Latest posts in Queen of Green

DIY recipes to help combat colds and flu

November 15, 2015 | 3 comments
Photo: DIY recipes to help combat colds and flu

Hydrogen peroxide is a great disinfectant and breaks down into oxygen and water so it's kind to the environment. (Credit: Brendon Purdy Photography)

There is no evidence that antibacterial products actually do a better job than regular soap in a household setting. So avoid them UNLESS you work in a hospital.

Why? Overuse of antibacterial ingredients — like triclosan — is helping create superbugs. Our increasing obsession with avoiding germs could actually be making us sick.

What is triclosan?

Triclosan is used in cleansers, antiperspirants/deodorants, toothpastes and hand sanitizers as a preservative and anti-bacterial agent. It's toxic to fish and wildlife and may be an endocrine disrupter, i.e., interfere with hormone function. It's best avoided, which can be tricky because it seems like it's in everything — soaps, countertops, garden hoses, garbage bags, socks, laundry products, facial tissues and more.

How to shop smarter

  • Avoid anything labelled "anti-bacterial".
  • Avoid triclosan in the ingredient list.
  • Avoid parfum (a.k.a fragrance). Some fragrance ingredients can trigger allergies and asthma. Some are linked to cancer and neurotoxicity. Some are harmful to fish and other wildlife.
  • Choose bar soaps — a U.S. study found triclosan in 76 per cent of liquid soaps and only 29 per cent of bar soaps (American Journal of Infection Control, 2002).
  • Choose products that list ingredients (especially home cleaners).
  • Choose products with plant-based ingredients. * Choose products with ECOLOGO or Green Seal labels.

If you live or work with children, non-toxic disinfectants are even more important. Kids are not miniature adults — kilogram for kilogram they absorb more chemicals. They're closer to the ground and they have an "exploratory nature" — they put everything in their mouths!

Germ killing DIY recipes

One way to get off the antibacterial crazy train — make your own soap, hand sanitizer, cleaner and disinfectant!

Liquid hand or body soap (takes less than 10 minutes)

Add to soap dispenser (even the foaming kind):

  • ¾ cup (187.5 ml) water
  • ¼ cup (62.5 ml) liquid castile soap (unscented or scented with essential oils; available at most health food stores or organic grocers)

Check out my four-part blog on how to make your own cold-process bar soap with vegetable oils and natural exfoliants.

Hand sanitizer

  • ¼ cup (62.5 ml) pure aloe gel
  • ½ cup (125 ml) grain alcohol (e.g., vodka) or rubbing alcohol
  • 5 to 8 drops tea tree or thyme essential oil
  • Optional: add 2 T (30 ml) vegetable glycerin to combat alcohol's drying effect

Mix and store in a squeeze bottle. Keep a batch in your diaper bag, child's backpack, at your desk or in your purse or car.

All-purpose spray cleaner

  • Mix equal parts white vinegar and water
  • Optional: add 3 to 5 drops of thyme essential oil

Add to a spray bottle. Use it to clean your home — wipe down countertops, keyboards, doorknobs, etc.

Acetic acid (white vinegar) is a great disinfectant, deodorizer and grease cutter. It tackles salmonella (some strains), E. coli and other "gram-negative" bacteria that can cause pneumonia, meningitis and bloodstream, wound or surgical site infections.

The acid in vinegar crosses the bacteria cell membrane and prompts a release of protons that kills the cell. Heinz unveiled a "cleaning" version of its white distilled vinegar — instead of five per cent acetic acid, it has six. Some "eco" stores sell a 12 per cent solution. Simply heating vinegar can also boost its power.

Disinfectant spray

Transfer store-bought hydrogen peroxide to a dark spray bottle (it's sensitive to light).

Unlike chlorine bleach, hydrogen peroxide breaks down into oxygen and water and is kind to the environment. Did you know eco or oxygen bleach is really diluted hydrogen peroxide?

On their own, vinegar and hydrogen peroxide are each strong germ killers. Used in combination, they're even better — 10 times more effective than disinfecting with either substance alone and more effective than bleach in the kitchen.

Here's the catch: mixing them together cuts their germ-killing power, but using one after the other works well.

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Don't confuse "best before" with "expired"

November 12, 2015 | 4 comments
Photo: Don't confuse

Did you know that milk can be consumed 7 days after the "best before" date, opened or unopened? (Credit:

Are you sitting down?

Yogurt with a best before date of today is still good (and safe) to eat for seven to 10 days (open or unopened)!

Reading best before dates as expiry dates probably contributes to food waste and "every year a staggering one-third — 1.3 billion tonnes — of the world's food is wasted after it has been harvested: 45 per cent of fruit and vegetables, 35 per cent of fish and seafood, 30 per cent of cereals, 20 per cent of dairy products and 20 per cent of meat."

Let's change that.

Best before dates have to do with food quality — freshness, texture, flavor and nutritional value — not safety. They are not expiry dates.

I suspect not confusing "best before" with "expired" will lead to these three things:

  1. You'll waste less food.
  2. You'll save money.
  3. You'll avoid sending food waste to the landfill, which contributes to increasing methane emissions and significantly adds to our climate change woes.
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Why I'm testing my home for radon

October 20, 2015 | 8 comments
Photo: Why I'm testing my home for radon

The best time to test for radon is during cooler seasons when your heater is on and windows are closed.

I'm a homeowner, wife, mother and passionate advocate for health promotion and cancer prevention.

Radon Aware asked me to share the four reasons I'm testing my home for radon (a known carcinogen):

Reason #1: I hate cancer

Radon exposure is responsible for 16 per cent of all lung cancer deaths in Canada AND the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers. No areas of our country are "radon-free".

Reason #2: It's cheap

A long-term test can be purchased online from Radon Aware for $30. The best test device measures concentrations over a period of at least 90 days.

Reason #3: It's easy

If you can unwrap a granola bar, you can test your home for radon! Simply remove the detector from the package and it's "on". The accompanying instructions will help you choose a room to test — it should be at the lowest level of the home where you spend at least four hours a day. (DO NOT test the kitchen, bathroom, crawl space or laundry room.) After 90 days, complete the data sheet; be sure to include the detector number, date you began testing and your postal code, and mail it to the lab in the return envelope. You can then access your test results online within two weeks.

Reason #4: It's fall

The best time to test is during cooler seasons when your heater is on and windows are closed.

Unlike Halloween, testing your home for radon doesn't need to be scary or tricky!

What else would you like to know about testing your home for radon?

Lindsay Coulter, a fellow Queen of Green

What's inside Dirty-Dozen-free personal care products?

October 14, 2015 | 26 comments
Photo: What's inside Dirty-Dozen-free personal care products?

Dirty-Dozen-free products may be more expensive because they're produced in smaller batches, contain less water and have shorter shelf life. (Credit: Linda Mackie)

To avoid the Dirty Dozen ingredients in cosmetics we must process the information ("I've been slathering what on my where and it causes cancer, interferes with hormone function or it's harmful to fish and wildlife!"), learn how do to dispose of products we no longer want AND find products that work.

It hasn't always been easy.

I asked Jean and Karen of Pure + Simple @PureAndSimpleCA your questions about Dirty-Dozen-free products:

What preservatives replace parabens?

We use Japanese honeysuckle for products that need to be more alkaline and we're exploring others from the Ecocert-certified preservatives list.

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How to leave the leaves

September 29, 2015 | 6 comments
Photo: How to leave the leaves

Those brown, dead leaves are the planet's butterfly nursery.

If I know you, you can't stop helping pollinators — planting a butterfly garden, getting your yard off grass, signing the Monarch Manifesto and more. Well, you won't believe what I want you to do (or not do) now...

DO NOT rake your leaves! (Because butterflies begin in leaves, as larvae.)

Those brown, dead leaves are the planet's butterfly nursery. They're home to butterfly larvae, microbes and worms. And leaf litter is where many species of butterflies and moths overwinter as pupae. Animals like toads, shrews and salamanders benefit from leaf litter to hide and hunt, too.

This fall, let your rake collect only dust.

Can't leave all of your leaves where they fall? Here are a few other ideas:

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