The Maids of Portland, Maine

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

How Green Is Your House?

When you knuckle down for a good spring clean, you want to rid your home of dust and dirt and the germs they carry. But you could be exposing yourself to even more dangerous problems. Asthma, skin irritation, immune- and nervous-system complications, hormonal disorders and even cancer have all been linked to chemicals contained in common household cleaners – the same nasties that also harm the environment. And it’s not just cleaning products that hold a dirty secret – materials almost all of us have in our homes such as plastic items or fibreboard furniture could harbour sinister compounds too, as well as the products that we use to keep our bodies spick and span. Come with us on a tour of the contents of your home and discover what some of these dangerous chemicals are, what health problems they may cause and what the safer alternative is...

There’s nothing like the smell of flowers and the like, but your average aerosol freshener will contain aerosol propellants (to help it spray), as well as petroleum distillates and the chemical formaldehyde, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The fumes associated with these substances can be strong irritants for the eyes, nose and throat, says Dr Rajendran Nayar of iCare Clinic in Dubai, while formaldehyde has been associated with cancer, and both petroleum distillates and aerosol propellants are highly flammable.

What’s the alternative? “When shopping for cleaning products prefer clearly labelled, plant-based, eco-friendly products,” says Gundeep Singh, founder and CEO of The Change Initiative. Or you can make your own natural air freshener by boiling peels of citrus fruits with aromatic herbs and spices like cinnamon and cloves, says Mariana Paunescu, executive housekeeper of The Grand Millennium Dubai. “Put all the ingredients together, bring to a boil, then simmer until the scent spreads to other rooms. You can reuse the mixture three times, but keep it refrigerated between uses.”

Used in the kitchen, bathroom and on pretty much any surface, these contain many different kinds of ingredients – such as detergents, grease-cutting agents, solvents, and disinfectants – and with these come many related hazardous chemicals. “All-purpose cleaners may contain diethanolamine (DEA) and triethanolamine (TEA), which react to form nitrosamines, and these are carcinogenic and capable of penetrating the skin,” says Dr Nayar.

What’s the alternative? In our germ-obsessed society, the commitment to cleaning can go too far and, sometimes, a little bit of dirt is a good thing says Gundeep. “Studies show that excessive use of antibacterial cleaning products and soaps may inhibit the development of the immune system in children, leading to allergies and chronic respiratory illnesses.” Instead of spritzing chemicals all over the house, regular dusting and use of a mild soap diluted in water will keep your house clean and healthy. “Baking soda is good for scrubbing, use it to clean the kitchen cabinets and counters,” says Mariana, “and instead of using a detergent to remove stains, dip a toothbrush in white vinegar and lightly rub the affected area."
Written by: Khulekani Madlela and Tabitha Barda
                   Friday Magazine April 23, 2013


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