How guardians are getting practical about green homecare
By Katie Marsico
I’ve always told myself that I care about the environment as much as the next person. Well, at least as much as the next working mom with three kids, three dogs, and both a limited amount of time and the other type of “green” stuff. Yet I am also aware that being a busy, budget-conscious parent and pet guardian doesn’t give me an excuse to add to the depletion of the ozone layer. In fact, just the opposite is true. From aerosol sprays to insecticides to carpet cleaners, the products I might regularly use in my split-level have the potential to harm not only the environment—but my children and animals, as well. So, what’s the best way to protect Mother Earth and my family (furry and otherwise) while effectively maintaining my home?
In my quest to go green without having to go overboard, I sought out the expertise of my friend Heather Overdorf. As a mom, pet guardian, and homeowner in Elmhurst, Illinois, her decisions about everything from dish detergents to interior decoration have always struck me as nothing if not environmentally friendly. It was only recently, however, that she explained exactly how greener living goes hand-in-hand with her efforts to be a more responsible pet guardian.
“Selfishly, I have to pay a lot less attention to things going on in my house,” she says. “Since my decorating, cleaning, and cooking all involve green products, I don’t have to worry if my cat, Su, ingests some of the disinfectant that just spilled out of the spray bottle my toddler was playing with. Most of what we keep around the house is all-natural and is fruit- or vegetable-based.” When asked to describe a specific example of how being environmentally conscious at home benefits her cat, Overdorf cites her use of nontoxic insect repellent.
“When we had ants a while back, I knew we had to be careful about spraying a toxic insecticide because Su licks the windows and floors all the time,” she explains. “It followed that whatever I put on those surfaces would be something she’d inevitably ingest.” Overdorf’s Earth-friendly, kitty-conscious solution to an unwelcome army of ants? “We read about—and ultimately had success with—a mint- and lavender-based spray,” she notes. “The ants were repelled by it, and we didn’t have to worry about keeping Su or the kids cooped up in a separate part of the house all day.”
As the co-owner of Team Clean NYC, Megan Pflug fully appreciates Overdorf’s sentiments. Serving New York City’s metropolitan area, her business offers a “holistic approach to residential and commercial cleaning . . . [that uses] only environmentally conscious, nontoxic, and biodegradable products and methods.” Pflug, who also lives with a pet, believes that an increasing number of Americans are starting to go green at home. She suspects that this trend is partially the result of their understandable concerns about various chemicals and toxins. After all, it’s hard not to be inclined toward environmental awareness when you read the news. Within the past few years, a bevy of animal experts have theorized that certain household substances might trigger hyperthyroidism, cancer, birth defects, and reproductive and neurological disorders. “Public conscientiousness about green cleaning is really in transition,” says Pflug. “A lot of what we do is common sense, and a lot of our clients are already thinking in those terms when it comes to their pets. They’re aware that dogs and cats will sometimes lick or sniff near a new toxic smell . . . or eat off the floors. It’s therefore not a good idea to clean with . . . bleach or harsh chemicals. About 90 percent of the time, I would say that, if you can’t eat it, don’t treat your house with it.” In addition to using a variety of brand name products that pass this litmus test, Pflug and her crew “get creative with ordinary stuff . . . like vinegar, baking soda, and lemons.”
At the same time, however, some experts argue there’s more to going green than swapping out your cache of noxious cleaning sprays and powders. The pesticides and fertilizers that people splatter all over their lawns pose a definite problem, too. And, as Jennifer Schwab emphasizes, it can be an especially big one if your yard is routinely trampled by paws that then come pitter-pattering back across your threshold. Schwab is the Director of Sustainability with the Sierra Club Green Home (SCGH)—an organization based out of Las Vegas that aims to help Americans create more environmentally sustainable living situations.
“Don’t let your unconditional love for your pet blind you to the pesticides they bring in from the outdoors,” she urges. “That’s why wiping their feet is a good idea before they reenter [your home].” Though dusting off Fido’s paw pads doesn’t seem that all that daunting, the bigger picture of going green can be. In a society where time and money are precious commodities—even for adoring pet guardians—are there any impracticalities to making your home more environmentally friendly?
“There are certain green products that are more expensive,” acknowledges Overdorf. “But only if you buy into the gimmicks. No one needs to have more than one cleaner in their house. I personally use a concentrated citrus-based cleaner that works on stainless steel, wood, glass, countertops—everything.” Pflug likewise reinforces the notion that people shouldn’t automatically shy away from greener homecare because they assume it will be more costly.
“The misunderstanding that green products don’t work or that they have to be pricey is . . . not accurate,” she says. “In fact, I just started a six-week blog project that shares simple tips and recipes for DIY green cleaning. We want to empower people with the facts . . . so that they can make changes at home more easily.” In regards to the argument that some guardians might pose—that there are simply not enough hours in the day to play fetch, pay the vet bills, and research going green—Schwab has a few words of wisdom.
“Most [guardians] think of both their pets and other people in their lives as part of their family,” she notes. “Since people and pets are constantly interacting, your goal should be to provide a healthy environment for all.” As a mom with three kids and three dogs, that’s enough to get me mixing the mint-and-lavender bug spray. . . .