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The Smell of Clean – or Chemicals?

The Smell of Clean – Or Chemicals? Don’t be Fooled by Your Own Nose!
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Written by Angela McCall

“Eeewwweee, what is that smell?” I am sure you have heard your children say that thousands of times when a new smell assaults them or you ask them to take out the trash. Restaurant and grocery store marketers caught on to the importance of a mom’s nose years ago. I imagine there are massive conglomerations of twisting turning mazes of vents, pipes, and fans that cleverly place the enticing smells at the front door of the store, beckoning me to take a foray in to the bakery.

One rule that was once accepted universally is that: A Clean Home is a Healthy Home. Generally true, but how do you really know what’s clean? You used to be able to trust your nose….or so we thought. Bleach, Pine-sol, Ajax…the list of what I used to consider the “smells of clean” goes on – and includes what I’ve now learned can be harmful pollutants. Today, as our knowledge about healthy living and clean air has increased, we have learned a lot about what really truly is a clean home. And, unfortunately, the smell can be deceiving.

Most of us are not aware that unless we’ve very carefully chosen the products we’re using to clean, it’s like we’ve left harmful weapons against the health of our families lying out in the open in our homes. Chemicals lingering from cleaning products are causing our homes to be toxic—even though surfaces appear clean and shiny. Allergies, respiratory ailments, and other diseases (including the big ones such as cancer) can thrive in the atmosphere of “just cleaned” homes due to these unhealthy elements. For instance, according to the EPA, the air inside a typical home is on average 2-5 times more polluted than the air outside.

There are a few ways you can be sure you’re providing yourself and family a healthy environment. Here are some things to consider:

• The solutions/chemicals you buy.

• The tools you use.

• Making your own “natural” cleaners.

The Solutions/Chemicals:

This is usually where we all begin when we think “cleaning supplies.” Nowadays, it seems a lot of products seem to “green scream” at us from the store shelves, “Buy ME!!! I’m Eco—this, or Enviro-that…..” Unfortunately, current regulations don’t require companies to list all ingredients on this type of packaging as is required on foods. And there’s no “official” regulation on what’s needed to be certified “green.” To view a short video to find out more about a lawsuit that is currently underway to enforce more stringent labeling, click .

I, along with Terra Wellington, author of ‘The Mom’s Guide to Growing Your Family Green’ recommend always purchasing solutions that carry the Green Seal label, or if you use a service, make sure they do the same. Green Seal is an independent non-profit organization dedicated to safeguarding the environment and transforming the marketplace by promoting the manufacture, purchase, and use of environmentally responsible products and services. Look for the logo on the packaging.

Some products to look for that have GS-8 Green Seal certification are as follows (see full list on Green Seal’s website):

  • Ace Hardware Peroxide Cleaners
  • Office Depot all purpose, glass, and bathroom cleaners,
  • OurHouse Heavy Duty, Shiny Surface, and Carpet & Upholstery
  • Cleaners
Oxy Clean Powdered Bleach
  • Some (not all) Simple Green products have recently been reformulated to receive the Green Seal
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Check the bottles, and kudos to them!

To check the safety of products that you may already be loyal to, or to check products that don’t have the Green Seal, the only objective method at a Mom’s disposal is to refer to the Material Safety Data Sheets for air fresheners and other cleaning solutions we purchase. The MSDS sheets reveal the active ingredients in each product. A resource for MSDS sheets that doesn’t require user registration to access the data is the Food Services of American’s MSDS database: Once you identify the ingredients, then you can learn what health risks may be associated with the chemicals at, which is an online resource for identifying environmental and health polluting substances. Editor’s note: I tried to go through this process to compare the Clorox manufactured Tilex to its “natural” counterpart “Green Works Natural Toilet Bowl Cleaner” from Clorox. The Tilex product had Sodium hypochlorite….which was xxxxxx, but the active chemical in Green Works (Alkyl GLYCOSIDES) had “insufficient data” to provide any recommendations or rankings on it. So, after half an hour of investigation, I was still confused.

The Tools You Use

You’ll want to carefully choose your cleaning tools. I’ll write about two important choices: vacuum and cloth/paper towels. On important rule of thumb is to “go reusable.” High quality Microfiber cloths (at Maid Brigade we use the Unger brand) will literally grab and trap dirt (and many times you need nothing but a little water to clean the whole house!). Also choose microfiber mops, extendable dusters, etc. One note: Microfiber cannot be laundered with cotton cloths, towels, or other laundry because it will trap cotton lint/fibers, and this can lead to ruining the microfiber and/or scratching your surfaces when you use the cloth, so launder separately. You should also use a mild detergent (no bleach) when laundering.

Vacuum: Vacuums should have multi-level filtration systems (preferably HEPA). Check the efficiency rating of micron filtration. For example, our vacuums are 99.9% efficient at filtering particles 1 micron or larger. (1 micron = 1/25,000 in.). Good vacuums should be proud of this rating and list it.

Making Your Own Cleaning Products

There has been a lot of interest recently in how to make your own cleaning products from items typically found under your sink or even in your pantry. () has a great list of common household products that can be used together to make gentle cleaning solutions, including baking soda, vinegar, lemon — even cream of tartar (that takes me back to my own Mom’s kitchen).

The solutions are very easy. For example, to clean a cutting board, use a (leftover) lemon half, sprinkled a little baking soda, and scrubbed up a wonderfully smelling “soft scrub” that will leave the board clean and germ-free. (You could also follow by spraying a little food-grade hydrogen peroxide if you’d like). You can even get better results with home-made cleaners sometimes; vinegar and water used to clean ceramic tile floors will keep your floors clean AND your grout sparkling.

A couple of other links to see useful tips for making your own cleaning solutions are:

So, Moms, as much as I know we’d like to, we can’t use our noses as the judge of clean!

Angela McCall is the owner of Maid Brigade, a residential cleaning company focused on “green cleaning.” To learn more, visitwww.maidbrigade.comor call 972-422-0029. The Plano Maid Brigade crew is below.  You can also visit their booth atLive Green in Planoon Saturday, April 18 at the Plano Centre.


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