Site search



Vida Verde: A Green Cleaning Co-Op

Somehow my search for green cleaning supplies turned into a search for green cleaning services. (Okay, I do know how—Sharon.) I really didn’t want to use a regular cleaning service. Not only do conventional cleaning supplies use lots of packaging and include potentially toxic ingredients, but often the workers aren’t paid well. If I were to use a service like that, it would go against all my morals.

But Sharon told me about Vida Verde. It’s a co-op of Brazilian women who make their own cleaning supplies. It was started because they were poorly paid at their cleaning services or, if they were self-employed, they were forced to buy client lists from more established cleaners—for hundreds of dollars!


So they started this group. All the women are self-employed, but the group helps them connect with customers, learn English, deal with taxes and legal questions, and generally learn how to advocate for themselves. Now they work fewer hours and are paid more per house.

They choose to make their own cleaning supplies not only because it’s cheaper, but because breathing the fumes from conventional cleaning supplies all day can lead to asthma and other respiratory problems. Janitors and house cleaners have far higher rates of asthma and bronchitis than people who don’t clean for a living.

I have to admit to being really conflicted about hiring someone to clean my house. On the one hand, I hate cleaning. Because of that I rarely actually do it often enough to assuage my guilt at the state of the house. (Jason doesn’t feel that guilt. I hate to fall into stereotypical gender roles, but this may be one.)

On the other hand, I cleaned someone else’s house the summer before college and hated every minute of it. I don’t want to inflict that misery on someone else. And I really don’t want to become the Man.

Now, I know that whenever I eat out or buy anything, I’m paying someone to do something that I don’t want to do. Unless I go completely off the grid and make everything by hand, that’s going to be the case. This is just different because I imagine that everyone hates cleaning as much as I do and I’m allowing someone into my house. (We saw how well that went with the cat sitter.)

But I signed up for Vida Verde’s service a month ago, and so far I feel really good about it. Ruth comes once every two weeks and does all the things that I never seem to get to: mopping the floors, cleaning the shower, dusting—even washing the trash can. And starting with a clean house and knowing that she’s coming makes us keep the house neater than we normally would. I still kind of feel like the Man, but I also think it’s fair to trade a few hours of something I enjoy (working at Berklee) for something I hate (cleaning).

What do you think? Am I rationalizing a bad choice or just overthinking a good one? Would you hire someone to clean your house, too? Am I the Man?


Comment from Katie
Time April 19, 2010 at 10:10 pm

You are not the Man! Think of it this way – these people need jobs, and you are giving them one without exploiting them, so what’s wrong with that? Anyway, that is how I justified my decision to hire cleaners after the baby was born . . . Ours use whatever cleansers we have (so they end up using mostly green stuff since that’s what we buy), but I would still be interested in checking out Vida Verde, for comparative purposes. Thanks for the tip!

Comment from Sophie
Time April 20, 2010 at 3:44 pm

You are not the man, Brenda! You’re someone who needs their house cleaned and is filling that need by supporting a forward-thinking, woman-owned business.

I am a complete neat freak (trust me when I tell you that some people actually REALLY ENJOY CLEANING) but grew up with a mom who had to have people come every other week because she just couldn’t keep up due to a combination of ADD, a busy nursing schedule, and a packrat husband. She has had a longstanding (10+ years) relationship with her lovely cleaning lady. Domestic service is a very important part of the economy, especially for moms who are supporting families and may need an independent way to set their own schedules.

Also, I worked as a janitor one summer cleaning bathrooms in an office building and had eye problems for an entire year afterwards. Cleaning chemicals = scary stuff.

I’m almost off conventional cleaners entirely, but I’m having trouble giving up my Swiffer Wet Jet…

Comment from Isabel
Time April 21, 2010 at 11:21 am

I don’t think you’re the Man. You’re actually helping someone out. It is difficult for immigrant women to find a job in which they don’t feel mistreated, especially if they don’t speak the language very well. You’re providing her the safety of working at a house, where she’s not going to be mistreated, or harassed, and where her services are deemed valuable. You’re also helping her make a new life in a new country. Trust me, you’re not the MAN.

Pingback from Green Cleaning Products from Vida Verde « Pragmatic Environmentalism
Time April 21, 2010 at 8:05 pm

[…] cleaners, It smells so good I almost want to lick the floor!, Vida Verde In my last post I told you all about Vida Verde, the co-op of Brazilian house cleaners. They use homemade cleaning supplies, which are far less […]

Pingback from Interview with Ruth Alves from Vida Verde Co-Op « Pragmatic Environmentalism
Time April 26, 2010 at 8:05 pm

[…] products, homemade cleaners, Thanks Ruth!, Vida Verde I’ve already told you all about Vida Verde, the Brazilian women’s cleaning co-op. Now here’s the perspective of Ruth Alves, the […]

Comment from Brenda Pike
Time April 27, 2010 at 10:00 am

Thanks, Sophie. They really can be scary, can’t they? Especially professional cleaning supplies. Jason’s brother once worked for a movie theater and his supervisor told him to clean (the popcorn machine, I think) with two chemicals that weren’t supposed to be mixed, and the fumes really messed with his breathing.

Ruth mops with a microfiber cloth wrapped around a Swiffer, and I think she squirts the floor cleaner from a water bottle. It seems to work really well.

Comment from Brenda Pike
Time April 27, 2010 at 10:01 am

What’s the name of the cleaners you hire, Katie? I’m wondering if there are other places like Vida Verde in the area…

Comment from Sarah Carmicheal
Time April 4, 2012 at 3:05 am

I would hire someone to clean my house if I could find someone that uses green products. You need to relax a little and realize these people are more than glad to work for the money, and since you are not exploiting them, why not?

Comment from Alicia
Time April 24, 2012 at 8:16 pm

Do you still use Vida Verde? I am looking for green cleaners and I found this post because some other people in Medford recommended them and this showed up when I googled the Company. I’ve been told that they were started with help from Tufts and UMass Lowell.

Comment from Brenda Pike
Time April 25, 2012 at 9:23 am

I do! My friend Sharon uses them now, too. They’re just great.

I didn’t read about the Tufts/UMass involvement until after I hired them. But I’m especially excited about it now that I’m going to Tufts. Here’s the case study.

Write a comment