Green Cleaning 101
I don’t know about you, but I feel like a freshly cleaned home is one of the great pleasures of day to day life. It is refreshing and soothing at the same time. It calms my mind to clear out the clutter and debris of daily living and enjoy my beautiful clean surroundings. Granted, my idea of what defines clean has changed over the time. When I was younger, the smell of pine scented cleaning products and a hint of bleach was what I associated with clean. Then at some point I came to realize that to “smell” the clean, I was immersing my entire home in hundreds of unfamiliar chemicals, many of them with known potential hazards to my health. I set out to clean up my cleaning supplies and stumbled upon the green cleaning movement.
Green Cleaning is a term used to refer to cleaning products and cleaning methods that are environmentally friendly and pose no risk to your health or the integrity of your environment. In a nutshell, green cleaning is about eliminating toxic chemicals and choosing products that are packaged in eco-friendly materials. As consumers, we have been trained to look for certain key words or phrases that speak to us on an emotional level. Phrases such as “industrial strength,” “maximum strength” and “super powered” all tell you that the brightly colored bottle of chemical cleanser in your hands is sure to kill every microbe on every surface and protect your home from bacterial invaders. The problem is that many of those chemicals can cause more harm than good, and we aren’t always aware of just how serious the potential risks are.
If you were to peek inside the typical American home, you would find an average of 63 different chemical products, most of which fall into a least one of the following categories; neurotoxins, endocrine disruptors and carcinogens. You would be hard pressed to find a standard, commercially purchased non-green cleaning substance that doesn’t fall under at least one of those undesirable labels. Additionally, practically every label will include a danger warning. Just how serious are those words of caution? Here is a quick rundown for you.
- The word “caution” means that if you accidentally consume an amount somewhere between an ounce and a pint that the results may be harmful or fatal.
- The word “warning” indicates that a teaspoon to an ounce may be harmful or fatal.
- The word “danger” means that as little as a small taste can be fatal.
True, most of us don’t go around tasting our cleaning supplies and we follow all the recommended guidelines for keeping chemicals out of reach of children and pets. However, what do you think happens when you mop your floor or wipe off your counter? Residue from those cleaning products remain and the small bodies of children and the delicate systems of animals are exposed to those residual toxins in amounts that are proportionally high for their body size, which can cause a range of serious issues. The whole situation is in complete contrast with the concept of “clean.”
Rather than give up cleaning altogether (which admittedly sounds appealing at certain times!), focus on going green for your regular cleaning routines. With spring teasing us, it is just about that time of year when you start to actually get excited about the possibility of doing a thorough cleaning and starting fresh. There is no better time to green up your cleaning act. Here are just a few ways that green cleaning is good for you and your home.
- You reduce the level of pollution in your home. Even if you only occasionally use a chemical cleanser, you release harmful chemicals into your environment. Research shows that using non-green chemical products just once a week raises your risk of developing respiratory issues such as asthma.
- Green cleaning poses no threat to you and your loved ones. Many standard cleansers are skin, eye and lung irritants and can immediately cause burns, blisters or irritation when touched or inhaled.
- You’ll know what you’re using. Look for products that disclose 100% of the ingredients on their packaging. You’ll be surprised how few really do this. Shockingly, there is almost no regulation regarding the use and labeling of potentially harmful household chemicals, thanks to strong lobbying from the chemical industry.
- You get to experience what real, natural clean smells like, and in the process, improve your overall air quality. Rather than associating chemical smells with clean, you will come to realize that natural scents smell better. You can even add fragrance your home by adding natural essential oils to your green cleaning products.
- You are doing good for the environment. Part of green cleaning is being aware of the long term effects of our choices. Green cleaning products are biodegradable, pose no threat to the soil or water systems and offer packaging that is recyclable and in many cases, created from recycled materials.
- Less Triclosan. Triclosan is a common but powerful antibacterial that is found in many soaps and cleansers. The overuse of antibacterial products has been making headlines lately, especially concerning an increased bacterial resistance to antibiotics. Not only can added antibacterials create superbugs, but they also interfere with the function of your thyroid and cause hormonal imbalances.
- You know what you are getting. Whether you purchase green cleaning supplies or make your own, the ingredient list is short and recognizable. You don’t need to worry or wonder about the endless list of chemicals that you cannot pronounce and need an advanced degree in chemistry to understand how they work.
- You save money. Generally speaking, it is cheaper to go green, especially if you make your cleaning supplies yourself. You probably already have the ingredients for safe, effective and natural cleaning supplies already in your pantry, and they only cost you mere pennies to make.
If you have been thinking about going green with your cleaning routine, but are worried you house won’t be as clean as if you use chemicals, think again. Keep in mind that generations before us relied on simple, basic ingredients to keep their homes clean and they worked beautifully. Before you let doubt take over, just give it a try. Here’s all you need to get started:
- Add these items to your shopping list; baking soda, vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, borax, pure castile soap, purified water, citrus fruits and your favorite essential oils. You can clean just about anything with various combinations of items from this list.
- If you choose to add essential oils to your cleaning solutions, choose oils with antiseptic properties. Tea tree, lavender, rosemary, eucalyptus, lemon, peppermint and thyme essential oils are good choices. Keep in mind that essential oils should always be diluted, and it is best to avoid direct skin contact with non diluted essential oils due to the fact that skin irritation may result, especially in people with sensitive skin.
- Buy a new set of bottles and other containers for your clean cleaning supplies. Resist the urge to reuse bottles that have contained chemicals. Make sure to label your homemade cleansers including what it is and the date that you made it.
- For a general, all-purpose cleaner, combine three parts vinegar with one part warm water.
- To make your windows sparkle, make a 50/50 mixture of vinegar and water. Spray them down and just squeegee off. No streaking!
- To clean tough surfaces, including your oven, spray the surface with water and then apply a generous coat of baking soda. Let it sit for several hours, or overnight for tougher jobs, and then simply wipe away the mess.
- Baking soda is also good for eliminating home odors. Use it plain or sprinkle a few drops of your favorite essential oil into a cup full. Then sprinkle it onto carpets, upholstery, countertops or any other spot of your home that needs deodorizing. Let it sit for ten minutes and then vacuum or wipe up.
- To get rid of unpleasant smells from your drains, pour one half cup of baking soda into the drain and then add one cup of vinegar. The bubbling action also makes a great science experiment if you have kids at home.
- To freshen your countertops, slice a grapefruit or lemon in half and sprinkle baking soda and salt onto the fleshy part. Use the fruit as a sponge and wipe up countertops in a circular motion. Rinse off with water.
- If the idea of making your own cleansers doesn’t appeal to you, scout out the homecare section of your local health food store. Look for products that carry the EPA Safer Choice label and those designated as low or zero VOC.
Once you’ve eliminated all those chemicals from our cupboards, you might be pleasantly surprised at how much room you have. Here are few more simple, easy-to-implement ideas to build on your green cleaning efforts and turn your home into a healthy, welcoming environment.
- Keep the air clean and fresh smelling naturally. If the weather permits, open the windows and let some fresh air flow through your home. As clean air comes in, toxins go out.
- Keep plenty of air-purifying plants in your home. Choose plants that have large, broad green leaves, such as peace lilies. In generally, you don’t need too much of a green thumb to keep these plants going and the larger leaf surfaces help to detoxify the air in your home, naturally. Just remember to keep all plants out the reach of children and animals until you know for sure that they are non-poisonous.
- When it comes time to toss your chemicals cleaners, do not pour them down the drain or put them in the regular trash. These substances are obviously too toxic for your home, so that means they aren’t good for the environment either. The last thing you want is for chemicals like these to make their way into your soil and water supply. Contact your local recycling center to see if they have a day or designated place set up where they accepted chemical products such as household cleaners.
- Be mindful of bringing outside toxins into your home. Choose furniture, flooring and clothing that have not been treated with toxic chemicals, and try to avoid purchasing clothing that requires dry cleaning. Most drycleaners use a chemical called Perchloroethylene, which is extremely toxic. If you must dry clean, search out businesses that employ green cleaning practices. If all else fails and you run out of options, hang your dry-cleaned clothing outside for several hours to allow some of the toxic chemicals and fumes to fade before bringing them inside your home.
- Leave your shoes at the door. Think about all of the places that your feet carry you. Your shoes travel through sidewalks and grass with pesticide residue, motor oil and antifreeze on parking lots, animal waste, outdoor allergens such as pollen, not to mention gum, cigarettes, spit and other unpleasant human debris. Don’t let this stuff into your home. Set up a mat at your door and take your shoes off and leave them there until you are ready to leave your home again.
Indoor pollution levels can be up to one hundred times higher than outdoor pollution levels. Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible to eliminate all the pollution and toxins in your home, there are simply too many of them in our environment. However, you can do your part to keep the environment clean and make your home a healthier, cleaner place by going green when you embark on your spring cleaning this year. Take a cue from Mother Nature as she blossoms and bursts forth with freshness and new life this spring, and bring that new, fresh energy into your home with green cleaning.