When it comes to figuring out how to keep potentially toxic substances out of your home, Jennifer Higgs says it can be as simple as following your nose.
“Anything that has a very strong odor – bleach, ammonia – is something that you don’t want to use,” explains Higgs, the owner of Growing Matters Green Childcare. “When something has that intense of a smell, you can tell it’s something to avoid.”
At both her home and her business, she does everything she can to limit exposure to these types of products. She doesn’t want her seven-year-old son or the children she cares for breathing the substances in, touching them, or – since children tend to put their hands into their mouths often – ingesting them.
Instead, she relies on products like tea tree oil , apple cider vinegar, and concentrated lemon juice for their disinfectant properties on various surfaces. Hot water and vinegar can also work for spot cleaning, and she scrubs with baking soda when some abrasive action is required. While Higgs has some tried-tested-and-true cleaning recipes that she mixes up, she also likes using Dr. Bronner’s soap for some cleaning tasks.
As a condition of licensing for her facility, Higgs is required to use bleach in certain scenarios (to conform with hygiene regulations.) However, she only does so when the children aren’t around, and she also rewashes once or twice with natural cleaning products afterwards. She does not use and does not allow perfume-scented products in her facility, although she does use essential oils.
The term ‘non-toxic’ can mean different things to different people; it can point to avoiding certain chemicals (for example, phthalates, PCBs, BPA) or certain materials. In Higgs’ case, she has committed to only using stainless-steel or cast-iron cookware (no aluminum or nonstick pots and pans) in food preparation, and plastic-free food storage. She also does not use microwaves to prepare food – there isn’t even one in the child-care space – and invested in a carbon water filtration system for drinking and cooking.
Art supplies and toys are non-toxic whenever possible, except for some outdoor play items. Vaporizers/air purifiers help clean dust and allergens from the air, while plants also help with air quality. Peace lilies, chrysanthemums and snake plants are popular choices, with NASA having even tested their efficacy at removing substances like formaldehyde, benzene and trichloroethylene.
It might seem like a lot of work to do all of this, but Higgs says it’s really just a matter of learning different habits.
“Make a commitment to learning, say, three endocrine disruptors to avoid, and scanning the labels of pre-made products will very quickly become second nature…” she explains. “Cleaning products are ingested just like food, so you have to look at them the same way – you have to read labels just like you do with food.”
She also recommends finding a good all-purpose soap for both household use and personal use. Many are plant-based and come in bar form. That’s often considered more environmentally friendly because there is less water weight being transported around.
In many cases, people who have used the same cleaning agents for years may be loath to try anything new. Higgs says it’s perfectly acceptable to try one substitution at a time, to ensure that a less-toxic option works well. It may require some trial and error.
That having been said, it can be more cost effective in the long run to buy bulk ingredients for some of the different cleaning solutions you can mix up.
“It can be a bit of an investment up front, but once you find the right recipe, it pays off,” says Higgs. “It’s well worth it to create a better space for you and your children to be in.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019