Toxicity has become a way of life. Because we insist on breathing and eating, we are constantly exposed to pesticides and pollutants--some of them stored right under our kitchen sinks, according to a report from the Silent Spring Institute in Newton, Mass., and the Harvard University School of Public Health.
The study, published in Environmental Science & Technology, "demonstrates that we are exposed daily to a wide array of chemicals that affect our hormone systems," says Sedona, Ariz., naturopathic doctor Theresa Dale, Ph.D. Chemicals such as phthalates and alkyphenols may heighten the risk of hormone-linked diseases like breast cancer and testicular cancer.
To limit your exposure, "read labels carefully, use nontoxic cleaning products and avoid using indoor pesticides," says Environmental Protection Agency spokesman Dave Deegan.
Happily for you and your house, "there are plenty of effective, earth-safe cleaners that you can buy or make," says Dale. Borax mixed with lemon juice will take out toilet-bowl stains, while white vinegar is useful for disinfecting bathrooms and kitchens. Bon Ami, a borax-based powder cleanser sold in supermarkets and hardware stores for more than 50 years, safely cleans pots, pans, sinks, oven interiors and other corroded zones.
the label gap
Using these alternatives will reduce the toxic load in your house and beyond. "Switching to environmentally friendly cleaners safeguards your health and that of the community while reducing air-, water- and ground pollution," says Dale.
So why isn't everyone doing it? "There's a wide knowledge gap among consumers," Dale explains. "Relatively few people actually check labels for ingredients, and even fewer are aware of how various chemicals may affect human health."
Of course, not all "green" products are created equal; some have simply been prettied up with essential oils. "Read the labels carefully to check for irritating chemicals, such as chlorine, ammonia and artificial fragrances and dyes," advises Dharma Singh Khalsa, M.D., a preventive-medicine specialist in Tucson, Ariz. "Buy cleaners from health-food stores or retailers specializing in environmentally friendly products."
start a trend
Many people who "think green" are just now applying their philosophy to the dirt at hand. "Eco-friendly cleaning and laundry products are the next frontier of environmentalism," says Marci Zaroff, former publisher of Macrocosm and CEO of Under the Canopy, an organic-fabric clothing company. "It's an inexpensive, easy and effective way to protect our planet and commitment to life."
Here are some options:
- It rhymes with orange. Citrus oil, sold at health-food and home-improvement stores, fills rooms with an aroma far more pleasing than that of synthetically scented products. "To clean or polish wood floors, dilute 1 cup of citrus oil in one gallon of hot water, and mop with a sponge," says Michael Kienzl, CEO of Bradco Kitchen and Bath in Los Angeles. If the floor is especially greasy, he notes, a stronger mix can be used.
The diluted formula also cleans kitchen counters and tabletops. "Citrus oil won't strip protective sealants, like many chemical cleaning products do," says Kienzl. On porous surfaces like marble or granite, only diluted oil should be used, and it should never be left to sit wet on a surface--always wipe it dry when finished. Citrus can take on some tough jobs. Citra-Solv (realgoods.com), a biodegradable, multi-tasking cleaner made of natural citrus extracts, dissolves tar, oil, ink, gum and fresh paint. It's suitable for most surfaces and fibers except plastic.
- Essential disinfectants. Tea tree, thyme and lavender essential oils have proven more antiseptic in some studies than phenol, the most common chemical disinfectant, says Dale. Many disinfectants contain chlorine, which reacts with organic matter in drinking water to produce potentially carcinogenic trihalomethane. Make a natural disinfectant by mixing 20 drops of one of the above oils and 1 cup of water in a spray bottle. Apply and let sit for 15 minutes or until dry.
- Lake-loving and fish-friendly. Many household detergents contain phosphates, which find their way into rivers and lakes, spurring algae growth that kills plants and fish. A nontoxic, hypoallergenic alternative is Seventh Generation Citrus Scent Laundry Powder (seventhgeneration.com), which eschews phosphates, petroleum, chlorine and artificial fragrances. Made from biodegradable compounds, it can even be recycled to feed the lawn by running a hose from the washing machine, says Zaroff.
For fine washables, Zaroff likes Seventh Generation Free & Clear Laundry Liquid. "Unlike conventional detergents, it won't irritate hands or leave toxic residues on skin or clothes," she says. "Its vegetable-based enzymes and cleaning agents dissolve stains without chemicals that negatively affect clothing fibers, the environment and our health."
- Got kids? Got pets? From an amateur expert comes kudos for Mystical nontoxic deodorizing carpet shampoo (nontoxic.com), which is biodegradable and void of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The label promises a money-back guarantee, along with the removal of cat urine, blood, mildew and more. This writer used it to spot-clean ketchup out of upholstery and red wine from curtains and got heavenly results.