In 1990, the Toronto Indoor Air Conference released a disturbing statistic: Stay-at-home moms had a 54% higher cancer rate than women who work outside the home. Researchers blamed it on the women’s higher exposure to ordinary household cleaning products.
The study didn’t mention men, but one can assume that dads who stay at home and/or help with the household chores run a similar risk. Our choice of cleaning materials and methods affect our entire environment — and hence, every person on the planet, including our children — on a massive scale.
Fortunately, it’s not hard to adjust our cleaning routines to safeguard ourselves, our families and the planet. Here are some suggestions:
Choose cleaning products wisely
Household chores are not for the faint of heart. Anyone faced with an oven that hasn’t been cleaned in six months can attest to that. Or a toilet siphon that … well, you know. It’s incredibly tempting to simply reach for the “toxic bomb”-type cleaning products and blast away. But in reality these products don’t necessarily work any better than more eco-friendly options, and they present a real hazard in the home (especially if you have toddlers in the house.)
When shopping for eco-friendly cleaning products, look for those labeled non-toxic. It can also help to look for eco-certified products, but be careful — some eco-seals are misleading or downright meaningless. Be diligent and research. Third-party certified eco labels, such as Green Seal, are your best bet.
Better yet, make your own eco-friendly cleaning products from household ingredients you know are safe. Ingredients such as vinegar, baking soda and lemon juice are inexpensive and safe for people, pets and planet. You can use them to make anything from furniture polish to oven cleaner.
Dispose of toxic products responsibly
What about those skull-and-crossbones-laden jugs and bottles still lurking under your kitchen sink? Definitely get them out of your home, but don’t just toss them in the trash. Not only is it environmentally irresponsible, but also it’s illegal in many locations to throw out cleaning products with regular trash. Instead, contact your local household hazardous waste authority and follow its instructions for safe disposal.
Try essential oils
Did you know that fragrances found in many household cleaners contain chemicals linked to sperm damage, hormone disruption and reproductive toxicity, as well as cancer and allergies? Fortunately, you don’t have to give up fresh scents to protect your health. Instead, grab a bottle of essential oil.
Essential oils are natural oils extracted from plants. They are environmentally safe and generally safe to use in the home — although, like all plant products, they can trigger allergies, so test them sparingly at first. Also, avoid putting undiluted oils directly on the skin.
Here are a few ways you can use essential oils to keep your home fresh and sparkling:
- Use essential oils in a diffuser for a healthy air freshening effect.
- Add 12-15 drops of lemon or orange oil to unscented, eco-friendly laundry detergent for a fresh scent and extra cleaning power.
- Use cedar or pine oil as a toilet bowl cleaner.
- Thymol, the natural chemical that gives thyme its distinctive aroma, has been found by the EPA to be as effective as bleach as a disinfectant. Use thyme oil as a safe and effective alternative to chlorine bleach.
- Tea tree oil is antimicrobial; use it to spray counters, showers and bathroom floors.
- Use orange oil to remove gum from clothing.
- Clean your combs and brushes in a solution of 3 parts water, 1 part white vinegar and a few drops of lavender or tea tree oil. Soak for 20 minutes, then rinse clean.
Watch your water use
Do you let the water run when washing dishes or cleaning the shower or sink? Stop! Water is becoming an increasingly precious resource worldwide. Many areas of the U.S. are now suffering from drought conditions and/or groundwater issues. Using water wisely not only protects our surface and ground water, but it saves energy too, since it takes large amounts of electricity to pump water to your home. Simply turning off the faucet until you are ready to rinse can save gallons of water per day. You will probably notice the difference when your water bill arrives, too.
Switch to reusable cleaning and drying cloths
Paper towels may seem convenient, but paper is a resource-intensive product. Not to mention the trees that must be cut, paper production is the fifth-largest consumer of energy worldwide and requires more water per ton of finished product than any other material.
Instead of paper towels, consider using reusable cleaning and drying cloths for household use. They are small and easily washed with your regular household laundry, so the amount of extra work to clean them is negligible. For really dirty, greasy jobs, cut-up old clothes will do the trick — you can just throw them out when you are done. However, for lighter cleaning jobs — and especially for drying — consider investing in high-tech microfiber cleaning and drying cloths. They last for years and their superior absorption will let you get through your cleaning jobs faster so you have more time to play with your kids or just relax around the home.
Next time you go to clean your home, stop and think. Are you doing it in a way that supports the best interests of your health, your family and the planet we all depend on? If not, take simple steps to change to a greener way of cleaning. It’s easy, and chances are it will make you feel better in more ways than one. If it all feels like too much work to do yourself, consider hiring a house cleaning service to take care of it for you.
About the author: Carmen Fiordirosa serves as Director of Marketing at CleanTools, which provides a variety of drying and polishing products for home, automotive and marine use. When not at work, Fiordirosa stays busy cleaning her own home and taking care of her four children. Image: Aqua Mechanical