VU's Green Office

Green Tip: Spring Cleaning

Green Tips | March 5, 2018

Spring cleaning is our time of year to transition from winter to spring: to clean out our closets, to declutter our spaces, to swipe clean our floors, and sweep out the previous season from our homes. Unfortunately, many of these chemicals and household cleaners we use leave an invisible and insidious chemical trail in their wake. Here are your seven tips for making this year’s spring cleaning an efficient and environmental one while limiting negative effects on your health from this year’s ritual:

1)  Toss out [use] paper towels and use sustainable alternatives. Americans toss out 13 billion pounds of paper towels every year, the equivalent of 40 pounds or 80 rolls per person. Manufacturing these cleaners uses 110 million trees, 130 billion gallons of water, not to mention C02 emissions from distribution. 3,000 tons of paper towel waste goes to landfills. Biodegradable alternatives such as compostable and rewash-able durafresh cloths, microfiber cloths, natural sponges, brooms, and reusable mops and rags made from old clothes significantly cut the manufacturing and disposal-related waste out of your cleaning process. Win, win, win.

2) Use DIY cleaners to keep your long-term air and water pollution to a minimum. This list shows you how the “fantastic four” natural cleaning products, lemon, baking soda, vinegar, and olive oil can be used to clean tiles, ovens, floors, windows, microwaves, and more. Meanwhile, phosphorus from dishwasher detergent, nitrogen from surface cleaners, ammonia in cleaning products, and Volatile Organic Compounds are all used in fertilizing plants. They don’t get filtered out of water by waste treatment programs. When they contaminate water beds, these chemicals cause plant overgrowth. When these plants decay and reduce oxygen supplies in the water, algae blooms start — and are widespread across NY state. VOCs pollute air as much as six years or more after application. Doing it yourself with cleaner chemicals is a lot cleaner and less costly (and easier) than you think!

3) Dispose of clutter and recycle unused clothing to clear out your residence. Leave your shoes at the door to prevent heavy metals, waste, and other items on your soles from entering your newly-pristine space.

4) Do basic house cleaning by using minimal electricity. Vampire energy bleeds into our electric bill when we leave our devices on standby mode. Power strips can help solve this problem. 4% of energy in the US is consumed in this way, equal to 100 million tons of oil. Vacuum with the lights off and unplug electronic appliances when not in use to save power when cleaning.

Replace incandescent bulbs with CFL bulbs, which can save $30 in its lifetime and use two to three times less energy than their incandescent counterparts. Swapping one bulb alone saves enough power to light 2.5 million US homes.

5) Go paperless on all your bills and mailings. Each American family tosses out 2,500 pounds of paper each year, most of it junk mail that can be avoided. Use recycled paper, when paper use cannot be avoided.

6) Increase your resident’s water efficiency while you are cleaning, and in the long run. In the US, 100 gallons are consumed each day per household. Toilet dams reduce water use when flushing, and low-water-use shower heads reduce water use by 50-70% when lathering especially. Stop running the water when you brush your teeth!

7) Cut out the air fresheners. Period. These cheap fresheners, which trample over bad smells instead of neutralizing them, are used in 75% of US homes—a $2 billion dollar industry—and the National Resources Defense Council found chemicals that disrupt hormones and cause birth defects in 12 of 14 tested fresheners. For sustainable alternatives, consider creating your own spray with water and essential oils and simmering spices such as cinnamon and lavender. Please, please, please: do the basics, too, by taking out the trash and opening windows, and cleaning your residence. Sustainable air fresheners can only mask so much.

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