Be Green When You Clean

Grist - Environmental News and Commentary - If you think of your home as a haven from pollution, we've got some bummer news. Levels of pollutants in indoor air can be 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 if the weather cooperates, step one for green cleaners is: Open a window and let those pollutants out! Yet even in the spring and summer, when a vase of daffodils can fill a room with a lovely natural scent, 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.

Take those so-called air fresheners. According to a study published in New Scientist in 1999, in homes where aerosol sprays and air fresheners were used frequently, mothers experienced 25 percent more headaches and were 19 percent more likely to suffer from depression, and infants under six months of age had 30 percent more ear infections and 22 percent higher incidence of diarrhea.

In choosing alternatives, however, consumers need to be alert to greenwashing. "Just because a product says it's natural doesn't mean it's nontoxic," says Jeffrey Hollender, CEO of Seventh Generation, which produces genuinely eco-friendly cleaning supplies and household products. The word "natural" is undefined and unregulated by the government and can be applied to just about anything under the sun -- including plastic, which comes from naturally occurring petroleum. Because no standards exist, claims such as "nontoxic," "eco-safe," and "environmentally friendly" are also meaningless, according to Consumers Reports' Eco-labels website. Click here to keep reading.

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