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How to Create a Greener, Cleaner, Healthier Home

Making a few changes to your routine can improve your breathing, sleep, and overall health.

Household Products and Your Health

Consider the effect on health of products with chlorine that you use to get rid of the grime on bathroom and kitchen surfaces. Sure, chlorine is effective at killing germs and mold. But as Toni Bark, MD, points out, it can also cause eye and respiratory irritation. Bark has a family practice and is a medical consultant in Evanston, Illinois. She is also one of the few physicians in the United States certified as a LEED AP, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design accredited professional. LEED is a rating system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council to provide standards for environmentally sustainable construction. Bark says that the use of products with chlorine can cause allergies, asthma, and even bronchitis.

Cleaners aren't the only product that can cause trouble. While we all love a sweet-smelling home, household products with fragrance can also create toxic indoor air. If you do one thing, Bark says, try to get all perfumed items -- cologne, hair spray, and particularly air fresheners -- out of your house.

"Air fresheners are just a way of injecting chemicals into the air," says Ted Schettler, MD, MPH. Schettler is science director of the Science & Environmental Health Network, a consortium of environmental agencies concerned with environmental and public health policy.

Christopher Gavigan is chief executive officer of Healthy Child Healthy World, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping create healthy environments for kids. Gavigan points out that "fragrance can be loaded with hundreds of chemicals and that, by law, cleaning manufacturers don't have to label what's in their fragrance." That means there is no good way for consumers to know exactly what they are breathing when they use a perfumed product.

Natural Cleaning Products

Experts recommend taking a more natural -- not to mention cheaper -- approach to dealing with household dirt and grime. "Using 3% peroxide instead of chlorine bleach is a safe and effective way to clean surfaces," Schettler says.

Both Bark and Schettler suggest mixing up your own nontoxic batch of cleaning fluid by combining two cups of white vinegar, two cups of water, and 25 drops of your favorite essential oil for a pleasant smell. You can use this highly effective natural solution for cleaning windows, mirrors, floors, and kitchen and bathroom surfaces and for brightening tiles.

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