“OPINION” The chemical free home

When our Romanian au pair arrived to live with us, and announced – ‘Yes…I love to clean’ I declared Thank You God !, but soon realised that she was not at all impressed by my collection of items for cleaning – bi-carbonate of soda, microfibre cloths, tea tree oil and lemons.

She took herself off and bought conventional cleaning kit. I came home, and almost fainted out cold from the smell! Once I had stopped using regular cleaning stuff, I am very sensitive to the chemical whiff !.

Scarily, it’s thought that the air inside our homes is up to 7 times more polluted than the air outside. Cleaning products absolutely contribute to that, but the reality is that we are bombarded in our own homes on a daily basis with so many different pollutants, from air fresheners to electro magnetic frequencies, items and products that are allegedly there to enhance and improve our lives.

The good news,- and kids and schools are even taking the lead here- is that with the new awareness of our ‘carbon footprint’ and ‘green is the new black’ ethos, comes a move away from the synthetic chemical household to seeking natural alternatives that are kind to our health, our wallets and the planet in the process. One way is to get’ back to basics’.

If you’d said the word ‘recycling’ to a woman in the 1940’s she’d have thought it meant getting back on her bike if she’d fallen off. They lived simply and cleaned the house using cheap natural things like vinegar, lemons, bi-carbonate of soda – oh and a good dose of ‘elbow grease’.

But for the average family now – with all our labour saving devices, mod cons and increasing need to produce less waste and particularly less toxic waste how can we get back to these basics?

For starters lets get rid of this idea that we need to be ‘ultra clinically clean’. Many people now accept the ‘peck of dirt is good for you’ theory.

Certainly we know that to build healthy immune systems our children need to come into contact with ‘normal’ germs from time to time. What doesn’t help a growing immune system is the possible health effects associated with many regular cleaning products – such as bleach, washing detergents, and laundry powders. Potentially toxic chemicals are all around us and most household cleaning products contain VCO’s volatile organic compounds (sounds like an angry carrot pie – doesn’t it?) They evaporate easily and build up in the air and can aggravate children who are prone to breathing problems. Of course I wouldn’t suggest that any one bottle of anything will cause illness or irritation but I do believe the accumulative effect of the many different potentially toxic chemicals most likely will, over time.

So what are the chemicals we now know we should be looking out for and avoiding, and what do the ‘natural’ companies replace these products with?

Many synthetic chemical cleaning and laundry products are manufactured from petrochemicals – it may surprise you to know these are classed as hazardous waste.

Most detergents contain phosphates, sodium laureth sulphates, Lauramine oxide (another skin irritant) alcohol and synthetic fragrances which can trigger asthma attacks, and can even be hormone disrupting. I could go on and scare you with a whole host of other chemical names but perhaps its better to take the optimistic approach. The good news is that there are many alternatives now that are kinder to the environment ! We need to look for the ones that biodegrade easily, and are plant or vegetable based using essential oils if fragrance is needed, .contain no perfume or colourants – known carcinogens which are entirely useless, just because a detergent is ‘green’ or blue it won’t make it clean any better!

For general cleaning, a microfibre cloth (e-cloth) will sort most surfaces. Add a drop or 2 or tea tree oil which is antibacterial and remember nothing shines a ceramic surface like lemon juice. No-one throws away a lemon in my house – however manky. For air freshening forget those scary plug in ones and spend a couple of quid on a plant spray, half fill with water and a couple of drops of essential oil and spritz to your hearts content.

Fortunately over time our fabulous au-pair was totally converted. From living in a more ‘naturally healthy home’ she no longer suffers from headaches, mild acne and sore hands. A tribute – I like to think – to my almost evangelical zeal for the ‘Imperfectly Natural’ cause!

Janey Lee Grace

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