by Maggie Shader on Saturday April 19, 2014

The annual Earth Day celebration on April 22 might inspire you to live greener—maybe you'll consider buying an electric or hybrid car to replace your gas guzzler, replace energy-hog incandescent lightbulbs with efficient CFLs or LEDs, or exchange your gas-powered mower for an electric model.

When it comes to spring cleaning and household chores in general, you can work greener by concocting your own greener cleaners from some basic ingredients. Bonus: These environmentally friendly products will save you money.

Keep the following in mind: Don't mix chlorine bleach with toilet-bowl cleaner or ammonia as it could produce dangerous fumes. Don't mix bleach with vinegar because the combination increases the potency of bleach, which could damage certain materials. Add water to a bucket or spray bottle first, then pour in ammonia, bleach, or other items. This way there's less chance that the caustic material will fly out if there's splash back.

And if you usually use contacts, wear glasses instead when handling these products since contacts can absorb vapors and hold them against the eye, causing irritation or damage.

1. Freshen up

Make your own air freshener using 1 teaspoon of baking soda, 1 teaspoon of vinegar (or lemon juice), and 2 cups of hot water. Pour mix into a spray bottle and spritz away. White vinegar has a slight scent while wet, but it leaves no odor after drying.

2. All-purpose cleaner

Soapy ammonia is a versatile cleaning agent. You can use it in place of a commercial all-purpose cleaner for everyday kitchen and bathroom cleaning. Dilute according to the instructions on the container.

3. Window and glass cleaner

Just add 3 tablespoons of vinegar per 1 quart of water in a spray bottle and you have a safe, eco-friendly window cleaner. Some recommend using half vinegar and half water. For extra-dirty windows try this: ½ teaspoon of liquid soap, 3 tablespoons of vinegar, and 2 cups of water. Shake well. The best way to get streak-free windows? Use newspaper instead of paper towels to wipe them.

4. Stains and spots

Cream of tartar lifts stains from sinks and tubs, and removes spots from aluminum pans. A mild alternative to chlorine bleach that can be used for stain removal and mild bleaching and killing germs, this common baking ingredient is available in drug stores and supermarkets.  

Don't want to go DIY? Check our Ratings of all-purpose cleaners, which include green products. Also, find the best paper towels for your chores.

5. Grime and grease

Use baking soda to clean up in the kitchen. For a "soft scrub" for countertops, mix baking soda and liquid soap until you get a consistency you like. The amounts don’t have to be perfect. Make only as much as you need, as it dries up quickly. To clean extra-greasy ovens, mix together 1 cup of baking soda and ¼ cup of washing soda, then add enough water to make a paste; apply the paste to oven surfaces and let soak overnight. The next morning, lift off soda mixture and grime; rinse surfaces well (gloves are recommended as washing soda may irritate skin).

6. Borax in the bathroom

Sold in most grocery stores, borax is a water softener and sanitizer. For a good all-purpose bathroom sanitizer, mix 2 teaspoons of borax, 4 tablespoons of vinegar, and 3 to 4 cups of hot water in a spray bottle. For extra cleaning power, add 1/4 teaspoon liquid soap to the mixture. To clean your toilet bowl, pour 1 cup of borax into the toilet before going to bed. In the morning, scrub and flush. For an extra-strength cleaner, add 1/4 cup vinegar to the borax.

7. Silver cleaner

1 piece aluminum foil (big enough to cover the bottom of the cleaning container)
1 to 2 tablespoons baking soda
2 quarts very hot water
Lay the aluminum foil along the bottom of a plastic or glass container.
Place the tarnished silver on top.
Sprinkle the silver with baking soda, and cover it with very hot water.
Soak until bubbles stop, then rinse and polish the silver with a soft cloth.

In the chemical reaction, the silver sulfide (tarnish) breaks down and transfers to the aluminum foil, which you can then throw out. The result: shiny silver. (Note: This technique removes tarnish uniformly, so don't use it with antique or intricately patterned silver.)

Floor-wax stripper

1 gallon cold water
½ cup powdered floor cleaner
2 cups ammonia
Fill a 2-gallon bucket with the water.

Carefully add the floor cleaner and ammonia. Mix well. Apply the stripper with fine steel wool and a lot of elbow grease.

Wall cleaner

3 quarts water
1 quart chlorine bleach
1/8 cup trisodium phosphate

Fill a 2-gallon bucket with the water, then carefully add the bleach and TSP. Mix well. Apply the cleaner with a sponge or soft brush, working from the bottom up—it's easier to clean streaks off a clean surface. Rinse the surface with a cloth dampened with clean, warm water. To avoid damaging paint or wallpaper with this (or any other cleaner), test it on an inconspicuous spot.

Wood furniture cleaner

6 teaspoons light olive oil
3 cups distilled white vinegar

Pour the oil and vinegar into a 1-quart spray bottle and blend well. Spray the cleaner onto wood, wipe over a damp cloth, and finish drying with a clean, lint-free cloth.

Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2007-2013 Consumers Union of U.S.

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by Trisha Calvo on Saturday April 19, 2014

Like Thanksgiving and Christmas, Easter gives us the chance to celebrate with friends and  family—usually around a big meal topped off with a chocolate bunny. You can lighten up your Easter dinner without sacrificing flavor and boost your nutrition if you make some smart picks. 

Leg of lamb vs. spiral ham

Winner: Leg of lamb. When it comes to calories, fat, and saturated fat, there’s very little difference between these two meats. A serving of lamb (3.5 ounces) has 123 calories while the same amount of spiral ham has 109. Both have 4 grams of fat. The ham has one gram of saturated fat, the lamb has 1.6 grams. You get more iron, niacin, vitamin B12, and zinc from the lamb, but what really gives it the edge is that it has no sodium. The ham provides 895 milligrams—40 percent of the maximum amount you should have in a day.

Green beans vs. asparagus

Winner: Asparagus. A cup of asparagus (equal to about eight medium-sized spears) is packed with folate, vitamin A, vitamin K, and iron (believe it or not, more than the lamb). The two veggies have about the same fiber count. To preserve the nutrients, color, and texture, cook asparagus until its just tender—you’ll see it turn bright green and if you pick up a spear, it should bend just slightly.

Rice pilaf vs. roasted red potatoes

Winner: Roasted red potatoes. Not only do the potatoes have fewer calories—154 for a medium potato compared with 352 for a cup of pilaf—but they also have three times the fiber and supply vitamin C, iron, potassium, and niacin. Toss them in olive oil before roasting, and instead of sprinkling with salt, season them with fresh chives or rosemary.

Jelly Belly Jelly Beans vs. Peeps Marshmallow Chicks

Winner: Jelly Belly Jelly Beans. All of the calories in these two treats come from sugar. There are about 6 teaspoons (25 grams)—the recommended daily maximum intake—in 25 of these tiny jelly beans (100 calories), which is considered a serving. Five Peeps have 140 calories and 34 grams of sugar.

Find the best boxed chocolate and chocolate bars in our chocolate buying guide.

Lindt Gold Milk Chocolate Bunny vs. Lindt Gold White Chocolate Bunny

Winner: Milk Chocolate. First thing to know: The Nutrition Facts label on  both the milk chocolate and white chocolate bunnies says each contains 2.5 servings. Granted, they’re 3½ ounces each, but one would think that a single bunny is a single serving. If that fact escaped you when you perused the nutritional info, you might eat the whole thing without realizing you’re getting 2.5 times the calories, fat, saturated fat, and sugar.

That said, the advantage goes to the milk chocolate rabbit. One "serving" has 270 calories, 13 grams of fat, 8 grams of saturated fat, and 24 grams of sugar. The white bunny has about the same calorie and sugar content, but will cost you 6 more grams of total fat and 3 more grams of saturated. But remember: Unless you're willing to consume 675 calories, 32.5 grams of fat, 20 grams of saturated fat, and 60 grams—15 teaspoons—of sugar, split the bunny with a friend.

—Trisha Calvo

Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2007-2013 Consumers Union of U.S.

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Posted on Saturday April 19, 2014

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Posted on Saturday April 19, 2014

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Posted on Saturday April 19, 2014

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