By Annie Bond, Intent
People tell me all the time that living in a less toxic home improves their sleep, makes their babies less fussy, and boosts their sense of well-being. Step-by-step, you too can have a healthy home. How? By updating your cleaning products to eliminate toxic chemicals. First: Stop believing the myths. In order to make the switch you may need to let go of some deeply embedded myths about green cleaning. Here are the main myths people believe, along with the facts:
Myth #1: Green living costs more.
Fact: If you buy some good green cleaning products and mix your own formulas for the rest using kitchen cupboard ingredients that cost pennies, you’ll actually save money. (My best book for formulas is Better Basics for the Home.)
Myth #2: Green cleaning products don’t work as well.
Fact: This myth is a holdover from the early nineties when green products were in their infancy and often not as effective. These days the products are just as effective and actually better for your health!
Myth #3: Green living takes more time.
Fact: This is a myth, plain and simple.
Myth #4: The government protects us.
Fact: Outside of “signal words” on products (like, “DANGER POISON,” “WARNING: May be fatal if swallowed” and “CAUTION: Harmful if swallowed”), there is very little regulation of the chemicals found in commercially available cleaning products. You’re ultimately responsible for eliminating toxic chemicals from your home.
Next: Choose natural alternatives. Once you’ve recognized the need to green your cleaning practices, and you’ve set a timetable for making the switch, here are the 5 basic nontoxic cleaning formulas that will save the planet, eliminate toxins and save you money:
1. Baking Soda
A commonly available mineral full of many cleaning attributes, baking soda is made from soda ash, and is slightly alkaline (its pH is around 8.1; 7 is neutral). It neutralizes acid-based odors in water and adsorbs odors from the air. Sprinkled on a damp sponge or cloth, baking soda can be used as a gentle non-abrasive cleanser for kitchen counter tops, sinks, bathtubs, ovens, and fiberglass. It will eliminate perspiration odors and even neutralize the smell of many chemicals if you add up to a cup per load to the laundry. It is a useful air freshener, and a fine carpet deodorizer.
2. Washing Soda
A chemical neighbor of baking soda, washing soda (sodium carbonate) is much more strongly alkaline, with a pH around 11. It releases no harmful fumes and is far safer than a commercial solvent formula, but you should wear gloves when using it because it is caustic. Washing soda cuts grease, cleans petroleum oil, removes wax or lipstick, and neutralizes odors in the same way that baking soda does. Don’t use it on fiberglass, aluminum or waxed floors, unless you intend to remove the wax.
3. White Vinegar and Lemon Juice
White vinegar and lemon juice are acidic – they neutralize alkaline substances such as scale from hard water. They also kill mold, germs, and bacteria. Acids dissolve gummy buildup, eat away tarnish, and remove dirt from wood surfaces.
4. Liquid Soaps and Detergent
Liquid soaps and detergents are necessary for cutting grease, and they are not the same thing. Soap is made from fats and lye. Detergents are synthetic materials discovered and synthesized early in this century. Unlike soap, detergents are designed specifically so that they don’t react with hard water minerals and cause soap scum. If you have hard water, buy a biodegradable detergent without perfumes; if you have soft water you can use liquid soap (both are available in health food stores).
5. Mold Killers and Disinfectants
For a substance to be registered by the EPA as a disinfectant it must go through extensive and expensive tests. EPA recommends simple soap to use as a disinfectant. There are many essential oils — such as lavender, clove, and tea tree oil (an excellent natural fungicide) — that are very antiseptic, as is grapefruit seed extract, even though they aren’t registered as such. Use one teaspoon of essential oil to 2 cups of water in a spray bottle (make sure to avoid eyes). A grapefruit seed extract spray can be made by adding 20 drops of extract to a quart of water.
Caution: Make sure to keep all homemade formulas well-labeled, and out of the reach of children.
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Annie Bond is the author of four books and thousands of articles. She has been called “the foremost expert on green living” by Body & Soul magazine. She has written the bestselling book, Clean and Green, as well as The Green Kitchen Handbook, Better Basics for the Home and Home Enlightenment.
Intent.com provides content and community for who you aspire to be–personally, socially and globally.