Increasingly, people are searching for cleaning methods that are safe, cheap, and efficient. During pregnancy, especially, many women cannot tolerate the smell of many of the more toxic cleaners, such as bleach and oven cleaners.
Although limited exposure to household cleaners may not cause harm to human health, nobody knows for sure what the threshold is. At what point do household cleaners become a threat to those who live in a home? Some studies suggest that certain people — such as children and the elderly — are more vulnerable to negative health impacts from household cleaners than are more resilient groups.
An Economical Choice
While organic foods typically cost more than “conventional” foods, this trend generally does not carry over into cleaning products. While purchasing ready-made natural cleaners at a health-food store may be more expensive than purchasing cleaning products at your local drugstore, there are many simple household items that are cheap to stock, easy to work with, and nontoxic. These items, which most people already have on hand, can assist you as you begin to explore green cleaning.
If you use conventional house cleansers, never mix products — especially products containing bleach. Some people have actually died from the fumes created by their accidental toxic blends. Also be sure to rinse well between products to prevent them from mingling. Be mindful as well that although baking soda is a gentle and safe cleaner, when it is combined with bleach, it becomes toxic. Never mix bleach with any chemical or “natural” cleaner.
Not only are these items cheaper than conventional household cleaners, it can be fun to “play the chemist” by mixing up your own green cleaners. A small amount of lavender oil or lemon can bring a fresh aroma to many of these cleaners. Experiment with these products until you find combinations that work for your home.
Here is a list of Green-Cleaning Products, as well as possible uses for each of them. This list comes from Robyn Griggs Lawrence's book The Wabi-Sabi House: The Japanese Art of Imperfect Beauty:
Olive oil: Mix 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar for a clean shine on your wooden furniture
Club soda: Can be used to clean windows and give fixtures a shiny gleam
Vinegar: Ideal for cleaning hardwood floors, and can be used to wipe down grease, diminish soap buildup, and deodorize
Borax: Can kill mold and disinfect
Salt: When mixed with water, this combination can kill bacteria
Baking soda: Can be used to scour and remove odors, and can be combined with vinegar to clean stainless steel
If you clean the inside of your home with nontoxic products, you and your family might become healthier as well. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has determined that in many homes, levels of indoor pollution can be somewhere between two to five times higher than outdoor pollutants.
Surprisingly, newer homes (those built after 1970) are at a greater risk for this problem because these homes tend to be better sealed against the elements than older homes. While these homes are generally more heat-efficient than their older counterparts, the tight seal on the windows and doors also prevents household toxins — not just those from cleansers, but also carbon monoxide from gas appliances — from escaping.
According to an article called “Healthier Indoor Air” by Aisha Ikramuddin in The Green Guide #76, well-sealed homes also give rise to dust mites and mold. “Whenever possible, ventilate,” she writes. “Let your home breathe and you'll breathe better.”