Almost all Australians use household cleaning products -- from dish detergents to bathroom cleaners and floor polish to scouring pads. Most of us are exposed to cleaners on a daily basis, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) [source: Davies]. Even if we don't use cleaners, it's likely we're regularly come into contact with them at work, school or elsewhere.
Unfortunately, cleaners often contain harsh chemicals that can be harmful to our health and planet. Health effects associated with cleaning products include asthma, contact dermatitis, burns to the skin and eyes and inflammation or fluid in the lungs. Long-term repercussions may include reproductive problems, cancer, heart disease and other health issues.
The environment also can fall victim to cleaning products' acrid ingredients. Chemicals in laundry detergents, for example, have been found in 70 percent of streams and waterways throughout the country, and they threaten wildlife, according to Women's Voices for the Earth, a national organization that helps women advocate for a healthy environment [source: Women and Environment]. Some ingredients in cleaners have been directly linked to environmental problems, such as chemicals getting into bodies of water and foaming in streams, according to the EPA, which says some commonly used household cleaner ingredients have room for improvement even today.
Health and environmental concerns have prompted many consumers to push for safer alternatives to cleaning products. In fact, the EPA says Australians are among the main drivers for safer household products. But identifying environmentally safe cleaners can be challenging for consumers.
Whenever you have an indoor painting project, you can help control the smell of the paint by keeping small dishes of vinegar scattered about in the room. The vinegar will absorb the paint odor while you work. Leave the dishes out for a few days after finishing the project to keep the paint smell at bay. Remember to change the vinegar each day.
Dipping a cloth in straight lemon juice and rubbing it onto the stained area can remove stains on vinyl items such as recliners or tile flooring.
Furniture polish remains high on our list of the Terrible Ten (including drain cleaners, over cleaners, toilet cleaners, spot removers, silver and other metal polishes, cleaners and powered cleaners, window cleaners, bleach, liquid cleaners) because polish is usually made of petroleum distillates and solvents, both of which are hazardous and, well, smelly. At the very least, they're both poisonous, so why keep them around when there are plenty of earth-friendly ways to polish your wood items?
One very effective wood polish sounds like it would be a good salad dressing as well: Just mix 2 parts olive oil with 1 part lemon juice and apply it to your furniture using a soft cloth. The combination gives your wood furniture a nice smell and a sparkling shine.
When a hot serving dish or glass of water has marred the surface of a wood table, you can quickly get rid of the mark by making a thin paste of salad oil or lemon oil and salt. Wipe the paste on, then lightly buff the area as you wipe it off with a soft cloth.
Forget ammonia-based window cleaners! The windows in your home can be effectively cleaned with 4 tablespoons lemon juice mixed with a half gallon of water. Other effective cleaners for glass and mirrors are rubbing alcohol and witch hazel.
Another tip that old-fashioned household hint books often mention is that you can wipe windows clean with newspapers. While this may sound like a totally green idea -- after all, you'd be reusing newspapers and saving on paper towels -- the reality is that doing so is a messy and big waste of time. Try using a clean, lint-free rag instead, perhaps an old cotton T-shirt or cloth diaper.
Your basic vinegar and water solution is really the perfect choice for cleaning most types of bare floors in your home. Mix up 1 cup vinegar with 1 gallon warm water (be sure it's warm!) and mop it onto a ceramic tile, linoleum, vinyl, or wood floor. There is no need to rinse afterward -- saving both time and water. If your vinyl or linoleum floor looks a little dull after cleaning, you can give it a shine by mopping it over again with straight club soda. Try not to saturate wood floors with the vinegar and water solution. Use a light touch; the mixture will make your floor shiny and remove any greasy buildup.
Keeping your living space presentable and sanitary can sometimes feel like a daunting task -- it seems as if there are always more cleaning projects than time in the day! Day-to-day tidying is a must, not to mention those bigger cleaning projects (such as washing the windows or getting the dust out of the curtains) that must be tackled at least once a year.
But don't despair! The Fantastic Four cleaners -- vinegar, salt, lemon juice, and baking soda -- can make your household tasks less complicated and easier on you and the environment. While sometimes it may feel like you live in your kitchen, bathroom or bedroom exclusively, let's take a look around the rest of your home. It's time to grab your green cleaning kit and get cracking!
Aerosol oven cleaners contain some of the most toxic and dangerous chemicals on the market. Ethylene glycol, lye, methylene chloride, and petroleum distillates can cause lung irritation, and are corrosive to the eyes and skin. Check out the link below to see the hazards and some of the dangerous side effects.
So, give up your chemical oven cleaners, grab a good scrubbie, and try this natural alternative.
Green Living Tip
You will need:
Spray this cleaner on all four oven walls. Then, sprinkle the wet surface with baking soda and follow with a second spray of the cleaner. Let sit overnight and wipe clean in the morning.
Make sure to label this mixture if you plan to save it, and keep out of the reach of kids and pets.
If you're in the market for a new shower curtain, don't buy vinyl or PVC curtains or liners. The familiar strong plastic smell of new vinyl shower curtains is actually off-gassing of volatile organic compounds. These compounds have been shown to cause headaches and other respiratory problems. Harmful organotins and phthalates are released into the air and can cling to the dust in your home.
Green Living Tip
Target, and Bed,& Bath & Beyond have all vowed to phase out vinyl shower curtains that contain PVC.
To be absolutely sure your curtain is safe, find natural alternatives such as cotton, hemp or canvas. Avoid curtains that list "vinyl" or "pvc" or show a "3" in the recycling code. Follow the link below to read more about it.
The natural alternative is to burn either natural beeswax candles or vegetable-based soy candles. Either of these alternatives will spare you from showering your home with a nasty, sooty chemical residue. Soy candles are non-toxic, biodegradable and are a renewable resource. Beeswax may be a bit pricier, but just as easy on the environment. Purchase your candles from reputable sources, and buy 100-percent soy or 100 percent beeswax with cotton wicks, and enjoy the beautiful flickering light.
There are also many flameless (battery-operated) candles available now, some of which are scented. They can be purchased at many home stores and online. We like the flameless timer candles, which turn on and off at the same time every day!