Healthy Home Tip: Green cleaning this spring

Spring has sprung, so here at EWG our "to do" list now includes a little spring cleaning. Green cleaning, of course. Why green?

Easy. Conventional cleaners contain a variety of toxic chemicals that can harm your family's health. It just doesn't make sense to use potentially harmful cleaners when they're easy to avoid.

It's really quite easy to clean green. Just....

1. Choose greener cleaning supplies To pick safer cleaners, you need to find out what they're made of (not so easy), then avoid the toxic stuff. When tracking down the ingredients in your cleaning products, you probably won't find them on the label (with a few exceptions, like Seventh Generation, which tells you everything, right there on the label where you need it).

Calling the manufacturer or searching its web site are your best bets; thanks to a new industry initiative to give consumers (some) more info (baby steps), you can start at one central website to hunt down ingredients.

But you should take the time to find out, so you can avoid these 7 ingredients of concern:

  • 2-butoxyethanol (or ethylene glycol monobutyl ether) and other glycol ethers
  • Alkylphenol ethoxylates (some common ones are: nonyl- and octylphenol ethoxylates, or non- and octoxynols)
  • Dye (companies often hide chemical information behind this word; when it's unknown, it's safer to skip it)
  • Ethanolamines (common ones to look out for are: mono-, di-, and tri-ethanolamine)
  • Fragrance
  • Pine or citrus oil (on smoggy or high ozone days, compounds in the oils can react with ozone in the air to form the carcinogenic chemical formaldehyde)
  • Quaternary ammonium compounds (look out for these: alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride (ADBAC), benzalkonium chloride, and didecyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride)

A good idea is to "vote by purchase" and choose only those products with full ingredient lists on the package.

2. Follow these tips for cleaning greener @ home Do them all today or take it step by step -- whatever works to get you cleaning greener!

  • Less is more: Dilute your cleaning supplies according to instructions and use only what's needed to get the job done.
  • Open the window: Clean with windows and doors open so you don't trap air pollution inside your home.
  • Use gloves and other precautions: Cleaning chemicals may harm or penetrate skin and eyes -- check warning labels.
  • Keep kids away: Children are more vulnerable to toxic chemicals. If they like to help, let them clean with soap and water, not toxic cleaners.
  • Avoid "antibacterial": If your family is generally healthy, there's no need to use potentially toxic "antibacterial" products, according to the American Medical Association. Wash your hands with plain soap and water.
  • Never mix bleach with ammonia, vinegar, or other acids: These combinations can produce deadly gases.
  • Don't be fooled by labels -- buy certified green products: Label claims aren't always true. Cleaning supplies certified by Green Seal or EcoLogo meet green standards.
  • Try natural alternatives: Experiment with non-toxic options like vinegar (great for windows when diluted with a little water -- wipe with old newspaper or rags) and baking soda (mix with water to form a paste for scrubbing). Of course mix with care; some ingredients are dangerous when combined.
  • Take care with pine and citrus oil cleaners: Avoid using these cleaners especially on smoggy days, when the ingredients can react with ozone to produce cancer-causing formaldehyde.
  • Skip the biggest hazards: Avoid air fresheners, use a baking soda and water paste to clean the oven and tackle toilet stains, and use a mechanical snake to unclog the drain.
  • Dispose of your old toxics safely: If you choose to toss your old cleaners instead of using them up, drop them off at your local hazardous waste facility. Don't pour cleaning supplies down the drain -- some of the ingredients can harm wildlife as well as people.

Download these tips and get them room-by-room here.

3. Investigate alternatives to in-home pesticides It's best to keep pesticides away from your home -- in and out. At-home exposures are one of the main ways people are exposed to pesticides, and since they're designed to kill, they can (not surprisingly) be dangerous to living beings (people, pets, wildlife).

  • Lawn and garden care. Organic gardening and lawn care is effective, and "how to" advice is readily available. Organic is healthier for your kids, pets and the environment than chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides.
  • Indoor pest control. Try preventive and non-toxic alternatives first, there are lots of effective options that don't contain pesticides. Pesticides should be a last resort. While pesticides must be listed on product labels, the other inert ingredients usually aren't and inert ingredients aren't necessarily safe.
  • Pet treatments. Ridding your pets of bothersome and harmful pests presents a unique challenge since pests (like ticks) can carry disease, but pesticides can harm the pet as well as human family members. Try some simple prevention steps, like frequent bathing and combing, and of course vacuuming to catch any bugs and their eggs.

    If you do choose to apply pesticides to your pet, follow the product's instructions, wash hands immediately, and be sure young children are unlikely to have contact with the pet for 24 hours. The US EPA offers tips for pet owners who use pesticides to do so with caution to reduce adverse effects on treated pets.

Get the full EWG Healthy Home Tip here, and check out the entire series, from pots & pans to shampoo and plastic.

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