What does it take to lead a good, green lifestyle? With more and more ‘green’ products hitting the market, the conscientious consumer now faces a veritable morass of choices; small important everyday choices that can make a big difference in the long run. This fall, Inhabitat launches a special 8-part series will explore various aspects of the “green lifestyle” – what it means, what to look for, and where to look for more in-depth expert insight. We’ll start close to home with something as seemingly mundane as house cleaning.
THE DIRTY TRUTH ABOUT HOUSEHOLD CLEANING PRODUCTS By this point, everyone knows about the dangers of indoor pollution. According to the US EPA, levels from pollutants indoors can be two to more than 100 times higher than outdoors, and the number one culprit for indoor pollution are our very own cleaning products. Some of the top-selling daily products are the most dirty and toxic: Lysol Antibacterial Spray, which ads encourage parents to spray wherever children play, contains denatured ethanol (which can cause central nervous system depression) and alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride, a known pesticide.
Most glass cleaners contain glycol ethers that have been shown to cause reproductive effects if exposed to high enough levels. Pledge contains silicones, butane gas, and propane. All, while good at cutting through gunk, are bonified VOCs. Most air fresheners contain formaldehyde (which is highly toxic and is a known carcinogen) and phenol (a delightful chemical that can cause cold sweats, convulsions, circulatory collapse, coma, and even death). Even the most skeptical of consumers would prefer not to expose their children or pets to such harmful chemicals.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN GREEN CLEANING PRODUCTS As Consumer Report’s and Greener Choices’ Eco-Label’s website reports, claims such as “non-toxic,” “eco-safe,” and “environmentally-friendly” are practically meaningless without a standard in place. Inhabitat readers are already pretty savvy consumers, but if you need a bit of extra help sussing out the best green cleaning products, use their nifty green report card function to research eco-labels. Otherwise, cut through the marketing by looking for a few obvious things. Look for specific ingredients that perform effectively in lieu of VOCs, rather than buying into the labels and witty names. For example, look for products that have grain alcohol instead of toxic butyl cellosolve. Use borax instead of bleach. Also, look for products that are “petroleum free” and avoid products that include phosphates (such as dishwasher soaps). You’ll also want to avoid any furniture polishes or PVC products that include phtalates.
A safe general rule of thumb is if you can’t pronounce it, don’t use it. If you can’t tell what the active ingredient in a cleaning product is, then you might want to reconsider slathering it all over the house. Don’t fall prey to the anti-bacterial craze. The FDA has found that antibacterial soaps and hand cleansers do not work better than regular soap and water and should actually be avoided. Unless you live in a hospital or a clean room, there is no reason to eradicate all the germs from your home. Beyond these general guidelines, if you have a burning green cleaning question we urge you to consult Grist’s Green Guide for Cleaning which offers deep insight into the toxic world of cleaning products and their sustainable alternatives.
FROM CLEAN TO GREEN: TOP PICKS There are countless studies and field tests out there to help you in your quest to find the perfect cleaning products. Depending on where you sit on the clean to green spectrum, here are a few of our top picks:
Seventh Generation Even though a recent study by the Organic Consumers Association found detectable levels of 1,4-dioxane (a petroleum-derived contaminant considered a probable human carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) in their dishwashing detergent, by and large Seventh Generation’s products are safe and sustainable. They get points for offering such a wide variety of products (including a bleach substitute) and being available everywhere from Target to your local corner market.
Mrs. Meyers If the natural scent of freshly cut flowers isn’t quite enough to convince you of a clean house and you crave a bit of fragrance, Mrs. Meyers Clean Day Home offers a great variety of chlorine- and phosphate-free products with natural aromas such as basil, lavender, lemon verbena, geranium, and baby blossom.
Simple Baking Soda Humble and under-appreciated sodium bicarbonate is a great, cheap cleaning product to have on hand at all times. Use it to lift stains on carpet, add grit and scrubbing might to a home-mixed cleaning product, whiten up a load of laundry, and exorcise your fridge of funny smells. Just don’t mistake it for baking powder to avoid cake disaster! ECO-ME For those of you with kids, health considerations, or delicate sensibilities, you could consider mixing your own cleaning products from household ingredients. Eco-Me specializes in 100% natural do-it-yourself kits that are good for you and the environment too. Eco-Me now offers 5 eco-tool kits for home cleaning, body and baby care as well as dog and cat pet care kits. Each kit is comprised of product containers with the “recipes” included on them, as well as the Eco-Me essential oils necessary to mix them (with the addition of common household ingredients such as water, baking soda, etc.). It’s a bit more labor intensive, but the products genuinely work and at least you know exactly what’s in it.
About BOSCH “Bosch is committed to preserving the environment through innovative approaches to the products we manufacture, as well as the partnerships we form with key leaders in sustainable construction and design. Sustainability, responsibility and continuous improvement are the tenets of our company and are shared by our partners across the United States.
Bosch practices low-impact manufacturing processes while designing the most efficient machines on the market. In fact, we introduced a global integrated management system for environmental issues that makes certain we maintain our high standards for environmental responsibility wherever our operations take us.
Bosch regards innovation as something more than exceptional product quality, functionality and design. Not only our technical developments, but also our commitment to society has an effect on the world of tomorrow.” + Bosch Green Thinking Resource Center
HAILY ZAKI Lacking the skills or the patience to be a designer herself, Haily Zaki is a PR maven, freelance writer and secret agent in Los Angeles who contents herself by promoting, writing about, and surrounding herself with great design. Besides running Secret Agent PR and working with some of the best architecture and design brands in LA, Haily is a contributing writer for The Architect’s Newspaper, the Epoch Times, and any other publication that likes her stories. She’s also an organizer of de LaB (design east of La Brea) – part design lab, part social experiment for creative professionals who work, live or play on the Eastside of Los Angeles. She was first turned onto the idea of sustainable living when she worked with the Mapuche people in Southern Chile and hopes one day to move to the end of the earth to live in a green prefab pod writing torrid romance novels. For now, she focuses her energy on communicating through the media, training herself to be a good, green consumer, and not killing her tomato plants.