An article by Janey Lee Grace (CANCERactive patron)
How you clean and care for your home is very much connected with your wellness. The average home is more polluted than a busy street corner, and while we cant do much about the traffic and airborne pollution, we can certainly make sustainable healthy choices in what we use to clean and refresh our personal space.
Synthetic chemicals, pesticides and pollutants are everywhere: in our furnishings, carpets, the paint on our walls, our cleaning and personal care products. Add to that the effects of electro-pollution the cumulative effects of our electrical items and wi-fi technology and its no wonder that so many of us are prone to headaches and low-level fatigue.
The good news is that you can easily make your own DIY cleaning concoctions, or if you choose to buy, then go for one of the more natural eco brands, which use plant-based surfactants which are much kinder to the environment and our skin.
Whats Wrong with Conventional Detergents?
Just about everything! Theyre unsustainable, many are petrochemical based (and petrol is a non-renewable resource, harmful to the environment), they contaminate rivers and seas, many contain chemicals which are creating strong superbugs and an unbalanced eco-system. They also contribute to ill health and, in the case of laundry products, can be a skin irritant and lead to allergies, too. Fortunately there is a wealth of great plant-based alternatives for cleaning our homes and clothes.
Lets start with freshening the air. Studies have shown that women who work in the home have a 55 per cent increased risk of getting cancer. Research also shows that women suffer from headaches largely due to VOCs (volatile organic compounds, which will also aggravate anyone with respiratory conditions such as asthma) and the artificial fragrances which can be hormone disrupting. VOCs are found in a host of household products including paints, aerosol sprays, cleansers, disinfectants, air fresheners and dry-cleaned clothing!
Weve forgotten the obvious one when it comes to air freshening open the window! Most of us live in sealed units where weve triple glazed, have the radiators on full and wonder why we cant shake off infections. Open the windows wide, especially when you clean the house! No one needs ever again to buy air fresheners; neither an aerosol nor those scary plug-in ones. Many oncologists in breast cancer units are telling their patients to avoid these now.
Simply buy a plant sprayer, half-fill with water and add two or three drops of essential oil. Lemon, lavender and geranium work well, as does eucalyptus or tea tree for a more antiseptic whiff. You can add a drop of vodka or a few drops of vinegar to preserve, and spritz around to your hearts content.
For neutralising smells you cant beat bicarbonate of soda. Simply leave some in a carton or jar; it works a treat if youve been decorating. (On that note, by the way, its more expensive but if you can opt for eco-paint you will never regret it.)
If you must buy an air freshener, then make it one of the natural room sprays.
For cleaning materials, microfibre cloths are a truly wonderful invention because you dont usually need detergent: water alone lifts the dirt.
Dont underestimate how brilliant steam cleaning is. Borrow a steam cleaner from a friend, or pick one up through Freecycle or eBay. You can transform curtains, carpets, furnishings, even cupboards and surfaces with a few hours therapeutic blasting!
Carpets and Vacuum Cleaners
In an ideal world wed ditch the carpets, have sustainable flooring and live happily ever after, but for the areas where you need carpet, avoid conventional carpet-cleaning products. You know why ! If you want to refresh a carpet, shake bicarbonate of soda over it and then hoover. Add a spritz or two of essential oil if you really want to rival that household name carpet cleaner advertised on TV all those years ago!
When choosing a vacuum cleaner opt for ones with Hepa filters, great if you have pets or allergies. For resources and lots more information, see www.healthy-house.co.uk.
You already know about using vinegar and newspaper for cleaning windows; many DIY cleaning ideas are similarly old school. Use vinegar mixed with bicarbonate of soda for a really strong fizzing solution for drains. Vinegar will help prevent limescale in the loo; for around taps, soak a cotton wool pad in it, pop a plastic bag around the tap and leave for couple of hours before washing off. You can mix it with lemon juice and water to clean surfaces and floors and, of course, de-scale kettles.
These should be kept to the bitter end, because a used lemon will shine a ceramic sink beautifully. You can add salt to half a lemon with the flesh all used up and use it as a scouring mitt. A tiny bit of lemon peel in the cutlery tray of the dishwasher works a treat, too.
Bicarbonate of Soda
There are thousands of uses for this wonder product: it neutralises odours, cleans plastics and removes stains from mugs and coffee parts (as a paste with a bit of water), polishes chrome, mixes with vinegar to clean loos and drains, and can be left overnight to clean the oven. It can even be used as shampoo and toothpaste.
This is a no-brainer. You can save yourself a small fortune not buying conventional laundry products. Youll also find that your clothes last longer, no more itchy rashes and youll be reducing your carbon footprint. Easy peasy.
Chooose eco brands or better still ditch the detergents altogether and opt for laundry balls or soapnuts. Both are very cheap, eco friendly and sustainable, and theres no need for fabric softener. With laundry balls you simply pop two in the drum with the clothing. They contain ionized pellets which change the molecular structure of the water and draw off the dirt. Be sure not to overfill the machine, as the pummelling action helps the process. You can buy laundry balls as a pack of two, complete with natural stain remover; they cost around 35 but are guaranteed to do a minimum of 1,000 washes.
Even cheaper and more sustainable are soapnuts. Used in India and Nepal as natural detergent for centuries, they look a bit like dried-up conkers. You simply pop five or six little shells into a drawstring bag (a thin sock works even better so that none escape!) and put it in the drum. When they come into contact with water they create saponin, which is soap. Use them three times before putting the soapnuts on the compost and refilling the little bag. You can buy a huge bag for around 5 or 6 You can also make your soapnut liquid by simmering two cupfuls of soapnuts in hot water for around 2 minutes, straining off the liquid, frothing it up using a hand blender and adding a couple of drops of essential oil (thats really important - they dont smell great otherwise!). This will make the most effective detergent for anything: washing the car, household surfaces its also a great shampoo!
The regular stuff is pretty hideous, but the good news is you dont need it! Eco detergents (and obviously soapnuts and laundry balls) contain no optical brighteners, phosphates or harsh detergents to create the need for softening. If you do like a fragrance, then put a couple of drops of essential oil in the fabric softener compartment, or treat yourself to some gorgeous ironing water. It simply works as a great natural fragrance for newly washed clothes. To soften towels, add a tablespoonful of vinegar to the softener compartment.
A Word about Whites
Both laundry balls and soapnuts will do a great job of washing the clothes, but they wont remove stubborn stains. Always treat stains first with bicarbonate of soda, or try Ecovers excellent stain remover. And if you want your whites very white, then wash them separately and add in some eco laundry bleach.
Janey Lee Grace is an author and inspirational speaker (often talking balls and nuts !)
Look Great naturally without ditching the lipstick is published by Hay House and can be bought on line through the Natiral Selection shop by clicking here
For Janeys recommended cleaning and skincare products www.janeysnaturalstore.com