Former Hoosier’s Cleaning Line Puts Safety First
Blame the twins. When Karen Troutt brought her premature twins home from the hospital, she had a hard time reconciling the itty bitty humans with the big harsh words on the cleaning solution’s ingredient list. Even some of the natural cleaners on the market contained scary-sounding chemicals. Although the twins were healthy, they were still little and vulnerable. Troutt wanted something simple and natural to keep her house clean.
Troutt and her husband, Jason, worked together to create cleaning products made from simple, natural ingredients. What started out as a quest for a personal solution has grown into a line of natural cleaning products sold in stores and online.
“It’s something I didn’t come up with overnight or by going online and researching for an hour,” Troutt says. “It was days and days, nights and nights, hours and hours.”
Troutt isn’t a chemist—her background is in health education. Her husband, however, has a degree in biochemistry and works for Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly and Company. The Hoosier natives were living in Indiana when they started their science experiment. Using basic natural ingredients like vinegar, washing sodas, essential oils and Castile soap, Troutt played with combinations and Nathan cross-checked them to make sure they wouldn’t blow up the house. Soon, they had a few cleaners they felt comfortable using around the babies, Nolan and Brody, as well as big sister Ella.
“When we had company over, people would notice how good the house smelled,” Troutt says. “There was a little bit of buzz around it, but I didn’t make a big deal about it.”
Natural cleans as well as chemicals, smells better
Again, the twins pushed her forward. When the boys were 4 years old and starting preschool, Troutt decided it was time to go back to the workplace. Should she return to a desk job or try to market her cleaning products? She did a test run at the Indianapolis Farmers’ Market in 2012 and soon had her answer.
“I was astounded by the reaction I got. They were switching. They were thanking me for finally bringing something to the market that was honestly 100% natural and clean and safe to use around their kids and their pets,” Troutt recalls.
She rebranded the line, working with a graphic artist to come up with elegant labels that suggest something pure and good within the containers. Then she approached buyers and stores, telling her story and securing a place on store shelves at big-name merchants like Whole Foods and Marsh, and smaller spots like Good Earth in Broad Ripple. She works with a Kentucky-based manufacturer to make and distribute her products.
The product line now includes essentials like glass cleaner, dish soap, laundry detergent and hand soap. One of the most popular items so far is the all-purpose spray, which currently comes in mint, lavender-lime, grapefruit & tea tree and lemongrass scents. Use it to clean messy surfaces, sinks, toilets and other dingy spots around the home.
“It cleans so well,” Troutt says. “People use these really harsh chemicals to get, say, permanent marker off the door. My all-purpose cleaner will clean it.”
The laundry detergent is another favorite, although consumers might need to warm up to its powder form. Troutt says most people seem to like liquid laundry detergent. She challenges them to give her powder a try, though. It’s high-efficiency, safe and a little goes a long way.
Gaia Natural Cleaners have a loyal local following, said Samuel Faris, an assistant manager with Fresh Thyme Farmer’s Market in Fishers. Gaia is the only local line in the store, which also stocks national-brand natural cleaners.
“People particularly love her laundry detergents,” Faris says. “The packaging is beautiful.”
Don’t be fooled by the bubbles
Troutt continues to work to get the products on more store shelves. She also wants to expand into the personal care market. She receives feedback from folks who use the hand soap as face soap and body soap, so she’s looking at coming up with new products to fit those needs. She also continues to tweak her cleaning ingredients, to try to make them more efficient and customer friendly. For instance, her dish soap doesn’t create a lot of bubbles, because bubbles don’t equal clean and the typical bubbling ingredient doesn’t meet Troutt’s standards. But, people want bubbles, and she’ll try to deliver them in a safe and natural way.
Thanks to essential oils, Gaia Natural Products smell delicious and may include antibacterial properties. Troutt doesn’t recommend eating them, although there was that one guy at the farmer’s market who took a taste. It turns out that the alcohol in the product doesn’t taste nearly as good as the essential oils smell.
Jason’s job moved the family to Florida last summer, meaning Troutt works on her products while she’s sitting by the pool. It’s not a bad life, and it looks good and smells clean.
“It has totally paid off. I absolutely love waking up every day and doing this,” Troutt says. “It’s been a great ride so far.”
Does it work?
After talking to Troutt, this writer had to give the Gaia All-Purpose Spray a test run. First, some background: Our bathtub is gross, due to hard water and cats. The hard water film attracts soap scum and other messy stuff. When I clean, I typically spray it with a harsh-smelling cleaner, rinse it, spray it again and scrub. In a perfect world, this would be done weekly. But the cats assume cleaning time is time to play in the water. I can close the bathroom door when I clean, but then I am violating the “only use this stuff in a well-ventilated area or you will get sick and possibly die” warning on the bottle.
Like any conscientious homeowner, I tell myself I will clean it later. Later comes and goes, the cats won’t leave me alone and the tub gets grosser.
I tried the Gaia All-Purpose Spray in lemongrass. The smell was awesome, and the spray cut through the soap scum thanks to a textured sponge and elbow grease. Did the gross stuff disappear instantly? No, but I’m not sure such a product exists. The Gaia All-Purpose Spray lifted the soap scum and removed the hard water marks on the faucet. Plus, it smelled good. The cats were not poisoned. And I did not die from bathroom cleaner fumes.
I also tested it on our white countertops and old white refrigerator and was pleased at its cleaning power. The kitchen smelled like lemons. I almost wanted to keep cleaning, which makes it a success in our household. The cats concur.
Tips for keeping your house clean all year long, naturally
Cleaning season doesn’t end as spring moves into summer. Karen Troutt, the founder of Gaia Natural Cleaners, offers these tips for keeping the house clean:
Kitchen—Don’t let the dishes pile up in the sink. It’s easier to keep up throughout the day. Wash the dishes by hand or put them in the dishwasher after eating. Don’t spend your evening attacking a sink full of dirty dishes.
Living areas—Clean as you go. Resist the urge to walk past the mess. It probably takes longer to come up with an excuse than it does to put the item(s) in its place. Designate a time for a quick pickup a few times a day, and include the kids in the task.
Bathrooms—Keep a roll of paper towels and all-purpose cleaner or glass cleaner under the sink. Once a day do a quick spritz and wipe down of counter, sink and mirror. You can also keep the all-purpose cleaner next to the toilet. After each flush, spray into the bowl as it refills with water. This will keep your bathroom smelling fresh.
Laundry—Put the dirty clothes in a hamper or washing machine every day. Run a load daily to keep it from piling up. Fold the clothes while binging on a favorite TV show or listening to an audio book or podcast. Between cycles, keep the washing machine doors open. This keeps them from smelling, especially when the humidity gets high. To save time on the dryer cycle, throw in a couple of wool dryer balls with a few drops of your favorite essential oils.
Engage the kids—Take advantage of free chore-chart templates found online. When the kids complete a task, let them add a sticker. Teach them young, and you may avoid the messy teen who lives in a musty-smelling room with several inches of laundry pilled on the floor. We make no guarantees, however.