Clean is not enough

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If you think of your home as a haven from pollution, we’ve got some bummer news. Levels of pollutants in indoor air can average anywhere from two to more than 100 times higher than outdoors, according to the U.S. EPA. That indoor pollution is due in large part to volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that evaporate, or “offgas,” from home decorating and cleaning products.

So now that the warmer weather is here, take the first step of green cleaning and open a window and let those pollutants out! A vase of flowers can fill a room with a lovely natural scent, but many consumers stubbornly keep using synthetic room fresheners and fragranced cleaning products that are full of VOCs and other toxic chemicals. These can make our indoor air unhealthy, provoke skin, eye, and respiratory reactions, and harm the natural environment.

If you’re in the mood to detoxify, getting rid of germs doesn’t have to mean overkill: In 2000, cleaning products were responsible for nearly 10 percent of all toxic exposures reported to the U.S. poison control centers, accounting for more than 206,000 calls, over half of which concerned children under the age of six. According to Philip Dickey of the Washington Toxics Coalition, the most acutely or immediately hazardous cleaning products are corrosive drain cleaners, oven cleaners, acidic toilet-bowl cleaners, and anything containing chlorine or ammonia.

In choosing alternatives, look at labels for specific, eco-friendly ingredients that also perform effectively. These include grain alcohol instead of toxic butyl cellosolve as a solvent; coconut or other plant oils rather than petroleum in detergents; and plant-oil disinfectants such as eucalyptus, rosemary, or sage, rather than triclosan. You can also mix your own cleaners. A few safe, simple ingredients such as plain soap, water, baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), vinegar, washing soda (sodium carbonate), lemon juice, and borax can satisfy most household cleaning needs — and save you money at the same time.