It’s time for spring cleaning: Open the windows wide to get rid of the dust and cobwebs that have accumulated over the winter. While we all want to make our homes sparkle, keep in mind that some of the products we use may be harmful to our health and the environment.
Americans use up to 25 gallons of household cleaners every year, which is pretty scary, considering more than 150 chemical cleaners found in the average home are linked to birth defects, cancer, and even psychological problems, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. The good news is it’s easy to avoid these products by choosing safe, natural cleaning products and making your own from scratch.
The Dirty Facts
It’s no secret that the few-foot area under the sink is one of the most toxic places in the house. A number of household products trigger allergic reactions, chemical sensitivities, asthma attacks, birth defects, and other health problems. While most of us don’t like to think of our homes as being hazardous to our health, a recent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study finds the air in the average U.S. home to be approximately 70 times more contaminated than the air just outside its walls. Since we inhale about a pint of atmosphere with every breath, the time has definitely come to clean up our act.
In addition to impacting health, toxic cleaners have an equally negative impact on the environment. Aside from the fact that many cleaners are packaged in non-recyclable bottles, the chemicals left in these bottles eventually seep into the soil, contaminating groundwater and surface water leading to lakes and streams. A recent Geological Survey study of contaminants in U.S. stream water found that 69 percent of streams sampled contained toxic detergent byproducts, and 66 percent contained disinfectants.
Clean up your cleaning regimen by becoming a label reader. If you see a skull and crossbones or the warning “harmful or fatal if inhaled or swallowed,” look for an eco-friendly alternative. Many natural products stores offer nontoxic drain cleaners, laundry detergent, dish soap, and more. You can also create your own safe, effective cleaners using a few basic ingredients:
- Baking soda can neutralize acid, deodorize, and scrub surfaces without scratching.
- Borax is a naturally occurring, water-soluble mineral that can deodorize, inhibit the growth of mold and mildew, boost the cleaning power of soap, and remove stains. It can even be used to control household pests.
- Mineral oil makes a gentle base for furniture polish.
- Castile soap substitutes as dishwashing liquid.
- Vinegar dissolves mineral deposits, grease, and mildew, and it can be mixed with water to clean windows without streaking.
Since many essential oils have antibacterial, anti-fungal, antiviral, and antibiotic properties, they can add a powerful punch to homemade cleaning solutions and eliminate the need for harsh, toxic disinfectant cleaners and detergents.
According to Karyn Siegel-Maier, author of The Naturally Clean Home, a few drops of lavender oil mixed with a quarter-cup of linseed oil make an effective furniture polish. Or add a few drops each of pine and cedar essential oils to two cups of water and two teaspoons of borax, and combine in a spray bottle to disinfect your bathroom.
Reduce your family’s exposure to toxic substances by selecting safe, natural household cleaners or making your own. Just be sure not to dump your chemical cleaners down the drain; instead, take them to a hazardous waste recycling or treatment center. This will keep your family—and the earth—healthy and happy.