Thursday, April 24, 2014

Spring Cleaning Part 2: Tips for Sheds, Garages, & Barns


As rain gives way to sunshine and warmer temperatures, outdoor projects move from the “planning phase” to the “doing phase.” Many outdoor activities also involve cleaning workspaces that house tools, supplies, and equipment during the fall and winter. Here are some tips for safely managing spring cleaning efforts in sheds, garages, and barns.

Protect yourself!
Critters often find refuge from the weather in outbuildings during the colder months, which can expose you to harmful viruses as you clean. Gloves, a dust mask, and eye protection are good prevention measures. If you find an infestation or large quantities of animal/rodent feces or urine, consult a pest control company for guidance on cleaning the area and preventing further infestations.

Be careful with chemicals!
Chemicals stored in outbuildings should be checked to ensure that they are stored securely and the containers are in good condition. Unwanted hazardous materials should be taken HazoHouse for free disposal. HazoHouse is located at the Thurston County Waste and Recovery Center (2420 Hogum Bay Rd NE, Lacey WA 98516), and is open Friday – Tuesday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eligible businesses can also use HazoHouse, but disposal fees apply.

If a container holding hazardous materials is damaged or leaking, find out how to safely handle the material before moving the container. Depending on the type of material, you may be able to transfer the contents of the leaking container into another container. Leaking containers should not be taken to HazoHouse. For further guidance on what to do with leaking containers, contact the Hazardous and Solid Waste Hotline at (360) 867-2664.

Plan ahead!
While checking and organizing chemicals used for home and yard maintenance, consider storing chemicals in a manner that prevents leaks and spills from spreading. Plastic tubs and pails make great “secondary containment” for smaller quantities of home and yard chemicals. Do not store different types of chemicals, such as corrosive (acid) and caustic (base) cleaners in the same secondary containment unit; if stored together, leaks could result in dangerous chemical reactions. Use separate tubs for different types of chemicals and never store chemicals near a well or within reach of children.

Tubs and pails can help you organize stored hazardous materials and manage your inventory of home and yard products. By labeling and periodically checking tubs and pails, you can reduce the likelihood of buying and storing duplicate types of products, and proactively “weed out” chemicals that you no longer want or need. The less chemical products you keep at home, the less likely you are to have spills and hazardous exposures. 

Not sure how to dispose of something? Find information at

Friday, April 18, 2014

Spring Cleaning Part 1: Spring into Green Cleaning!

By Elisa Sparkman, Education & Outreach Specialist

If I had the time, I would clean my entire house from top to bottom every week. Sadly, I do not have the authority to add an 8th day to the week; only The Beatles could do that! Now that spring is here with more daylight hours, it almost feels as if there is more time. This has helped me get ramped up and ready to do some spring cleaning. Yay!

As an Environmental Health Educator, I try my best to walk my talk, and use green cleaning at home. The great thing about green cleaning is that it’s simple, effective, and best of all, inexpensive. If you are not interested in making your own cleaners, to find the least toxic cleaning products check out the Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Healthy Cleaners.

Did you know that most accidental poisonings occur when the intended product is in use? If you have children and pets, green cleaning can lower the risk of accidental poisoning in your home.

Get started on your green cleaning adventure!

First and Foremost! When using green cleaning ingredients, it is still important to use protective gear. Even though the ingredients are not considered toxic, they hurt if they get in your eyes and some have the potential to irritate skin.

Essential Oils: If you use essential oils, remember that they are extremely concentrated. Each essential oil is different and contains different health and safety concerns. Research the oils you select – some should not have direct contact with skin, some are toxic to pets, and they should always be kept out of reach of children.

Baking Soda & Vinegar: This basic combination has major cleaning power to scrub away dirt and grime on just about any hard surface. Baking soda and water alone form a cleaning paste that works great on a glass-top stove. For soap scum and grit covered showers and tubs, scrub a large amount of baking soda with water to make a paste and then pour some vinegar over the paste and watch it foam for a few seconds and then scrub some more. Wipe or rinse away the paste with water and a sponge or cloth. To add extra cleaning power, add in a squirt or two of liquid Castile soap (available in many health stores and “natural” sections of larger grocery chains).

Scrub Brushes: There are many shapes and sizes of scrub brushes to help clean more efficiently and effectively. Scrub brushes can help you get the most out of your green cleaning ingredients.

Mopping floors: To mop hard floors, a mixture of one half cup of white vinegar for each gallon of warm water works great. The most difficult part is waiting until the floor is dry before walking on it.

Oven: Not for self-cleaning ovens. Mix 1/4 cup baking soda with 2 tablespoons salt and add just enough hot water to make a paste. Scrub away charred spills with a non-metallic bristle brush before applying the paste. Apply paste to oven surfaces, and let stand a few minutes or overnight. Scrub off with non-metallic scouring pad and water. Keep paste off of oven wires and heating elements. You can line the oven bottom with aluminum foil to prevent future stains. Oven cleaners labeled with the signal words “Danger” or “Poison” mean the product is ranked at the highest hazard level. These are common in most stores. To find less hazardous oven cleaners, look for products that say, “Caution” or “Warning” instead.

Windows: An easy way to clean windows effectively and safely is to put club soda in a spray bottle and use as window cleaner. Wipe with a lint-free cloth or use a squeegee. This works for mirrors too!

All-purpose Surface Spray: For a simple countertop spray, fill a spray bottle about one quarter full of white vinegar, add the juice of one lemon (strain it so the seeds and pulp don’t clog the sprayer), and fill the rest with water. Close the spray bottle and shake. One option is to add a couple of drops of an essential oil of your choice. Some work well for cleaning and they can help mask some of the vinegar smell. Remember that essential oils are very strong; you only need one or two drops.

Mold: When it comes to cleaning mold, all you need is detergent (laundry or dish) and a scrub brush to scrub the mold away. Mold grows when moisture is present. It is common to get a little mold in your shower or inside of windows. If you have a continuous mold problem, find the source of moisture, such as a leak, and fix it. A large amount of moisture can cause structural damage, leading to a large repair or replacement. To discourage mold from growing, use kitchen and bathroom fans during, and for at least one half hour after, cooking and bathing.
Other quick tips!
  • Simmer cinnamon sticks and cloves in water on the stove for about 15 minutes for a safer air freshener. Many air-freshener products release chemicals that pollute indoor air.
  • Microfiber cloths are great for dusting. Just dampen them with water and dust away! Check out our previous post to learn what is in dust and why it’s an environmental health concern.
  • For slow drains, pour ½ cup baking soda down the drain, then a ½ cup of vinegar. Let it fizz for a few minutes and then pour a tea kettle full of boiling water down. Repeat if needed. This loosens minor clogs and helps prevent future clogs.  If it doesn’t work, use a mechanical snake or a plunger.
  • Learn how to tell if a product is hazardous, tips for safe use, and proper storage from last year’s post called, Yuk!

Some people are hesitant to try green cleaning because they like the way the products they are used to smell or don’t appreciate the smell of vinegar. Advertising has told us for decades what clean should smell like – “Pine Tree Forest,” “Lemon Breezes” and so on. These strong smells can actually be an irritant for many and trigger asthma attacks for some. We may want to rethink what clean smells like. When used in the correct amounts, the smell of vinegar fades quickly and many green cleaning recipes don’t contain it at all. Choose green when you clean!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Scatter Creek Community Workshop on April 23

You are invited to a community workshop about the Scatter Creek Aquifer project, hosted by the Scatter Creek Aquifer Project Citizens Advisory Committee and Thurston County Environmental Health.

When:           Wednesday April 23, 2014 from 6:30-8:30 pm

Where:         Rochester Middle School Commons
9937 Highway 12 SW
Rochester, WA 98579
(children's area provided)

The Scatter Creek Aquifer is susceptible to contamination because soils in the area do not filter out contaminants well. Unlike many other areas, there is not another deeper aquifer below the Scatter Creek Aquifer; it is the only source of drinking water for area residents. The project is assessing the impacts of septic systems on groundwater quality in the area. The community and government have done much over the years to protect water resources. This project continues those efforts by evaluating the effect of septic systems on the aquifer as the area becomes more residential. 

The project monitors groundwater to check on current conditions, uses scientific groundwater computer modeling to predict potential future impacts to the aquifer, and works with the community to recommend strategies to protect drinking water now and in the future. For more information visit the project website.
This event is an opportunity for the community to learn more about the project and provide input.  For more information, or to get updates email or call (360) 867-2582.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Rise Above Plastics: The Butterfly Effect at Spring Arts Walk

Last year, Carrie Ziegler with Thurston County Solid Waste Program developed a unique educational project about the waste concerns of plastic. Carrie worked with students all over Thurston County to create a life size whale out of plastic bags. The whale was featured in the Procession of the Species parade at Olympia’s Arts Walk where it created quite a splash! Shortly after that, Thurston County approved the ban on plastic bags. The  students who helped create that whale were able to directly relate their efforts to a broad community initiative.

Now, Carrie has joined forces with Jennifer Johnson of Thurston County’s Environmental Health Division to coordinate another piece of educational community art for Olympia’s 2014 Spring Arts Walk. The project is called, “Rise Above Plastics: The Butterfly Effect.” The name of the project comes from the Butterfly Effect theory - that a small change in a complex system can have large effects elsewhere.

Carrie and Jennifer have presented to over 600 Thurston County students about the waste and health concerns of plastics. Students made butterflies with repurposed plastic juice pouches. The presentations emphasize individual actions that create a butterfly effect of positive change in the world. Students learn about important choices such as using glass or stainless steel water bottles, taking re-usable bags shopping, and never heating food or storing hot food in plastic containers.

The unique, youth-designed, hanging art installation will be featured at the newly renovated Washington Center for the Performing Arts at Olympia’s 2014 Spring Arts Walk on April 25-26. It can be viewed there through June 2014.