Give everything from the sheets to the curtains a "safe wash" (a combination of baking soda and white vinegar) in an effort to remove some of the volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs are released in gas form by many of the things we use in our homes, from paints and office equipment (such as printers and copiers) to craft materials (like glues and permanent markers) and cleaning products.
The term "dry cleaning" is actually a little misleading. This technique coats clothes in a chemical -- usually perchloroethylene (PERC) -- that tends to be better for cleaning delicate fabrics, such as silk and cashmere, than regular soap and water. Unfortunately, PERC has been linked to cancer and a number of other health problems. Many cleaners actually send their clothes to dry-cleaning plants, which can release huge amounts of PERC into the earth, air, and water.
A greener solution is to dry-clean as few items as possible. Remove the plastic bag and hang any dry-cleaned clothes outside (or in a mudroom or garage ) to air out before wearing or hanging in your closet. Recycle the dry cleaning bags along with your grocery-store bags and return hangers to the dry cleaner.
Typical linens are made with conventional cotton, which accounts for about 25 percent of the world's insecticide use, including some of the planet's most hazardous chemicals. What's more, linen manufacturers often use dyes derived from petroleum (a nonrenewable resource) in a highly polluting process that leaves chemicals gushing into waterways, ravaging aquatic habitats, and clinging to the sheets, towels, and pillowcases you bury your face in. The same environmental hazards that apply to conventional towels apply to conventional linens. Look for organic-cotton and sustainable-bamboo options.
For a better night's sleep, choose a natural fill. Synthetics, such as polyester, draw on nonrenewable resources and can be more hospitable to allergy and asthma triggers. Among natural fills, go organic when possible, as chemicals used in conventional-fill production can contribute to headaches.
Eco-paints have now entered the mainstream as well. Home-supply stores increasingly carry a wide selection, sometimes in hundreds of colors, with zero or very low levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs are released in gas form by many of the things we use in our homes, from paints and office equipment (such as printers and copiers) to craft materials (like glues and permanent markers) and cleaning products.
Cut down on air-conditioner use. Open windows on opposite sides of the room or, if they are all on one side, set up a fan near the opposite wall to direct the air flow. (This is more effective than placing a fan facing outward in the window to swoosh hot air from the room.) If your second story is oppressive while a lower floor is cool, try opening a window downstairs and venting heat as close to the top floor's ceiling as possible -- by opening the top sash of a window, for example. Open windows wider on upper levels than on lower levels to increase air speed and cooling.
When tackling a stain, act quickly before it has a chance to set. Scoop up any solids with a dull-edged knife, and blot liquids with a white cloth, working from the outside in to avoid spreading. Dab the stain with cool water, or cool water and nontoxic dishwashing liquid. Sprinkle an oily stain with cornstarch and scrape up after 10 to 15 minutes, repeat as necessary, dab with water solution, and rinse. White vinegar, lemon juice, and hydrogen peroxide are all mild bleaches (test a discreet spot first) that can take care of many spots. Presoaking an item in nontoxic laundry detergent or oxygen bleach is another effective treatment.
As knitting fans know, the rhythmic, repetitive action of this hugely popular hobby offers a calming effect on par with meditation or yoga. Now stitchers can do something good for the planet, as well as mind and body, by using new eco-yarns made from organic, sustainable, and recycled materials.
Jewelry. It conveys our most intimate messages of love and commitment, style and individuality, beauty and power. The mining of these pretty pieces, unfortunately, can leave a substantial environmental footprint. What's worse, some of the best gemstones often come from the world's poorest countries, where pay is low and working conditions treacherous. A campaign for better practices in developing mining nations is underway. Meanwhile, some jewelers are creating pieces with ethical responsibility in mind. Here, we sort the good from the bad, and map out the best options.
One of the fastest ways to make your bedroom more environmentally friendly (and to reduce your electricity bill) is to install super-efficient bulbs wherever possible. Long-lasting compact fluorescent bulbs are now easy-to-find replacements for almost any standard incandescent bulb. For your favorite reading lamp, try a full-spectrum compact fluorescent, which mimics natural sunlight.
If seeing the phrase "Dry Clean" on new garments makes you cringe -- either because of the toxic chemicals most cleaners use, or the prices they charge -- there's hope. Many delicate items labeled this way can safely be washed by hand at home using a gentle detergent. Follow these steps to make your clothes clean and green.