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Book Review: Organic Housekeeping

Organic Housekeeping by Ellen Sandbeck

I haven’t finished this book yet but I’m not sure I ever will. I borrowed it from a friend thinking that it would be a book full of Earth-friendly cleaning recipes. While it is Earth-friendly it is not a user-friendly book.

First of all, there are no clearly laid out recipes in Organic Housekeeping. A book like this ought to be able to be used as a ready reference. Got a tub with soap scum? Look up “bathtub” or “soap scum” in the index, and you should be able to quickly reference instructions. In this example the index references the following pages: “138-139, 145-56, 149-52, 154-55”. Notice how most of those overlap? If you scan the pages carefully you may find what you’re looking for, but it’s not going to be easy.

My other major complaint is the author’s use of scientific citations. As the proud recipient of a scientific education I feel that Sandbeck picks and chooses her references very carefully to validate her beliefs. While that is, to some degree, what we all do, the manner in which she does it grates. For example, this is part of her explanation for why she does not recommend the use of fabric softeners:
Rosalind Anderson, Ph.D., and Julius Anderson, MD, Ph.D., of Anderson Laboratories, Inc. published a study entitled “Respiratory Toxicity of Fabric Softener Emissions” in the May 2000 issue of The Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health. When the doctors exposed laboratory mice to air that was contaminated with the fumes from fabric softener sheets, the rodents developed irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs, and some had severe asthma attacks.
Fine, she found a study that showed fabric softener sheets were toxic to mice. A brief scan of the paragraph shows that it was done by two self-employed scientists. We don’t know anything about their lab, it’s tagline might be “Slinging Mud At Big Corporations Since 1988”. A closer reading shows that the study was actually published in a journal which appears to be reputable. If Sandbeck had started her citation by mentioning the journal and followed it up with the names of the authors, no institution mentioned, my eye would only have picked up the journal. And at that point I might have been more likely to swallow the information that Sandbeck was attempting to convey. I know this is nit-picking, but it colors the feeling of the entire book. It seems that Sandbeck has strong opinions that she tries to prop up with carefully selected scientific studies.

This brings me to my last complaint. Ellen Sandbeck’s methods work for her, but I suspect that she is a long way from average. Her first chapter is very overwhelming. Before you get to any cleaning advice at all she states that you must organize and document every item in your home. A reader with a cluttered home, in need of housekeeping help, would probably drop this book onto a nearby pile and despair of ever getting their home clean.

In summary, I would skip Organic Housekeeping in favor of more succinct book such as Clean House, Clean Planet or even a something from another generation of housekeepers like Heloise.


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Jul. 13th, 2010 11:46 pm (UTC)
wow, that is bad indexing AND bad editing...as an editor I always edited the indexes when they came in from the indexer. Someone should've caught that.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )