Green housecleaning services grow to meet the demand for nontoxic homes
Sarah Dahl is hard at work scrubbing the countertops of a home in Arrowcreek, south of Reno. She’s using a mixture of Borax and Doctor Bronner’s Magic soap. What she’s not using—and won’t use anywhere in the home—are toxic cleaners.
“Most of what I use is vinegar and baking soda,” says Dahl, who started green cleaning at her own home because of her husband’s allergies and her daughter’s asthma.
Her business, A Natural Sparkle, is a green housecleaning service that not only uses nontoxic cleaners—many of which she makes herself—but also uses reusable cloths and sponges to avoid waste. It’s one of a handful of green housecleaning services recently started in Reno as more people become aware of the potential hazards chemical cleaners pose.
According to the nonprofit Green Seal, which has developed standards for environmentally preferable household cleaners, corrosives found in many cleaners for drains, ovens and toilets can burn the skin. Chlorine bleach irritates the lungs and eyes and contains trace amounts of cancer-causing organochlorines. Ammonia also irritates the lungs and eyes. Phosphates, found in dishwashing detergents, can cause algae blooms when leached into waterways from drains. A number of other cleaning products contain air-polluting volatile organic compounds, endocrine-disrupting chemicals, and petroleum, the drawbacks of which are well-documented.
Laura Mederos well remembers the moment she decided to convert her cleaning business, Wow Cleaning Services, to green cleaning. She was cleaning a bathroom with a chemical cleaner. “I breathed it in too much, and—I’m not lying, no joke—I started gagging, choking. My chest hurt for three days. I’m the type of person who hates to go to the doctor. I don’t have insurance. That’s when it started.” She also noticed that air fresheners triggered her intense headaches. Those headaches have stopped since she switched to nontoxic cleaners, such as vinegar for glass and pumice stones to remove water stains. “We try to stay away from any product that has ammonia or chlorine, phosphates and that sort of stuff,” she says.
Tina Hardy, one of Dahl’s clients, said she became interested in nontoxic cleaners when she was pregnant with her now 2-year-old daughter, Matilda. She wanted to create a safe home for Matilda, which evolved into wanting a nontoxic home for herself, her husband and pets, as well. It started with cloth diapers. “Then it was, what will we wash them in? Nontoxic laundry detergent,” she says. “Then it was, what do we put on her body? Then, what do we put on our bodies? It was about making an environment that if she did get under the sink, we wouldn’t have to call poison control.”
For those unwilling or unable to pay for a housecleaner, here are a few green cleaning tips from the experts:
For dusting, use a microfiber cloth with a small bit of natural wood polisher, such as the one by Method. To clean countertops, mold and mildew, mix a teaspoon of eco-friendly dishwashing liquid, like by Doctor Bronner’s, with a teaspoon of Borax and a quart of warm water; pour it in a spray bottle.