24 February 2012
Green Cleaning in the Home
By: Laura Trotta (BEng(Environmental), MSc(Environmental Chemistry))
Replace your entire cupboard of conventional cleaning products with greener options to improve the health of your family, environment and wallet
How many commercial cleaning products do you have in your home?
The number and type of different cleaning agents in the average Australian home in 2012 is a stark contrast to a century ago. It seems that sometime between 1900 and now most of us have been convinced by marketing companies that we need a separate cleaner for the toilet, mirrors, benches, floor, windows and oven. All of these items come in individual containers with fancy labels, scents and a complicated list of ingredients. But do we really need all these chemicals in our homes and are they detrimental to our health, our air quality and our waterways?
Cleaning Products and our Health
The Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) released from conventional cleaning products can contribute to poor indoor air quality in our home. Air fresheners, cleaning sprays and polishes are major sources of VOCs and should not be used excessively in non-ventilated areas.i The health problems that may be attributed to VOC exposure are many and varied. Symptoms include nasal or airway irritation, headache, and in some cases, vomiting, and feelings of drowsiness.ii With Australian’s spending 90% or more of their time indoors,iii it’s about time we thought about the indoor air quality of our home to improve the health of ourselves and our families.
Cleaning Products and our Environment
Contaminants in household wastewater (from household cleaning products, personal care products and human input from a household’s kitchen, laundry, bathroom and toilet), all enter our sewerage system where they can have a detrimental impact on sewage treatment, the environment and/or the recycling of effluent and use of biosolids in agriculture.iv Harsh chemicals flushed down our drains may be out of our sight and mind, but we’ve only transferred them to another location and passed the problem on so to speak.
Benefits of Green Cleaning Products
The good news is that it is possible to have a clean home without inviting a cocktail of chemicals through your front door, spreading them around your home and pouring them down your drains.
Switching from commercial to green cleaning products has many benefits which include:
- Healthier – green cleaning products are safer and less toxic than their commercial counterparts
- Economical – many green cleaning products are cheap, standard household items
- Environmentally-friendly – green cleaning products produce less waste (particularly packaging) and many can be used for a multitude of functions meaning we can replace an entire cupboard of conventional cleaning products with just one or two greener varieties. Green cleaning products also ensure the wastewater leaving our homes is cleaner and both easier and cheaper for council treatment plants to process.
What Green Cleaning Options Are There?
You can take the ‘greener’ option of buying the commercial eco varieties of cleaners taking the market by storm but these too have been manufactured, packaged and transported to your local store. The household cleaning products used for centuries before commercial cleaners came on the market do just a good job now as they did back then. They are common items found in our home, are cheap and indeed, are the most ‘greenest’ cleaning option.
So, before you venture to the supermarket to buy your next bottle of spray, consider switching to one of the greener cleaning options below:
Bicarbonate of Soda ( Baking Soda) is made from soda ash (or sodium bicarbonate) which occurs naturally in our environment. The soda ash is refined to form a safe, pure product that cleans, deodorises, softens water and is a fantastic scouring powder.
White Vinegar is naturally occurring however is made commercially from alcohol via a fermentation process (note vinegar made by diluting acetic acid is cheaper and is labelled as imitation vinegar). Vinegar cuts grease and is great as a window cleaner, multi-purpose spray and fabric softener.
Eucalyptus Oil is made by distilling the foliage from Eucalyptus trees and is a natural disinfectant. It quickly and easily removes grease and stains, can be used in the kitchen, bathroom and toilet and is ideal for cleaning hard surface floors. Eucalyptus Oil is non-toxic for sinks, drains, toilets and our waterways.
Pure soap contains no extra additives such as colours and fragrances and biodegrades completely. Pure soap is the original general purpose cleaner.
Lemon juice is a mild bleach, a deodorant and a cleaning agent.
Borax is a naturally occurring mineral salt which cleans, deodorises, bleaches and disinfects without artificial/strong scents. It may also be used to control pests such as ants and cockroaches.
Over coming weeks we’ll be profiling each of the green cleaners listed above with tips on how to use them around your home. If you have a tip for using any of these green cleaners around your home, please feel free to comment below.
About the Author: Laura Trotta (BEng(Environmental), MSc(Environmental Chemistry)) is an eco mum, environmental engineer and founder of Sustainababy. She lives in regional South Australia with her husband Paul and son Matthew.
i Commonwealth Department of Health and Aging (2002), Healthy Homes: A guide to indoor air quality in the home for buyers, builders and renovators
iii Australian Government Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (2009), Air Quality: Indoor Air
iv CSIRO (2011), Sources of Contaminants in Domestic Wastewater.