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May 22, 2012

Why to avoid household chemicals and how to use healthier options

by Claudia Harmon Worthen, EcoPlanners LLC
800px-Post_and_Beam_Barn_Kitchen

When people think of pollution, it’s usually clouds of exhaust fumes spewed from cars and choking streams of industrial waste. As bad as this type of pollution is, the typical American home contains 3-10 gallons of toxic materials, including cleaners and pesticides. The US Environmental Protection Agency reports that the air inside the typical home is 2-5 times more polluted than the air immediately outside—and in extreme cases, 100 times more contaminated.

We spend about 90% of our time in enclosed environments, so these health effects can be problematic. Common household products can cause respiratory problems, eye irritation, cancer, disruption of the endocrine system, burns, rashes, dizziness and scratchy throats.

One of the most caustic of household chemicals is laundry detergent.  According to Proctor & Gamble, the average American family washes 6 to 7.5 loads of laundry each week. Our skin comes in contact with the irritating chemicals from laundered clothing, and the airborne powder is sucked into our lungs in process of doing laundry.

What can you do? Let’s start with plain old tap water, the cheapest eco stain remover in the world. Why use the toxic goo when plain water will do? To remove berry stains, for example, all you need to do is stretch the stained fabric across your sink or basin. Boil water in a tea kettle, then slowly pour the water over the stain from a distance of 2-3 feet. You will watch the stain magically disappear before your very eyes. Using anything other than this method, the berry stain will become permanent.  

Boiling water and lemon can be used to clean the microwave oven. It loosens the caked on gunk so you can just wipe it clean. To remove red wine from your table cloth, simply dip it in boiling milk.

Sodium Bicarbonate (Baking Soda) is an alkali and cleans everything from your teeth to car batteries. It is a deodorizer for your  mouth, refrigerator, carpets and laundry.

Vinegar, an acid, cleans and whitens dozens of things. Mix baking soda & vinegar to clean drains, toilets and build-up in your hair.  A salt and vinegar paste works well to clean copper and brass.

Sodium Borate (Borax, boric acid) is also known as ‘Natures Mineral’.  It is used as a laundry booster, a wood preservative and eye wash. Since 1922 it has been sold as an insecticide called the Roach Tablet.

As we understand the health effects of household chemicals, ready-made natural cleaners are abundant. Castile soap is one of my favorites. I use Dr. Bronner’s Castile soap to clean floors, laundry, hair, dishes, paint brushes and walls. It kills aphids and mixed with baking soda, makes a good grout cleaner.

My favorite home-made laundry cleaner:

1 1/2 cups fine-grated Fels-Naphtha or Castile bar soap

1 cup baking powder

3 cups baking soda sifted

2 cups of Borax

Use 3% hydrogen peroxide instead of chlorine bleach and vinegar as a fabric softener.

Next month we will talk about the Good, the Bad and the Ugly of the microwave oven.

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