RESIDENTIAL / HOME CARE
You already have in your home the two most powerful, effective, and economical tools you’ll ever need to clean your entire house: water and elbow grease! Since all conventional products contain well over 70% water, why pay for it when you still have to scrub?
Instead go out and purchase two simple, cheap ingredients—white vinegar and baking soda—and make your own green products. It’s truly amazing what these two can conjure up. Then, follow the green cleaning recipes below, and have a blast. For information and guidance on commercially available cleaning products, visit the Environmental Working Group's "Guide to Healthy Cleaning."
In the kitchen, an easy all-purpose cleaner can be made from 50% water and 50% white vinegar, with a drop or two of liquid dish soap (green, please). Boom, you’re off! It works on everything! For baked-on messes, soak them in straight vinegar and use kosher salt for a terrific abrasive. Rub kosher salt onto cutting boards. In the oven, scrub down with a baking soda paste. On floors, use vinegar, hot water, and a few drops of liquid dish soap (wood floors shine with vinegar).
Are you filling up your dishwasher all the way before you run it? Dishwashers use only one-sixth of the water it takes to wash dishes by hand. Don’t rinse your dishes beforehand (just scrape); it is simply not necessary with these new machines. Green it up even more by filling the rinsing aid container with white vinegar instead of a petroleum-based rinse aid like Jet-Dry. Or, go bold, and make your own dishwasher powder by adding 1 tablespoon of washing soda and 1 tablespoon of borax to the soap bin.
In the bathroom, only one demon stands out: mildew. Mildew, surprisingly, can be cleaned just by spraying undiluted white vinegar on the tub and tiles, or by scrubbing areas with half a lemon. Leave to soak for 30 minutes to cut the water deposit build-up.
If you need an abrasive, use baking soda as a paste with the lemon or vinegar (your new soft scrubbing cleaner) to whisk away the tub ring. Really tough stains on grout and other porous surfaces will probably remain, though the actual mildew will be gone. Just remember, that when chlorine bleach interacts with anything that is semi-porous or porous (grout, wood, vinyl, plastic, PVC), then it emits toxic organochlorines (see Chlorine Bleach, above)
Avoid drain cleaners, which are made from lye, a caustic, corrosive, and poisonous substance. They also may contain ammonia, a respiratory irritant. Most clogged drains can be undone simply by using a handful of baking soda followed by ½ cup vinegar and boiling water. Follow with vigorous plunging, ifnecessary. You can also clean your toilets with—you guessed it—baking soda and vinegar.
FOUR CHEMICAL COMPOUNDS TO AVOID
Many cleaning products have ingredients derived from petroleum including alkylphenol ethoxylates APEs, which are used as inexpensive surfactants (agents that break down the surface tension of water so that it will interact with the grease and grime).
Alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs) are actually a class of hormone-disrupting compounds and take a number of forms. One of these most insidious offenders is nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs), a surfactant found in laundry detergents and many other household cleaners.
NPEs break down in the environment into nonylphenol, and it is this compound which has been found to be an endocrine disruptor, known to alter the reproductive systems in fish, shellfish, and frogs (and, some scientists suggest, human males). Wastewater treatment facilities may or may not remove them, and septic systems generally do not. The European Union has banned NPEs. There is enough concern in the U.S. for the EPA to create the Safer Detergents Stewardship Initiative (SDSI), a program recognizing environmental leaders who voluntarily commit to the use of safer surfactants.
2. CHLORINE BLEACH
Chlorine bleach (aka sodium hypochlorite) is an all-purpose whitening agent used in housecleaning and laundry products. When chlorine hits the waterways, it interacts with organic matter, such as dirt, sewage, or leaves. This interaction causes the development of toxic organochlorines. Two commonly-known organochlorines are the insecticide DDT and dioxin, used in a wide range of manufacturing processes, such as the chlorine bleaching of paper pulp. Organochlorines occur any time chlorine interacts with organic matter, and this can include your home, when chlorine bleach is used on anything other than hard, non-porous surfaces.
Breathing small amounts of pure chlorine for short periods of time can adversely affect the human respiratory system, causing coughing and/or chest pain. It can irritate the lungs, eyes, and skin, as we have seen from our swimming pools (consider instead salt water pool systems, which contain much less chlorine).
Chlorine bleach is often touted as the supreme disinfectant, “killing 99.9% of germs” fast and effectively. But, killing all living organisms won’t make your house cleaner. A cleaner, safer nest for you and your family comes in a balanced ecosystem—aka your home—wiped down with plain hot water and a few green cleaning items.
There’s nothing like the smell of a clean house, but what does “clean” really smell like? A house cleaned without toxic chemicals won’t smell like much of anything but a sweet breeze, but many companies continue to design products that smell “nice.” The problem is that “nice” has been manufactured from chemicals that definitely are not nice.
Fragrance is often made with phthalates, chemicals linked to reproductive abnormalities and liver cancer in lab animals and to asthma in children. Fragrances contain many volatile organic compounds (VOCs). In fact, the list of chemicals needed make these lovely smells is astonishing, the most common being: limonene, linalool, citronellol, eucalyptol, geraniol, and ?-pinene. There are no laws regulating either the use of these chemicals or the full disclosure of the use. Three commonly-found VOCs are considered Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAPs): acetaldehyde, chloromethane, and 1,4-dioxane. Yet, they are still being used to add fragrance to air fresheners, cleaners, and laundry products.
Scientists have shown that smells trigger memories for us, and that is why fragrance has not only remained a key ingredient in home products but is now ubiquitous. If fragrance is important to you, then add a few drops of an essential oil like lemon or lavender to the any of your green cleaning mixes. Essential oils can be found at Whole Foods and in many other natural food stores.
The good news about phosphates is that they have been taken out of most laundry detergents, but they remain in automatic dishwasher detergents. Phosphates may soften water for detergents, but are they worth it? Phosphates contribute to the overgrowth of algae and aquatic weeds in our waterways. Excessive algae can completely disrupt an ecosystem, killing off fish populations and other aquatic life. In time, this will affect human lives. Choose cleaners without phosphates; there are many greener options.
Do note that there are no regulatory laws in the cleaning products industry, so you will find that even “green” products, from Ecover, Mrs. Meyer’s, Seventh Generation, and more, may still contain NPEs, pthalates, and other harmful toxins. They are not required by law to disclose every ingredient in every product. Stay tuned to our site, as we continue to report on these issues.
GET THE LEAD OUT!
Lead exposure can harm young babies and children even before they are born. You can get lead in your body by breathing in or swallowing lead dust, or by eating soil or paint chips containing with lead. Removing lead-based paint improperly can increase the danger to your family. Here are some things you can do to prevent childhood lead poisoning.
- Wet-mop floors and wipe windowsills and other wet surfaces weekly. Wipe in one direction only.
- Don't let children chew on anything covered in lead paint.
- Don't try to remove lead paint yourself.
- Don't bring lead dust into your home. Teach children to play in grass or sandy areas instead of dirt.
- Practice safe water habits. Lead cold water run for one minute before drinking it or cooking with it.
- Eat healthy. Don't store food in pottery or cans as they may contain lead.
- Have your child tested for lead poisoning, even if he or she seems healthy.
(Source: Adapted from "Lead Poisoning and Your Children" October 2000, US Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics)