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An Illinois River Almanac

Jason Haupt's Energy and Environment Blog

Spring Cleaning

Posted by Jason Haupt - Air Quality

Spring is here and that means many things to many people.  It is time to plant your garden, start mowing your lawn, and also do your spring cleaning.  It is great to have a clean house, but when you are doing your cleaning think about what you are using to clean your home and what it is adding to your home.  Many of the cleaning products that you buy in the store are not the best for your indoor air quality and are also hazardous to your health.  So as you plan your cleaning for this spring, keep a few things in mind.

  • Read the Label - When you pick up a cleaning product, read the label.  Keep in mind that just because something is labeled as “Bio based” and “Solvent free”, it is not necessarily safer than other cleaning products.  The term solvent refers to a very large class of chemicals that range from the very toxic chemicals to something as benign as water. And pine based and citrus based cleaners are both bio-based cleaning products, but they do pose potential health and environmental risks.  Look for products that carry the labels “Low VOC”, “Biodegradable”, and carry a third party certification like EPA Designed for the Environment (DfE), Green Seal, Terra Choice/EcoLogo, or Scientific Certification System.
  • Avoid Warning Labels - Stay away from products labeled: Danger, Poison, Corrosive, Highly Flammable, Highly Combustible, Severely Irritating, and Strong Sensitizer.  These are the most common labels on cleaning products.
  • When Buying Cleaning Products
    • Buy Limited Quantities - Buy only what you need to complete the job that you are doing.  If you use certain products only occasionally, such as paints, paint strippers, or gasoline for lawn mowers, buy only as much as you will use right away. If you do buy more than you need, be sure to store the product safely and according to the label.
    • Dispose of unused or little-used containers safely (i.e., taking them to household hazardous waste facilities, when appropriate).
    • Choose products that are packaged to reduce the chance of spills, leaks, and child tampering.
    • Make sure you have plenty of fresh air ventilation when using these products.
    • Use household products only according to manufacturer's directions.
  • Try making your own Cleaning Products - Keep in mind that with a little patience and elbow grease you can clean your home with a minimum or without cleaning products.  Using some common ingredients you can clean your home without having to resort to caustic chemicals.  When making your own cleaning products, avoid using Borax as it is caustic, can be dangerous, and there are some significant human health effects with which it is associated.
    • Baking Soda (Sodium Bicarbonate) - Excellent odor absorbency, a mild abrasive, and a degreaser.  It serves as a mild alkali and great for septic systems. Found in the baking section of the store.
    • Washing Soda (Sodium Carbonate) - It is slightly caustic and a grease cutter.  Don’t use on waxed floors, fiberglass, or aluminum.  Found in the laundry detergent section of the store.
    • Distilled White Vinegar - Degreaser, emulsifier, and mold growth inhibiter.  Mild acidic acid, so take care as it could cause skin irritation on sensitive skin.  It has antibacterial properties as well.
    • Liquid Castile Soap - This vegetable-oil-based liquid soap contains disinfecting properties. Found in most health food stores.
    • Tea Tree Oil - Has some reported disinfecting properties.  Plus it smells good.  Can be found in health food stores or where essential oils can be found.
    • Hydrogen Peroxide - Whitening agent and antiseptic.  Nontoxic so great to use in the kitchen on surfaces on which food is prepared.
    • Pumice and Salt - Use as abrasives.  Pumice is excellent at restoring old glass and mirrors to their former glory.
    • Lemons - Antibacterial properties and is mildly acidic.  Using lemons to scrub wooden cutting boards can be an excellent way to clean and get rid of strong smells.

If you are interested in cleaning your home without chemicals or would like more information, contact Jason Haupt (jdhaupt@illinois.edu)

 



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