Wednesday, May 26, 2010

{This is Not} a Word From Our Sponsor

It's an unfortunate reality these days that our environment is toxic.  {I started this piece before the oil spill in the Gulf, and now it looks as if the spill is headed into the Atlantic Ocean.}  Our groundwater is becoming contaminated, our air is polluted, our wild caught fish {what's left of them} are full of mercury, our soil is full of chemicals, our food is full of additives and pesticides, our meat and farmed fish are shot full of antibiotics. This is tough for any immune system to have to cope with, but for a child who is immuno- compromised, it's a daily assault.

We have a whole crop of autistic spectrum children on our hands now that are highly environmentally sensitive to all kinds of common, unavoidable things: wheat, soy, corn, dairy, nuts, food additives, chemicals, pollen, dust, mites.  There is now a study correlating ADHD with pesticides.

For children who are living with these kinds of problems, it's important to try to make their home environments as poison free as possible. Here's something simple you can do to make your home less toxic and save tons of money at the same time: replace all of your cleaning solutions with baking soda and vinegar.

I started replacing the conventional cleaning products I'd been using all my life with baking soda and vinegar years ago, when my cat came to live with me. I didn't like the idea of him walking on a floor I'd cleaned with ammonia, and then licking his paws.

I can clean everything in my home with baking soda and vinegar. They are completely non toxic and super cheap, especially if you purchase them in bulk. I buy generic brands in huge sizes. A gallon of house brand white distilled vinegar costs two dollars and forty nine cents at my local market, and lasts for months. I decant it into a smaller bottle to make it easier to pour. Vinegar and baking soda are gentle on your hands, and you don't get sick from breathing the fumes. I'll never buy a commercial cleanser again.

Baking soda easily replaces abrasive cleansers in the kitchen and bathroom. I use it to clean the stove, the sink, the dish drainer, and the shelves of the refrigerator, and it works like a charm. It also cleans the bathtub and all of the bathroom fixtures quite efficiently, with the added bonus of not leaving any scratchy grit behind.

If you have greasy pots, a large handful of baking soda rubbed onto the surface will absorb the grease and shine them up, too.   Burn a pot?  Make a thick paste of baking soda and water, apply it liberally to the burned food, let it sit for a few days, and scrub with an abrasive sponge.  All gone!

I also use baking soda to clean plastic containers after I store something oily inside. Baking soda absorbs the grease right off of the plastic. A slug of vinegar into the soapy water will cut the grease in a sink full of dishes.

A few tablespoons of vinegar mixed with water in a spray bottle works perfectly to clean the refrigerator, kitchen cabinets, and mirrors.  {The smell dissipates quickly.}  You can toss a cup of it into the toilet to clean it. Let it sit for a few minutes, then scrub. You can use vinegar to get rid of mildew in the bathroom, too, by wiping down the tiles with it. Baking soda and vinegar will clean soap scum from a glass shower door without scratching. I use baking soda and vinegar to clean the litterbox, and they deodorize it nicely. Dump them in together, and they fizz up and make scrubbing bubbles for you.

Vinegar will remove many stains, such as mustard, jelly, and coffee, and, mixed in a bucket with some hot water, it will wash your no wax floor.

If you have a child with fragile health at home who lives with allergies and sensitivities, you can really make a difference by getting rid of chemical based cleaners and substituting these healthier options. There are some excellent books about cleaning house without using commercial cleansers. I have a copy of Organic Housekeeping by Ellen Sandbeck and refer to it from time to time when I have a question. A few weeks ago, I learned how to polish silver using salt and baking soda as a soak, then rubbing with more soda. I was very glad to know how to do that, as I had once made myself ill using commercial polish to clean a large quantity of silver.

If you do a Google search on "cleaning with vinegar" or "cleaning with baking soda" you'll get thousands of great ideas for cleaning your home without chemicals.

One more tip for keeping the house cleaner and toxin free: take off your shoes when you enter the house, and wear house shoes. I learned to do this when visiting friends in Europe. They keep their house shoes next to the front door, and when they come home, it's as automatic as hanging up their coats to change out of their street shoes. When my friend Birgit had a Boxing Day gathering in her home outside of Stuttgart, I was amused and delighted at the sight of all of her elegantly dressed guests sporting fuzzy bedroom slippers.  {And I'm sure the ladies were lots more comfortable in their slippers than in the high heels they left sitting next to the front door.}

My European friends' daughters and their playmates always packed their hausschuhe into their satchels when going on play dates after school. I'm so attuned to this now that the last time I visited them, I packed my house shoes in my carry on along with my toiletries. I was glad that I thought to do so, because my bag didn't arrive when I did, and their two hundred year old, drafty house has stone floors.

I've been wearing dedicated inside shoes for years, and it makes a huge difference in how often I have to vacuum and how hard I have to work to wash the floors. Shoes track in all kinds of things from the sidewalk, like lead from car exhaust and dog poop, that I would rather not have in my home. I keep a few extra pairs of house shoes around for guests, and no one seems to mind using them. I try to warn first time guests before they visit when I think of it.

As far as laundry detergents go, I would recommend an unscented one with a short list of ingredients. Skip the dryer sheets, which are full of chemicals.

As for personal products, I use Bert's Bees shampoo because it doesn't contain sodium laureth sulfate, a cheap foaming agent that is said to be an irritant. Whether SLES is harmful or not is up for debate, but I don't mind avoiding it. I also think that lotions absorbed by the skin should be as edible as possible, especially when used on children, so I use apricot oil or vegetable glycerin for moisturizing. I would also recommend avoiding highly perfumed bubbles or soaps for a special needs child.  I recommend bathing in Epsom salts; the salts draw toxins out of the body.

 What about sunscreen?  I don't have any product recommendations, but I do know that natural, chemical free screens exist and are worth tracking down, especially if they are being slathered liberally on very young children.

I think that the details, like reducing toxins in the home, making sure that the child is eating healthy food and getting enough sleep and exercise, can add up to a lot in making a special needs child's ability to cope much easier.

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