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5 Great Ways to Clean While Being Green

By Krista Elliott

It's no surprise that the environment in which we live isn't as pure and natural as it once was. We've gone from horses and wagons to air-polluting cars and trucks, from handcrafted goods to toxin-spewing factories, and from homemade recipes to packaged foods with ingredients that have more syllables than nutrients. 

Even the way we keep our homes clean has changed. Look under any bathroom or kitchen sink nowadays, and you'll likely see a vast array of commercial cleaning supplies. But look a bit closer and that's when things start to get worrisome.

Here are just a few (out of many) of the nasty things that can be found in many commercial cleansers:

  • Ammonia - This can be found in polishing agents for chrome fixtures, as well as glass and window cleaner, and inhaling it can lead to bronchitis and asthma. If mixed with bleach, it can also create a poisonous gas.

  • Chlorine - Found in cleaners such as laundry bleach, mildew removers, and toilet bowl cleaners, its use can expose you to irritants through the skin or via inhalation. This can lead to skin irritation, respiratory problems, or issues with your thyroid.

  • Phthalates - These are found in many fragranced household products, such as air fresheners, and may cause problems with the endocrine system.

  • Sodium Hydroxide - This is most commonly found in oven cleaners and products used to unclog drains. It is extremely corrosive, and can cause burns to the skin and throat by touching or inhaling it.

  • Triclosan - Products such as dishwashing liquid and hand soap, labeled "anti-bacterial," contain this chemical. Using these products may in fact promote the growth of drug-resistant bacteria.

Besides posing a risk to your own health, these substances may also be affecting small children or pets, both of whom are renowned for putting their mouths on most every surface in your home (usually right after you've cleaned, because they're small, adorable sadists). 

Back to Basics

Now, I'm not in the "All chemicals are bad!" camp. Everything is a chemical. The air we breathe is made up of chemicals. But there is a big difference between chemicals that pose very little health risk (except for in extreme amounts) and chemicals that have known health risks, even in small doses. 

So, how to reduce your exposure to these more harmful chemicals when you clean?

  • Use a little bit of elbow grease and baking soda to replace scouring powders.
  • Stock up on vinegar. Besides cleaning your windows, it can brighten your laundry, leave floors sparkling, and deodorize and clean every surface in your home. (Adding a bit of essential oil can make it smell nicer.) 
  • To keep your home smelling fresh, simmer cinnamon, cloves and vanilla on the stove, or dab a bit of essential oil onto your lightbulbs. Tucking a cotton pad with essential oil on it into the cardboard center of your toilet paper roll will freshen your bathroom every time the roll gets used. 
  • Lemons are a cleaning powerhouse, helping countertops, microwaves, and dishwashers stay fresh and clean.
  • If you must use commercial cleaners, seek out ones that are non-toxic and environmentally friendly. Read the labels though, as some bottles labeled "natural" are anything but. 

In short, keep things simple! You and your home will be all the healthier for it.

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