For a long time, I hated the term “go green.” Sometimes the advice was simply out of reach or didn’t apply to my situation. I cannot afford a hybrid car, and there is no public transportation in our town. Other things didn’t seem that important. Was it really better to pay lots of money for a special “green” cleaner? What about “all natural” shampoo, conditioner, and body wash? For a while, I couldn’t even find the recommended versions of laundry detergent or cleaning products in our rural area. Thankfully, more and more options are becoming easily available. However, not everything promoting itself as a “green” option really is. I had another go green challenge too. How to cut down on waste and trash? Eliminating toxic chemicals in our home was one thing, trying to keep stuff out of the landfill was another.
We all need clean water, clean air, and clean soil. No one I’ve ever met disputes that. It’s important to keep harmful things out of our world environment, yes. But on a personal level, it’s also important to keep them out of our home environment. The air we breathe every day, the personal products we use, the cleaners we apply to surfaces, all linger and affect us.
I have a long way to go on both counts, but here are five simple, easy ways to cut down on both chemicals and trash in your home:
- Ditch the dryer sheets and get wool dryer balls. Dryer sheets eliminate static and soften clothes by covering them with an ultra-fine layer of surfactant. The surfactant contains a fatty molecule and a positive charge. The fatty molecule creates that soft feeling (and makes your towels less absorbent) and the positive charge removes static. According to How Stuff Works, companies do not have to disclose all the chemical ingredients in their dryer sheets. The fragrances as well as the surfactant chemicals all remain on the clothes and are released into the air (if you can smell it, it means there are particles in the air). You aren’t just touching dryer sheet chemicals, you are inhaling them. Wool dryer balls have two advantages. First, they are reusable–you won’t throw a load in the dry only to discover you are out. Second, they are nothing but wool. No smells, no surfactant, no added chemicals. Wool dryer balls soften clothes and shorten drying time, but they don’t eliminate static. For that, you have to add a baseball-size sphere of compacted aluminum foil.
- Get rid of the smelly stuff! And by smelly stuff, I mean all the things we use in our home to make it smell nicer: scented candles, wax melts, air fresheners, plug-ins, carpet powders and sprays, and other scents. Remember, if you can smell it, it is releasing molecules into the air and you are inhaling them. One of the quickest ways to our brain is through our nose–that’s why smells trigger memories so strongly. A welcoming smell in a house immediately predisposes us to like the environment. A negative smell makes it impossible to have a good first impression. How do we make the house smell nice without heating, dispersing, spritzing or spraying a mystery concoction of artificial smells into the air? Try a cool mist or ultrasonic diffuser with high-quality, pure, properly grown and distilled essential oils. Your home can smell like lavender or peppermint, cinnamon with ginger and cloves, or lemon and lime, with no ill effects or headaches. Better, high-quality oils like Young Living will actually give therapeutic benefits while making the house smell great! Cool mist diffusers are great for dry areas; ultrasonic diffusers are better for humid climates where more moisture in the air isn’t desired.
- Green your clean. Your cleaning products, that is. Go take a look in the cabinet. I’ll wait. If yours looks like mine used to, you have an all-purpose cleaner, a glass cleaner, a mopping solution, dish soap, something for the soap scum in the shower, and something else for the toilet bowl. I started into the world of gentler, safer cleaners when I bought pet rats for my classroom. Little animals with sensitive little noses needed non-toxic cleaners, I reasoned, so I bought one. It didn’t turn out to be the best non-toxic cleaner, but it started me on a long, winding path toward better, safer cleaners for my house. I had always been sensitive to smells and often gagged when cleaning with typical cleaners. I thought it was a necessary evil. Then I gave Young Living’s Thieves cleaner a try. Yes, I love the smell. Even more, I love how it works. It cleans glass and wood beautifully and does an excellent job mopping floors. Because it is concentrated and I dilute it myself, I reuse the same spray bottles over and over–safe cleaning, less trash, double win! (Young Living also has safe, environmentally-friendly dishwasher detergent, dish detergent, and laundry detergent.)
- Try a cup. Being a woman is weird sometimes. For about one week a month, I put absorbent materials with undisclosed ingredients in my underpants and into my body. It’s right next to some of the most sensitive and thin-skinned mucus membranes I have. Then, I’m not supposed to think about what chemicals might be involved. Weird. Women might do this for four decades straight. According to a 2015 article by CNN, the ingredients in feminine protection products are not listed, “because they are regulated and approved as medical devices by the Food and Drug Administration and full disclosure is not required.” (Wait, it’s a medical device, for a totally natural part of life, that is available in any convenience store? What other “medical devices” can you just go out and buy at Wal-Mart at 2 am?) Classification as a medical device likely means that a higher standard of safety is required, but also means that we don’t know what all is in there. That makes informed choice kind of hard. If you feel a bit weird about what might be in contact with your mucous membranes for approximately 10,500 days of your life, you could try a menstrual cup. These cups are typically made of medical grade silicon, and are inserted into the vagina to catch and hold menstrual flow for a few hours or more (it depends on how heavy your flow is). Then it is removed, dumped, washed and reinserted. No trash, and I find that my cup holds more than a very absorbent tampon used to, without drying out the tissue. There are many types, including Moon Cup, Yukki, Lena, Lunette, Luna, Lily, Diva Cup, Femme, and Meluna.
- Make your own moisturizer. Want a scare? Check this out from the FDA’s own website, “The law does not require cosmetic products and ingredients, other than color additives, to have FDA approval before they go on the market, but there are laws and regulations that apply to cosmetics on the market in interstate commerce.” (emphasis mine) If you use it on your face or body for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance, it is a cosmetic product and does not need FDA approval. This means that facial cleansers, make-up of all types, shave cream, deodorants, and moisturizers are under less regulation and scrutiny than many other products. While cosmetic products must disclose ingredients, they are not required to list anything that is a “trade secret.” Trade secrets include things like the scent or flavor of certain products. The good news is, it can be easy to make your own replacements for certain products. I’ve included my favorite recipe for a moisturizing facial serum as a graphic, but it’s not just your moisturizer you can replace. The internet and Pinterest are teeming with DiY recipes for personal care products. Nearly all of them are infused with essential oils to support health and wellness. Make your own deodorant (note, it isn’t an antiperspirant; you’ll still sweat), body butter, body lotion, and shave cream (for mom or dad). An extra perk of DiY products is that they produce less trash. Store these in reusable jars, and save money and landfill space. Most of them last much longer than store-bought products too (seriously, that deodorant recipe lasts me about a year).
I don’t naturally distrust anything with a long chemical name. I don’t think natural automatically means safer or better. However, I like that swapping typical products out for greener alternatives means I feel better, my family feels better, and that I’m putting fewer things in the trash. I like that we are seeing companies pay attention to how they make their products and what they put into them, not just the end result. And I like that it’s starting to be easy and accessible for those of us who, honestly, aren’t that crunchy.