In 2012, Rachel Breit wasn’t sure Washington County would embrace an eco-friendly house cleaning service that shuns chemicals and uses only natural, organic ingredients.
“I was working for a cleaning company that used chemical products, and I thought, ‘Why am I working for someone else, using products I don’t like, that aren’t good for anyone, when I can get my own houses and use green products?’ But I wasn’t sure it would work in this area, if there was any interest,” said Breit, 24.
Turns out, there is plenty.
Breit runs Naturally Clean, a company in Bridgeville that provides green cleaning services to homes and businesses in Washington and Allegheny counties.
A Mt. Lebanon graduate, Breit attended Carnegie Mellon University and majored in physics until she left to raise her now 5-year-old son. Her mission, she said, is rooted in a healthy lifestyle, using products that are plant-based and environmentally friendly.
Breit said she was inspired to launch a green business because of her son’s asthma.
She switched to green products at home in an effort to improve the air quality in her house, hoping that it would alleviate his symptoms, and it did.
“I noticed a big difference,” said Breit. “He had really bad asthma when he was younger, but it’s improved.”
She decided that if she was going to start her own business, she wanted to provide a healthier cleaning service that would benefit both customers and employees. Since it launched, Naturally Clean has expanded to include three employees and residential and business clients that include hard-core greenies and parents who don’t want their young children exposed to harmful chemical residues.
Breit makes all of the company’s products from scratch or from concentrate, in reusable containers. A staple in her cleaning products is vinegar, a natural disinfectant whose acid can reduce bacteria and germs in the household, Breit said. She uses it to clean everything from countertops and refrigerators to toilets and floors.
Green products also keep corrosive chemicals out of waterways and protect wildlife, she noted.
Clients Dawn Bauer and Liz Foster of Washington found Naturally Clean through Thumbtack, an online marketplace for local services.
“To be honest, we didn’t even know green cleaning was available in this area,” said Bauer, who moved into the area about a year ago. “We have animals, so we wanted something that would be safe for them. In general, we try to be as environmentally conscious as we can.”
On a recent afternoon, Breit and her friend and employee, Alyssa Casey, a college graduate who is helping Breit on her business venture, arrived at Bauer’s and Foster’s home, armed with Shaklee Basic products (they are organic, nontoxic, hypoallergenic cleaners made from concentrate in order to cut back on wasteful consumption of plastics), baking soda, vinegar, essential oils, microfiber cloths and buckets.
Within an hour, the kitchen was clean, “without any strong scents. It just smells clean,” said Bauer.
There has been a shift in thinking in recent years, as homeowners have begun to worry about the chemicals they spray to get rid of dirt and germs in their homes as much as they worry about the dirt itself.
Sales of household eco-cleaning products more than doubled from $303 million in 2007 to $640 million in 2011, according to a study from Packaged Facts. The eco-cleaner sector makes up only three percent of the total household and laundry cleaner retail market, but the study estimates that green products will continue to grow over the next two years.
One challenge for Breit is competition from cleaning services that claim to be environmentally friendly.
“Their version of green cleaning is using bleach water, which is Clorox and water, and that’s horrible. They don’t have that focus on doing things in an all-natural way that takes into account the impact of chemicals on health and the environment,” said Breit.
Another is the perception that green cleaning is more costly that traditional cleaning.
That’s not so, at Naturally Clean.
“People think it’s cost-prohibitive, but it’s not,” said Breit. “Actually, we’re right about the same price, even a little cheaper, than other cleaning companies. It’s one of the benefits of being a small, locally-owned business. We can pass those savings on to our customers.”
While running her business, Breit completed her associate’s degree and plans to return to college to study botany.
“I really love doing this, I enjoy this business,” said Breit, who also has a 5-month-old and enjoys the flexibility that owning her own business offers. “Pittsburgh is definitely a little behind the times when it comes to green cleaning, and I’m definitely glad to be a part of bringing this to the city.”
For more information on Naturally Clean, visit Breit’s website at www.naturallycleanpgh.com.