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Greensburg GreenTown is a charitable nonprofit organization working in Greensburg, Kansas to rebuild the town following the devastating tornado in May of 2007. The town has made a remarkable comeback, reinventing itself as a model for sustainable building and green living now recognized around the world. GreenTown works to make green building and living easily understood, appealing and accessible to all.

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Thursday
Jan032013

Tips for a Healthy Home in 2013

image credit: achooallergy.com

Greetings for the new year. If one of your resolutions for 2013 is to lead a healthier lifestyle, we have some great ideas here for greening up your home.

The average person probably doesn't have time to research all that goes into traditional cleaning and home care products. So we've done the research for you. A couple of years ago I was invited to make a presentation to a group of Extension staff in Wichita and share ideas for how to live in a healthier home. I thought I knew a fair amount about the topic; when I started digging as I prepared my PowerPoint presentation for the audience I was dumbfounded by what I uncovered.

I knew, generally, that there are health concerns associated with many of the traditional cleaning products on the market. That research has found that conditions such as asthma, allergies, and immune illnesses are associated with exposure to certain chemicals found in everyday off-the-shelf household products. However, what I didn't know was staggering. Did you know that the average American house is home to 60 hazardous products? That indoor air quality in a typical home is 2-5 times more toxic than outdoor air? That nearly 80% of the chemicals used in the home haven't even been tested for safety? And that companies are not even required to list the ingredients in the products they sell? These statistics (are there are MANY more where these came from) are not meant to scare you, but rather to inform you and invite you to consider healthier alternatives for yourself and your family. Knowledge is power.

Fortunately, there are a LOT of non-toxic options that are quite effective at cleaning and deodorizing your home. Here is a small sampling of ideas and suggestions for some products that we have used with great results. An added benefit is that most of these approaches will save you money as well as improve your indoor air quality.

Ten ways you can use lemon juice instead of toxic chemicals from the website The Nourished Life is a very straightforward, easy-to-follow guide.

I highly recommend the book Clean: The Humble Art of Zen Cleansing. It is chock full of recipes using only these natural ingredients: baking soda, borax, lemon, salt, and white vinegar. (In 2010 author Michael DeJong and partner Richard Haymes gifted the community of Greensburg with 600 copies of this guide. It was a big hit! They later journeyed from New Jersey to Kansas to demonstrate multiple recipes from the book and offer a couple of educational sessions on the concerns associated with traditional cleaning products.)

E-cloths are a remarkable invention and will do away with the need for purchasing paper towels and most household cleaners. The cloths were originally designed for use in Swedish hospitals that aimed to lower patients' exposure to toxic cleaning products. My personal favorite - so far - is the cloth that is used for cleaning glass. (The E-cloth company also generously donated product for the folks of Greensburg after the 2007 tornado.)

Commercial air "fresheners" are a personal pet peeve. The list of toxic ingredients they spew into the air is lengthy and rather frightening. Here's an easy recipe for homemade air freshener from the website Thank Your Body.

Here are some recommended brands of household and personal care products, in case you're not quite ready to make your own.

If you'd like to experiment with homemade products, here are a couple of easy recipes to get you started, from Michael DeJong’s book, Clean: The Humble Art of Zen-Cleansing:

Bath & kitchen cleanser - “Mix one-quarter cup borax and one-quarter cup baking soda to make the best bath cleaner and kitchen cleaner ever. Add some salt as an abrasive if necessary.”

Baking soda cleanser for your car - "Add a quarter of a cup to a bucket of water to remove bugs and tree sap from the chrome, windshield glass, mud flaps, auto roof rack and auto-body paint on your car. It’s really effective as a scrub, too. Just apply a bit onto a rag or sponge to get the really nasty stuff up. Rinse with clean water. Try it on the vinyl seats inside, too.”

If you are just starting to wean yourself off traditional household products, be gentle with making changes. It can be challenging to let go of trusted name-brands and use "alternatives" - even though "alternatives" are older than the hills, when you're talking lemons, vinegar and salt! I must confess to having been "addicted" to Comet cleanser in my youth. When I read that chlorine gas was used as a weapon during World War I - well, let's just say that cleaning with chlorine bleach no longer appealed to me.