Many products marketed for home cleaning contain chemicals that are harmful to the environment if they leak into waterways or groundwater. A common ingredient in all-purpose cleaning fluids, ethylene glycol monoethyl ether acetate, is toxic to animals, which are attracted to its sweet odor and ingest it; this chemical can also damage internal organs when absorbed through the skin and cause dizziness when inhaled (see References 1). Fortunately, environmentally aware consumers can use safer and eco-friendly home cleaning products and techniques.
Buy Commercial Eco-Friendly Cleaners
Look on your store shelves for all-purpose cleaners, laundry detergents and other cleaning products that carry labels signifying that the ingredients are effective and safe for the environment. The Design for the Environment label, sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, indicates that every ingredient in that product was assessed and deemed minimally toxic to humans and animals, and less harmful to the environment than other chemicals of the same type (see References 3). Another eco-friendly label comes from Green Seal, an independent, nonprofit environmental certification group that evaluates and recommends products based on their effectiveness and environmental impact (see References 2).
Make Your Own Solutions
The safest cleaning solutions are ones made entirely from natural ingredients such as vinegar, lemon juice, baking soda and hot water. A mixture of 1/2 cup vinegar, 1/4 cup of baking soda and 1/2 gallon of water makes a safe and effective all-purpose cleaning solution. For an effective homemade toilet bowl cleaner, combine 1/4 cup of baking soda and 1 cup of vinegar. These mixtures are nontoxic and have a minimal environmental impact. (See References 6.)
Choose to Reuse
Professional janitors have found that cleaning with microfiber cloths or cotton rags instead of disposable paper towels requires less cleaning solution and reduces waste (see References 4). This eco-friendly cleaning strategy transfers easily to a home setting. A coarse-textured fabric such as terrycloth, soaked in hot water, removes most dirt and grime from kitchen and bathroom surfaces. When you are finished cleaning, simply wash the rags with your towels and store the rags with your cleaning supplies.
Hire Eco-Friendly Professionals
When you need to hire a professional cleaning crew to steam your carpets or provide other periodic thorough cleaning, patronize companies that use environmentally friendly products. Before you hire a service that claims to be eco-friendly, ask to see the labels of the cleaning products it uses. If the products require hazardous waste disposal, they are not environmentally friendly (see References 5).
- OEHHA: Chronic Toxicity Summary: Ethylene Glycol Monoethyl Ether Acetate
- Green Seal; Standards; July 2007
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Design for the Environment; October 2010
- University of Nebraska at Lincoln: Custodial Services Environmental Responsibility Statement
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Solid Waste/Recycling Publications; April 2010
- "The Pantry Cleaner: Chemical-Free Cleaning"; Mysti Reutlinger; CreateSpace; 2011
Tricia Ballad has written professionally since 2004. She has authored three books, as well as numerous articles on parenting and website content involving green living. Her work has appeared in Natural Family Online and Budget Artists. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English with a creative writing specialization from Bradley University.
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