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Simple steps can lead to cleaner, healthier indoor environments at home

September 15, 2011

By Beth Pike, FCS Educator/4-H Youth Development, OSU Cooperative Extension Service

Even without the scalding hot summer temperatures, most people tend to spend the majority of their time indoors, where levels of common pollutants can be as much as five times greater compared to outside. Following some simple guidelines can lead to an improved indoor environment and cost savings while also lessening the impact on natural resources.  

Research shows that individuals spend an average of 90 percent of their time inside and data from the Environmental Protection Agency indicates that levels of several common organic pollutants are two to five times higher indoors. Many of those pollutants come from volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, that are released from household cleaning products.

One way of reducing VOCs in the home is to use fewer cleaning products.
Select cleaning agents that you can use for more than one purpose.  Using fewer cleaners also means storing fewer chemicals in your house.
Another tip for clearing the air indoors is to use homemade cleaning supplies or rely on natural-based commercial products, which tend to be more convenient, but can be more costly than other options.

It’s important to keep in mind that no cleaning product is 100 percent safe, and terms like ‘natural’ and ‘green’ do not necessarily mean the product is nontoxic.

Consumers also should beware of greenwashing, which occurs when companies spend more money and resources advertising products and services as “green” rather than actually adopting environmentally sound practices.

There is no standard definition of the term “green,” and its use is not regulated. Likewise, the terms “environmentally friendly” and “biodegradable” are only loosely defined.

When choosing a ‘green’ product, look for a third-party certification.
One common third-party certification in the United States is the Green Seal, an independent non-profit organization that certifies products through credible, science-based and transparent standards.

Another common third-party certification is the EPA’s Design for the Environment. The DfE label helps consumers and businesses identify cleaning products that work well and are cost-effective and safer for the environment.  

Regardless of the reasons why people seek out healthier alternatives to cleaning agents, another easy way to enhance the indoor environment is to decrease the need for cleaning supplies in the first place.  

Consider using preventative techniques such as wiping up spills immediately, avoiding pouring grease down drains, vacuuming weekly and placing doormats at entryways to reduce the amount of dirt being tracked inside the house. Other measures such as damp mopping floors instead of sweeping, dusting with a damp cloth, rinsing out showers and bathtubs after each use to cut down on soap scum buildup and pouring boiling water down drains weekly to prevent buildup also can help reduce dust and the need to use cleaning products.  

When it comes time to clean, it’s important to use good equipment. For example, although vacuums with HEPA filters are expensive, they are a solid investment, especially for individuals with health issues. Also, microfiber mops and cloths are effective. So, too, are two-chamber mop buckets, which are designed to stop soil and dirt from re-contaminating surfaces as they are cleaned. Two-chamber buckets also reduce the amount of cleaning agent required.

Following some simple guidelines can register significant benefits. You’re reducing the dust and pollutants in your home, which is the goal, while also cutting down on the need for artificial air fresheners. If you still want to freshen the indoors, try white vinegar, cinnamon sticks, or, weather permitting, just air out the house by opening windows and doors.

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