Green cleaning is the Tupperware of the 21st century

It took Melody Graves just a few seconds to whip a pile of baking soda and liquid castile soap into a light and fluffy white cloud.

"You know it's done when it looks like buttercream frosting," she said.

The concoction looked good enough to eat, but it was never intended to be spread on anything other than the kitchen sink, or maybe the bathroom tub. The creamy soft scrub that Graves made was just one of the recipes presented during a recent green-cleaning party.

The parties, which are popping up around North Texas, are the latest way to go green. They're a twist on the Tupperware parties of the '50s, only at these gatherings there are no plastic containers to buy. Instead of checking out the latest hot-dog keepers or plastic tumblers, guests learn to make nontoxic homemade cleaners.

Women's Voices for the Earth, a national advocacy organization, came up with the idea of green-cleaning parties two years ago. Since then, there have been more than 1,500 held all over the world, most of them in the United States. In Texas, there have been 60 parties since April 2008.

The parties go beyond turning vinegar and water into a nontoxic multipurpose cleaner. The gatherings also were created to educate participants about the harmful effects of chemicals on health. A lack of information about the toxic chemicals in many household products has led the group to get involved with politics. They recently took on a new mission to pass the Safe Chemicals Act, a bill introduced in April to help ensure that cleaning-product makers are not using chemicals that may be harmful to human health.

"There's no reason to include toxic ingredients in products that consumers use on a daily basis when safe and equally effective alternatives exist," said Alexandra Scranton, Women's Voices for the Earth director of science and research.

The parties, which usually are made up of about 10 guests, are a way to deliver a serious message in a fun and relaxed way, says Graves, who lives in Mansfield.

"It's lots of women in the kitchen making things together," she said.

Henrietta Hill of Arlington, who co-hosted a party with Graves, said she wanted to start making her own cleaning products because she believes they're better for her health and that of her family.

"I've had a couple of situations in the past when I was cleaning the bath with something that contained bleach, and if I didn't have ventilation, I would get a really bad headache," she said. "I think that was my body trying to tell me something."

The nontoxic cleaners are a practical alternative to store cleaners.

"The recipes are really easy, quick and cost-effective," Graves said. "They just make sense."

The homemade version of the all-purpose cleaner costs about 38 cents to make compared with $4 to $8 for store brands, according to a report by Women's Voices for the Earth. The creamy soft scrub costs 78 cents to make from baking soda compared with $3.69 at the store.

But do they work?

Graves and others say they do. A little elbow grease helps, and the products might not work quite as fast as store-bought brands, but they get the job done.

Hill has found that the furniture polish keeps wood shining and the vinegar-based multipurpose cleaner works on her windows.

Several studies have shown that vinegar is as effective or nearly as effective as commercial cleaners in eliminating E. coli from surfaces. Borax has been shown to remove mold from walls as effectively as commercial products.

Many of the homemade products have been used for generations because they do work so well, Graves said.

The products also last, with the help of vegetable glycerin and sealed containers. Lemon or lavender essential oil is used to hide the vinegar smell in many of the products.

Like others who have started making their own cleaning products, Graves got involved out of her own health concerns. Several years ago, she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a condition characterized by long-term bodywide pain and tender joints.

She turned to natural solutions because conventional medicine didn't help her. After she removed toxic substances in her home with the help of a building biologist, her health improved. She became so committed to the idea of improving her environment that she became certified as a building biologist and helps people reduce electromagnetic contamination in homes.

Others with health concerns have been attracted to the green parties.

Leigh Attaway Wilcox, whose son has Asperger's syndrome, recently held a party in Frisco because she wanted to make her home and yard a toxic substance-free environment for him.

Five years ago, Hill was diagnosed with breast cancer and now tries to avoid anything that might have a negative effect on her health.

The parties have taken off at a time when green has become trendy, but there's more to them than just making nontoxic products.

"They're a great bridge to get people interested in their environment and their homes," Graves said.

JAN JARVIS, 817-390-7664