Spring Cleaning Made Simple

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Whip up your own cleaning concoction using every day items such as vinegar and lemons.

While this seems like another thing to fret about, the good news is you can unburden your body and protect your children by choosing products that are free of these offending substances.

Spring cleaning made simple

As April showers refresh the earth and birds build nests, you may find yourself succumbing to a seasonal desire for a clean, redecorated home. It’s only natural–and so should be the materials you use. Many conventional cleaners, paints and finishes contain chemicals that can cause symptoms from watery eyes and respiratory distress to headache and dizziness. Household detergents, cleaning products and paints are among the most common causes of the 2.5 million annual calls to U.S. poison control centers, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Stress isn’t healthy, either. So before you whip out sponge, paintbrush and broom, take a little preemptive action: Open the windows to let in sun and ventilate (even the healthiest products can emit irritating vapors), then breathe deeply and promise yourself you’ll proceed moderately rather than trying to do it all at once.
Now, follow these simple steps:

Make over your living room

• For a quick, updated living-room look that’s more affordable than buying new furniture, cover your sofa with a washable, natural-fabric slipcover that also will provide a barrier between you and what’s collected in your upholstery, including dust mites and chemicals from crumbling foam. Wash the slipcover regularly in hot water to kill mites.

• Let in fresh air

• Filter sun and spring breezes through easy-to-hang organic cotton or hemp tab curtains from Green Sage

• Prioritize your cleaning tasks

• Start with the obvious: Clean windows to let in light and wash floors to remove winter’s soot, grime and road salt.

• Use eco-cleaners

• Improve indoor air quality by cleaning with simple, nontoxic agents.

• Spruce up your walls safely. If a new color would cheer your rooms, use paints free of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as AFM Safecoat, Bioshield, Old-Fashioned Milk Paint or Kelly-Moore Enviro-Cote.

Decorate floors

Keep pollutants (and mud) out of the house and off your newly clean floors with a doormat made from recycled tires and a “Kona” entryway rug made from sustainably harvested coconut wood from Crate and Barrel.

Clean without chemicals

• White vinegar mixed with warm water and a few drops of dish soap gently but thoroughly cleans floors and windows and disinfects toilet seats, advises Annie B. Bond, author of Home Enlightenment (Rodale, 2005). Dr. Bronner’s fragrant Peppermint Pure-Castile Soap, which uses certified organic plant oils, is also a great all-purpose cleaner.

• Borax and hydrogen peroxide are good stain, mold and mildew removers and disinfectants.

• Many plant essential oils also have disinfectant, antibacterial and anti- fungal powers, including lavender, tea tree, orange, lemon, cinnamon, clove, thyme, eucalyptus, rosemary and sage, according to David Steinman, publisher of Healthy Living magazine and author of the forthcoming book Safe Trip to Eden (Thunder’s Mouth Press).

• Use baking soda (washed down with hot water) to clean drains, mixed with water in a paste to scrub sinks, tubs, toilet bowls, countertops, stovetops, pots and pans, and as a fabric soft- ener when added to the wash cycle.

• Salt scours cast-iron pans without removing the precious seasoned finish.

• Restore wood furniture and make it gleam with a mix of olive oil, lavender oil, lemon oil and beeswax or carnauba wax.

Mindy Pennybacker is editor of The Green Guide, a print and online publication that helps people protect the environment and their families’ health through informed product choices and other actions.