Between those balmy, beckoning summer nights, kids going back to school in the fall, and the blustery, hole-up-and-conserve-energy days of winter, it’s easy to neglect cleaning. Sure we’ll pick up toys and do the dishes, but I mean the down-and-dirty, scrub-until-the-floors-are-white kind of clean.
Throwing open the windows and ridding the house of the past year’s accumulation of grime is a time-honored ritual: just don’t forget to tackle spring cleaning the green way.
Why clean green?
Hundreds of chemical-laden products line the shelves, their gleaming labels promising to kill germs, keep products whiter, and return your home back to its former glory. Often we buy into these promises and use these products on our dishes, countertops, furniture, clothes, floors, and windows.
What the labels fail to mention is that those same products that are “cleaning” your house are filled with volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like formaldehyde. A VOC is a chemical that becomes a gas at room temperature. According to the EPA the gases emitted after these products are used can cause irritation to eyes, nose, and throat; headaches; loss of coordination; nausea; and damage to the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system. Further still, some VOCs have been known to cause cancer in animals and even humans.
This very real problem has prompted many people to go green with their cleaning routine. The EPA says that choosing greener products will improve your indoor air quality, reduce water and ambient air pollution, and ensure the effectiveness of cleaning. By buying less hazardous cleaners, you will also be able to reduce costs when it is time to dispose of them.
Green products, aisle three!
Many green products are in grocery stores or places you’d pick up cleaning supplies, you just have to know what to look for. Companies like Biokleen, Bon Ami, and Earth Friendly—and even bigger names like Caldrea, Method, and Mrs. Meyers—are known for their earth-friendly, green cleaning solutions.
When looking at general cleaners, the most important thing to look for is that they are made from naturally occurring, nontoxic substances like dlimonene, lauramine oxide, TEA-lauryl sulfate, and caprylyl/myristyl glucoside. Even soy-based cleaners are a great alternative to other non-green formulas. Just make sure the products you purchase do not contain phosphates, chlorine, or those nasty VOCs.
Other characteristics to look for are minimal packaging (and the packaging should be recyclable), reduced flammability, no added fragrances, reduced skin irritants, a minimized exposure to concentrates, and biodegradability.
Do it yourself!
Natural cleaning products can become pricey. Fortunately there are cheaper ways to clean your home. Many items can be found right in your cupboard and pantries!
>Baking soda: Known to keep your refrigerator fresh, baking soda can also be used to deodorize your carpets and upholstery.
>Banana Peels: With a bit of water added, banana peels make an awesome silverware polisher.
>Beeswax: Beeswax can serve as a high quality furniture polish.
>Borax: Also known as sodium borate, borax can eliminate odors, remove dirt, and act as an antifungal and disinfectant.
>Castile soap: Castile soap works well as an all-purpose cleaner in addition to being a good laundry and dish soap.
>Club soda: Fresh club soda is a great stain remover and polisher.
>Cornstarch: Cornstarch is perfect for cleaning windows, polishing furniture, and also works as a shampoo for carpets and rugs.
>Eucalyptus oil: Many beauty products look to this oil to alleviate congestion and allergy symptoms, but it also works as a disinfectant.
>Lavender oil: Not only will lavender soothe and calm, it is also a natural antibacterial.
>Lemon: A simple lemon can do many things, like disinfect and substitute as an air freshener. If salt is added to the lemon, the mixture will make a perfect scrubber for cutting boards and tubs.
>Olive oil: Olive oil has the ability to pick up dirt as well as polish wood.
>Tea tree oil: This oil is a natural fungicide and antibacterial agent.
>Vinegar: Vinegar loosens dirt, deodorizes, disinfects, and removes mineral deposits and stains.
>White vinegar: This common household product is an antifungal that helps kill germs and other bacteria.
Other ways to keep the house clean
There are other ways to help keep your house fresh and safe after the deep clean has ended, and they are easy to incorporate into your day-to-day life.
>Keep your windows open. The idea seems simple enough, but it can keep toxins out! Insulation keeps your house warm by keeping warm air in, but it also keeps toxic materials in the house.
>Get rid of your toxic cleansers. Most communities have recycling days that will allow you to toss out your old, unused cleaners. Avoid throwing them away in a regular dumpster! It could end up in the water supply and harm you.
>Keep shoes at the door. You may think shoes are clean, but they trudge through pollution, animal waste, oil, and other messy and poisonous materials. Take your shoes off in the house: you’ll keep your family safe and your floors clean.
>Skip antibacterial cleaners. The FDA has found that soap and water work just as well for removing germs and bacteria. By using antibacterial cleaners, you could be breeding super germs and causing some illnesses to linger!
>Hang dry your laundry. Electric and gas dryers are hard on the environment and can cause mold because of the moisture dryers release. Your clothes will last longer and smell fresh from being out on the line, plus you’ll cut your energy bill.
>Buy plants. Plants can be a great natural air filter for your home.
>Repaint your walls. VOCs are not just in cleaning products, but in the paint you use as well. Many paint manufacturers have started creating low- or no-VOC paints. Watch out though: some companies are substituting other toxic chemicals in for VOCs.
>Use natural air fresheners. In a recent test by the NRDC (Natural Resource Defense Council), 12 out of 14 household air fresheners tested contained hormone-disrupting chemicals called phthalates. Instead of commercially available air fresheners, try boiling cinnamon or herbs, baking cookies, or cleaning with lemon to help your home smell fresh.
Maybe you have all the ingredients needed to make all sorts of cleaners, but you aren’t sure what and how much should be mixed together. Luckily most recipes are easy to make and require few ingredients. Here are a few great recipes to help you create a green home environment.
Lemon Wood Polish
1/2 teaspoon olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
Pour olive oil into a small mixing container and use a lemon juicer to juice one lemon directly into the container. The acid will help cut the grease in the oil so your wood surfaces will be shiny but not oily. Apply to floor with a damp mop or to furniture with a soft cloth. Recipe courtesy of fullcirclehome.com.
1/2 cup vinegar
1/4 cup baking soda (or 2 teaspoons borax)
1/2 gallon water
Mix vinegar and baking soda into water. Store and keep. Use for removal of water deposit stains on shower stall panels, bathroom chrome fixtures, windows, and bathroom mirrors. Recipe courtesy of eartheasy.com.
1/2 cup baking soda
Put baking soda into a bowl and add water until it has the consistency of frosting. Scoop onto a sponge and wash. Use a toothbrush if needed.
If you are seeking more recipes or you want even more information, we have created a Pinterest board full of cleaning tricks, organizing tips, and other handy spring-cleaning advice. Just go to pinterest.com/natsolmag and transition from a traditional clean to a green clean!
17,000 the number of petrochemicals available for home use. Only 30 percent have been tested for results on human health and the environment.
5 billion Pounds of chemicals the institutional cleaning industry uses each year.
100 the number of times higher that indoor air pollution levels can be above outdoor air pollution levels, according to EPA estimates.
63 the number of synthetic chemical products found in the average American home. This translates to roughly 10 gallons of harmful chemicals.