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Especially when hiring a small, indepen-dently owned service, clients can usually specify which cleaning products to use,including natural agents like vinegar andbaking soda, but that doesn’t ensure thecompany uses them across the board.Maid to Clean in Bethesda, Md., only uses “neutral” products like vinegar and water, baking soda, and the brand-namecleaners Bon Ami and Simple Green. Thecompany does not use alcohol-basedcleaners, ammonia, bleach or scented prod-ucts.HEPA vacuums catch dust particlesand allergens instead of releasing themback into the air.Some brand-name products are greenin name only. In its Guide to Healthy Cleaning, the Environmental Working Group looks beyond marketing claims andrates more than 2,000 products in a search-able database at www.ewg.org. (Of the 29Simple Green products analyzed, 19received D’s and F’s, while six earned A’sand B’s.) The online guide includes a labeldecoder to translate technical terms and adhype.
With carwashes, use of chemicals is a sec-ondary concern, behind water consump-tion. A company truly committed to“green washing” – in the positive sense – will reclaim and reuse water; collect roof rainwater and invest in an ample waterreclaim system for recycling carwash waste- water, says John O’Connell, manager, GoGreen Car Wash, Olympia, Wash. According to O’Connell, the majority of carwashes are equipped with a3,000-gallon reclaim system or smaller, which can’t keep up with water demandson busy days. For high-traffic carwashes, areclaim system of at least 12,000 gallons isneeded to give solids time to settle beforethe water recirculates, he says.Generally speaking, older carwashes“have inferior equipment,” O’Connell says,so to satisfy cleanliness expectations “they have to use stronger chemicals.”Moreover, “If you visit a wash that hasolder equipment and isn’t computer-con-trolled, each vehicle gets chemicals for a30-foot vehicle whereas at a modern washeach vehicle is scanned at entry” and chem-ical and water use adjusts accordingly, headds. Touchless carwashes “are not eco-friendly due to the fact that you have nobrush or agitation, so these washes usechemicals that are four times stronger thana tunnel type of wash” and cannot reclaimused water, O’Connell says.Beware of carwashes that try to sellsquirt-on extras like rain shields and waxconditioners. “If you really want to begreen, just purchase Rain X at an auto storeand apply it to your windows – no need toapply it to the whole vehicle,” O’Connellsays. And “all newer vehicles have a factory clear coat and do not benefit from water-based wax or conditioner add-ons.”
Eco-friendly lawn services can be tough toidentify because so many conventionalcompanies incorporate the word “green”in their name and marketing as a referenceto grass, not environmental practices. And when choosing a service, a host of envi-ronmental concerns are at stake, fromchemical applications (fertilizers, herbi-cides, pesticides) to small-engine emissions.In just one hour of use, a gas lawnmow-er emits the same volume of pollutants as40 cars, says A.I.R. Lawn Care owner Zack Kline, citing EPA data.His Bethesda-based company usesSTIHL and Mean Green electric lawn careequipment and a solar-powered charging unit to reduce noise and air pollution. Along with emissions, conventionallawn care creates waste including 300pounds of clippings annually for a1,000-square-foot lawn.Concerned homeowners should look for a landscaping service that uses nativeplantings and integrated pest management;recycles clippings into compost or mulch;and takes measures to reduce water use andprevent runoff.Many services apply chemicals only as alast resort, and some use organic fertilizersand pest- and weed-control methods exclu-sively. Analyzing and optimizing soil composi-tion in yards, beds and garden plots fromthe get-go helps reduce maintenancerequirements altogether, Kline says.
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