Spring is the Time to Clean House

March 21 to April 19 - Zodiac Sign: Aries - Element: Fire - Color: Deep Red

Spring is the time for renewal and starting new projects. It is also the time to take initiative, be the first on your block to be the community "environmentalist", making every day Earth Day. This is the time of the year you can get away with being an aggressive visionary. Becoming the leader of the pack, you can be so good your bad! After all it's better to be the only one saving your planet, instead of doing nothing at all. You know it's the right thing to do, go for it! Let the past go and look to the future. Rediscover the natural way your great-grandmother cleaned her house. You may find it healing to channel the past to create a healthier future for generations to come.

We all take modern conveniences for granted. There is no question that life was more difficult before automatic dish washers, washing machines and dryers, air conditioners, refrigerators, microwave ovens, running water, plumbing, hot water heaters and so on. Back-in-the-day people had to chop their own wood, haul water from the stream and catch, gather, grind and grow their food just to survive into the next day. It truly was survival of the fittest. Pioneer and farm families had to be large in number or they wouldn't/couldn't survive. Now we drive to a near by grocery store, wheel our shiny little cart down air conditioned fantasy aisles filled with anything we choose to purchase and bring home; Better — or is it? Yes, it's more convenient and easier, but does that make it better? Or have we just traded one problem for another.

We can't control the policies of government or what other people do. We can, however, create a safe zone from pollution both in our body and in our home. Most of us give no thought when it comes to cleaning supplies, fabric softener sheets, perfumes and chemicals in everything from window cleaning products to toilet bowl cleaners. When used indoors under certain conditions many common household cleaners and air fresheners emit toxic pollutants at levels that may lead to health risks. According to a new study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory: combinations of product vapors when mixed in confined areas, such as a home, can be hazardous to your health. Think about it, if one chemical is harmful, what happens when we combine dozens if not hundreds of chemicals in an enclosed environment and live with them for a lifetime.

Show me someone with asthma or a bad complexion and I'll show you someone who sleeps on a polyester or down pillow with polyester sheets and who uses air freshener, scented laundry soap and fabric softener. Trust me, April fresh has nothing to do with the chemicals it takes to add fragrance to perfumed cleaning supplies. Natural fragrances fade with time. Not the case with scents produced in laboratories. The binding agents needed to make the smell last are highly toxic and the cause in many allergic reactions. We need to keep using more to cover the sour smell of rancid stale chemical residue. Exposure levels to some of the chemicals, and to the secondary chemicals formed when certain cleaning products mix with ozone may exceed regulatory guidelines when a large surface is cleaned in a small room or when the products are used regularly, resulting in chronic exposure, according to the Berkeley study.

Ethylene-based glycol ethers are common, water-soluble solvents used in a variety of cleaning agents, latex paints and many other products. These various contaminants are classified as hazardous air pollutants under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments and as toxic air contaminants by California's Air Resources Board, yet are perfumed and advertised as safe. Their toxicity varies with their chemical structure. Terpenes are a class of chemicals found in pine, lemon and orange oils that are used in many consumer products either as solvents or to provide a distinctive scent. Although terpenes themselves are not considered toxic, some recent studies have shown that they may react with ozone to produce a number of toxic compounds. (The primary constituent of smog, ozone enters the indoor environment from infiltration of outdoor air, but is also produced indoors by some office machines such as copiers or printers, and by some devices marketed as "air purifiers" that purposely emit ozone into the indoor environment.)

The Berkeley study looked at 21 common household products most likely to contain significant amounts of terpenes and ethylene-based glycol ethers: four air fresheners and 17 cleaning products, including at least one each of disinfectants, general-purpose degreasers, general-purpose cleaners, wood cleaners, furniture maintenance products, spot removers and multi-purpose solvents.

A complete chemical analysis of these 21 products revealed that:

  • Twelve contained terpenes and other ozone-reactive compounds at levels ranging from 0.2 to 26 percent by mass.

  • Six contained levels of ethylene-based glycol ethers of 0.8 to 9.6 percent by mass.

  • Among the four air fresheners studied, three contained substantial quantities of terpenes, 9-14 percent by mass.

When the researchers tested the terpene-containing products in the presence of ozone, they found that reactions produced very small particles with properties like those found in smog and haze; other oxidation products; and formaldehyde, a respiratory irritant that is classified as a Group 1 carcinogen. This designation by the International Agency for Cancer Research is reserved for substances for which there is sufficient evidence to conclude that they cause cancer in humans. The amounts of terpenes that were converted into these pollutants was dependent on the amount of ozone present.

What we choose to do not only impacts our health, but the health of planet Earth. As I see it, today there are so many safe alternative cleaning supplies, that the choice is simple. Still an option are the old standbys our grandmothers used: white vinegar for hardwood floors and glass, baking soda to scour sinks and tubs, olive oil and lemon juice to polish furniture, a laundry ball to wash clothes, dryer balls in place of fabric softener, soaps and cleaners made of rubbing alcohol and glycerine. If you want the convenience of purchasing safe non-toxic cleaning supplies start reading labels and if need be, shop in the same place you would for organic foods.

When I first decided I wanted to create a safe environment for myself and for my family, finding environmental cleaning supplies was both hard to find and expensive. Not any more. Laundry dryer balls can be found in many places at very affordable prices. Especially when you consider the cost of fabric softener. There are many "green" cleaning products in stores now as well. Natural food markets have everything you need to safely clean your home from recycled paper products to toilet bowl cleaner. It is a simple matter of changing brands and discovering your inner rebel. The Internet is also filled with all sorts of natural alternatives.

If you want to make your own cleaning supplies here are some cleaning tips using common household ingredients. You will love the way they easily fit into anyone's budget. Be sure to test any solution you make on an inconspicuous area before using liberally. I think the number one best all purpose cleaner is white vinegar. There are even a number of books on the topic, such as Green Living, Organic Pest Control and Clean & Green. The following cleaning ideas are a great way to get started.

VINEGAR (acetic acid): Cuts grease, removes stains and is an excellent water softener. It naturally cleans like an all-purpose cleaner. Mix a solution of 1 part water to 1 part vinegar in a new store bought spray bottle and you have a solution that will clean most areas of your home. Vinegar is a great natural cleaning product as well as a disinfectant and deodorizer. It is safe to use on most surfaces. Improperly diluted vinegar is acidic and can eat away at tile grout. Never use vinegar on marble surfaces. Don't worry about your home smelling like vinegar, the smell disappears when it dries. Here are some uses for vinegar in the rooms of your house:

Bathroom - Clean the bathtub, toilet, sink, and counter tops. Use pure vinegar in the toilet bowl to get rid of rings. Flush the toilet to allow the water level to go down. Pour the undiluted vinegar around the inside of the rim. Scrub down the bowl. Mop the flour in the bathroom with a vinegar/water solution. The substance will also eat away the soap scum and hard water stains on your fixtures and tile. Test first to make sure it is safe to use with your tile.

Laundry Room - Use vinegar as a natural fabric softener. This can be especially helpful for families who have sensitive skin. Add 1/2 cup of vinegar to the rinse cycle in place of store bought fabric softener. Vinegar has the added benefit of breaking down laundry detergent more effectively. This is especially nice if people in your home have detergent sensitivities.

Kitchen - Clean the stovetop, appliances, counter tops, and floor. Vinegar works especially well on hardwood flooring.

LEMON JUICE: Cuts through grease and removes perspiration and other stains from clothing. A bleach alternative, lemon juice can be used to dissolve soap scum and hard water deposits. Lemon is a great substance to clean and shine brass and copper. Lemon juice can be mixed with vinegar and or baking soda to make cleaning pastes. Cut a lemon in half and sprinkle baking soda on the cut section. Use the lemon to scrub dishes, surfaces, and stains. You'll love the way your kitchen will smell. Mix 1-cup olive oil with ½-cup lemon juice and you have a furniture polish for your hardwood furniture. Cut whole lemon into pieces, add salt and ice to make an excellent cleaner for teapots and glass containers. Just shake until sparkling. When you are done with the lemon mix toss it into your garbage sink disposal and run with a slow stream of cold water to clean and refresh the drain.

BAKING SODA (sodium bicarbonate): An all-purpose, non-toxic cleaner. Cleans, deodorizes, removes stains and softens fabrics. Baking soda can be used to scrub surfaces in much the same way as commercial abrasive cleansers. Baking soda is great as a deodorizer. Place a box in the refrigerator and freezer to absorb odors. Put it anywhere you need deodorizing action. The most stubborn stains can be removed safely with a little baking soda.

BORAX (sodium borate): A natural mineral that kills mold and bacteria. An alternative to bleach, it deodorizes, removes stains and boosts the cleaning power of soap. CAUTION: Boric Acid and borax can be toxic to children and pets, keep well out of their reach and inform other household members of the whereabouts and purpose of the borax and boric acid dough and/or powders. Ammonia should also be used with caution. Always refer to safety information and precautions on the package.

CASTILE and VEGETABLE OIL BASED SOAPS: Cleans everything safely.

CORNSTARCH: Starches clothes, absorbs oil and grease.

HERBS and ESSENTIAL OILS: For disinfecting and fragrance.

SALT (sodium chloride): An abrasive that works well when mixed with lemon.

TOOTHPASTE: A mild abrasive, try it for polishing silver.

WASHING SODA (sodium carbonate): Cleans clothes, softens water, cuts grease and disinfects. Increases the cleaning power of soap.

BLACK TEA: Boil a dozen or so tea bags in a gallon of water for 30 minutes. Allow tea rest for an hour or so. When cool remove tea bags. This is a natural way to rid your home of ants. Pour around outside of house where ants are coming in. The tea is poison to the ants. It may take two or three applications, but it works.

The color associated with this zodiac sign is deep red, and nothing complements red like green. Hopefully this will give you enough "new" old methods for safely doing your Spring-cleaning. Mother Earth will be grateful you have an adventurous spirit.

Monica Pallares