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Digital Subscriptions > Cottage Life > SPRING 2018 > TALK DIRTY TO ME


From sap to poop, oil to rust, you’ve seen it all. Here’s your guide to cleaning just about everything at the cottage with stuff you probably have on hand—and that’s safe for you, your septic system, and your lake

Tolerating filth and overlooking work was one of my family’s long-cherished cottage traditions. We were there for the sand and the sunsets, not to scour and scrub. And yet, each spring, as we would arrive at our shuttered cottage, we’d be greeted by dead bugs littering the window ledges, teensy trails of mouse poop lining the baseboards, beds that smelled like the ghost of summers past, and a deck dotted with sticky buds from the poplar trees, sticking to our feet and getting tracked onto the cottage floor where they left a yellow stain. Like it or not (and we decidedly fell in the “not” camp), it was time to clean. Reluctantly, I set out to learn how to clean anything at the cottage.


EcoEthic’s Rob Davis explains why these ingredients are your septic system’s worst enemies: CHLORINE This ubiquitous chemical kills bacteria, which is why it’s in cleaning products. But that means it also kills bacteria and microbes in your septic system, and they are the most critical part of treating (cleaning) sewage. And, of course, you don’t want chlorine in your lake or creeks. ANTIBACTERIAL SOAPS AND CLEANERS Same goes for these chemicals, which kill bacteria critical for the treatment of sewage. Davis says occasional use is okay, but sustained use is a nope. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are a better choice, as alcohol is easily broken down in septic systems by microbial action. In your dishwasher, please make sure you’re using a chlorine-free, phosphate-free detergent, he adds. His pick? President’s Choice Green dishwasher tabs. LIQUID FABRIC SOFTENER The problem with liquid fabric softener is that it adds fats (usually lanolin or petroleum) to wastewater and causes a build-up that is difficult for native microbes to digest. PHOSPHATES Gah! Absolutely not! Phosphate is a powerful nutrient that can create algae blooms and “kill” lakes. AUTOMATIC BOWL CLEANERS “If it’s blue, it just won’t do!” says Davis. Usually chlorine based, these auto flushers bathe the microbes in the septic system with killer chlorine.

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