It’s that time of year: Spring! While it means beautiful blooming flowers and warmer days, it also means it’s time to get out that mop, broom, and other cleaning essentials, and start your spring cleaning. But what should you use as your weapons of choice for battling your household grime, filth, and dirt?
Ensuring your home is clean and hygienic is at the top of most people’s priorities. And to do this, it used to be (and still is for many) that household cupboards were filled with all sorts of bleaches and toxic chemicals. We’ll get more into this later, but thankfully times have changed — for the good of the planet and for each and every one of us.
We use a wide plethora of bleaching agents, polishes, foams, disinfectants, soaps, scents, detergents, and specialized cleaners for mirrors, glass, ovens, bathrooms, and kitchens to keep our homes clean, sparkling, and sweet smelling. But while the chemicals found in these cleaning products make our bathtubs, kitchen counter tops, clothes, and dishes shiny, many also contain toxic chemicals that, when ingested, touched, or transferred to the environment, can be harmful.
Many experts believe that using toxic substances to make your home environment cleaner is counterintuitive. Conventional cleaning products are full of chemical cocktails that can be harmful to adults, and our children and pets. What’s more, some cleaning products, like dishwashing detergents, contain phosphates that can end up polluting the groundwater. Other products, such as wood furniture polish, can contain nitrobenzene, a flammable toxic. And these are just a few examples of many.
In 2010, U.S. Poison Control Centers received 206,636 calls relating to toxic exposures from cleaning products, accounting for nearly 10 percent of all toxic exposures report to these centers, reports the Worldwatch Institute. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tells us that the indoor air in our homes are, on average, two to five times more polluted in the outside air, which is thought to be largely the result of pesticides and household cleaners.
We also now know that some chemical cleaning agents play a role in developing skin problems, respiratory issues, hormonal imbalances, and potentially even some cancers. For instance, The Agency for Toxic Substances and Diseases Registry (ATDSR) reports in their Chemical, Cancer in You brochure that Asbestos, Arsenic, Benzene, Beryllium, and Vinyl chloride are examples of known carcinogens to humans, and Choloform and DDT are thought to be possible human carcinogens.
With reports like these, it’s no surprise that the growth of eco-friendly cleaning products is skyrocketing. For instance, back in 2007, sales of eco-friendly cleaning products were $303 million, according to Packaged Facts, Compare that to the $640 million sales in 2011, and you can see that sales of green cleaning products have more than doubled in less than five years.
What You Can Do
To get into the green spring cleaning bandwagon, you have two main options:
- Shop for eco-friendly cleaning products.
- Make your own green cleaning products.
How to Shop for Eco-Friendly Cleaning Products
When shopping for products such as these, be sure to look for green cleaning eco-labels, such as:
- US EPA’s Design for Environment
- Green Seal
- The National Organic Program
- The USDA Certified Biobased Product label.
These are independent third party organizations that provide testing or require certain eco-friendly standards in order to earn their label.
If you don’t have the time or desire to mix your own eco-friendly cleaning solutions, there are many “Green Cleaning” alternatives that you can buy at the store. While there are many available green cleaning products, including ones that have been third party certified or have environmentally preferable attributes, here is a a short list of these of common brands:
- Clorox Green Works – This is an all-purpose cleaner which can be used on dishes, glass, laundry, and bath.
- Earth Friendly Products – Available products are air freshener, dishwasher, counter top, carpet, and floor.
- Method – Uses renewable and natural ingredients, and recyclable packaging.
- Simple Green Naturals – Available products are for carpet, bath, floor, dish, and multisurface.
- Seventh Generation – A distributor of environmentally-safe household products, including cleaning products.
Some of the ingredients that green cleaning product manufacturers strive to avoid are:
- Nonylphenolethoxylate (NPE)
- Synthetic fragrances
- Artificial colors
Other tips to employ when shopping for eco-friendly cleaning products are:
- Avoid buying products which are labeled with words such as “corrosive,” “warning,” “poison,” or “flammable.”
- Always choose fragrance-free products, which contain less chemicals than their sweet-smelling counterparts.
- Never use conventional oven and drain cleaners as these can burn your skin and eyes. Consider using water, salt and baking soda mixed into a paste instead.
- Steer clear of aerosols that tend to contain volatile organic compounds and releases harmful gases into the environment.
- Avoid purchasing air fresheners that can be detrimental for people who suffer from asthma and allergies. A great alternative to store-bought air fresheners is just opening a window or burning a natural beeswax candle.
- Rather than using store-bought fabric softeners, place ¼ cup of white vinegar into your laundry before the rinse cycle
How to Make Your Own Healthy Home Cleaners
DIY home cleaning products are by far the greenest option around. Making your own household cleaning agents is easy to do, and a lot of the time these can be made quickly with ingredients you already have in your cupboard at home.
Add to this that making your own cleaners is far safer than using chemicals and can save you money, it’s a clear winner. If you have young children or pets in your home, an added incentive is that you know exactly what’s going into the products and can ensure everything is nontoxic.
Here are a few ideas to use on common household items to get you started:
Glass and mirrors. Glass and mirrors are notoriously difficult to get and to keep clean and streak-free. To keep them looking good, all you need is vinegar and water. Make up a solution of 10% vinegar and 90% water, put this in a spray bottle, and go to town adding sparkle to your windows and mirrors. Simply spray all over the surface you wish to clean and then wipe with a microfiber cloth. For particularly heavy stains, use a little dish soap. As an added tip, use crinkled newspaper for extra sparkle and shine, and to remove those notorious hard-to-remove streaks.
Furniture. Simply dust from furniture surfaces with a dampened – not wet – microfiber cloth. To achieve a lovely shine on unvarnished furniture, follow this up by using a regular cloth dipped in a little pure lemon or olive oil. The lemon oil gives your room a lovely, fresh and zingy scent.
Counter tops and cutting boards. To keep these clean and germ-free, use hot water, vinegar, and a nylon scrubbing pad. If you have porous or old cutting boards with marks or grooves in them, ensure you place these in the dishwasher.
Bathtubs and toilets. Sprinkle baking soda into the bathtub or toilet bowl and give it a good scrub with a brush (It goes without saying to use separate brushes for the toilet and bathtub). If your bathroom surfaces are particularly dirty or moldy, use the vinegar/water solution you made up for your glass and mirrors and spray on the surface. Let this work for 30 minutes and then rinse.
Natural Spring Cleaning Recipes
Sometimes you’ll need a little more cleaning muscle than you’ll get from vinegar and water, dish soap, and baking soda. Fortunately, there are so many natural products that can be used for those tougher cleaning jobs around the home. Again, most of these ingredients can either be found around the house or are very cheaply bought at the store.
Here a few DIY cleaning recipes to try:
Eco-friendly antibacterial spray
- ¼ cup water
- ¾ cup hydrogen peroxide
- 35 drops of tea tree oil
- 10 drops of citrus-fragranced essential oil
- Simply mix and pour into a spray bottle
“Green” laundry detergent
- Washing soda
- Natural soap bar
- Baking soda
- Grate up the whole soap bar
- Mix 2 parts borax, 2 parts washing soda and 1 part grated soap along with 2 teaspoons of baking soda in a large bowl
- Place in a sealable container
- Use ¼ cup every time you wash your laundry
- ¾ cup baking soda
- ¼ cup water
- ¼ cup salt
- Mix ingredients together
- Dampen oven surfaces
- Spread paste and allow to sit overnight
- Scrape paste off
- Wipe with a wet cloth
- 1 cup washing soda
- 1 cup borax
- Simply mix and use in place of regular store bought detergent
With all the available and incredibly effective non-toxic alternatives to conventional chemical cleaning products, you can often avoid using the toxic cleaning ingredients that can harm yourself, your children, your pets, and Mother Earth.
Making your own cleaners saves on fuel, too, as there’s no rushing to the store to buy pre-packaged sprays. It can even be fun to get the family involved in creating eco-cleaning recipes!
So if you’re looking for safe and healthy alternatives that will make your home a safer and healthier place, it stands to reason that environmentally-friendly cleaning is the way forward. Happy spring cleaning!
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