icon-arrow-down icon icon-arrow-fill-down icon icon-arrow-next icon icon-arrow-prev icon icon-tag-close icon
Make Your Household Greener Part I: Healthier Cleaning
We all want a clean and healthy environment for our children, both inside and outside our homes. But who wants a clean home at the expense of their family’s—and the planet’s—health? Here are some easy, inexpensive steps to make to your household cleaning routine effective and safe.

Washing Hands: Use Plain Soap and Water
Sometimes the old standby is best. Studies show that washing your hands with running water and plain soap—not antibacterial soap—together with the friction from scrubbing, is the best way to wash away germs. Antibacterial soap does not clean any better. In addition, it is more expensive and might lead to an increase in the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, or germs that are more difficult to kill.

Frequent hand washing is the best way to reduce the spread of germs that cause the most common illnesses such as colds, flu and diarrhea. Make sure you and your children wash your hands before preparing food and eating and after diapering/toileting, playing outside or handling animal waste. Scrub your hands with soap and running water for 10 seconds. Make sure that your soap dispensers are full, the towels are clean and accessible and you have stepstools so your children can reach the sinks.


Cut Back on Bleach and Ammonia Sprays
Although the supermarket shelves are filled with “new and improved” cleaners, the best cleaner for most household surfaces is actually soap and water. You can mix liquid hand soap with hot water. For extra scrubbing power, add a little white vinegar, lemon juice or baking soda.

Most cleaning products contain bleach or ammonia, plus many other chemicals. Sprayed products, such as glass cleaner and air fresheners, are particularly hazardous because they are inhaled so easily. Breathing the fumes of household cleaning products can aggravate asthma symptoms. There is also concern that exposure to cleaning products may contribute to other medical problems such as allergies, lung disease, neurological damage and cancer. To be safer, follow these tips:

Never mix bleach and ammonia, or a bleach-containing product with an ammonia-containing product. The combination creates chloramine gas, which is toxic and can cause coughing and respiratory distress. It is especially dangerous for children.

Make your own safer cleaning products with baking soda, salt, white vinegar, lemon juice, and borax. For recipes, go to: www.womensvoices.org/our-work/safe-cleaning-products/learn-more/.

Don’t let dirty things touch clean things
When you clean your home, clean the dirty places last so you don’t drag germs from the dirty to the cleaner places. The places in your home that have the most germs are the toilet and the floor. So start by cleaning the cleaner places—the living room, bedrooms, kitchen counters and dining tables. After that, progress to bathrooms and floors. Even within the bathroom, start with the cleaner parts, such as the sink and shower, and end with the toilet and floor.

Make sure that the sponges you use to clean the toilet and the floor are used only for that purpose and never used on surfaces such as the dining table, kitchen counter or dishes. Consider using a different color sponge for different jobs so you can tell them apart. Throw your sponges into the dishwasher every week and let them air-dry after use.

Remember that raw meat and poultry also carry germs. Use a special cutting board for cutting raw meat and poultry and wash the cutting board, knife and your hands immediately afterward. Be sure to place the cooked meat on a clean platter or cutting board—not the one where the raw meat was sitting.

Fresh Air: Avoid Chemical “Air Fresheners”
Television commercials use images of meadows and flowers to advertise dozens of chemical sprays, candles and plug-ins that give off strong odors to cover up household odors. But many experts say that these chemical products should be called “air polluters” instead of “air fresheners.” These products can exacerbate asthma symptoms and many have chemicals that have been associated with a risk of cancer, neurological and reproductive problems. Some healthier ways to eliminate household odors:
  • Take out the garbage every day.
  • Open your windows on a regular basis.
  • Make your home non-smoking. Ask smokers to light-up outside.
  • If you have boys in your household who tend to miss the toilet, clean the floor around it daily.
  • For carpet odors from animal urine, sprinkle on baking soda allow it to sit for a few minutes and then vacuum up.

Switch to unscented laundry detergent. It’s healthier and it gets your clothes just as clean as the heavily-perfumed alternatives.

Review all of your cleaning products, select your “green” cleaning supplies and remove and dispose safely of all the products you no longer need. Make sure that your supplies are locked up or out of reach of your children.
Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H. Pediatrician