Craig Childs loves to clean things. When the 32-year-old met Xpress at a local café recently, he looked up at the ceiling and, noting the dirty ductwork, said, “It needs cleaning again!” Restaurants and home kitchens can present the toughest cleaning challenges, says the owner of the Asheville-based Pristine Clean. And sometimes you walk into a home and realize there’s a bit of a dust problem: “You look up, and you can shave the ceiling fan,” jokes Childs, adding, “But I like to go into a place and make it smell and look great.”
About 6 feet tall and kind of stocky, the Philadelphia native boasts several prominent tattoos, including one big bird totem he acquired in Homer, Alaska. “The gender thing: I’m this guy with tattoos who shows up, and people are saying, ‘You’re gonna clean my house?’” Childs reveals, adding, “Then they see what kind of alchemy you can do.”
By that he means avoiding the standard power chemicals. Many common household cleaners, he notes, are considered hazardous wastes. (Chlorine bleach, for example, combines with another common cleaning product, ammonia, to create a toxic gas. And Spokane County, Wash., officials recently banned dishwashing detergents containing phosphates. Hard to remove at wastewater-treatment plants and thus released into waterways, these chemicals produce algae blooms that rob fish of their oxygen supply).
On the other hand, some green-cleaning products “can be perfectly natural but not necessarily the best thing to use, [because] they leave a residue that you have to clean later,” says Childs. What about vinegar, lemon juice, baking soda and the like — all touted by grandmas and the latest green-cleaning guides?
“Vinegar’s cool, but it’s still acidic,” Childs replies. Sure, it cuts through grease and such, but it’ll take the luster right out of the finish on your fine wood floors, he reports, adding, “Not everyone wants to come home and have the house smell like a pickle.”
Childs’ passion for cleaning is nothing new. To fulfill a second-grade project, he volunteered for a few weeks at a Philadelphia nursing home. At first it was “pure horror,” especially for a chemically sensitive kid who used to get ill when his mom sprayed his mattress with disinfectant. “The residents suffered from neglect, abuse and everything was disgustingly dirty,” Childs recalls. But he was able to light up their lives in small ways, inspiring the youngster to keep volunteering there till he turned 19.
After college, Childs headed west, taking pickup jobs in direct care and nursing homes. In Boulder, Colo., he launched a green cleaning service as a side business, drawing on a few natural-cleaning tricks he’d picked up along the way. “Ten years ago, no one was cleaning with ecologically conscious products,” says Childs. He created combinations of phosphate-free soaps, distilled water, plant-based surfactants (the stuff that actually lifts out the dirt), natural bacteria-eating enzymes and essential oils — whatever was needed for the task at hand.
“I call it resetting: going in and getting rid of all the junk and creating a healthy environment,” he explains.
Essential oils are key, he says: Lavender and peppermint are two natural-cleaning powerhouses due to their antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal properties. And instead of fighting mold with the commonly recommended tea tree oil, Childs chooses cinnamon.
But when you’re cleaning green, sometimes it’s the little touches that make the difference, adds former Pristine employee Jackie Tripp. “Craig taught me to put a little peppermint oil on the vacuum filter,” says the Kentucky native, who trained as an herbalist in Asheville but now has her own cleaning service, Green Earth Essentials. She recommends switching to green cleaning “not just because it’s trendy or because it’s the right thing to do. … The natural stuff works better and doesn’t [ruin] your indoor environment.”
And citing a few added benefits (lavender is relaxing, rosemary’s a stimulant), Tripp emphasizes, “It’s not just a fad: It’s a way to improve your health.”
Both Tripp and Childs also stress the importance of disposing of old-fashioned cleaners properly. (No pouring them down the drain: the Buncombe County landfill accepts household hazardous waste most Fridays, and local municipalities regularly sponsor pickup days). And get rid of those disgusting sponge mops — especially the ones that dispense heavy chemicals, Childs adds. Then, laughing at himself, he remarks: “I never thought I’d own a cleaning company. Helping people is what I love to do, but there’s all kind of different directions that can take you.”
You can reach Green Earth Essentials at 545-1829 or at www.ashevillehousecleaning.com. Pristine Clean is at 215-9634 or www.ashevillepristineclean.com.
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