoon of vinegar and one teaspoon of salt. Rub this solution on your brass with a soft cloth. Rinse the item, dry completely, and use vegetable oil to shine.

You can also cut a lemon in half, sprinkle salt on the lemon, and then rub the lemon on the brass. Be sure to wipe the brass with a soft, moist cloth to remove the lemon juice.

—Megan Tady

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