Home. It may be where the heart is, but it can also be where a significant number of toxins reside, so if you think your house is ‘clean,’ think again. The EPA says that pollution inside the home can be two to five times greater than outside, due to irritants and contaminants in the products we use daily, off-gassing chemicals from materials and furnishings, and even chlorine by-products emitted from toilets (one more reason to keep the lid closed).
Contributing to indoor pollution are the myriad of household cleaners we use, which aren’t (somewhat astonishingly) regulated by law or even required to meet legal safety standards. Complete ingredient lists? They’re not required either, even though many of the most commonly used products have been linked to asthma, cancer, reproductive disorders, hormone disruption, and neurotoxicity. Worse still, the impact and potential interactions of multiple chemicals used together are unknown, but safe to say they’re quite capable of making you sick or even worse.
The good news is, unlike outdoor pollution, removing many indoor pollutants from your home is fairly easy to do. And yes, you can do that while still keeping your home clean. How to do it? Start with a few of our ‘greener cleaner’ tips to help everyone in your home breathe a little easier.
1. Let go of antibacterial everything.
You don’t need antibacterial wipes, soaps, or sprays to clean your household. Antibacterials contribute to drug-resistant bacteria which make them counterproductive in the long run.
2. Ditch air ‘fresheners.’
They don’t clean the air; they pollute it with compounds classified as hazardous under U.S. federal laws, even if they’re labeled “green,” “natural,” or “with essential oils.” Don’t be fooled. Instead of spraying fragranced chemicals throughout your home, open the windows, increase ventilation, and use fans, air purifiers, and essential oil diffusers to keep indoor air clean and smelling naturally fresh.
3. Don’t add extra stink to your laundry.
In the name of clean, stop using fabric softeners and dryer sheets. They can trigger asthma or allergies and can irritate the lungs. If you’re trying to remove odors, add some white vinegar in the rinse cycle and call it a day.
4. Cool it with the kitchen chemicals.
Drain cleaners and oven cleaners can burn eyes and skin. Instead, for clogged drains, use a drain snake or plunger. To clean your oven without dousing your kitchen in a chemical mist, mix up a DIY paste made with non-toxic baking soda and water.
5. Only buy cleaning products that make the grade.
Before you go shopping for a cleaning product, take a minute to look at its rating on the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Guide to Healthy Cleaning. Check to see how your go-to products stack up. If they rate grade C or below, make the switch to one of the EWG-rated safer alternatives. Another option is to make your own household cleaners with non-toxic ingredients like baking soda, vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, and natural antibacterial and antifungal agents like tea tree oil.
6. Treat fabrics right.
When it’s time to clean the curtains, look for a dry cleaner that does it greener. Find one that uses water-based technology or liquid carbon dioxide instead of neurotoxic chemical solvents like perchloroethylene. When hiring a carpet cleaner, ask similar questions about their process.
7. Bust your dust.
Household dust and dirt is thought to be one of the biggest sources of exposure to endocrine-disruptors in the home. Fight back with a high-quality, high-power vacuum that seals in dirt and dust, particularly when emptying the collection chamber (look for one with a HEPA filter).
8. Add house plants.
Plants absorb some of the particulates from the air at the same time that they take in carbon dioxide, which is then processed into oxygen through photosynthesis. Adding potted plants to a room has been shown to reduce the number of toxins in the air. Even NASA scientists are finding them to be surprisingly useful in absorbing potentially harmful gases and cleaning the air inside homes.
9. Rediscover the magical cleaning power of baking soda.
Baking soda is so good at doing so much. In the Olympics of Clean, this stuff would surely take home the gold. How to put it to good use? Try these Baking Soda Cleaning Hacks from green living expert, Annie B. Bond:
- Drain cleaner: Pour one cup of baking soda down the drain, followed by three cups of boiling water.
- Silver polish: Make a paste from 1/2 cup of baking soda and a few tablespoons of water. Scoop some onto a clean, soft rag and rub onto the silver. Rinse with water and polish dry.
- Soft scrubber: Pour about 1/2 cup of baking soda into a bowl and add enough liquid soap or detergent to make a frosting-like texture. Scoop onto a sponge and use to clean your bathtub or tiles. Rinse with water.
- Scouring powder: Simply sprinkle baking soda into a sink or tub and scrub.
- Oven cleaner: Sprinkle baking soda onto the bottom of the oven. Squirt with enough water to dampen. Let set overnight, making sure the baking soda is still damp before you go to bed. In the morning, simply scoop the baking soda, grime out with a sponge, and rinse.
- Refrigerator deodorizer: Place an open box in the back of the fridge. It will absorb odors by drawing them to the baking soda molecules.
- Cutting board deodorizer: Sprinkle the cutting board with baking soda, scrub, and rinse.
And one final tip: No shoes in the house. Go barefoot or wear slippers inside to minimize the amount of dirt, lead, pesticides and, yes, even fecal matter that all those shoes can track into your home.