Chemicals have infiltrated many aspects of our lives, often causing more harm than good. But in certain circumstances they have made things easier. For close to 40 years, parents of both human and furry family members have used 3M’s upholstery and fabric-preserving aerosol, Scotchgard, to rescue countless pieces of furniture from a dirt-laden fate. But perfluorinated chemicals have been linked to tumors and impaired human development, compromised immune or hormone function (see References 1, 2 and 8). Eco-friendly techniques can preserve household cleanliness without chemicals.
Adopt New Household Rules
Food and beverages that are accidentally dropped upon carpeted areas and upholstered pieces of furniture typically do the most damage, so creating a concession-free living room is worth consideration. Similarly, spills and stains via art supplies and dirt-caked shoes can be entirely prevented by limiting where such items can be used.
Use Protective Slipcovers
Heavy-gauge vinyl chair and couch covers typically summon memories of balmy summer days when sticky limbs had to be forcefully peeled off. Nevertheless, flexible protective plastic is ideal for households with young children and pets, because it can be quickly wiped clean and easily removed when guests visit. The downside to vinyl products, however, is that they release endocrine-disrupting phthalates and other dangerous volatile organic compounds (see References 3 and 4). If you do decide to use vinyl slipcovers, preserve the quality of your household air by seeking low-VOC versions or allowing the toxic chemicals inherent in conventionally manufactured slipcovers to off-gas outside for several days (see Reference 7, page 136). You might instead opt for fabric slipcovers found at a thrift store or, for an extra degree of chemical-free safety, purchase new covers made with an organic hemp and cotton blend.
Invest in Steam Cleaning
High-temperature, pressurized steam naturally sanitizes upholstery and carpeting (see Reference 7). To boost your cleansing success, fill your steam cleaning machine's tank with equal parts of warm water and white vinegar.
Apply Eco-Stain Treatments
On cloth-based upholstery, such as woven materials and suede, a liberal application of plain baking soda naturally absorbs unpleasant odors -- just allow it to set for several hours before vacuuming it off with a hose or brush attachment. Treat stains with club soda and a combination of either fresh lemon juice and salt or white vinegar and baking soda (see Reference 5). First work the preparation into the affected areas with a firm bristle brush, and then allow the treatment to set for at least an hour. Blot the spots with a dry rag or sponge before finally allowing them to air-dry. Leather-covered chairs and couches can be cleaned by dipping a sponge into a mild, plant-based liquid soap that has been diluted with water and then wiping each freshly scrubbed area with a separate damp sponge to thoroughly remove all residue. An effective carpet spot treatment can be created with 1/4 cup of borax, 1/4 cup of salt and 1/4 cup of white vinegar (see Reference 6, page 97). Work the paste into problem areas with a stiff brush, allowing it to completely dry, and then vacuum the residual material.
- Environmental Health Perspectives: Perfluoroalkylkyl Acids: What Is the Evidence Telling Us?
- Environmental Working Group: Across Generations: About the Chemicals
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Vinyl Chloride
- Washington Toxics Coalition: Volatile Vinyl: The New Shower Curtain's Chemical Smell
- The Complete Idiot's Guide to Urban Homesteading; Sundari Elizabeth Kraft
- The Everything Green Baby Book; Jenn Savedge
- Naturally Clean: The Seventh Generation Guide to Safe & Healthy, Non-Toxic; Jeffrey Hollender and Geoff Davis
- International Journal of Andrology: Emerging Endocrine Disrupters: Perfluoroalkylated Substances; Allan Astrup Jensen and Henrik Leffers
An eco-journalist for 1-800-Recycling, Ecorazzi, Martha Stewart’s Whole Living, WebEcoist, Organic Baby University and This Dish Is Veg, among others publications, Elizah Leigh continues inspiring readers to wade in greener waters using a unique literary voice that highlights the informational and quirky side of the green scene. She holds a Master of Arts in teaching English.
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