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Go Green with Eco-Friendly Spring Cleaning Tips

  -- By Liza Barnes, Health Educator
After being cooped up in a stuffy house all winter long, it’s finally time to fling open the windows, shoo away the cobwebs and tackle your annual spring cleaning. But often, the chemicals found in conventional cleaning products can be more dangerous than the dirt they’re intended to clean. And the way we clean (with lots of disposable paper towels) isn’t always earth-friendly. The good news: There are many available alternatives that can help you make your home squeaky clean—and green.

Green Cleaning Products

The last thing you want to do is dump toxic chemicals into the environment in the name of cleaning, right? These days, you don’t have to make a special trip to the natural foods store to seek out environmentally-sensitive cleaning products. Seventh Generation, Method and Biokleen are three companies that offer full lines of household cleaners, and you can find them in just about every store. These products work just as well as their conventional counterparts.

Or, if you're up for a DIY challenge, you can make your own natural homemade cleaners yourself. It's easier than you might think! The basic supplies you’ll need to make your own green cleaners include:

Here are a few basic “recipes” and techniques to get you started:

6 More Green Cleaning Tips

1. Hang dry your laundry. Drying your clothes in an electric or gas dryer isn’t just hard on your clothes, but it’s also hard on the environment. Don’t stop with natural laundry detergent—to truly stay green, install a clothesline in your backyard. If space (or aesthetics) is an issue, look for a retractable clothesline, which takes up almost no space when not in use. Weather permitting, line-dry your clothes outside to reduce pollution, while also cutting your energy bill, getting more exercise, enjoying the fresh air and extending the life of your clothes. Plus, they’ll smell like a clean breeze (the real kind, not the chemical kind).

2. Add a little greenery. Install a living air filter—houseplants! Some of the most efficient air-cleaning houseplants include spider plants, English ivy, rubber plants and peace lilies. You’ll need 15 to 18 medium-size (six- to eight-inch diameter container) houseplants for the average 1,800-square-foot house. If that sounds like a lot, place a few plants in the room where you spend the most time.

3. De-clutter your wardrobe. Donate gently worn items to charity, where they’ll get a second life, and donate torn and stained items (if they’re made of an absorbent fabric) to your rag collection, where they’ll replace wasteful paper towels. And as you’re packing up your winter sweaters, replace stinky mothballs with a natural and better-smelling version: Stuff a lonely unpaired sock with cinnamon sticks, bay leaves and whole cloves and tie it at the end.

4. Paint your walls green. If spring cleaning at your house involves a fresh coat of paint, consider the VOC content when choosing your paint. VOCs, or Volatile Organic Compounds, are chemicals that form vapors at room temperature. Some VOCs, like the ones in many paints, contribute to smog and indoor air pollution, and can cause a host of short- and long-term health problems. The good news is that many paint manufacturers have started making low- or no-VOC paints. The bad news is that many of those manufacturers have simply substituted VOCs with other non-VOC (yet still toxic) chemicals. For truly eco-conscious safe paint, check out these products: Eco-Spec, by Benjamin Moore; Clarity, by Dutch Boy; Enviro-Pure, by MAB Paint; American Pride Paint; and BioShield Milk Paint.

5. Swap out your Swiffer. Instead of continually buying expensive single-use mop pads, invest in a reusable mop. Casabella is one brand that’s widely available in health food stores and general stores. Their mop heads can be washed in your washing machine, hung dry and used again and again—well worth their moderate price tag.

6. Ditch the paper towels. Save trees, cash and landfill waste when you buy specially-made, washable cleaning and dusting cloths, available in all types of fabrics, from cotton to microfiber. Better yet, use what you already have and give an old piece of cloth (stained towels, ratty sheets and pillowcases, too-small t-shirts, etc.) a new life. Simply cut or tear your old item into smaller squares (if you want to get fancy, finish the edges with a sewing machine), and voila! Pop them in the washing machine with your laundry to clean, and use them again and again.

Cleaning up your home for spring doesn’t have to be dirty work. By implementing some of these ideas and products, you'll benefit your body, your home and the planet. Many of these changes are small ones, but their impact on your health and the environment can really add up over time.