No doubt about it, I am a fresh air freak. My doors and windows are always open when the weather’s good. And even on the coldest Montana winter night, I’ve got a window cracked while I sleep. One of the nicest compliments I ever received came when my sister once visited and said, “Sis, I love how your house smells—just like fresh air and trees!”
Sadly, however, fresh air can sometimes be hard to come by. Everything from forest fires to engine exhaust pollutes our air. And while it may feel like there’s little you can do to avoid these pollutants, there’s actually a lot that you can do to take control of your indoor air quality. Increasingly, researchers are finding health risks associated with scented everyday household items, including cleaning products, laundry detergent, shampoo, bath gel, cat litter, air fresheners, incense, dryer sheets and body lotion. Research links air contaminants in these products to nervous system disorders (such as tremors), certain types of cancer, asthma, hormone imbalance, irritability, headache and fatigue. In one study conducted at the University of Washington in Seattle, air coming from laundry machines using top-selling liquid laundry detergent and scented dryer sheets was found to contain seven hazardous air contaminants, including two chemicals—benzene and acetaldehyde—that the Environmental Protection Agency classifies as carcinogens.
Important: You may be surprised to learn that manufacturers of cleaning and laundry supplies as well as air fresheners are not required to inform consumers of the potentially harmful compounds found in their products. It’s worth noting that the University of Washington study found that all of the scented products contained pollutants—even so-called “green” products.
To avoid these potentially harmful products, here’s my advice…
• Choose unscented household products. This will not eliminate all risky compounds from these products, but it will improve your indoor air quality and reduce the related health risks. If you must use more noxious cleaning compounds, such as ammonia, do so sparingly and avoid nonessential products, including dryer sheets and air fresheners.
• Use natural cleaning substances. The granddaddy is vinegar (you can use equal parts of white distilled vinegar and warm water for such chores as cleaning your windows…and straight vinegar will remove soap residue from shower doors). But there are other good natural options if you use a little old-fashioned elbow grease with such products as baking soda (good for cleaning sinks and deodorizing carpets) and steel wool pads (for scouring ovens).
• Freshen your air naturally. Rather than the toxic air fresheners that you buy at the supermarket, add a natural scent to the air. What to do: Put a pint of water in a saucepan on your stove, and heat until it’s almost boiling. Add one-quarter teaspoon of a spice, such as cinnamon, ginger or clove. Turn down the heat, and let the water simmer for about 10 minutes. The gentle scent will diffuse through your home without leaving any toxins behind.
Try all these quick and easy remedies for a home that’s naturally clean.