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Green Cleaning for Pet-Safe Homes

green cleaning: empty pink spray bottle

Ah, the glories of summer. Birds chirping in the trees, flowers bright and in bloom, and a home covered in muddy paw prints and clumps of pet hair. Yes, summer can get a little messy and eventually the time comes for a good deep cleaning. So why not make it a green cleaning?

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!

Making the switch to green cleaning is better for your pet, better for you, and better for 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, avoid products that list phosphates, phenols, phthalates, chlorine, or VOCs (volatile organic compounds, such as acetone, benzene, formaldehyde, and methylene chloride). And when it comes to protecting your furry ones, look specifically for labels that note the product is “pet safe.”

Out with the old…

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 Household Hazardous Waste Collection Facility is located at 1150 N. North Branch Street.) Make sure to check drop-off times 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 EWG.org/guides/cleaners.

There are also some safe items you probably already have in your cupboards that can work double duty. Baking soda, white vinegar, tea tree oil, and blue Dawn dish soap all serve as safe and effective household cleaners.

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