When Laurie Irons of Laurie’s Green Cleaning Services in Sanford first started cleaning homes professionally, she used traditional commercial cleaning products. Such synthetics often are masked with potent perfume smells. Then she started having headaches.

“The generic products they advertise on TV have hormone disruptors in them, things that throw our bodies off,” Irons said. “They are filled with chemicals that are abrasive to anyone with asthma or respiratory issues.”

When she cleaned at home in the same manner, she noticed her daughter’s asthma symptoms worsen. Cleaning homes since she was a teenager, the Sanford resident knew she needed to change course. She did a little research, became “green conscious” and started working for an eco-friendly North Yarmouth-based cleaning service.

“Switching to natural products made me feel better. They smelled wonderful, and I was not getting headaches because they are not toxic,” she said.

Natural, eco-friendly alternatives, such as essential oils mixed with biodegradable plant-based soap and water, are a quick, safe and sanitizing solution to petroleum-based surfactants, chlorine or phosphates.

A simple Google search reveals a laundry list of products and chemicals to avoid: Nonylphenol ethoxylates, diethylene glycol monobutyl and chlorinated phenols found in toilet bowl cleaners are chief among them.

When in doubt, avoid anything with too many ingredients and look for products that are “biodegradable,” “nontoxic” and natural plant based.

“You have to look at the label; the less components the better. If there is a list that’s 20 things long, avoid it,” Irons said.

Irons, who studied holistic medicine, went out on her own two years ago. She has created a strong niche on an eco-friendly platform.

Her business, Laurie’s Green Cleaning Services, swells in the summer with cottage owners looking to make their getaways squeaky clean and green. In less than two years, her safe, simple approach to cleaning has boomed.

“I started out with five or six clients two years ago in June,” she said. “Now I have 35 to 40 clients.”

From yoga studios to acupuncture and healing centers, businesses are lining up for her eco-touch.

“I am surprised at the amount of people who are interested,” Irons, who charges $35 per hour for all-natural disinfecting and dirt busting, said.

In Maine there is no shortage of cleaning products for her to choose from. Irons started out cleaning with Love for Lemons Co., a Maine-based all-natural product line that is going through a rebrand.

“I look for products that are very simple, made with a mild coconut or palm oil-based soap for a sudsing effect,” Irons said.

Essential oils, such as eucalyptus and peppermint, often are added to the base, not only to smell nice but to kill “germs and shine furniture.” Natural cleaning products are readily available at Whole Foods Market and local co-ops, but Irons says making your own is a snap.

Do it yourself

For a glass cleaner that “works wonders,” combine vinegar, a splash of alcohol and an essential oils. Irons recommends clove, rosemary, lemon or cinnamon. “Lemons cuts grease and sweet orange has different properties; it’s more soothing and can take out scratches in the floors and is good for leather.”

Eucalyptus works against “germy things” and will mask pungent odors, such as manure-filled barns. Work it into the wood with a rag or sponge.

For countertop RX and all-over kitchen cleansing, she suggests sweet orange or lemon essential oils.

For a bevy of essential oils and tinctures online, Irons recommends Thieves made by Young Living Essential Oils, which she exclusively uses right now.

But, just as anything worthwhile, cleaning au natural is not always a slam dunk. Natural products take a little work at first before they really shine.

“You need to stick with it. It’s a different feel. When you clean with these products, you get the hang for them” and put more muscle into the task, Irons said.

The results come quick.

“Your hands glide over the countertop. There is no film, no residue. Once you get used to it, people love them.”

As the public becomes more and more aware about living green, her phone keeps ringing.

“People are starting to understand it’s not harmful to your pets, family and children. It smells great and at the same time it’s cleaning your house.”

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Kathleen Pierce

A lifelong journalist with a deep curiosity for what's next. Interested in food, culture, trends and the thrill of a good scoop. BDN features reporter based in Portland since 2013.