10 Tips for Getting Your House Clean and Green

Shelley Seale

When you have little feet running around, creating the best home environment becomes a top priority. Yet many common household products can be potentially dangerous—even deadly—to children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 300 children in the United States are treated for poison-related emergencies every day. Of those 300, two of them die. A leading cause of poison exposure for children under 5 is common household and personal care products, according to the National Poison Data System.

This doesn’t sit well with Aaronica Cole, founder of the site The Crunchy Mommy, which chronicles her approach to green parenting. “Growing up we were always more into more natural things—home-cooked meals over fast foods, lots of plants and fresh fruits and veggies,” Cole says. “When I became a mom, I started learning about all these different medicines and chemicals that we were putting on and in our bodies.”

Particularly after her daughter was diagnosed with eczema—which can be irritated by harsh soaps and detergents—Cole started seriously researching natural substitutes for conventional household products. “I started DIY-ing my own natural solutions, and mom friends were asking me for advice on these solutions as well as just parenting in general. So, I started my blog to share information,” says Cole.

Here, she offers 10 tips on maintaining a clean and green household that keeps toxic chemicals at bay.

  1. Yes, vinegar really can clean almost anything. Cole favors apple cider vinegar and white distilled vinegar solutions to spritz on anything from countertops to shower mildew.

  2. Baking soda combined with hot water and vinegar is particularly good for combatting kitchen grease (even in drains, which otherwise might require a commercial cleaner high in hazardous chemicals)

  3. You don’t have to sacrifice yummy scents when using natural cleaners—essential oils like lemon and lavender smell great and have antiseptic properties.

  4. Make sure your family washes their hands with soap and water often and limit the use of hand-sanitizer, which encourages antibiotic resistance and may include hazardous ingredients like triclosan, phthalates, and parabens.

  5. Ditch the cleaning pods. “We’ve seen the reports of teens being rushed to the hospital after eating the Tide pods. Cascade [dishwasher] pods can burn the esophagus and lead to death potentially,” says Cole. While most conventional laundry and dishwasher detergent is harmful if consumed, KidsHealth, the consumer resource from the Nemours Foundation’s Center for Children’s Health Media, finds particular fault with cleaning pods because the round, brightly-colored pieces look very much like candy.

  6. For laundry, Cole prefers natural detergents like Molly’s Suds and Nellie’s Laundry Soda. If you’re the DIY type, Cole’s favorite homemade detergent recipe is from Mrs. Happy Homemaker and can be made in bulk for less than $7. Instead of buying liquid fabric softeners, Cole recommends simply adding a cup of white distilled vinegar to a load of laundry in the washing machine.

  7. When it comes to what we’re eating at home, Cole says in most cases, the pesticides used on conventional grocery store produce can simply be washed off, but hungry kids won’t always take time for that step. Organic produce helps keep outside pesticides away. If you really want to get your fruits and veggies clean, “Store-bought fruit cleaner is good, but what I do is make my own solution with a 1:3 mix of white distilled vinegar and water. Let produce soak in the solution for about 30 minutes and it’s good to go!”

  8. Inside your home, “If you have those sugar ants—which are incredibly pesky—mix some powdered sugar with baking soda and put it in the areas they congregate. In a couple of weeks they’ll clear out; and if your kids find it, they’ll be okay, too,” says Cole.

  9. But otherwise, be careful about which bugs you kill—they may be helping to rid your garden or houseplants of other hungry insects. Beneficial bugs include ladybugs, spiders, praying mantis, ground beetles, and lacewings. “Instead of using chemical pesticides outside, invest in ladybugs for your garden, since they’re natural pesticides,” says Cole.

  10. Open the windows and get some fresh air. It might not magically clean your home, but it will do wonders for your mood, energy level, and sleep.