Friday, October 3, 2008

Safer, Cheaper Ways to Clean Your Home

Pollutants inside your home can be from two to more than 100 times higher than outdoors, according to the U.S. EPA. Big culprits are the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that evaporate, or "offgas," from home decorating and cleaning products.

One problem are so-called air fresheners. In homes where aerosol sprays and air fresheners were used frequently, mothers experienced 25 percent more headaches and were 19 percent more likely to suffer from depression, and infants under six months of age had 30 percent more ear infections and 22 percent higher incidence of diarrhea, according to a study published in New Scientist.

Beware when you shop for somethingsafer. "Just because a product says it's natural doesn't mean it's nontoxic," says Jeffrey Hollender, CEO of Seventh Generation. I am a fan of his company’s eco-friendly cleaning supplies and household products. Hollender advises that the word "natural" is undefined and unregulated by the government and can be applied to just about anything under the sun -- including plastic, which comes from naturally occurring petroleum.

Because no standards exist, claims such as "nontoxic," "eco-safe," and "environmentally friendly" are also meaningless, according to Consumers Reports' Eco-labels.

David Steinman, co-author of The Safe Shopper's Bible, recommends looking at labels for specific, eco-friendly ingredients that also perform effectively. These include grain alcohol instead of toxic butyl cellosolve as a solvent; coconut or other plant oils rather than petroleum in detergents; and plant-oil disinfectants such as eucalyptus, rosemary, or sage, rather than triclosan.

Or mix your own cleaners, as does Annie Berthold-Bond, green living editor at and author of Clean and Green and Better Basics for the Home.

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