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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 continued...

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.

Bark suggests trying other nontoxic alternatives to standard cleaning products. For instance:

  • Biokleen Spray & Wipe All Purpose Cleaner works with the use of natural enzymes. Bark says it's "just short of miraculous for cleaning up crusted messes and soaking up unpleasant smells."
  • Seventh Generation Natural All Purpose Cleaner eliminates harsh chemicals and synthetic aromas and can clean most household surfaces.
  • Trasan Heavy Hitter microfiber cloths have microscopically thin fibers that will sanitize any surface in your home, picking up microscopic-size particles, such as viruses. Just wet them with water and clean. According to Bark, Trasans are used to sanitize patient hospital rooms in Sweden.
  • Method Multi-Surface Natural All Purpose Cleaner cleans tough stains on almost any surface without harsh chemicals like phosphates and chlorine. Just be sure to choose the Go Naked version, which is fragrance free.

Switching to natural products doesn't mean you have to sacrifice great-smelling rooms. To freshen air naturally, use essential oils and boil citrus fruit sections, cinnamon, and cloves in a pot with water for an hour.

Healthy Laundry Detergents

Throwing on a soft T-shirt with that just-out-of-the-dryer smell is one of life's small pleasures. Alas, that sweet aroma comes with a price. The chlorine bleach and other harsh ingredients used in laundry products to whiten and freshen clothing not only pollute indoor air but also eventually find their way into waterways where it can be toxic to aquatic life. But among the worst offenders are those fabric softener sheets you toss in the dryer to give your clothes that clean scent, Bark says.

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