Green Your Spring Cleaning

Everyone and everything seems to be -going green' these days. There are many good reasons to consider the environment, but did you know doing so can affect your own family's health? Go green by starting with your spring cleaning.

The reason most of us do spring cleaning is to clean and refresh the interior of our homes after a long winter with doors and windows closed. Unfortunately though, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, exposure to chemicals found in conventional cleaning products can pollute our homes and actually present health hazards. At present, not much is known about what health effects occur from the levels of compounds widely used in household cleaning and disinfecting products. Many of these compounds are known to cause cancer in animals; some are suspected of causing, or are known to cause, cancer in humans.

Instead of exposing yourself and your household to those toxic chemicals, consider using safer methods and products to eliminate dust and germs lingering in your home. Once you experience the benefits of a green clean, you'll want to keep it up for your regular cleaning regimen too.

CHALLENGE YOUR IDEA OF THE "CLEAN SMELL"

Many of us were raised to think our homes were only really clean when we smelled that pine or lemon-scented fragrance left behind by conventional cleaning products. In reality though, those very fragrances are artificial and serve to mask chemical laden products. In her book, green this!, Deirdre Imus shares her epiphany that her mother's old way of cleaning might actually be dirty.

Even the domestic diva, Martha Stewart agrees. In her Homekeeping Handbook she declares, "nothing indicates a clean house more than a complete absence of odor other than fresh flowers or food cooking."

So start thinking differently, open the windows and expect that smelling nothing at all or only plant-based essential oils might be a better indicator of a healthy and clean environment.

SELECT BETTER CLEANING PRODUCTS

The Green Guide, a resource published by the National Geographic Society for consumers of green products, warns consumers to be alert to "greenwashing"-claims made by product manufacturers to make their products sound more healthy. Be wary of claims such as "non-toxic," "eco-safe" and "environmentally friendly/ preferable/ safe" which are also meaningless because no standards for them exist.

Instead, Consumer Reports Greener Choices recommends reading products' warning labels. In general, the more serious the safety warning on a product, the more likely that it poses risks to your health and the environment. Products labeled "Poison" or "Danger" are more toxic than those labeled "Warning" or "Caution." Avoid harmful ingredients whenever possible and opt for brands like Ecover and Seventh Generation which disclose their full ingredient lists.

Another option is to make homemade cleaners which are less toxic using baking soda, castile soap, white vinegar, borax or lemon juice. Some are as effective or more than their conventional counterparts. Recipes for safer cleaners are available on the Children's Health Environmental Coalition website, checnet.org.

LET TOOLS DO THE CLEANING

If you're concerned that non-toxic cleaning products won't be effective enough, compensate by using the right tools for the job. Microfiber cloths are nubby and have a magnetic ability to pull dirt off surfaces even without any cleaning compound. They can be machine washed and sanitized in between cleanings. Microfiber is particularly effective on stainless steel and mirrors because it won't leave behind streaks the way some cleaners can.

Try floor mops with a machine washable mop head. Be sure not to use fabric softener when laundering because they can leave behind a residue that will streak.

Many manufacturers make scrub brushes with handles designed for hard to reach places. Look for reusable tools that use mildly abrasive texture to clean, instead of chemicals.

WHAT ABOUT KILLING GERMS?

Natural or non-toxic cleaning can be as effective as mainstream even against dangerous food borne pathogens. According to a study at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, a safe way to get rid of Salmonella, Shigella and E. coli bacteria is a combination of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide (the same strength you find at the drugstore) and undiluted white or apple cider vinegar. Put the two in separate spray bottles and spray one immediately after the other. Both can be sprayed directly on fruits and vegetables and also on surfaces, such as cutting boards and countertops.

A FEW FAVORITES TO TRY

One company called Method makes a line of non toxic cleaners. Try the Eucalyptus Mint flushable wipes. They are perfect for wiping down the sink and toilet daily and are conveniently flushable once used.

Ecover floor soap is effective and has a wonderful, fresh plant-based fragrance. Although the packaging says it's suitable for all non-treated floors, it's been used successfully in my home on many wooden surfaces.

Bi-O-Kleen makes Bac-Out, a multipurpose stain and odor eliminator which works exceptionally well at removing carpet stains. Using enzyme-producing cultures digests stains, waste and odor, leaving behind a fresh lime scent.

As popularity of these products grows, they are becoming more readily available at supermarkets and retailers nationwide, not just health food stores. If you don't find them on the shelves near the conventional cleaning products, check the natural section of your grocery store.

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There are many great reasons to use natural cleaning products from your pantry. You won't have to breathe in harsh fumes or expose your family to strong chemicals, and you'll save money by giving up those expensive store-bought commercial cleaners.

Frugal cleaning supplies generally aren't store-bought. Learn how to make your own homemade cleaners.

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