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The Basics on how to Green, Clean, & Organize any Room & Home

How to Get a Clean, Green, & Organized Home

The air in your house is already 5 to 7 times worse than outdoor air. Children are more susceptible to the toxic air in a home as they breathe in 50% more air per pound of body weight than adults do and are less able to detoxify. Nurseries and playrooms are usually the first thing people renovate when a new child is on the way.  Yet, these renovations often come with an uncalculated cost to the child’s health. The most toxic rooms in a home tend to be the child’s bedroom and the bathroom.

Hazards to a Healthy Home
Combustion sources, e.g. oil, gas, wood, tobacco that release carbon monoxide or other gasses when burnt. (This is a big issue with attached garages.)
Building materials and furnishings e.g. paint, carpet, and “fake” wood
Lead-based paint particularly in homes built before 1978 and in urban areas
Formaldehyde is widely used in furniture, carpeting, and other permanent     press fabrics and pressed wood products
VOCs or volatile organic compounds include a wide-range of carbon-    based molecules that vaporize into the air forming ozone: they are in most     paints, carpets, & glues
Household cleaning products and other chemicals used indoors
Outside pollutants inside, especially heavy metals and pesticides.
Mold and mildew

Action Items for Greening a Room

  • Don’t undergo a major renovation (scraping and painting count!) while pregnant
  • Avoid new carpets, new floor finishes, and new paints that aren’t specifically VOC-free or pre-offgassed. Try for wood or bamboo surfaces.
  • Remove shoes before entering your house or, at least, before entering a child’s play room or bed room area.
  • Open your windows when it is nice out—the outdoor air will greatly improve your indoor air quality.
  • Don’t smoke inside your home.
  • If you have a house that was built before 1978, you have lead.  Wet mop floors and windowsills regularly to minimize exposure to your children.
  • Wash your kids’ hands with soap and water a lot!
  • Beware of “children’s furniture.” It is often made with particle board, plywood, or other wood products that are made with glues that use formaldehyde. Buy real wood instead.
  • Your drycleaner is toxic (they use perchloroethylene)—avoid dry-clean only clothes, use a green cleaner or, at minimum, let your clothes and bags off-gass outside before bringing them inside.
  • Get a carbon monoxide detector.  And if you have an attached garage, do not idle the car inside and carefully exhaust so as to not allow fumes inside.
  • Consider a radon test (a short-term radon detector kit is just $10-20).
  • Avoid antibacterial soaps and antimicrobial cleaners. The FDA has found that they do no better than soap and water and they might add to the risk of breeding antibiotic resistant “super-germs.”
  • Many plants, such as mums and gerbera daisies, will improve indoor air.
  • Use natural, non-toxic products when cleaning your home. Some of the best cleaners are the safest: baking soda, vinegar, lemon, and soap and water.
  • Dispose of all toxic household items at an appropriate Household Chemicals & Computer Recycling Facility

Healthy Cleaning Tips (from Children’s Health Environmental Coalition)

Get loads of healthy cleaning tips.

  • White distilled vinegar can disinfect, deodorize, and dissolve tarnish and gummy substances. It can be used for everything from softening cotton diapers to cleaning your hardwood floors.
  • Lemon juice can cut through grease, lighten stains, and polish metal.
  • Baking soda can eliminate odors and clean. It’s good on the sink, tub, oven, and countertop. Sprinkle it on the carpet and vacuum to remove odors.  Clean drains by pouring ½ cub baking soda down the drain followed by 1 cup vinegar, wait 15 minutes and then pour hot water down.
  • Washing soda can be used instead for extra-stubborn stains or greasy ovens.
  • Borax can be used instead of washing soda and can also be used to kill mold. (Borax is toxic when swallowed, so exercise caution.) You can pour 1 cup of borax into the toilet and leave overnight for extra-strength cleaning.
  • Note: Almost anything with “fragrance” listed as an ingredient contains phthalates or other chemicals harmful to human health. Instead, try using essential oils to mask smells when necessary.

Being organized.  What does that mean?      
It is a learnable skill.
Finding what you need and when you need it.

Know your audience & know your style!
Out of sight/out of mind vs. the clean freak.
Create SIMPLE systems that children can sustain.
Model these systems on school and you will get the same behavior.  Children put things away at school!

Real Estate 101
What is the purpose of the space? Create zones!
What is the real estate value?
Can the items afford the rent?

Safer & Greener Toys: the Alphabet Soup of Toxins

  • Bisphenol A (BPA) mimics the hormone estrogen and may interfere with ovulation and reproduction as well as brain-cell development. BPA is a plasticizer that is found in (and leaches out of) products such as polycarbonate water bottles, baby bottles, canned goods, and other hard plastic items, e.g. children’s toys.
  • Phthalates—including DEHP, DBP, BBP, DINP, and DIDP, and DNOP— have estrogen mimicking properties and are linked to cancer and diseases of the kidneys, liver, and other organs.  Babies born to mothers who were exposed during pregnancy can be born with birth defects and development delays. Phthalates are used in many plastic kids items, in vinyl, and it is found in many cosmetics and skincare products (even ones sold as safe for children/babies).
  • Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs) are commonly used as flame retardants. They are potent neurotoxins: the US EPA says that PBDEs are particularly toxic to developing animal brains; they impair the development of the nervous system; and they have been linked to behavioral deficits, hyperactivity, thyroid hormone disruption, and possibly cancer. PBDEs are slowly released over the life of the plastics, foams, and fabrics to which they are applied and they are regularly applied to children’s clothing, mattresses, and toys.

Action Items for Finding Safer Toys
Visit to see how safe your favorite toy is.

  • Ask for hand-me-downs or buy second-hand.  (Lead paint was made illegal in 1978 in the U.S., so if you find some beautiful, U.S. made wooden toys from the 1980s you are probably safe.)
  • Buy hand-crafted toys made from natural materials (e.g. wood and wool) from small, reliable companies made in countries with high standards of safety (e.g. the EU or the USA).
  • If you do buy plastic toys look for ones made with safer plastics, such as those labeled with a “2” or “4” or “5.” Avoid all vinyl (sometimes labeled with a “3” or “V,” though most PVC products are not labeled). When in question, call the company or find a similar product clearly labeled PVC, lead, and phthalate-free.
  • Avoid toys made in China to the extent possible (80% of all toys in the US are made in China, and ALL of the toys recalled during the height of the toxic toy scandal for dangerous lead levels were made in China).
  • Restrict the number of battery operated toys (batteries are sources of mercury, lead, cadmium, and other dangerous heavy metals). And these toys can be really annoying.
  • Look for recalls:
  • Buy a lead-test kit, available at most hardware stores, to test surfaces.
  • Ship discarded toys back to the manufacturer.  In many countries companies are required to take back their products when they have been used. This forces the company to figure out what to do with their toxic items that are unsafe for the local dump.The 6 P’s to Peace of Mind
  • Pull and Pile/ Purge/ Purchase/ Place/ Perfect
  • (Learn more great strategies from professional organizer and project manager Maureen Gainer in this post.)Celebrate More, Consume Less
    Now that you have weeded out the bad toys and gotten your playroom green and organized, one way to keep it that way is to reduce the amount of new stuff coming in.  Some ideas:
  • For birthday parties: Consider theme parties or volunteer parties that make it easy to gift your child without getting a lot of junk.  For instance, have a garden-theme and ask for seeds.  Or, volunteer at a food bank and ask for donations of food.
  • For holidays:  For closer family, you might explain that you don’t want toys from China or that you are avoiding plastic toys. You can also ask for hand-made gifts.  If you WANT are open to hand-me-downs ask people for them instead of new gifts.
  • Register: When given a chance, register at independent stores and websites. The is a great alternative for any occasion.

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