Like most people, you keep a clean home. It looks great and smells clean. You clean regularly, dry-clean clothing, and have well maintained carpets. Unfortunately, because of the very cleaners and products you use, you could be doing more harm than good – both to yourself and to the environment. Many of the popular commercial cleansers available, as well as dry-cleaning chemicals and carpets themselves, emit toxic gasses called Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). VOCs can negatively affect your health in a range of ways, with short term effects such as eye irritation or dizziness, to long term effects, such as cancer.
According to the EPA there are thousands of products that emit VOCs. Fuels, cleaning, disinfecting and cosmetic products, as well as paints and varnishes, are made with organic solvents. “All of these products can release organic compounds while you are using them, and, to some degree, when they are stored.” These products and their use in our homes and offices result in indoor concentrations of VOCs that are much higher than outdoors, up to ten times higher!
How can we minimize our exposure to these chemicals?
One of the easiest ways is to make sure your home has adequate ventilation. Open your windows and let that fresh air in!
There are some safe products on the market today, but if you want to save some money you can easily make your own cleaners with some common household items. Worldwatch Institute has some great “recipes” for everyday cleaners:
“-Stock up on a few safe, simple ingredients that can be used in most cleaning situations. Soap, water, baking soda, vinegar, lemon juice, borax, and a coarse scrubbing sponge can take care of most household cleaning needs.
-Instead of using a standard drain cleaner, which likely contains lye, hydrochloric acid, and sulfuric acid, try pouring a quarter cup of baking soda down the clogged drain, followed by a half cup of vinegar. Close the drain tightly until fizzing stops, then flush with boiling water.
-For an effective glass cleaner, use a mixture of half white vinegar and half water.
-Baking soda and cornstarch are both good carpet deodorizers.
-To clean up mildew and mold, use a mixture of lemon juice or white vinegar and salt.
-A paste of baking soda, salt, and hot water makes a great oven cleaner.”
By using homemade cleaners we not only minimize our indoor exposure to VOCs, but we also minimize the amount of VOCs that get into our water and soil.
When it comes to carpeting, in addition to becoming a home to dust mites and mold, new carpets emit VOCs from the solvents used to make the carpet and the adhesives used during installation. Air Quality Sciences suggests that if you are having new carpet installed you should schedule the installation at a time when the building will be unoccupied; if that’s not possible, try to leave the building immediately after the installation. Instead of using an adhesive, ask your installers to use carpet tacks to affix the carpeting. Ventilate the area as much as you can: open doors and windows, use air conditioners and fans and get the air moving; do this for at least 48 hours after the installation is complete.
Or you could avoid carpeting all together and consider a hard surface floor material.
These are just a few ways we can keep ourselves and our planet healthier…leave us a comment and tell us: what are some things you do to help yourself and the environment?