Friday, December 18, 2009

Healthy Child, Healthy World: Simple steps to create a cleaner, greener, safer home

This is another in a series of guest posts by other bloggers. This is the second guest post from today's blogger, Molly Jarrell. She's reviewing the book Healthy Child, Healthy World and is excited about how she's put some of the green cleaning ideas into practice.

Guest post by Molly Jarrell

Healthy Child Healthy World: Creating a Cleaner, Greener, Safer Home, by Christopher GaviganI picked up this book, Healthy Child Healthy World: Creating a Cleaner, Greener, Safer Home, at the library a few weeks ago because my allergies were killing me. I was using my asthma inhaler twice a day, every day. And every time my husband or I cleaned the bathroom the house stank so bad of cleaner that I felt like I was suffocating. I couldn't help but think about all those tiny, airborne chemical particles resting in the air of our tiny little home and finding their way into little Eden's lungs as she plays and sleeps. Or mine.

I haven't always had asthma. Several years ago I was a regular runner, especially in the years right after the 2003 firestorms that swept through San Diego and burned over 280,000 acres. For a week, the air was so think with smoke and ash that at noon it looked like dusk. We kept all our doors and windows shut. I didn't use the a/c in our car. I didn't run during the fires. Then came the 2007 fires, which burned over 500,000 acres.

Somewhere between then and now I developed asthma. Got pregnant. Read Sandra Steingraber's book Having Faith: An Ecologist's Journey to Motherhood. Had a baby.

And realized my house is really, really full of chemicals.

But, I digress. I found this book at the library, and it caught my eye for several reasons. One, I like the title. I'm all for anything that will affect the greater good. Two, the author, Christopher Gavigan, is CEO of a nonprofit by the same name (Healthy Child Healthy World) and has spent more than a decade working to make our world healthier and safer for children. Three, Sandra Steingraber, author of that book I read during pregnancy, is on his board.

Triple whammy; I checked out the book.

I should pause here and tell you that there is no way, no way on earth I could review the whole book here in one blog post. There is just too much information. I think I'm going to have to buy the book and keep it around the house like a manual. So, for the purposes of this blog post I will just share my learnings from the chapter about house cleaning, since that is what I picked the book up for in the first place.

I should also add that nobody could ever do everything that is in this book. But everybody can do something, and that is the call this author gives us. Just do something. Even if it's just one thing. Just take one step at a time, and each step will move you toward a healthier, safer life.

Back to cleaning!

I learned that the harmful chemicals in modern cleaners are ammonia, chlorine, phosphates and lye. I guess I knew this, but I never really thought about it before. I didn't think about the residue they leave behind, and that taking a shower in a freshly-cleaned bath would release those chemicals into the steam and permeate my body through my skin and my lungs. (This reminds me of something I learned in Steingraber's book: taking a shower — I forget the actutal timeframe, but it was a reasonable and ordinary timeframe — exposes you to the equivalent amount of chemicals you would consume by drinking a gallon and a half of tap water.)

Green products, on the other hand, include hydrogen peroxide (a natural bleaching agent and antimicrobial), soap (natural, oil-based soap, like Castile or glycerin), baking soda, vinegar (natural deodorizer that kills mold and bacteria), lemon juice and essential oils (like lavender and thyme).

It's kind of ironic, isn't it? I have to read a book to learn that I can clean my house with soap and water?

I must say, I did not know I could spray vinegar on my shower and it will dissolve soap scum and mineral buildup instead of using CLR or some other caustic agent that makes my eyes and lungs burn until I can't breathe and run wheezing for my inhaler. Is this really true?

So, the real question is whether or not this stuff works. The book gives a recipe for All Purpose Cleaner, but I haven't tried it yet because I need to buy Borax and Castile soap, and, well, I just haven't made it to the store yet. (Or cleaned the kitchen, or placed my prescription order, or made the bed, or washed my hair or taken my vitamins. Hey, I'm a working mom, give me a break! Today I chose to pluck my eyebrows. I'll get to all that other stuff later.)

I did, however, try out baking soda on the bathtub a few days ago. I just sprinkled it around and scrubbed it with a scouring brush. Wow! I was surprised how fast it got the gunk up! It was a little gunky in and of itself, but a quick rinse washed it all down the drain and I felt better knowing my daughter wasn't going to be breathing caustic fumes that night for her bath.

In fact, an added benefit of cleaning green is that your kids can actually clean your house with you. Now, that's a seller! Eden is 15 months and can already feed the cats, throw away trash, put laundry in the hamper and push the "start" button on the dryer. If I could just teach her how to clean the shower and scrub floors we'd be set.

I had better wrap this up or else this post will be as long as the book! There are lots of other helpful tips in here, like using paprika to get rid of ants (tried that — IT WORKS!! — I know, weird) and chapters on healthy eating, beauty products, children's toys, furniture, gardening, drinking water, home improvement and pets.

For my action plan, I think I'll create a calendar of ideas I want to implement. Maybe one a week. That means that (realistically speaking, not mathematically speaking) I'll probably have implemented 30 ideas by the time next year rolls around.

That's a lot of changes. Easy changes.

I can do this!

Your turn: What green cleaning techniques do you use? As the New Year comes upon us, what simple steps to create a healthier home will be in your resolution list?

MollyMolly is a relatively new mother of one from Southern Californira who is trying to take motherhood, a full-time job, and all the rest of the whirlwind of life one day at a time. She likes wine, reading, and scrapbooking; she's also a terrible gardener and can't remember birthdays to save her life. Five days a week, she heads off to her job in corporate communications while Mr. Molly, a professional musician, stays home with The Peanut. Motherhood has been making Molly more eco-concious, more patient, more tired and more aware. You can visit Molly's neck of the woods at


Anonymous said...

I never thought about how using greener products would also mean my kids could help out! I like that idea :)

I only use a frangrance-free eco-soap for laundry and the rest is toxic (Clorox, Lysoform, Mr. Clean...)

I do like to use vinegar and newspapers to clean glass, but I never heard of baking soda to scour. That's a great idea.

I do use hydrogen peroxide to sanitize our toothbrushes (then soak them in plain water). the peroxide is great for scrapes and cuts, too.

When I lived in NYC I used some weird mixture of cocoa powder and borax to kill ants, now I just spray them with rubbing alcohol because we don't have any colonies -- they're just in transit.

I'm way more wary of lotions and soaps and shampoos since we're directly applying that stuff to our bodies. I prefer almond oil and marseille soap -- which I just googled and saw it does have lye... ooops I'll look out for Castile. Thanks for the tips!

Emily said...

I make an all purpose cleaner that I really like. I use washing soda or Borax to clean the tubs. And I use vinegar and water as my mop water. I haven't progressed to making laundry detergent or dishwasher soap yet, though I hope to once we move. Part of it for me is that I don't like buying special containers full of special chemicals. And this way, I don't have to worry about our cat walking in the tub after I've cleaned it and then licking his paws. :-) Plus all my homemade cleaners smell so much better! I use orange oil to scent things, even the mop water.

I wrote a term paper in college all about common chemicals and the havoc they wreak on female reproductive systems, and since then I haven't worn make-up, and I am now only using Burt's Bees and Dr. Bronner's soaps, lotions, and shampoos.

Lauren Wayne said...

Love the article as a whole but adore this part:
"(Or cleaned the kitchen, or placed my prescription order, or made the bed, or washed my hair or taken my vitamins. Hey, I'm a working mom, give me a break! Today I chose to pluck my eyebrows. I'll get to all that other stuff later.)"
Ha ha! Thanks for admitting it for the rest of us.

My go-to cleanser is a spray bottle of vinegar and water. I also keep a big bag of baking soda on hand when I need to scrub, or if I just want to see the pretty bubbles that come from mixing the two! :)

As you said, I love that Mikko can clean with me, and he really likes to. He gets a kick out of spraying the bottle into the toilet and swishing the brush around. Hey, someone should do it! It sure as heck isn't me most of the time.

I want to get more adventurous, so I bought some borax, and I've been looking for washing soda, without success. I also use bleach sometimes. I want to try some new recipes, like one I found for dishwasher detergent. Those are all toxic, so shouldn't be used WITH kids & you should use gloves, but they're still considered natural and a good choice for greener cleaning — as well as tons cheaper! I also love that I have less clutter now, since I don't need specific cleaners for each task, just a couple multi-purpose ingredients.

Thanks for this book recommendation, Molly! I'll definitely have to check it out and try not to get overwhelmed by all the possibilities! :)

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