Green Your Spring Cleaning
Whether it's time for an annual Spring Cleaning or just the regular kind of cleanup, it is important to consider what your cleaning products are made of. According to the EPA, the air inside our homes is typically 2-5 times more polluted than the air outside, largely due to household cleaners and pesticides. Recent water testing by the US Geological Survey found detergent chemicals in 69% of tested streams, and disinfectants in 69%. Once in the water system, these chemicals do not biodegrade, and are harmful to salmon and other fish. Similarly, phosphates from cleaning products (especially automatic dishwasher detergents) act as fertilizers once in the water, creating an abundance of algae that depletes the water's oxygen and kills fish and other water organisms. Not only are these chemicals dangerous as pollutants, but they also frequently rely on petroleum-based components, using valuable energy and oil supplies and creating pollution in their creation.
Though the majority of cleaning products are not required to list all of their ingredients due to "trade-secret laws", there are certain chemicals in particular to look out for as well as a variety of alternatives to mainstream cleaning products. Key ingredients to avoid include: ammonia (petroleum derivative, known to cause asthma), chlorine (releases poisonous mercury and dioxin during production, irritates lungs and skin), MEA (petroleum derivative, causes respiratory irritation and asthma), glycol ethers (cause nerve damage if absorbed by skin, irritate eyes, nose, throat, and lungs, linked to reduced fertility and lowered sperm counts), APEs (hormone disruptors - affect fish reproduction and act like estrogen in the human body), and phthalates (affect fish reproduction, linked to obesity and hypothyroidism). Products without these chemicals in them may say so on the label, but beware of vague terms like "non-toxic" or "natural", which have not been evaluated by an independent party. However, do look for EPA and Green Seal labels, which certify products that have minimal impacts on the environment and your health.
Consider making your own cleaning supplies using simple ingredients like soap, water, baking soda, vinegar, lemon juice, borax, and corn starch. Instead of a conventional drain cleaner, try pouring baking soda (up to 1 cup) down the drain, followed by vinegar (up to 1 cup); wait a minute or so, then follow with a pint of boiling water. For glass cleaner, mix white vinegar and water (either equal parts, or with additional water); rather than paper towels, you can use an old newspaper. Baking soda and cornstarch may both be used to deodorize carpets; lemon juice or white vinegar and salt will clean up mold and mildew; and baking soda, salt, and hot water create an effective oven cleaner. To add pleasant scents to your homemade cleaners, consider adding lemon juice or a few drops of essential oils (many essential oils are useful in cleaning, too, as mold killers or disinfectants, but be sure to test them on a small area to be sure they will not damage your surface). A variety of useful recipes may be found on the DIY Diva blog from the Green Guide, at http://www.thegreenguide.com/blog/diy_diva/1050.
If mixing up your own cleaners doesn't sound too fun or practical, consider buying from a growing number of environmentally friendly cleaning brands. Biokleen products are concentrated for less packaging, are readily biodegradable, are made from natural ingredients, and contain none of the harmful chemicals mentioned above. They are available at an array of health-food-oriented stores, including Nature's Bin (and online at http://www.biokleenhome.com). Method cleaning products are similarly earth-friendly, as well as stylistically packaged; they are available at Heinens and Target, as well as online at http://www.methodhome.com. Mrs. Meyers products, including not only the typical household items, but also some for pets and babies, are available at Nature's Bin and Giant Eagle stores (and at http://www.mrsmeyers.com). There are, of course, many others worth checking out, including Seventh Generation and a few offered by conventional companies, like Clorox. In addition to using earth-friendly cleaning products, don't forget to use recycled paper towels or reusable cloths to apply them; consider using old t-shirts or microfiber cloths, and remember to disinfect sponges frequently to avoid spreading germs.
If you'd like to extend your Spring Cleaning efforts outside of your home, consider participating in the Great American Cleanup in Lakewood on Saturday, April 19th. Join your fellow citizens to clean up litter in our parks, schoolyards, business districts, and parking lots. The Recycling and Litter Prevention Office/Keep Lakewood Beautiful will provide all the necessary tools, as well as a luncheon afterwards (1 o'clock at the Women's Pavilion in Lakewood Park). Call the office at 529-6170 to get yourself or your group signed up!