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GREEN CLEANING
IT'S NOT JUST ABOUT WHAT'S
UNDER THE SINK

With the tragic passing of John Travolta and Kelly Preston’s son, Jett, we are reminded about the importance of eliminating toxic chemicals from our homes. This is not to say that a reaction to toxic chemicals caused or contributed to Jett’s death, which was determined to have been caused by a seizure. Travolta and Preston have publicly stated, however, that they believe toxic cleaning products caused their son’s health problems early in life.

When Jett was 2, according to Travolta and Preston, he was diagnosed with Kawasaki Disease, an illness that leads to inflamed blood vessels in young children. According to Aetna’s InteliHealth site, seizures have been linked to people who have been diagnosed with Kawasaki. In a 2001 interview with CNN’s Larry King, Travolta talked about how his son almost died. Travolta said that, prior to his son’s diagnosis, he was obsessive about Jett’s space being cleaned and he stated that the couple had the carpets cleaned constantly. Travolta believed that the disease was triggered by chemical poisoning from picking up toys or food off the carpets. The couple said they purged their home of chemical cleaning supplies thereafter.

The direct cause of Kawasaki syndrome remains unknown and is subject to dispute but, according to research gathered by Children’s Hospital Boston’s Kawasaki Disease Program, there may indeed be a link between the disease and exposure to carpet-cleaning chemicals. With all that we know now about conventional cleaning products, it should not take a child (or adult for that matter) having a rare reaction to chemicals found in cleaning products for us to reevaluate the chemicals we bring into our homes.

In fact, because of all of the chemicals we use, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) say the air in our homes may be more polluted than the air outside. Now that's scary. It is time that we all take stock in the products we buy and the services we use in the home cleaning process in an effort to protect ourselves, our families and our environment from so many harmful chemicals that we have come to associate with “clean.” Here are some of the best ways to avoid this unnecessary exposure:

Clean Green – Forget about the smells and products we have traditionally associated with “clean” or “fresh”. Many of those products contain chlorine, solvents, ammonia and various chemicals that are petroleum-based. Many of these chemicals can irritate the lungs, eyes, mucous membranes and, even worse, are carcinogens or identified hormone disruptors (particularly dangerous for children). These chemicals are also harmful to our eco systems in a variety of ways. Buy green cleaning products instead and read the labels. Some of these products contain essential oils which are plant-derived. These oils can add a pleasant scent and some can help with the effectiveness of the product. (Be aware, though, that if anyone in your family has plant allergies, “scent-free” or “free and clear” may be best.)

Abandon Aerosol Sprays and Traditional Air Fresheners - Aerosol sprays are a recipe for toxic indoor air. They contain propellants that are toxic and petroleum-based. Traditional air fresheners are also petroleum based and release harmful chemicals into the air no matter how good you may think they smell. If you like to use store-bought air fresheners, turn to alternatives that are natural and plant-based.

Cleaning Carpets - It’s always a good feeling to get one’s carpets cleaned and there are benefits beyond having that clean-looking carpet. Dust becomes embedded in carpets and if it becomes air born can harm indoor air quality so it’s a good idea to have a deep cleaning every so often. There are two main problems, however, with the process used by many, if not most, professional carpet cleaning companies. First off, many companies use a large amount of toxic chemicals in the process. The other problem is the amount of water used which leads to a longer drying period. The longer drying time increases the likelihood that mold and mildew will develop, jeopardizing indoor air quality and potentially harming the occupant’s health. With longer drying times, and if traditional carpet cleaning chemicals are used, there is also a greater possibility that harmful gases and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) will be released into the air. This can cause allergic reactions and respiratory problems, especially for young children.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, carpets should be completely dry within 48 hours of extraction to prevent mold and mildew. LEED-EB (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), however, suggests that carpets be dry in less than 24 hours. One way carpet cleaners can prevent over-wetting and reduce the amount of chemicals used in carpet extraction is through the use of low-moisture carpet extractors. Using these machines also will help green carpet cleaning. Low-moisture extractors use about 1 gallon of water per minute, considerably less than older extractors. With low-moisture extractors, carpets can dry in as little as 30 minutes, depending on the weather. Other green features of low-moisture extractors include reduced water and chemical usage. So talk to your carpet cleaners about their process and if they use conventional methods and conventional cleaning agents, it may be time to look into alternatives.

With the green movement gaining popularity, there are green carpet cleaning companies emerging that use only all natural plant-based cleaning products. These cleaning products are safe for babies, children, pets and even birds. They rapidly biodegrade and are ozone safe. These cleaners are environmentally friendly with no negative effects on rivers, plants or wildlife. They are hypo-allergenic, non-toxic, with no artificial fragrance, colors or preservatives.

Don’t Dry Clean or Turn to Green Alternatives – The traditional dry cleaning process involves the use of very toxic chemicals that don’t leave the clothing when they leave the dry-cleaning plant when the clothes are packed in that plastic. In fact, there is a harmful residue left on the clothes (think of that dry-cleaning smell we have become used to). If there are items which need to be dry cleaned, there are alternative green dry cleaning companies emerging all over the country. (If you get a notice that your dry cleaners have gone green, make sure you ask them about the chemicals they are using and whether they have made any changes in the process. Using less plastic does not address the chemical problem). The EPA has a state-by-state list of green dry cleaners (www.epa.gov).

Dust with a Damp Cloth - Many of the chemicals listed above are volatile organic compounds (again, known as VOC’s) which are released into the air and can bind to dust. If you dust with a dry cloth you will be disturbing the dust particles which have settled and release them into the air you breathe. Instead, always dampen the cloths with which you dust.

Use Air Filters - Air filters such as HEPA filters (High Efficiency Particulate Air filters) can remove as much as 99% of air born particles which includes dust than can be laden with VOC’s discussed above.

Vacuum Cleaning - Traditional upright vacuum cleaners can release dust and debris through the bag and other openings in the machine, harming indoor air quality. This problem usually gets worse as vacuums get older. Selecting a vacuum cleaner that is HEPA-filtered (where the casing of the machine as well as all hose connections are sealed) further protects the indoor environment.

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