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Sustainable Spring Cleaning

March 13, 2018

By Jocelyn Weiss, PhD, MPH

With Spring in the air comes the annual desire (need) to do some Spring cleaning. The practice, in itself, supports our health and well-being by helping to detoxify and declutter the air and physical space in which we live. Here are 6 tips to optimize your Spring cleaning in environmentally sustainable ways.

1. Opt for essential oils or other natural scents over commercial fragrance sprays.

Commercial fresheners can contain chemical ingredients that act as respiratory irritants, alter hormone levels, and adversely impact short- and long-term health in a number of ways. One variety of these chemicals, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), has been detected indoors in concentrations that are up to 10 times higher than outdoors. VOCs are also known to contribute to greenhouse gases, playing a significant role in the formation of ozone and fine particulates in the atmosphere.

One way to minimize exposure to these harmful chemicals is to purchase non-toxic air fresheners made from botanicals or essential oils. You can even skip the sprays and diffuse your own essential oils. You can also go the old school route of boiling citrus, cinnamon, cloves, or any other herbs, and to fill your home with plants known to help purify the air. Lastly, consider keeping windows open as often as possible to allow in fresh, clean air.

2. Make use of your kitchen for cleaning products.

Another way to limit exposure to harmful chemicals (for yourself and the environment) is to find alternative cleaning products. Again, you can purchase non-toxic cleaning products by reading labels at stores. Another option is to make use of items you typically stock in your kitchen for inexpensive and accessible alternatives. Vinegar makes a great all-purpose cleaner for kitchen and bathroom surfaces, windows, and fixtures. See this tutorial on using vinegar to clean your showerhead (and why you should).

Lemons are also quite versatile. They can be used to:

  • Deodorize the garbage disposal (drop in halved or quartered)
  • Clean and disinfect the microwave (instructions here)
  • Polish silver (use juice by squeezing or use halved lemons)

Clean tarnished brass or copper with some added salt or baking soda (instructions here)

3. Go through your “stuff” and donate what you don’t need.

It’s easy to allow our belongings and closets to grow over time. Despite our overflowing closets, it is estimated that the average American wears only 20% of their clothing on a regular basis. A study by UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives and Families found that women living in cluttered environments are more likely to have high levels of cortisol, the granddaddy of all stress hormones. Each year, spend some time assessing what you need and/or brings your joy. If anything you own does not meet either of these criteria, donate it. By reusing clothing and other goods, we can not only help others in need but also cut down on the amount of waste entering landfills. For any old t-shirts and washcloths that are less-than-donation worthy, use them as rags for cleaning.

4. Go paperless.

Shred any documents you do not need to hold on to, keeping separate for recycling. While doing so, opt for paperless billing for any credit, utility, or other billing accounts for which you still receive paper bills. The PayItGreen coalition estimates that American save 452,819 trees each year for every 5% of household that switch to electronic bills, statements, and payments.

5. Hire an eco-friendly cleaning service.

For those who don’t have the time to clean their own homes, you can hire a green cleaning service. Depending on finances, you could choose how often to have your home cleaned professionally – maybe bi-weekly, monthly, or even just every Spring for a thorough job. More and more eco-friendly services are popping up every day, but if you can’t find one in your area check other local cleaners to see if they would be willing to use products you supply.

6. Keep toxins at the door.

The most effective way to reduce the amount of dirt and toxins in your home is to keep them from coming inside. Studies have shown that not only do our shoes track in dirt, but also lawn chemicals, coal tar, oil, antifreeze, animal waste, particulate pollution, pollen, and other things we may not even realize. The best way to avoid this is to have a good doormat and a “no shoes” policy in the home. The side benefit? Less sweeping, vacuuming, and mopping – which, in turn, reduces our energy footprint and use of cleaning chemicals.

To learn more about how to live with intention and create a life that best serves you, check out our upcoming programs on Cultivating Resiliency and The Not So Big Life.

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