By Dawna Matthews:
When I was a child, I remember a sickly green sticker on various items underneath the kitchen sink or in the laundry room. This sticker, “Mr. Yuk,” warned me and thousands of others that “things marked yuk, make you sick.” Created to help identify potential poisons and dangers in the home, Mr. Yuk actually was pretty helpful.
Potential poisons and things harmful to our health are everywhere in our homes, schools, and workplace; and oftentimes, the scariest and deadliest things are living in our cabinets. Most of us love our homes and consider them a haven and sacred space, but often we don’t think about the toxic zone our homes actually can be. After I realized how toxic and detrimental conventional cleaning products are, I decided to transition to safer, more earth friendly cleaners for my family and me. As an eco-conscious person, this is one of the transitions to being more green that took the longest for me.
Most commercially available household cleaners contain petrochemical and toxic components such as ammonia, formaldehyde and toxic gases which are harmful to people, animals, and the environment. These cleaners can induce asthma, contain carcinogens; and can cause reproductive and developmental problems, chemical burns, and poisonings. Luckily, chemical-laden cleaning products aren’t the only means to keeping a home safe and sparkly. Nontoxic and even homemade cleaning products not only are better for us, but they also can help save us money as well as protect the environment.
How To Start the Real Green Clean:
1. Start Under the Sink — Start reading labels and throwing out the cleaners; virtually all of them will have to go. First, throw away all bleach and antibacterial sprays. These cause dangerous byproducts that leach into our water as well as decompose when used with hot water, making them useless as germ fighters. Please call your county for advice or drop them off at a household hazardous waste collection facility. Some synthetic chemicals and buzz words to avoid:
• Ammonia — poisonous if swallowed; can cause respiratory damage and skin burns
• Chlorine Bleach — contains a poisonous gas and is very hazardous. It can irritate lungs and eyes as well as compromise your immune, reproductive and neurological systems.
• Fragrances — contain phthalates, which are chemicals linked to reproductive abnormalities, cancer, and asthma
• Sodium lauryl sulfate — common sudsing or bubble agent; can penetrate skin and cause chronic skin irritation
• Biodegradable — All things, even chemicals and nuclear waste, degrade over time. Yes, it will degrade, but how long will it take to do so??
2. Choose Greener Cleaners or Make Your Own — We have cleaned without the use of chemical laden synthetic products for centuries. We don’t need chemicals to kill germs. The government doesn’t regulate or require labels of chemicals to be listed, and some of these ingredients are know to be harmful to health. The products below as well as the ones you can make with items in your pantry are just as effective and won’t put our families, our pets, ourselves or the environment at risk of being poisoned.
• Mrs. Meyers — formulated with essential oils and (if you like them) scents — is the way to go. You can also dilute them with hot water for your kitchen floor and walls.
• Bon Ami — my favorite go-to all purpose for scrubbing needs; a mild chlorine-free powder made with natural minerals
• Ecover — a very tried and trusted company with a variety of great products to suit your needs
For a more detailed list and to see reviews of hundreds of household cleaners, check out the Environmental Working Group’s website: http://www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners.
Making your own products cuts down on packaging waste and reduces the release of household chemicals that can contribute to air and water pollution. The majority of the most powerful cleaning products may already be on our pantry shelves. You can get started on making your own cleaners if you have the following items: vinegar, baking soda, borax, lemon juice, liquid castile soap, essential oils, salt.
Here is a recipe for an all purpose spray which is easy to make:
- 32 ounce spray bottle
- 2 cups water
- 1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
- 1 teaspoon pure castile soap
- 3/4 cup hydrogen peroxide
- 20 drops tea tree oil
- 20 drops of lavender essential oil
- Fill the bottle with the water. Add vinegar, castile soap, hydrogen peroxide, tea tree oil and lavender oil.
- Alternative All Purpose Cleaner: Mix 2 Tbsp. baking soda with 1 pint warm water in a spray bottle. Add a squeeze of lemon juice or a splash of vinegar to cut grease.
- No-Streak Glass/Window Cleaner
- Mix 1/4 cup white vinegar and 1 quart warm water.
- Or, 1/4 cup white vinegar, 1 Tbsp. cornstarch and 1 quart warm water.
- Apply with a spray bottle or sponge. Wipe with crumpled newspaper instead of paper towels for lint-free results.
Furniture Polish — Two parts olive oil and one part lemon juice in a spray bottle will dissolve dirt and stains while waxing and protecting.
3. Use Less — Decrease your use of paper towels and save a tree. It is super easy to cut up towels and rags, and just wash and reuse them. I keep two handy daily, then throw them into the dishwasher at night or into the laundry later.
4. Let It Flow — When you can, open up the windows and let the fresh air come in to neutralize and energize your home. I try to do this at least once a week. During the colder months, you can neutralize odors by using baking soda in odor prone areas such as trash cans and bathrooms.
Remember to start at a pace you are comfortable with, and know that each step you choose is a step toward being eco-responsible with health in mind. We need to be conscious about what we use to clean our homes on a personal health and safety level as well as an environmental level. We can avoid accidental poisonings and illness simply by returning to the basics and cleaning with a clear conscience. Happy Cleaning!
What are some ways you clean green? We would love to hear your suggestions and recipes!
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