Published on December 17th, 2007 | by Stephanie Evans3
Green Cleaning for a Healthy Home
Our indoor spaces can hold more toxins than what greets us out-of-doors because our home is a virtually closed-off space where fumes and toxins can become concentrated. Having a clean space is essential for clarity of mind and creating the sense that things have a proper place.
Some of the things we welcome into our home as permanent fixtures continue to release toxic fumes, and in cleaning we only redouble these emissions by introducing additional toxins through our choice of products that contain harsh chemicals.
And certainly not all home cleaning products labelled earth-friendly, natural, or non-toxic, are deserving of those labels. Let’s take a look at some common household cleaners and some green cleaning tips that will help you transform your current regimen into a green cleaning plan. This will help to protect your indoor space and help you actively protect our great outdoor space—the planet.
Common Household Cleaners
Most widely available home cleaning products on the market contain a variety of toxic chemicals, and some products even give us a clue to their dangerous nature on labels—avoid cleaning products with the visible label terms “Danger,” “Caution,” “Corrosive,” “Poison,” or “Warning.” The most common harmful ingredients include petroleum-based solvents, phosphates, chlorine bleach, formaldehyde, and synthetic fragrances. These substances bring a host of bad things to the table—carcinogens, neurotoxins, skin and allergy irritants, and they promote resistant bacterial strains. You can usually tell when they’ve been applied because a strong scent lingers in the air longer after use, causing headaches, dizziness, and respiratory distress. These products are very dangerous to the environment, tainting our water supply, decimating fish and plant life, and releasing caustic substances into the atmosphere. They also do us no favors—our skin is an extremely permeable and absorptive organ, and toxins that come in contact with it are soaked in and transferred directly into our bloodstream.
Manufacturers are not required to list exact ingredients on product labels, and even the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) often now available online do not provide a comprehensive listing. It’s best to do a bit of product research or invest a few moments in making your own simple, effective, and all natural cleaning products.
Green Seal is a not-for-profit, independent organization that’s taken the lead in helping to set health and environmental standards for cleaning products. Read their Revised Household Cleaners Standard for detailed information that gets into the nitty gritty of what’s acceptable in household cleaners, product performance requirements, health and environmental factors, and packaging. Look for Green Seal certification on products in your local natural foods or home improvement store.
Green Cleaning Options
Many green cleaning products are starting to show up on shelves and it’s important to be informed so you can determine their true green quotient. There is currently no industry-wide standardization process, and many advertising ploys deceptively label products with eco-friendly terms and catch phrases. Look for the least-toxic cleaning products and use them in the smallest amount necessary to get the job done to your satisfaction. When shopping, keep these considerations in mind:
- Selecting non- or less-toxic options will reduce the amount of toxic chemicals produced and the level of toxic waste that requires processing.
- Purchasing multi-purpose products creates fewer items in the home, which equates to less packaging, less waste, and less money spent. Look for biodegradable products and post-consumer recycled packaging.
- Cold-water compatible products help to conserve energy by not requiring water to heat.
Many truly green cleaning products are just as effective at cutting grease and grime, and they incorporate all natural options that do not cause disease or irritate allergies and skin. Many are so safe that you could eat them—though you may not relish the flavor!
The best way to know exactly what’s in your home cleaning products is to use a few items commonly found in your cupboard—most home surface cleaning can be accomplished using simple combinations of the following all natural ingredients: baking soda, distilled white vinegar, liquid soap (available at most natural health stores), and water.
Green laundry options include natural soap powders and chlorine-free bleaches that are hydrogen peroxide based. Simple and effective, green cleaning recipes usually require just 2–4 ingredients—those above, with the addition of citrus juice, beeswax, and nourishing oils if you are making a floor polish. Search up recipes on the web or in a green home cleaning book.
While cleaning can be an invigorating, cathartic, and very cleansing experience, you also have only so much time to devote to it. To reduce the time spent and amount of cleaning required, consider applying a preventative maintenance strategy ….
Surfaces that accumulate grease, dust, and scum—such as bathtubs, drains, ovens, and tile floors or countertops—clean up nicely with a work-over by a simple baking soda/water paste. For heftier residues, use distilled white vinegar mixed with warm water. Vinegar also works well as a drain de-clogger because the acidity softens grimy build-up.
Wood, stone, and marble most often require specialized products that are targeted for those materials, though researched home-made options are open to you. This also goes for windows and glass surfaces—one part vinegar to one part water is a great cleaner. Many safe and earth-friendly green cleaning products are available through the following distributors: Biokleen, BioShield, Bon Ami, Dr. Bronner’s, ECOS, EcoQuest, Ecover, Method, Naturally Yours, Seventh Generation, and Shaklee. This is not a comprehensive listing, so poke around—look for the Green Seal rating on products and packaging, and search by label or product at the Consumers Union eco-labels Web site. In contrast to conventional, toxic cleaners, these products do not emit harmful fumes and some even leave a clean, pleasant, and natural scent in their wake.
As you prepare to clean a given surface, test out a bit of the cleaner on a small portion to ensure that it’s compatible with the surface.
Wash dishes with soapy water, using a natural liquid soap. If you encounter a waxy film build-up on your dishes, a vinegar and water soak should break that down. Some of the companies listed above carry natural powders for use in dishwashers and some even package them in post-consumer recycled containers.
Your laundry gets a boost from eco-friendly products such as no-dye, no-fragrance, vegetable-oil based detergents, found at many health food stores. Also look for natural soap or chlorine-free bleach to clean and freshen your loads—chlorine-free bleaches, also called natural oxygen bleaches, are safe and kind to the earth because they are made from hydrogen peroxide. These are primarily found at health food stores.
Tools of the Green Cleaning Trade
Sponges are so popular that it’s not surprising most come packed with a harmful substance that also appears in many cleaning products—triclosan. Not only does this pervasive agent cause skin irritation, it disturbs aquatic-life ecosystems. Read more at the BeyondPesticides.org Triclosan Fact Sheet. Sponges made from natural cellulose are a good option—look for them online or at a hardware store. Reuse old, cut-up sponges as moisture-retainers at the bottom of potted plants.
Another natural and non-toxic option is the long lasting reusable unbleached cotton cleaning cloth. Simply toss them in the wash and continue to use for years. Reusable, machine-washable microfiber cloth towels and mops are another option, originally designed as a replacement for paper towels. Little fibrous hooks work overtime to capture dust, dirt, and absorb liquids. Some companies also offer zero-dye, zero-fragrance biodegradable surface wipes.
Tips on Green House Cleaning Strategy
It’s important to come to cleaning well-rested and purposeful, with a bit of strategy in mind. While cleaning can be an invigorating, cathartic, and very cleansing experience, you also have only so much time to devote to it. To reduce the time spent and amount of cleaning required, consider applying a preventative maintenance strategy according to these green cleaning tips:
- It may seem as if it takes more time to clean things as you go along each day, but it saves big in the long run. On-the-spot cleaning prevents the accumulation of grease and grime that builds up into sticky layers that later require deep cleaning with strong products.
- Minimize the amount of cleaning by employing preventative measures such as placing a cookie sheet under oven-ready dishes that are likely to spill over or crumb-producing dishes that are cooling on a counter.
- Prevent mold and mildew by keeping your house well-circulated with fresh air—this especially applies to areas prone to dampness. Consider briefly turning on an overhead or mobile fan after a shower. Other options include investing in an air purification system or introducing antibacterial oils, such as tea tree diluted with water or vinegar, into your green cleaning regimen.
- Clean top to bottom—dirt and dust can fall from ceilings and walls onto surfaces situated lower, so clean these first or your efforts may need to be repeated. Dust these surfaces and then wash them with soapy water and a sponge.
- Move on down the room, cleaning dirty or dusty curtains and the tops of tall appliances. Vacuum windowsills and wash with soapy water—progress to vinegar if grease-cutting action is required. Wash windows with equal parts vinegar and water.
- Next, dust stationary pieces or wash them with a baking soda mixture or other cleaner appropriate to the surface.
- Lastly, focus on the bottom level—vacuum refrigerator coils, clean floors, and apply a natural polish if needed.
We’re all done. Sit back, relax, and breathe easy—inhale the natural scent of your non-toxically cleaned home. Enjoy!
Article Contributors: Debra Lynn Dadd