Saturday, March 30, 2013

Clear the Air

Although the temperature around New Jersey may suggest otherwise, spring weather will soon be here. And that means spring cleaning. In addition to organizing and de-cluttering, why not detoxify your home? The EPA estimates that the average American spends 90% of their time indoors, and that levels of pollutants are usually 2-5 times higher inside than outside. But there are things you can do to lessen the amount of dangerous chemicals in your home while doing your spring cleaning this year. By replacing traditional cleaning agents with safe, eco-friendly ones and making a few changes in your home, you will be saving yourself from exposure to potentially harmful chemicals. Below, I've listed some spots around the home where exposures are likely to occur, and what you can do to change that.

  • If you don't have a self-cleaning oven, it needs to be scrubbed once in a while. The danger of an oven cleaner of course depends on its composition, but most contain potential hazards. Typical oven cleaners contain lye (which can burn your skin), ethers, ethylene glycol, methylene chloride, and petroleum distillates. The propellant, butane, is neurotoxic. NIH (National Institutes of Health) says some of the side effects of oven cleaner exposure are swollen airways, burns in the esophagus, low blood pressure, and change in the blood's acidity, which can cause organ damage in the long run.
  • Replacement: Next time you need to clean your oven, try scrubbing messes with a simple paste of water and baking soda.
Laundry Room
  • We all want our clothes to smell good (I hope), so many people use dryer sheets to keep their clothes smelling fresh. But those scents come from synthetic chemicals that are not as nice as they smell. They include benzyl acetate, benzyl alcohols, and terpines, which are toxic and even carcinogenic. (The FDA does not regulate dryer sheets by the way). The chemicals stay in your clothes and can be absorbed through the skin.
  • ReplacementTry using a mixture of water and an essential oil in a spray bottle to mist your spring wardrobe, bed sheets, and anything else you want to smell nice, after it comes out of the dryer. Or try a product from an environmentally responsible company, like Seventh Generation's natural fabric softener sheets, in blue eucalyptus and lavender scent.
  • There is always work to do on the computer, so while doing your spring cleaning, why not take some time to detoxify your computer area? Printers are the polluter in question here. Printer ink contains solvents and chemicals that are released into the air upon printing. They are inhaled and can cause respiratory irritation.
  • Solution: One way to reduce the chemicals in your indoor air is to keep houseplants. They absorb the pollutants in the air and deliver them to their roots, where the microbes are able to break them down. Some plants that are especially good at taking in chemicals and cleaning the air are Dracaena, English Ivy, Bamboo Palm, Boston Fern, and Peace Lily. Keeping plants by your printer and all over the house can help improve air quality.
Counters and Other Surfaces, Windows, and Floors
  • Many cleaning products contain dangerous ingredients like bleach, ammonia, and synthetic fragrances. I have already discussed the dangers of bleach in another post. When you clean with these products, you can breathe in harmful compounds or get them on your skin. Instead of buying manufactured cleaning products, why not make your own? In addition to protecting your health, it will save you money! Below are some ideas to try...
  • Surfaces: Here are two ideas for general surface cleaners. You can mix them and put them in a spray bottle.
    • 2 cups water, 2 cups white vinegar, 1 teaspoon baking soda
    • 2 tsp. borax, ¼ tsp. liquid castile soap (like Dr. Bronner’s), hot water
  • Windows: Many window cleaners contain ammonia, which can irritate your respiratory system. Instead, try mixing equal parts white vinegar and water in a spray bottle and using that. For tough spots, you can use undiluted white vinegar, and then follow with the mixture.
  • Floors: Here are some ideas for floor cleaners. Remember not to put these directly on the floor, but use a mop or rag to wipe them down (and that wood floors should not get overly wet).
    • Wood Floor Cleaner: ¼ c. vinegar, 1 gal. warm water
      • Mop or rag should be slightly damp for cleaning.
    • Linoleum Floor Cleaner: 1 c. vinegar, 2 gal. warm water
      • Mop or rag can be fully wet for cleaning.
    • Carpet Stain Remover: 1 part borax, 10 parts warm water
      • Combine in spray bottle. Spray on stain, wait 5 minutes, blot with clean rag.
    • Carpet Stain Remover: vinegar, baking soda
      • Mix vinegar and baking soda into a paste. Gently work into stain with a toothbrush. Let dry then vacuum completely.
  • You can also buy cleaning products from companies like Seventh Generation and Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day. But make sure it is a trusted, environmentally-friendly company, and it is not just participating in "green-washing" (falsely advertising their products as eco-friendly). For example, an independent study found that products from a company called Simple Green, contained toluene (pregnancy complications), 1,4-dioxane (cancer), and bis (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (reproductive harm, hormone disruption, neurodevelopmental problems). These were not listed on the label, as it is not required by law to list everything in the product.

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