To peruse the thirteen (13) topics in this series, use the navigation selector at the bottom of this page, or click the house graphic (at left) to return to our home page and select the topic of your choice.

The following information is provided courtesy of Paula Baker-Laporte FAIA, BBP, co-founder and principal architect of EcoNest®.

In order for a home to support our health it must be clean and free of dust, mold, excessive bacteria, pesticides and pests. You are well advised to practice the following five tips for Healthy Cleaning:

SHOES OFF: Did you know that some of the highest rates of pesticide residue in the country are found indoors on carpets in Florida? Pesticides sprayed outdoors are tracked in on shoes and then adhere to the carpeting, where small children spend their time. Establishing a no shoes policy is a good way to greatly reduce the trail of dirt from outdoors into our homes. Providing a bench and a basket of slippers at your entry for your family and  guests will make the request implicit.

DON’T CLEAN WITH POISON*: Ironically, commercially available household cleaning products, made from synthetic chemicals derived from crude oil, can be among the most toxic substances we encounter on a daily basis. Using them can spread noxious fumes throughout the house and laundry products can impregnate our clothing. Trade Secret Acts make it difficult to know what is in a product. Fortunately there are now non-toxic substitutes for just about every possible application.

Be suspicious of products that encourage germ paranoia, stress ease of use, claim amazing results, replicate scents found in nature and/or have a skull and cross bones symbol: Key words: tough, kills bacteria and fungi, brilliant shine, sparkling, no scrubbing required, removes germs you can’t see, eliminates millions of germs, fresh scent, spray grime away, grime dissolving power etc.

Consider products that advertise: chlorine-free, petroleum-free, biodegradable, phosphate free, VOC free, solvent free, chemical free, toxin free, hypoallergenic, safe for children, unscented or scented with essential oils only.

COMMON SENSE ABOUT SCENTS: Avoid using perfumed products designed to mask smells. This does nothing to correct the problem that is creating an odor and adds another level of highly volatile petro-chemical poison to the air. Plug in air fresheners, commercial pot pourri and dryer sheets are amongst the worst offenders rendering the homes where they have been applied uninhabitable to a growing segment of the population suffering from chemical hypersensitivity.

FRESH AIR IS VITAL AIR: It is common knowledge that indoor air is almost always several times more polluted than the outdoor air even in cities. Outdoor air is rich in both oxygen and ions. Homes should be flushed out with fresh air as part of a regular cleaning routine.

GOT CARPETS? GET HEPA: It is difficult to keep a home with wall-to-wall carpeting truly clean. Although the norm in  North American housing, it is commonly manufactured with toxic chemicals, installed with toxic chemicals and cleaned and treated with more toxic chemicals! These will eventually disperse but once in place carpeting becomes a prime reservoir for dust, tracked in dirt and chemicals, spilt debris, mold and odor. A particle counter would readily reveal that vacuuming a carpet with a non-HEPA vacuum will increase the amount of dust in the air after cleaning! If you have carpet regular, repetitive and very thorough vacuuming with a high quality HEPA vacuum combined with chemical-free steam cleaning will help. AFM <www.afmsafecoat.com> makes a non-toxic carpet treatment and shampoo system as well.

Common Household Products That Clean

Baking soda cleans, deodorizes, scours, and softens water. It is noncorrosive and slightly abrasive and is effective for light cleaning.

Borax cleans, deodorizes, disinfects, and softens water. It is also effective for light cleaning, for soiled laundry in the washing machine, and for preventing mold growth.

Hydrogen peroxide (H2O2 ) is effective in removing mold stains from nonporous surfaces. Purchase a 10 percent food-grade solution. (The solution most commonly sold off the shelf is only 3 percent.)  Use protective gloves to apply. A 10 percent solution will bleach many types of surfaces. A 35 percent food-grade H2O2  is available through many health food stores. The container must be refrigerated and kept clean. The 35 percent solution will burn skin and must be carefully diluted before it can be safely used.

Soap (as opposed to detergents) biodegrades safely and completely. It is an effective and gentle cleaner with many uses. For hands, dishes, laundry, and light cleaning, use the pure bar or soap flakes without perfume additives.

TSP (trisodium phosphate) can be used according to the manufacturer’s instructions for grease removal. TSP is available in hardware stores. Surfaces cleaned with TSP should be neutralized with baking soda prior to the application of finishes. Fluids containing TSP should not be disposed of in septic systems or sewer systems because of their high phosphate content.

Vodka is effective for dissolving alcohol-soluble finishes.  Use a high-proof (high alcohol content) product.

Twenty Mule Team Borox: Borax is a naturally occurring mineral composed of sodium, boron, oxygen and water. Borax is generally found embedded deep in the ground, along with clay and other substances. Uses: laundry booster, clothes softener, natural alternative to colorsafe bleach, toilet bowl cleaner, drain deodorizer, surface cleaner, oven cleaner, tile cleaner, degreaser etc.

Washing soda (sodium carbonate) cuts grease, removes stains, disinfects, and softens water. It is effective for washing heavily soiled laundry and for general cleaning.

White vinegar cuts grease and removes lime deposits. A safe and useful all-purpose cleaning solution can be made from distilled white vinegar and plain water in a 50:50 ratio. For window cleaning, add five tablespoons of white vinegar to two cups of water. The solution should be placed in a glass spray bottle. Glass is preferred because plastics are known to release hormone-disrupting chemicals into bottle contents. Vinegar has been used to clean and control mold growth, but the thin film of residue left on the surface may supply nutrients for new growth.

Resources

Green Seal  <www.greenseal.org> is an independent nonprofit organization that has created environmental and health standards for industrial and institutional cleaners. Based on information provided by the manufacturers, Green Seal has recommended cleaners that meet the following criteria: 1) are not toxic to human or aquatic life; 2) contain VOC levels under 10 percent by weight when diluted for use; 3) are readily biodegradable; 4) are not made of petrochemical compounds or petroleum; 5) do not contain chlorine bleach; 6) are free of phosphates and derivatives; 7) do not contain phenolic compounds or glycol ethers; 8) are free of arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury, nickel, and selenium; 9) have acceptable pH levels; 10) work optimally at room temperature.

Toxnet: Database on toxicology, hazardous chemicals, environmental health, toxic releases. Offers a database specifically on household cleaners. http://toxnet.nlm.nih.gov

Click here to watch a free video of IBE Board member Jeanne McLaughlin making household cleaners in her home kitchen.

For a more thorough understanding of VOCs and the benefits of using healthy cleaning products in homes, schools, and commercial buildings, we encourage you to consider our annual 5-day seminar IBE 211 Indoor Air & Water Quality. You can download the syllabus for, by clicking here.