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The cents of cleaning

Earth-friendly and affordable ways to green the home


Pink grapefruit and ginger. Sweet pea. White clover. Lavender. Although these could be new perfumes or the latest luxury body washes from Kiehl's, these scents can now be found in upscale cleaning products like floor cleaner and dishwashing liquid.

A few years ago, the latest, greatest, revolutionary cleaning products were anything with OxiClean, a powdered oxygen bleach, or Orange Glo. While we're not denying it works, the packaging was industrial looking and the products left your home smelling like a hospital. But now, there are plenty of organic, luxury cleaning products to choose from that smell as delicious as perfume, from companies such as Williams-Sonoma and the Minnesota-based Caldrea. Not only do they smell nice, but the products are also well designed and look good sitting on your kitchen counter.

Monica Nassif launched Caldrea in September 2000, saying that she had one of those "slap on the forehead moments." "I used to clean my home with horrible-smelling products, and then light candles to mask the odor," says Nassif. "When you clean you want to be relaxed. I just thought, why does there have to be this disconnect between the process and the end result?"

Nassif's line uses six signature scents, including citrus mint ylang ylang; lavender pine; and green tea patchouli, and range from floor cleaners and dish soap liquid to linen spray and laundry detergent. All Caldrea products contain essential oils, and some scents are meant to relax (like lavender) while the citrus-based scents are meant to be energizing.

Nassif, who is also the author of Laundry: The Spirit of Keeping Home (Chronicle Books 2003) chalks up the interest in upscale cleaning products to a few factors.

People have a longing for home knowledge, and plenty of people actually find cleaning soothing. "Several times after I would pitch my products to a group of executives, you wouldn't believe the number of people who would come up to me and whisper, 'I love to clean,'" she says. "People calm down when they clean, and it makes them feel good. Its almost like there's this secret society of people who like to clean."

San Francisco-based Williams-Sonoma also launched its line of upscale cleaning products in 2000 because it saw a hole in the market, says associate buyer Rachel Anderson. "Five years ago it was difficult to find earth-friendly but effective cleaners," she says. "We wanted to create products without that harsh chemical smell."

All Williams-Sonoma products, which come in exotic scents like Valencia orange, Persian lime, pink grapefruit and ginger, as well as parsley, are mixed by a master perfumer and are cosmetic grade. "Our lavender scent isn't just straight lavender," says Anderson. "Just like a perfume, it has a top note and base notes, and when we're blending it we might add some honey to it."

Williams-Sonoma offers a full range of products, including dish soap, hand lotion, linen spray and floor cleaner. The packing is clean and simple, using either stainless steel or clear bottles with pastel-colored liquid. "Our customers love the packaging because you don't have to hide the products under the sink," says Anderson.

Although Crate and Barrel doesn't have a line of cleaning products, customers can snap up stylish accessories here, such as a $17.95 nickel-plated soap pump for the kitchen, and a stemware "cleaning wand" for $7.95. Crate and Barrel is also the place to pick up bottle brushes and bright orange sponges if regular Scotch-Brite sponges are too boring for you.

Of course, none of the pretty packaging comes cheap. Caldrea's dish soap liquid and counter top cleanser are both $8, while a jug of laundry detergent will set you back $16. Williams-Sonoma Persian lime liquid hand soap is $12.50, while a set containing hand soap, lotion and dish soap costs $47.50.

But more than eye-catching design and delicious scents, the latest luxury cleaning products have their roots in old-fashioned cleaning techniques. "The Dutch were famous for their bleaching fields, and would sprinkle their laundry with lavender and lemon verbena-fused water," says Glenn Recchia, of House & Garden magazine. Not only would the laundry smell nice, but the herbs would also keep bugs away.

However, some people (such as this reporter) may be seduced into buying well-packaged cleaning products because of the design and the smell, but still find it hard to muster the will to clean. "There's always this romance to having a clean house, but in reality it's hard to get it all organized," says Recchia. "I'd be curious to see how many people buy these products to use themselves, or just hand them to their housekeeper."

-- Christina Valhouli

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