While we endure the last of the cold, blustery weather, it’s easy to forget that spring is less than a month away. Once the days get warmer, many homeowners will be glad to finally get a jumpstart on those household projects that have been haunting them all winter long. And for many, spring cleaning will be at the top of their list: decluttering the garage and attic, reorganizing cabinets and drawers, eliminating the grime and dust that have been collecting in the far nooks and crannies of the home all winter long.
Photo By Povy Kendal Atchison
Regardless of the tasks involved, a thorough spring cleaning usually means using a variety of household cleaners, many of which contain a host of harmful chemicals that can waft their way through the home, creating an unhealthy living environment.
Health problems linked to exposure to ammonia, chloride, petroleum and other chemicals found in typical household cleaners range from minor skin burns and irritations to damage of the kidneys, liver, circulatory system and respiratory tract, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
If you are planning to take on the arduous task of spring cleaning in the weeks to come and are concerned about the safety of the cleaners in your closet, now may be the ideal time to consider swapping them out for some eco-friendly alternatives. Thanks to growing public interest in green living, eco-friendly cleaning products are more available in stores than ever before. And they are fairly easy to make at home, according to Janeen Solberg—a champion of recycling in Boonesboro, Maryland, and founder of the Boonsboro Greenfest—who has been making her own cleaners for more then 10 years.
She typically incorporates varying amounts of vinegar and baking soda into her recipes and adds other organic ingredients, such as washing soda and borax, both powdery substances that are used as “laundry boosters” and can be found in the most big-box stores. (For a list of Solberg's favorite cleaners, see 6 Homemade Cleaning Recipes.)
Janeen says that even a basic vinegar-and-water solution, which has been used in households for generations, is an extremely effective all-purpose cleaner.
“It has an uncanny ability to kill bacteria, mold and mildew, and disinfect just about anything,” she says.
To give it a little extra cleaning power, Janeen adds some plant-based liquid soap and a few drops of essential oil, such as lavender and rosemary, to create a more pleasant scent. On occasion, she will also use organic store-bought cleaners, such as those made by Seventh Generation.
“I do buy some green cleaners when I am pinched for time,” Janeen says.
And while eco-friendly cleaners usually cost more than the popular commercial brands, she says it’s worth the money for her to buy one that is safe to use in the home.
In addition to using eco-friendly cleaners, you can take other steps to help create a safer living and breathing environment for your family as you embark on spring cleaning for the household.
To start, do a thorough job eliminating dust, which contains a variety of allergy-causing agents, such as pollen and animal dander, as well as lead particles from old, flaking paint, according to the EPA. Remember to check for dust in areas commonly overlooked, such as ceiling fans, light fixtures, cabinet tops and the trim above doors and windows. Baseboards, air vents, oven drawers and areas around TVs and computers are other forgotten places prone to dust build-up.
Shoes, which are often contaminated with traces of pesticides, lead from gasoline and certain types of paint, can also track soil into the home. So it may be a good idea for family members and guests to leave them at the door once they cross the threshold.
Other ways of approaching spring cleaning with a “greener” attitude include donating unwanted clothes and household items to local charities instead of kicking them to the curb where they’ll be destined for the landfill.
Also make sure you pass along “green” values to your kids, so they will do their part to help you keep your home safe, as well as clean, year-round.
Lorraine Halsted is a freelance writer who lives in Winchester, Virginia, and enjoys writing about environmental issues and natural living. She is an herb grower and a member of the Shenandoah Herbal Society.