As tulips and daffodils emerge from the earth, buds pop from tree branches, and temperatures grow increasingly warmer, Mother Nature is announcing the arrival of spring. It’s a time of renewal, and that often prompts thoughts of spring cleaning.
But have you ever wondered why household deep-cleaning is supposed to be a springtime ritual? There are plenty of theories, but it’s widely believed that here in the United States – prior to the introduction of the vacuum cleaner and other devices designed to make cleaning easier and more efficient – March was the best time to do a thorough dusting of one’s home. The temperatures were comfortable enough to open up the windows and air out a house, but flies, mosquitos and other insects weren’t as likely to be a nuisance that early in the year. Also, remember the old adage about March coming in like a lion and out like a lamb; fierce winds at the start of the month were believed to carry dust and germs out of a house … and also to eliminate any dangerous fumes associated with chemical cleansers.
It seems we’ve known for years that we shouldn’t be breathing in these fumes, which begs this question: If traditional cleansers fill the air with toxins, how “clean” can they really be? Perhaps we’re actually harming ourselves – and our environment – by using them. So what are the alternatives?
Caring for the environment and everything in it is at the heart of the National Aquarium’s mission, and the staff at this famed facility in Baltimore focuses on safe cleaning methods not just in the springtime, but every day. With close to 20,000 creatures making their homes at the Aquarium – and curious guests leaving behind countless fingerprints on all the glass around the facility – the aquarists have thousands of good reasons to develop cleaning practices that make things spotless without harming aquatic life or the millions of visitors who come here to learn about it. The Aquarium team is happy to share these tips for keeping things clean and green this spring and all year round:
- White vinegar diluted with water is a simple, inexpensive and effective all-purpose cleaner. Vinegar is a mold acid, so it helps break up greasy spills and fingerprints and also cleans hard surfaces really well – like all that glass guests peer through at the Aquarium.
- Ditch the paper towels and use reusable microfiber cloths instead. They’re actually less expensive over time, as they can be washed and reused repeatedly. To save even more money, repurpose old T-shirts and towels as cleaning rags.
- Use “green” products that feature plant-based ingredients and fewer harmful chemicals. These are nice alternatives to the cleaners we know from the past, which often used phosphates and harsh chemicals that ended up in our air and water. These days, environmentally friendly brands can be found in your local grocery, drug or big box store.
- Avoid phosphates, which you’ll find in many dishwashing and laundry detergents. They’re big trouble for the environment, affecting aquatic habitats like lakes, rivers and streams because they actually increase algal growth. Ultimately this can result in discoloration and strange odors, making the water unsuitable for swimming (for humans as well as aquatic animals) and harming wildlife.
- Skip the microbeads, those little balls of plastic that are supposed to help scrub and exfoliate. This is more an issue with facial and hand cleansers than household cleaners, but those little beads end up polluting our waterways and ultimately contributing to plastic pollution in our oceans. There are plenty of foaming cleansers that don’t harm the environment but leave you just as clean.
As you embark on plans for spring cleaning this year, remember that what harms the environment isn’t very good for you, your family or your pets, either. Take the time to read ingredients and figure out more natural ways to keep your home as clean as you want it to be while also keeping the air you breathe and the water you drink (and that countless creatures live in) much cleaner, too.