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Study is a clean eco sweep

A big giveaway of biodegradable, low-toxicity and environmentally friendly cleaning products may have more than 100 Island County residents giving up their Windex for vinegar.

At the 2001 Island County Fair, volunteers and employees with Island County's Waste Wise -- a Washington State University and county-sponsored waste education program -- signed up 130 people to try a number of these products in a blind trial to determine whether simple, homemade cleaning products could do the same job as those marketed commercially.

A year later, after receiving survey forms generated from a three-month test period, Waste Wise can say the trial was a success. Janet Hall, coordinator for the Waste Wise program, said most of the people who tried the products said they got their homes as clean or cleaner than they did using products they buy in the cleaning aisle at the grocery store.

"I was impressed," Hall said.

Those participating in the trial each received a bucket containing a number of cleaners, including an all-purpose household cleanser, a lemon cleanser, furniture polish, a dustless cloth, and two types of window cleaners. Ingredients used to make the cleansers, such as lemons, vinegar and club soda, are commonly available and are far less toxic, Hall said, than commercial cleansers containing ammonia and petroleum products.

Results from the test compiled from more than 100 survey forms showed that most trial participants -- 92 percent -- tried the cleaning products out of curiosity. Seventy percent also said they were seeking alternatives to cleaning chemicals they considered hazardous.

Garnering the highest level of approval from participants was a vinegar-based household cleanser. Eighty-six percent of those who tried it said they "loved" it, according to Hall. All the products used in the trial received higher than a 62 percent approval rating. In the run- off between club soda and vinegar window cleaners, the nod went to the club soda solution by nine percentage points.

The trial, which was paid for through a $2,000 grant from the Island County Public Works Watershed Program, is intended as a public education tool. Hall said she wants to do another bucket giveaway, but will have to wait until at least next year because no funds were available for a 2002 trial.

However, two other Washington counties are giving out their own buckets of environmentally-friendly cleaning products this year after learning of the Island County trial.

All "recipes" for the cleaners used in the trial were kept secret for the duration of the test, but they are easily come by now. Hall said she got them from the book "Clean House, Clean Planet," by Karen Logan. Waste Wise has donated copies of the book to every library on Whidbey Island to make the recipes available to more people.

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