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Conscious Living: Green Cleaning 101

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Ah, the glories of spring. Birds chirping in the trees, flowers sprouting from the ground, and a home covered in muddy paw prints and clumps of pet hair. Yes, it is time for spring cleaning—the time of year when we thaw out the mop water and attempt to give our homes a decent scrub down after months of dirty, slushy snow made it a pointless endeavor.

As a pet parent you’re probably well aware that most chemical-based cleaners are not safe for use around your four-legged family members. The toxic chemicals that do such a good job dissolving grease and making wood floors shine also contain compounds that can severely damage your pet’s health, either from direct contact with his skin or through inhalation. But don’t worry—no need to choose between a healthy pet and a spick-and-span house—you can easily have both!

Plus, making the switch to eco-friendly cleaning isn’t just better for your pet—it’s also better for you and the planet. Here’s how to know you’re getting the greenest clean:

Label decoding

Plenty of cleaning products say “non-toxic” on their packaging, but it’s more of a marketing term than an assurance of safety. Though the implication is that a non-toxic product is safe for humans, pets, and the environment, the term is not regulated by a standard definition, and as a result it doesn’t mean much of anything. The same goes for the word “organic,” which unfortunately, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG) can mean anything…or nothing at all.

To make sure you’re getting the safest cleaners, first look for what isn’t on the label, instead of what is. Avoid products that list phosphates, chlorine, or VOCs (volatile organic compounds, such as acetone, benzene, formaldehyde, and methylene chloride).

Out with the old….

Chances are, unless you’ve already made a conscious effort to rid your home of toxic cleaners, you probably have some (or many) harmful products holding court under the kitchen sink. Don’t toss them in the trash, though—they’ll just end up in a landfill where they’ll damage the soil and air. Similarly, don’t burn them, flush them, or pour them down the drain.

It is a bit more effort on your part, but the best and most responsible way to dispose of toxic cleaners is to leave it to the professionals. Visit Search.Earth911.com, type in “Household Cleaners” and your zip code, and you’ll get a list of drop-off locations. (The City of Chicago’s Household Hazardous Waste Collection Facility is located at 1150 N. North Branch Street) Make sure to check drop-off hours before you go, as hours are limited.

…And in with the green

Once you’ve gotten rid of all the bad stuff, it’s time to replace them with healthier, safer alternatives. Look for products that use naturally occurring, plant-based cleansing agents like citrus-derived d-limonene, lauramine oxide, TEA lauryl sulfate, and caprylyl/myristyl glucoside. Soy-, coconut-, or corn-based cleaners are also safe to use. Swap your chlorine bleach for oxygen bleach, which doesn’t release toxic fumes. Enzyme cleaners—like the one you likely already use to clean up pet messes—are other safe alternatives to harmful products. To research specific products, view product ingredient lists, and get recommendations on the best choices for your home, visit www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners.

There are also some safe items you already own that can work double duty. Baking soda, white vinegar, tea tree oil, and blue Dawn dish soap all double as excellent household cleaners.

Call in the experts

If you’re worried about safely cleaning your home, environmentally friendly cleaning services will come in and do it for you. Many, like Chicago’s Gingerella Cleaning and Mother B Green, can guarantee a home that is spotless and safe for Spot.

When all else fails: Relax, kick up your feet, and let someone else do the spring cleaning for you.

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