Healthy Living Starts with a Healthy Environment – Part 1: Cleaning

As a designer, I can attest to the belief that we can impact the world through design.  This is a reason why I try to focus on green strategies – if we are imp acing the world, someone’s world, through the built environment, why not make it as healthy as possible for all those affected?

I will be making a series of blog posts regarding healthy environments – where we eat, work, breathe, play, grow, and live out all of our days.  I want to equip you on seeing a healthy environment as a societal expectation: expect your city to pick up and dispose of your recycling properly; expect your cleaning service to use eco friendly products for your sake and the environment’s, expect your designers to make good decisions, whether it is optimizing building performance  in your workplace or a home design that practices fair labor.  This is a mindset that you will find gain traction as you pay more attention – in U.S. cities, there are innumerable options for your daily life choices, which gives you the benefit of choosing what you know is fair and responsible.

Today’s topic starts in the heart of it all – the home.

After my husband and I had plenty of time to watch Property Brothers and Fixer Upper on HGTV this holiday break, we were ready to hit the ground running with improving our humble 1 bedroom abode.  While creating a healthy built environment is the topic for another post, this one is all about green household cleaning products.  The goal of healthy cleaning products is the same as any deliberate health choice: to improve the quality of life for you and those you represent through making conscious, healthy choices for you, the environment, the economy – from raw material extraction, manufacturer/company transparency, and consumer health, to the post-consumer waste stream.

Here are some suggestions based on personal experience and others’ recommendations I’m planning to try:

  1. Detergent

    • Easy Eco-upgrade: Method
      • Ever since the founders of Method brand spoke at my college (DAAP in Cincinnati) in 2006, I have been a fan of this brand.  They’ve grown and evolved since then, and I would say successfully so with the image and brand they now convey (more info on their brand here).  Innovations include Ocean Plastic bottles (made of post-consumer plastic and plastic recovered from the ocean), and what I consider one of the most obvious and most disruptive, which is their concentrated detergent.  Not only is it plant-based, but it saves 1) more plastic needed to contain larger quantities of water, 2) carbon footprint in shipping to transport heavier detergent, 3) disposal waste through smaller and recyclable container.  And as a bonus to animal lovers, it is cruelty-free.
    • Advanced Eco-upgrade: Soapnuts
      • I found soap nuts when I had the honor of shopping for the prizes of a local organization I serve (I’m always up for shopping on some else’s dime!).  They were listed as an environmentally friendly stocking-stuffer and, the more I read about them, the more it was apparent how prominent and well-respected they are.  I sadly could not keep these to use, but intend to buy some for myself.  You use ~6-8 nuts in a muslin bag / load in a washing machine; it’s always available in a super concentrated liquid.  More info via Wikipedia is available here.  I took the easy option and ordered mine on Amazon.  And bonus, it’s organic!
  2. All-purpose cleaner

    • Easy Eco-upgrade: Method + National brand equivalents
      • Not much to say here that is not in the #1 description above, except to be careful for greenwashing.  I love good packaging as much as the next designer, but I also know that Photoshop can do wonders to make anything look like anything – see articles about greenwashing here and here, and from experts at the Underwriters Laboratories at sinsofgreenwashing.com.
    • Advanced Eco-upgrade: DIY!
      • We are not talking about making your own computer, a 5-course meal, or your favorite libation – it’s making your own cleaning products!  Once I run out of my Method all-purpose cleaner,  it’s time to invest in the basic ingredients to create my own cleaning products.  You can even add essential oils if you’re into that.  There are many benefits to DIY home cleaning products, including transparency.  When using basic ingredients, you know exactly what is in them.  You will also be saving money by not receiving the premium cost national products, not to mention the time it takes to weed through all of the greenwashing mentioned above.
      • There are so many DIY recipes out there, but here are a couple on my radar: from Sprouts and Maids.com.
  3. Bleach

    • I will admit – Until now, I was not well versed on whether there were good alternatives for bleach.  I rarely use it, anyway, but I think it’s important to get out of my house completely, so I want to be well-equipped.  Instead of restating information, please review the good resources I found, so we can learn together:
      • Sustainable Baby Steps – What is Bleach: a very approachable article of what bleach is, why it is harmful, and alternatives.  If you were on the fence, this will convince you to seek a healthier option for bleach-related cleaning.  Ask any housekeeper and I think they will agree.
      • Beyond Toxics – Bleach: A non-profit organization providing recipes for bleach alternatives

A helpful resource I found while researching for this article is from the above mentioned UL, Underwriters Laboratories, and their 2010 Greenwashing Report, available here.

Do you have any suggestions or research to add to the conversation?  Add a comment below!