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Clean Sweep
Eleven Easy Steps  to a Clean, Green, and Healthy Home
by Kim Grant

Eleven easy steps to a naturally clean, green, healthy home

It was the last thing I expected. My mother, an active fourth-grade teacher, started to experience asthma for the first time in her life. Baffled, she saw doctor after doctor, but the problem continued to get worse. Soon she was tied to asthma medications and spending her days living between attacks. It wasn’t until she told a friend that she was also breaking out in hives that the answer became clear. Her friend suggested that it might be something she was breathing or that was coming in contact with her skin. We searched through her house, considering anything and everything. Then, we found it. It was a commercial cleaner that she was using to prevent build-up on her glass shower walls after showering. It was supposed to save her time and hours of hard work, but instead...it had cost her her health.

This experience opened up a whole new world to me. Instead of stopping with the “culprit” cleaner, I went home and decided that all cleaning products deserved my further attention. I was amazed at what I saw. Aside from unpronounceable ingredients, warnings abounded on every label, cautioning about ingestion and skin contact and the dangers of children being exposed to their product. Suddenly, having a safety latch on my cleaning cupboard seemed as well-meaning as wrapping radioactive waste in tin foil.

But what could I do? Wearing a biohazard suit wasn’t an option. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t avoid all of the chemicals that were present in so many of the things my family and I ate, wore and touched. Instead, I learned all I could about natural cleaning and decided that there were many ways I could limit my family’s exposure to chemicals. Whether you’re a “newbie” like me or a pro, read on and you might find something that surprises even you.

Go back to the basics. Nothing will ever beat a little soap and hot water, whether it’s washing your hands or cleaning dishes. Don’t bother with all of the hype about antibacterial cleaners. All they do is kill off the weaker germs and leave the stronger ones to propagate. And while the convenience of hand gels is tempting, remember that they’re isopropyl alcohol-based. A solvent and denaturant, isopropyl alcohol is also used in antifreeze and in products that remove shellac! Wear rubber gloves if you have to wash the dishes by hand and you can get the temperature of the water hot enough (110F) to effectively clean them. Letting dishes air dry is the best option as well.

Call in a substitute. Bleach is not all-powerful and chlorine is one of the "bad guys," so avoid it. Borax would be a better alternative. Bon Ami is a chlorine-free cleanser and Murphy’s Oil Soap is a biodegradable wood cleaner. Castile soap should be first choice for both people and pets. There are safer options to the standard fare. Read the labels and then research the ingredients; you may be surprised what you’re really purchasing. Or make your own.

Let the sunshine in. You’re not just brightening your day, you’re also taking advantage of the sterilizing effect of UV rays. Just 30 minutes in direct sunlight will affect most surfaces. This works great for fabric-covered items, like pillows and stuffed animals. Just spread a large blanket out in the backyard or porch, lay out your things and let the sun do your work. And while you’re at it, open the windows as well. Unless you live next to an oil refinery, a little fresh air does wonders for a stale house.

Time is your friend. Why use elbow-grease when time can do your work for you? Instead of scrubbing, let the natural paste or solution sit for a while. When you’re ready to clean, just make the rounds from room to room, focusing on applying applications to sinks, tubs, showers, and toilets first. Then, while your concoctions sit and break down grime, do the mirrors and counter tops. Sweep the floors and by the time you’re done, the rest will be ready to wipe clean.

Stick to the essentials. Essential oils are a great addition to any natural cleaning recipe. They give your immune system a boost and also protect your from some types of toxins simply and effectively. Known as the “life force” of the plant, essential oils protect the plant from bacteria, molds, fungi, and other microorganisms. The distillation process is what makes them so concentrated. They can be antibacterial, antifungal, anti-infectious, antimicrobial, anti-parasitic, antiviral, and antiseptic, which help in turning your cleaning into a healing event! But be careful with these natural products too, because too much of any good thing can be problematic; Some people are allergic or sensitive to them and many essential oils should also be avoided when there are children and/or pregnant women around.

Don’t re-store. Most cleaning products, natural or otherwise, have to be stored in plastic bottles, an inherent problem in itself because chemicals from the plastic do leach into the fluid. Avoid refilling the same plastic bottle over and over with new batches of cleaners. Beware of exposing containers to high temperatures. Instead, rinse between uses with cool liquid and try to replace every few months.

Think steamy. You can avoid many cleaners altogether when using a vapor steam cleaner. It uses high temperatures and low moisture levels to sanitize, deep clean and deodorize. The steam also penetrates the pores of material to kill dust mites, viruses, molds and fungi.

Raid the Pantry. You probably already know that a bucket of white vinegar, baking soda, and coarse salt will clean about anything, but did you also know that plain cornstarch is all you need to deodorize carpets and rugs? Olive oil can be used as a furniture polish. Ketchup cleans copper and cornmeal can soak up grease stains when rubbed on clothing.

Pucker up. Cut a lemon in half and sprinkle coarse salt over your kitchen counter tops. Now use the lemon, cut side down, as your scourer. It will freshen and clean at the same time. Just wipe with a clean, wet cloth when done. Then, squeeze out the juice and put in a medium microwave-safe bowl. Place in your microwave and run on high for one minute. It will rid the vents of any food odors. Finally, cut the lemon into smaller chunks and send it down your garbage disposal. It will freshen and de-grease it in the process. That’s multi-tasking! Lemon juice can also be used to cut grease on aluminum and porcelain. It will whiten in the process, too.

Let someone else do the work for you. Of course, if all of these ideas are too much to stomach then never fear. There are many companies out there that have done the work for you, producing earth-friendly products to clean every inch of your house. They can cost more than standard cleaners, but even finding one or two that you like could go a long way towards reducing your exposure to harmful chemicals. (Just beware of "greenwashing"!)

Learn More

DIY Cleaning Alternatives

What's the Dirt on Household Cleaners?

Air Fresheners or Air Pollutants?

I realized early on that there were some subsequent pros and cons to deciding to go “green” when it came to cleaning. The “pros” included the fact that a little vinegar, baking soda, and salt cost a lot less than any commercial cleaner. And because these ingredients are great multitaskers, I freed up a lot of my storage space. I also felt great knowing that I was in control of the products I was using and that I didn’t have to padlock my cupboard any more.

Look for products that multitask. Some products will cut through grease, disinfect, and deodorize at the same time. What the heck, look for one that’s a mosquito-repellant, too! Concentrated formulas are more economical. Also make sure that they are eco-friendly and biodegradable. Unscented products are available for those with chemical sensitivities.

On the other hand, these natural cleaners did require a little more time and elbow grease, but I learned a few tricks to combat that. Even then, some tough, time-tested stains wouldn’t budge regardless of the concoction I’d made, primarily because some surfaces had already been worn down by chemicals, allowing deeper penetration. But all in all, I’ll never regret replacing my back-breaking bucket of toxic waste!

 

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