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Spring into Clean and Make it Green!

By Danielle Alvarez

Spring has quickly sprung upon us in sunny southern California after a very, VERY rainy winter. But alas, the temperatures are rising, the sun is shining, and it is time for some spring cleaning.

Whether you have a ritual of periodically performing a deep clean throughout your entire household or are more of a constant cleaner, I can bet you have a stash of cleaning products for whatever surface you may need to clean in your home. There’s window cleaner, all purpose cleaner, products to clean wood and carpet, and handy dandy bleach, just to name a few.

A clean house is integral to a healthy life; forgoing regular cleaning chores can worsen asthma, allergies, and headaches (Source) . But, those cleaning products that you’ve used forever can also be causing health problems. Some household cleaners contain volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, that can cause irritation in the eyes, nose and throat, nausea, and headaches. And, if exposure is particularly severe, damage to the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system can occur. VOC’s can be found in aerosol sprays like air fresheners and some cleansers or disinfectants (Source). Never fear though, there are safe natural alternatives that are not only easy, but cheap too!

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Guide to Healthy Cleaning

If you have never heard of Environmental Working Group, go check them out HERE! EWG is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that works to inform consumers about chemicals or pollutants that can be found in everyday life. From pesticides in food to harmful chemicals in makeup or the quality of your tap water, EWG’s powerhouse website gives the 4-1-1 on many different environmental concerns that can affect your personal health.

EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning is a great place to start to see how the household cleaners you may have under your kitchen sink stack up when it comes to being good for the environment and good for your health. The search function at the top of the web page allows you to see the score of any cleaning product you have and breaks that score down by concern. You can then search for a better product of the same function.

And, the great thing about EWG is that it is sponsored by no one, so you don’t have to worry about any potential advertising biases in how they rate products. They also review cosmetics and body products like lotions and soaps, going through ingredient lists to label problematic ingredients and give overall health scores. It’s pretty interesting to see what is in the products you put on your body every single day. Check out EWG’s Cosmetics Database if you’re interested in cleaning out your makeup bag or shower products.

If you don’t like the scores you see, now may be the perfect time to do some spring cleaning for your spring-cleaning supplies! If you want to go the extra step of knowing exactly what is in your cleaning supplies, then making your own cleaning products is something you may want to try.

Cleaning Product DIY!

“You can make your own cleaning supplies?!?!” you may ask.

Yes, yes you can! And you’ll save a few bucks too.

Making your own cleaning supplies is a great way to reduce the amount of waste you create in the form of packaging and containers. Once you begin creating your own recipes, you won’t be throwing away plastic spray bottles over and over again and it’s pretty cost effective. Most recipes call for similar ingredients like white vinegar, borax and baking soda, so buy these items in bulk to help reduce packaging waste and make these cheap ingredients even cheaper. Also, a few drops of essential oils can pack a scented punch tailored to your preferences and make your house smell lovely in a natural, VOC-free way. Here are a few examples:

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These are just a few of the many recipes that can be found online and, as you can see, they are super simple to make with just a few key ingredients. For about $10, you can get large boxes of borax and baking soda, and a 128 oz bottle of white vinegar. Of course, that’s not everything you need to make every single recipe for every cleaner you may need, but that $10 worth of ingredients will get you through many recipes with multiple refills. Now that’s what I call a deal!

When you make your own cleaning supplies, you have 100% control over the ingredients that go in them. By keeping things simple, this is a very effective way to limit the amount of VOC’s in your home, which are readily found in store bought cleaning products.

Keep in Mind!

However, it is important that you do some research when experimenting with recipes. Some ingredients do not mix! Making your own supplies is about avoiding exposure to harmful chemicals so some important combinations to AVOID are listed below:

Bleach + Rubbing Alcohol = Chloroform

Bleach + Vinegar = Chlorine gas

Hydrogen Peroxide + Vinegar = Peracetic Acid (potentially toxic and an irritant)

Bleach + Ammonia = Chloramine (this is not an exhaustive list!)

Also, keep in mind that combining baking soda and vinegar makes a solution that bubbles and foams due to a chemical reaction that ends with a salt water product. When recipes combine the two of these ingredients, it’s because the bubbling action that occurs during the initial reaction helps break up gunk and grime. Therefore, you may want to follow up with another product to disinfect afterwards – depending on what you’re cleaning and why.

Well, I’ve got some laundry detergent to make – I use grated Dr. Bronner’s lavender castile bar soap for my recipe. Happy Spring Cleaning!

Danielle is an Environmental Science alumni from UCLA who has worked as a conservation biologist in southern California for three years. Danielle has worked with the RCDSMM since 2017, and has been an essential part of our southern steelhead trout monitoring and pond turtle monitoring programs, as well as many other projects. Her favorite ecosystems are marine but she has always had a soft spot for turtles and amphibians. After a summer field season working with sea turtles in St. Croix, USVI last year, Danielle is headed back to the Caribbean to assist the National Park Service with St. Croix ground lizard research and Hawksbill sea turtle conservation efforts.

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