The trend toward greener household products has caused a green explosion in the cleaning aisle of the supermarket. People, concerned about their health, their children’s safety and the environment, want to clean their homes with products that are less toxic, not only to their families, but also to their world. Manufacturers have responded with products labeled “green” and “eco-friendly.” Green products–even those that truly are green–are only one facet of healthy, green home cleaning.
Many ingredients in common household products are dangerous to your family and to the environment. Household cleaning products are third on the list of substances involved in accidental poisonings, according to the 2008 Annual Report compiled by the American Association of Poison Control Centers. They account for nearly 10 percent of the poison exposures in children, and nearly 9 percent of the overall poison exposure calls. Commercial household cleaners also contain ingredients derived from non-renewable resources, such as petroleum, as well as ingredients, such as phosphates, that damage the environment.
Homemade Cleaning Solutions
Leave the toxic cleansers in the cleaning aisle. You can make safer homemade cleaning solutions with ingredients from your pantry, refrigerator and first-aid cabinet. Instead of an expensive antibacterial spray, for instance, wipe down counters, tub and toilet bowls with household-strength hydrogen peroxide. Baking soda and salt are mild abrasives, useful for scrubbing sinks and freshening your carpet. To make a stainless steel sink sparkle, dip the cut end of a lemon in table salt and use it as a cleaning pad. Take advantage of the chemical reaction between vinegar and baking soda to clean toilets, and use plain vinegar to get rid of mold and mildew on shower curtains.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Green cleaning is about more than the cleaners you use, though. Paper towels and cleaning wipes clog landfills and use precious natural resources. Instead, cut up old T-shirts, diapers and towels to use as cleaning rags. Keep plastic mesh onion bags out of the waste stream by using them to scour pots and pans. Consider your cleaning methods and habits as well. Fill buckets for washing instead of letting the water run, and put energy into scrubbing instead of using harsh chemicals to dissolve grease and stains.
Save Money and the Planet
Cleaning products labeled “green” often carry a premium price. Making your own healthy cleaning solutions can save you money. A homemade green cleaner costs about 10 percent as much as its corresponding commercial product, according to “Green Cleaning,” a publication from the Keene State College Recycling and Sustainability Office. Consider how much you spend for toilet bowl cleaner, then compare that to the price of 1 cup vinegar and 1/4 cup baking soda–an old homemade toilet bowl cleaner that works just as well.
Buying Green Cleaning Products
The label may be green, but that doesn’t mean that the contents are. Terms like “planet-friendly,” “environmentally sound” and “ecological” are vague, according to Terra Choice, an environmental marketing firm that has published studies on green-washing–the art of making a product appear more eco-friendly than it is. Over 98 percent of 2,219 product labels made at least one false or unsubstantiated green claim, according to the organization’s “2009 Greenwashing Report.” False environmental claims were most likely on cleaning product, cosmetic and kids’ product labels. Check product labels for Green Seal certification, or search for Green Seal-certified products at the Green Seal website.
Whether you make your own cleaning solutions or buy environmentally friendly cleaning products, observing a few safety precautions will keep your whole family safe. Always label homemade solutions with the ingredients and the date you mixed them. Store cleaning products away from food and away from beauty and skin care products. Keep cleaning products out of children’s reach.
- green spray bottle image by Jim Mills from Fotolia.com