Friday, April 18, 2014

Spring Cleaning Part 1: Spring into Green Cleaning!

By Elisa Sparkman, Education & Outreach Specialist

If I had the time, I would clean my entire house from top to bottom every week. Sadly, I do not have the authority to add an 8th day to the week; only The Beatles could do that! Now that spring is here with more daylight hours, it almost feels as if there is more time. This has helped me get ramped up and ready to do some spring cleaning. Yay!

As an Environmental Health Educator, I try my best to walk my talk, and use green cleaning at home. The great thing about green cleaning is that it’s simple, effective, and best of all, inexpensive. If you are not interested in making your own cleaners, to find the least toxic cleaning products check out the Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Healthy Cleaners.

Did you know that most accidental poisonings occur when the intended product is in use? If you have children and pets, green cleaning can lower the risk of accidental poisoning in your home.

Get started on your green cleaning adventure!

First and Foremost! When using green cleaning ingredients, it is still important to use protective gear. Even though the ingredients are not considered toxic, they hurt if they get in your eyes and some have the potential to irritate skin.

Essential Oils: If you use essential oils, remember that they are extremely concentrated. Each essential oil is different and contains different health and safety concerns. Research the oils you select – some should not have direct contact with skin, some are toxic to pets, and they should always be kept out of reach of children.

Baking Soda & Vinegar: This basic combination has major cleaning power to scrub away dirt and grime on just about any hard surface. Baking soda and water alone form a cleaning paste that works great on a glass-top stove. For soap scum and grit covered showers and tubs, scrub a large amount of baking soda with water to make a paste and then pour some vinegar over the paste and watch it foam for a few seconds and then scrub some more. Wipe or rinse away the paste with water and a sponge or cloth. To add extra cleaning power, add in a squirt or two of liquid Castile soap (available in many health stores and “natural” sections of larger grocery chains).

Scrub Brushes: There are many shapes and sizes of scrub brushes to help clean more efficiently and effectively. Scrub brushes can help you get the most out of your green cleaning ingredients.

Mopping floors: To mop hard floors, a mixture of one half cup of white vinegar for each gallon of warm water works great. The most difficult part is waiting until the floor is dry before walking on it.

Oven: Not for self-cleaning ovens. Mix 1/4 cup baking soda with 2 tablespoons salt and add just enough hot water to make a paste. Scrub away charred spills with a non-metallic bristle brush before applying the paste. Apply paste to oven surfaces, and let stand a few minutes or overnight. Scrub off with non-metallic scouring pad and water. Keep paste off of oven wires and heating elements. You can line the oven bottom with aluminum foil to prevent future stains. Oven cleaners labeled with the signal words “Danger” or “Poison” mean the product is ranked at the highest hazard level. These are common in most stores. To find less hazardous oven cleaners, look for products that say, “Caution” or “Warning” instead.

Windows: An easy way to clean windows effectively and safely is to put club soda in a spray bottle and use as window cleaner. Wipe with a lint-free cloth or use a squeegee. This works for mirrors too!

All-purpose Surface Spray: For a simple countertop spray, fill a spray bottle about one quarter full of white vinegar, add the juice of one lemon (strain it so the seeds and pulp don’t clog the sprayer), and fill the rest with water. Close the spray bottle and shake. One option is to add a couple of drops of an essential oil of your choice. Some work well for cleaning and they can help mask some of the vinegar smell. Remember that essential oils are very strong; you only need one or two drops.

Mold: When it comes to cleaning mold, all you need is detergent (laundry or dish) and a scrub brush to scrub the mold away. Mold grows when moisture is present. It is common to get a little mold in your shower or inside of windows. If you have a continuous mold problem, find the source of moisture, such as a leak, and fix it. A large amount of moisture can cause structural damage, leading to a large repair or replacement. To discourage mold from growing, use kitchen and bathroom fans during, and for at least one half hour after, cooking and bathing.
Other quick tips!
  • Simmer cinnamon sticks and cloves in water on the stove for about 15 minutes for a safer air freshener. Many air-freshener products release chemicals that pollute indoor air.
  • Microfiber cloths are great for dusting. Just dampen them with water and dust away! Check out our previous post to learn what is in dust and why it’s an environmental health concern.
  • For slow drains, pour ½ cup baking soda down the drain, then a ½ cup of vinegar. Let it fizz for a few minutes and then pour a tea kettle full of boiling water down. Repeat if needed. This loosens minor clogs and helps prevent future clogs.  If it doesn’t work, use a mechanical snake or a plunger.
  • Learn how to tell if a product is hazardous, tips for safe use, and proper storage from last year’s post called, Yuk!

Some people are hesitant to try green cleaning because they like the way the products they are used to smell or don’t appreciate the smell of vinegar. Advertising has told us for decades what clean should smell like – “Pine Tree Forest,” “Lemon Breezes” and so on. These strong smells can actually be an irritant for many and trigger asthma attacks for some. We may want to rethink what clean smells like. When used in the correct amounts, the smell of vinegar fades quickly and many green cleaning recipes don’t contain it at all. Choose green when you clean!

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