Green and Clean
Key ingredients to a healthy home
Homeowners take pride in the way their nest exudes their style, but one thing is easy to overlook. The invisible elephant in the room is indoor air quality. If family members or visitors sneeze upon stepping over the threshold, it’s a telltale sign that allergens may be lurking: dander, dust mites, chemicals, mold spores or toxic compounds. In fact, indoor air can be five times more polluted than outdoor air, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. What’s a homeowner to do? Take heart. No matter where or how we live, there are simple steps we can take to keep our habitats clean and refreshing.
A simple maxim, particularly with children and animals, is to keep it clean. Don’t track fertilizers, pesticides and organic pollutants inside, recommends Jennifer Languell, Ph.D., owner of Trifecta Construction Solutions in Fort Myers. She teaches and practices sustainability.
Use exterior entry mats and cleanable indoor rugs, or maintain a shoe-free house with a convenient “shoe depot.” De-cluttering makes dusting and extracting pollutants from carpets and rugs easy with a high-efficiency particulate air, or HEPA, vacuum. Better yet, hard floors—such as wood, bamboo,
De-cluttering makes dusting and extracting pollutants from carpets and rugs easy with a high-efficiency particulate air, or HEPA, vacuum. Better yet, hard floors—such as wood, bamboo, cork, concrete, stone or tile—are superior alternatives to carpet, which traps dust and imperceptibly degrades over time.
cork, concrete, stone or tile—are superior alternatives to carpet, which traps dust and imperceptibly degrades over time.
Inspect likely suspects for dampness: around sinks, toilets, water heaters, condensing units and in closets. Mold can hide under carpets and behind walls, so investigate for discoloration or signs of moisture.
The National Association of Homebuilders suggests unplugging the refrigerator and sliding it away from the wall annually to vacuum dust accumulation on the condenser coils. This can extend the life of your refrigerator and improve indoor air.
Air-conditioning vent filters should be changed every 30 days. “Most of us remember maybe two times a year if we are lucky,” says Languell, “but those filters do help and they also keep the AC unit running efficiently.”
Americans are prone to storing commercial household cleaners, which wind up costing a bundle and emitting toxins indoors. The good news: There are a slew of commercial green cleaning products on the market today.
Check the ingredients or find a certification you feel good about, such as: EPA’s Safer Choice; GREENGUARD, a unit of Underwriters Laboratories; or the “asthma & allergy friendly” Certification, administered by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
Save money by crafting your own cleaning solutions, advises Jennifer Hagen, a family and consumer sciences extension agent with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and
Agriculture Sciences, or UF/IFAS, office in Lee County. She likes to have fun with it. “I enjoy adding drops of my favorite essential oil scents—lemon and citrus blends—in some of my solutions. It smells good and it’s a creative way to give flair to a mild solution.”
Staples for a green cleaning arsenal include white vinegar, water, mild dish soap, baking soda, rubbing alcohol, and lemon or other citrus. Vinegar is an acid and baking soda is a base— when combined, they actively fizz. This combination is terrific for clearing drains and cleaning toilets.
Distilled white vinegar can be diluted with water to create any concentration. A spray bottle under the sink is handy for attacking pet vomit, wiping counters and removing residues from fruits and vegetables. Place a bowl of it in the microwave for five minutes to make wiping the microwave a cinch. (Note: Vinegar can etch tile or stone, so avoid using on these materials or immediately rinse with clean water.)
Baking soda removes odors, softens water and dissolves dirt. If you have been working in the garden, wash your hands with it. It lifts out dirt and leaves your hands soft.
The biggest hazard in the household is the kitchen—a rife environment for harboring bacteria and viruses that can spread colds and flu, as well as foodborne pathogens. In the kitchen, routine cleaning of crumbs, grease and dirt is a must, but so is sanitizing, which requires bleach or chlorine, Hagen stresses.
“Effective cleaning involves both cleaning and sanitizing surfaces,” she says. Food scientists recommend sanitizing the kitchen sink every 24 hours. “Diluted chlorine bleach is a very effective sanitizer. The amount needed is very small and no chlorine residue will be left behind using a concentration of one scant teaspoon of chlorine bleach to one quart of water,” Hagen explains. “Chlorine reacts quickly and becomes inactive quickly.”
There are a slew of commercial green cleaning products on the market today.
Cathy Chestnut is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to TOTI Media who explores the people and places that make Southwest Florida, her hometown stomping grounds, unique.