WIPE ‘N’ SWIPE: the dirt on cleaning cloths

They're not über-greenly upcycled from torn-up Ts like old-fashioned rags, but today's polyester/nylon/polyamide cleaning cloths promise to get your house spic 'n' span with plain water and no chemical spritzing. So how do they measure up?


ENJO

I know plenty of people who love their Enjo cloths (and no doubt they’ll loudly protest this ranking). But these Austrian-made products are outlandishly priced out of most people’s budget – especially since the cleaning process requires two items per room. You need to buy a fleecy wet glove ($49) and a drying wipe ($36) for kitchen and bathroom, plus a kitchen scrub ($35) and dust glove ($49). My take: you’ll need less elbow grease with a basic sponge and natural cleaning cream for scummy tubs, and cleaning cloths for everything else. $35-$49.

Score: NN

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NORWEX

With their army of “consultants,” these guys are like the Avon of synthetic microfibre cleaning cloths. To keep cloths from harbouring bacteria, Norwex famously embeds them with antibacterial micro-silver rather than controversial nano-silver (a smaller particle). The company insists its cloths don’t leach silver (a pesticide) into waterways. But microfibre cloths have been shown to remove 99.9 per cent of bacteria from surfaces with or without silver, thanks to their weave. Norwex has separate cloths for kitchens, “regular” cleaning, windows and stainless steel surfaces, plus dusting mitts. All effective, except it gets pricey and annoying to keep track of which is which. Made in China (though “made fairly”). $16.

Score: NNN

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E-CLOTH

Thankfully, E-Cloth has ditched the antibacterial nano silver in most of its microfibre cloths. Very similar to Norwex (both do the job well with just water), except these European cloths are made in Korea instead of China. And as with Norwex, there are now way too many cloths for separate functions (stovetop, stainless steel, polishing, electronics, bathroom, shower), which is a bit of a cash grab, though the added scrubbing corner on the kitchen cloths makes them a better multi-use performer in my opinion. $8.

Score: NNNN

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WIPE AND GLOW

These are awesome for a one-cloth, streak-free shine on surfaces like stainless steel, glass or buffing up a sink. Again, no cleaners required. The company, which makes the cloths in the U.S., claims they can be used on heavy-duty surfaces like cars, too, but I haven’t tried that. My mom likes these for dusting. My mother-in-law’s a big fan, too. However, they’re far less durable then other cloths and tend to get balled up after half a year of laundering, so we’re docking a point. $6. Update: company says you can extend use by handwashing.

Score: NNNN

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BLUE WONDER

A family favourite – and it’s made in Canada (in BC)! My mom’s had hers for over five years and swears it holds up best over time. (Just boil it now and then, like with other microfibre cloths.) Love that you’re not expected to buy five different cloths for different functions Blue Wonder’s Classic Cloth will do windows, glass, stovetops, pots and pans, cars, electronics, chrome, sinks – you name it. More scrubby than the Wipe & Glow, and way more durable. $25.

Score: NNNNN


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Q. I heard borax is toxic. Is that true?

A. Some conversations are difficult to have, like when we first found out that Nalgene and Sigg reusable water canisters contained hormone-disrupting BPA, despite claims to the contrary. Now we should probably talk about borax.

Greenies and homesteaders have been concocting their own do-it-yourself recipes from the mineral for eons. I’ve previously recommended borax in this column and my Ecoholic books in recipes for DIY laundry and dishwasher detergent and natural pest control.

Borax, aka sodium borate/tetraborate, is mostly mined in California or Turkey. Mining isn’t considered a green activity, but the California borax operation has been called “perhaps the most cleanly operated mine in the U.S.”

Should we worry about coming in contact with the stuff? It can definitely be an irritant to skin, eyes and lungs, but what about bigger concerns? Borax has been to date cleared of ties to cancer. But animal studies on its reproductive impacts haven’t been so kind to borates like borax and boric acid. As such, both borax and boric acid (what you get when you mix borax with a mineral acid such as hydrochloric acid) have been classified by the European Union as reproductive toxins since 2010. They’re now on the list of Substances for Very High Concern under Europea’s REACH system (Regulation on Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals). They have to come with the warning “May damage fertility. May damage the unborn child.”

Still, the EU said consumer exposure to low doses of borates in cleaning products falls below levels of concern, so these products shouldn’t be restricted. The EU didn’t say as much for medicinal and building material uses. However, the European Commission has since labelled boric acid a category 1 endocrine disruptor, which means at least one study in living organisms has found it messes with hormones in some way, and it is prioritized for further study.

The whole thing, not surprisingly, has thrown the North American green industry on the defensive. On this side of the pond, boric acid is still marketed without warning labels as a natural insecticide. It’s used in insulation and mattresses as a natural flame retardant, and Canada allows borax and boric acid in personal care items at concentrations of up to 5 per cent. You’ll find it in some vaginal suppositories, and – highly diluted – in eye washes for pink eye. It’s also used to make Silly Putty.

Some say it’s too soon to trash these borates, but we’ve shunned plenty of other category 1 endocrine disruptors like butyl and propyl parabens. My own box of borax isn’t doing much more than gathering dust at this point.


Greenfind of the Week

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TORONTO TOOL LIBRARY

Ever pine for a power saw? Wish you could just borrow garden shears or a soldering iron off a friend? Enter the Toronto Tool Library. These guys don’t just offer a fabulously extensive tool library to anyone with a membership (at $50, it’s way less than the cost of a new power drill) you can also book workshop space, super-cool birthday parties (3D printing party, anyone?) or sign up for affordable workshops on woodworking, laser cutting or railing-planter-box building. The whole thing was dreamt up by the non-profit Institute for a Resource-Based Economy, designed to “challenge people’s perceptions of ownership and our relationship to the Earth’s resources.” East-enders can access kitchen tools, too, for an extra $25 (thekitchenlibrary.ca). torontotoollibrary.com

ecoholic@nowtoronto.com | @ecoholicnation

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