Even in a Green World, Disposable Cleaning Products Rule

How is it that people who are generally devoted to living green are so willing to use disposables to clean?

May 28, 2010 | Source: AP/Mercury News | by Kim Cook

Michelle Lee of Asheville, N.C., spends a lot of time selecting organic food for her family of six.

“Cleaning’s another story,” however, says Lee, who writes a housekeeping blog, Adventures of Supermom. “I need things that make my life easier, and I love a fast cleanup. The convenience of wipes outweighs everything to me.”

How is it that people who are generally devoted to living green are so willing to use disposables to clean?

Well, disposable products are easy. Instead of hauling out a bucketful of cleaning gear, you pop open a package.

“I credit Swiffer with kind of starting the whole idea of cleaning as you go,” says Carolyn Forte, the director for home appliances and cleaning products at the Good Housekeeping Institute. “A lot of consumers have gotten away from dedicating specific time for cleaning. Instead, people are doing a little bit all of the time.”

There’s now a kit for just about every household cleaning task, from swabbing dust bunnies to scrubbing the toilet. Introduced by Proctor & Gamble a decade ago, Swiffer now holds about 25 percent of the dry and wet mopping tool category.

Julia Hidy of Toronto turned to the electrostatic cloths after a recent fire in her apartment building.

“Cotton rags and towels just smeared the soot around, and 32 other building residents were vying for the laundry,” she says. “Cleaning sprays were too caustic to use all over. The soot was too fine to vacuum. The electrostatic action of the Swiffer cloths picked up the soot and trapped it before it spread.”

Hidy says she doesn’t own a car, has recycled for 20 years and buys organic. But she’s devoted to her disposable cleaning tool.

“When someone comes up with a solution that’s exactly like a Swiffer, but completely reusable and doesn’t trigger my dust allergies, I’ll be there,” she says.

There are private-label refill dry cloths for Swiffers and the like; some consumers are devoted to the original, while others are happy to buy whatever is cheapest.

Mary Findlay, author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Green Cleaning” (Alpha 2009), isn’t a fan of either.

“People spend on average about $200 a year for wet and dry cloths,” she says.

“I found running to the trash each time one of them soiled, then going to get the replacement, slowed down my cleaning time. An old white 100 percent cotton T-shirt is just as effective, and washable.”