Green Clean for Sydney's Opera House
Author: Laura Chalk
A 50-year love affair between man and building nurtured with bicarb soda, olive oil and devotion.
Steve Tsoukalas calls Sydney’s iconic Opera House the “other woman” in his life. He started working at the Opera House over 49 years ago as a builder and scaffolder. Over time he has watched the giant white sails and the life within take shape. Being at the site from its inception, he knew the architect, Jorn Utzon, and witnessed the wear and tear the building received, as waves of people visited.
For the past 12 years, Mr Tsoukalas, 72, has devotedly cleaned this majestic building with a mix of bicarbonate of soda, white clay, olive oil and laundry flakes. He refuses to use harsh chemicals, saying “The reason I try all these years to find a solution to not using chemicals is because I love the building and I don’t want it to be sick. If it is sick, I am going to be sick.”
His winning cleaning concoction is now listed in the House’s official eco-friendly cleaning guidelines for contractors.
Mr Tsoukalas grew up on the Greek Island of Kalymnos, under the protection of his grandmother who raised his family after his mother died when he was three. Remembering his grandmother’s cleaning techniques, he developed his innovative cleaning strategy at the House.
When Mr Tsoukalas joined the cleaning team, he tested his ideas by spraying a solution of bicarb soda and water on a patch of concrete in the Utzon room. After wiping it off with rags a few minutes later, he was overjoyed to discover that it had removed decades of filth that had built up from indoor smoking, human oil and other stains.
By coincidence, Mr Utzon lived on another Mediterranean Island, Majorca . One day he received a photo of the transformed concrete, with the message that Mr Tsoukalas had developed a new cleaning solution with astonishing results.
“The answer was: ‘Tell Steve to do all the Opera House like that’. He was so happy.” Mr Tsoukalas said.
With the bicarb working on the concrete, Tsoukalas next tackled the bronze railings throughout the building. He quickly found a combination that worked: a mix of South Australian olive oil with a small amount of methylated spirits – the same solution that Mr Tsoukalas’ wife uses to rub her husband’s back when his sciatica plays up.
For several years, cleaners had applied bees wax to the bronze, but it had become as hard as steel. The olive oil softens and helps remove the wax. “My grandmother used to do something similar” Mr Tsoukalas said.
The untreated blue gum timber flooring is cleaned with a combination of washing soap flakes, and Kaolin fine grade clay dissolved in water. Chemical cleaning agents may permanently damage and darken the timber.
Staff have found the simple, eco-friendly methods achieve the same results as the chemical cleaning agents previously used. Mr Tsoukalas’s green solutions comply with Good Environmental Choice Australia (GECA) recommendations for products.
The House’s environmental sustainability manager Emma Bombonato gives her tick of approval, saying the green cleaning guidelines developed by Mr Tsoukalas protect not only the building but also the environment, the staff and visitors.
“In terms of a conservation plan and world heritage, we want to ensure the building lasts,” Ms Bombonato said.
Using Mr Tsoukalas’s clean, green techniques, it seems this iconic building will be well kept for many years to come.
- While Steve Tsoukalas has an arsenal of green cleaning tricks up his sleeve, we don’t all have to depend on making our own solutions. Choosing eco-friendly cleaning products, such as the Aware Environmental range, reduces carbon footprints, helps reduce deforestation, and keeps homes and workplaces free of harsh chemicals.
- Find out if the cleaners at your workplace, or if you have cleaners for your apartment or building, use eco-friendly products. A company dedicated to this is Tidy Me.
- If visiting the Sydney Opera House, thank Mr Tsoukalas for his inspiring efforts! And remember that your positive environmental actions could be inspiring those around you, so together turning the tide on chemical use and ensuring both a cleaner and greener planet.
Subscribe to Positive Environment News.
Positive Environment News has been compiled using publicly available information. Planet Ark does not take responsibility for the accuracy of the original information and encourages readers to check the references before using this information for their own purposes.
Laura joined Planet Ark in 2016. She has a wealth of knowledge and experience having travelled the world and a background in teaching English as a second language among other things.
- Citizen science in action during Victorian whale watching season »
- New record set for world's largest ocean clean-up »
- Everyday Enviro with Elise - Doing good feels good »
- Urban green spaces in high demand during coronavirus lockdown »
- More critically endangered wildlife thought wiped out by bushfires emerge »
- Everyday Enviro with Elise - It's the little things »
- Volunteers working to restore Sydney’s underwater forests »
- Everyday Enviro with Elise - Ethical escapism »
- World’s most endangered primate making a slow comeback »
- Great Barrier Reef divers using downtime to regenerate reef »
- Everyday Enviro with Elise - Time for winter warmers »
- Everyday Enviro with Elise - Being an everyday radical »
- Milan begins ambitious transition away from car use »
- Considerable drop in ocean noise provides opportunity for research »
- Reintroduced beavers providing broader environmental benefits »
- Birds make a triumphant return to Menindee Lakes »
- Everyday Enviro with Elise - Low-waste living for dog owners »
- Bin outings get creative in wake of coronavirus isolation »
- Seedling sales indicate a return to backyard gardening »
- Everyday Enviro with Elise - Reducing one's 'monthly' environmental impact »
- Woodchips to the rescue? Humble material could help protect Great Barrier Reef »
- Everyday Enviro with Elise - Geotagging and the environment »
- Researchers call on citizen science to aid bushfire recovery »
- Everyday Enviro with Elise - Maintaining hope during tragedy »
- All-Indigenous firefighting crews to aid in bushfire recovery and prevention »
- Everyday Enviro with Elise - Benefits of shopping small »
- Everyday Enviro with Elise - Continuing the festive spirit »
- Australian students dance to end the drought »
- The teenage boy saving fish from drought by hand »
- Everyday Enviro with Elise - 20 actions for an eco-friendly summer »
- Bringing together traditional owners’ knowledge and modern tech »
- Protecting and connecting: What can we learn from the indigenous worldview? »
- Armidale residents taking wellbeing of local trees into their own hands »
- The tween making toothbrushes for the tribe »
- Everyday Enviro with Elise - In defence of social media »
- Everyday Enviro with Elise - Coffee complacency »
- English couple creates a recycling centre in their own driveway »
- West Australians fighting fatal flowers »
- Young and old, to the streets, across the globe »
- Irish teenager awarded for protecting oceans from microplastics »
- Climate activism empowering youth worldwide »
- Everyday Enviro with Elise - The overview effect »
- South Australian volunteers make tracks with outback recycling »
- Dispatch from Tree Day - Friends of Lake Claremont »
- The UK is getting its first climate change teachers »
- Pink Floyd guitarist's big donation to help fight climate change »
- The Indian engineer reviving lakes in the state of Uttar Pradesh »
- A new world record for largest underwater cleanup »
- How one couple created a rainforest sanctuary from desolation »
- Mr Titmarsh and the Magna Carta mangrove »
- Australian volunteers enlisted for war on microplastic pollution »
- Everyday Enviro with Elise - The Bread and Butter Project »
- Extinction Rebellion protests lead to big win in climate fight »
- The recycling workshop up-skilling new workers »
- Workers at tech giant demand climate action »
- The revival pack for tired bees »
- Indigenous knowledge key to saving goannas from cane toads »
- Carbon farming may hold key to bush regeneration »
- Students around the world hold first global School Strike 4 Climate »
- Technology leading the fight against invasive rubber vine »
- The trashy hashtag inspiring people to clean up »
- Everyday Enviro with Elise - The challenge of not consuming »
- Everyday Enviro with Elise - Greening the co-work space »
- Everyday Enviro with Elise - Plugged in with my favourite sustainability podcasts »
- Sydney wins bid to host global climate conference for women »
- Everyday Enviro with Elise - Back to school the right way »
- New tree cover bringing back the rain in Cambodia »
- Maasai Olympics provides alternative to lion hunting »
- Everyday Enviro with Elise - New Year's eco-resolutions »
- The 'people's seat', headed by Attenborough, speaks up on climate change »
- Australian students take to the streets in the name of their future »
- Everyday Enviro with Elise - Shifting to regifting »
- Brisbane Tool Library takes share economy to the next level »
- From predators to protectors - the Indian village that turned to conservation »
- International community approaching nature refuge goals »
- Everyday Enviro with Elise - the courage to act »
- Queenscliff's Lauren Esplin makes a point about disposable plastics »
- Chris Fong's tennis clocks »
- Ballarat's Food is Free Laneway »
- Burleigh Heads Boomerang Bags »
- Brisbane's recycled fashion shows »
- Everyday Enviro with Elise - The habit of walking »
- Researchers encouraged by cleanliness of Ningaloo Reef »
- The teenager tackling water contamination in remote Western Australia »
- Ethiopian community showing potential of revegetation »
- The music group turning trash into art »
- Bin the (tea) bag »
- Trading trash for a hot cuppa »
- Everyday Enviro with Elise - Small changes with big impact »
- A Walk Sew Good it's still being talked about »
- Everyday Enviro with Elise - Choosing progress over perfection with Lush »
- Kenyan business Ocean Sole is flipping the flop from waste to art »
- Everyday Enviro with Elise - Parliament on King »
- Disused and dirty swamp transformed into vibrant wetlands in the heart of suburbia »
- Mexico City is bartering its recyclable waste for food »
- Beach cleanup leads to turtle comeback »
- The bush stone-curlews are back in town »
- The Swedish fitness craze that's good for you and the environment »
- RMIT develops new proton battery prototype »
- Planet Ark's flagship recycling info service is getting a makeover »
- Italian sheepdogs become little penguin protectors »
- An innovative solution to the problem of ocean pollution »
- Indigenous women helping to conserve glowing turtles »
- Taking sustainable fashion to new heights »
- HP's plastic recycling program is turning Haitian pollution into printer cartridges »
- Cleaning up the Cove »
- A year in review - Australian natives made some great comebacks in 2017 »
- Marine plastic pollution: a personal perspective »
- Plastics inspiration: reasons for hope »
- Reconnaissance to protect the Great Barrier Reef »
- Flying Dutch claim victory for the 7th time in the World Solar Challenge »
- Top Australian sustainability award winners announced »
- Doing well by doing good: a recipe for sustain-ability »
- The calming effect of contact with nature »
- The Australian second-hand economy is booming »
- Fighting waste with Fortunate Food »
- How far would you go for fair trade fashion? »
- Facing down fast fashion with up-cycled clothes »
- Decades of community action brings a disappearing frogmouth back from the brink »
- How indoor plants can give city-slickers a literal breath of fresh air »
- Island sanctuary brings hope to dwindling quokka population »
- 1.5 million people, 12 hours, 66 million trees: India's commitment to The Paris Agreement »
- 81-Year-Old Lebanese woman inspires a nation to recycle »
- Australia's First Rescued Food Supermarket is a Win-win for the Planet and Those in Need. »
- How A Music Festival Convinced 1400 To Take Their Rubbish Home »
- Access to Nature Should be a Human Right - Report »
- Launch of Positive Environment News »