I recently used (without a respirator) an assortment of “so called” eco-friendly paint removers (all of which were said to be non-caustic and free of methylene chloride) to remove paint from a 25-year-old concrete slab, in preparation for staining the concrete. The following is a list of the products I tried and how they faired in my testing.
We welcome you to join Doug Cameron of EcoSafe Spaces for a home detox information session and workshop this Saturday at Austin Baby! Topics will include: health-minded, low-toxic options for remodeling, cleaning, and furnishing your home, a Q&A session, and much more. Bring your iPhone if you’ve got one! Additionally, all attendees will be entered in a raffle to receive a free EcoSafe Home Evaluation, valued at $99.
This Saturday, 9-19-09
@ 2 pm
ok and passed the LEED Green Associate Exam. The exam basically measures your overall understanding of the green building process and how it relates to LEED .I to
For those of you not familiar with LEED, it is an Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. LEED was created by the U.S. Green Building Council, and is the leading national certification process by which registered green building projects are rated. Additionally, LEED is an accreditation program for people interested in increasing their for various forms of green building and design, and then putting that knowledge to a comprehensive, no-nonsense test.for
Overall, I have been very impressed by the streamlined resources, USGBC!, and levels of measurement that LEED offers, as well as their emphasis on on staying current with constantly updated information and technology. I most definitely plan to continue my participation with this program now and in the future. Thanks
Recently while doing some research for a friend, I realized there is very little information available on how to maintain your granite counter-tops in a safe and practical way. This becomes especially important in the kitchen.
So while granite is still not the best selection for an antimicrobial food prep surface, due to
its naturally porous nature, even after it’s sealed (quartz, stainless steel, or even man made stones are probably better choices); it can be maintained on a daily basis without highly-toxic cleaners or polishes.
Method has a great line of products for this specific purpose, including these handy wipes (top left). Their spray version along with a micro-fiber cloth actually doubles for both granite and marble, but regardless of preference both products are said to provide virtually the same daily clean and streak-free polish.
FYI, it’s best not to use acidic cleansers like bleach or vinegar on natural stone because
over time they will etch the surface, degrading the smooth finish and top coat sealer. Tap water can actually do the same thing just not as drastically; for this reason it should not be left standing on the counter, and is not recommended as a cleaner (distilled water is fine). Enjoy!
You’ve probably heard about this BPA thing that keeps coming up in the news. If you haven’t, let me briefly explain. Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical building block that is used primarily to make polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resins, and is commonly found in food and drink containers such as: the liners of canned goods* (including baby formula), liners of some aluminum drink containers, most plastic bottles marked#7 **, and many baby bottles.
The problem with BPA is that a reasonable amount of scientific research has shown that, once in your body, it acts as an endocrine disruptor (in simple terms, your body thinks it is a hormone). This misunderstanding can potentially cause a lot of problems (especially in young children, who are the most vulnerable) like feminizing males, and bringing on puberty and menopause too early in females. It can also potentially cause neurological disorders and even some forms of cancer. Here is a link to an article from the Environmental Working Group that goes more in depth than I care to.
Now for the original purpose of this blog, here are some simple solutions to help you and your family minimize your BPA intake.
1- Avoid canned foods (especially pastas and soups that seem to leach the highest levels of BPA due to high acid content, and infant food and formula because its just not worth the risk) whenever possible (try a fresh alternative; or in the case of formula, powdered might be a better option).
2-If buying canned goods, try BPA-free alternatives (like beans
from Eden Foods ; organic coconut milk, mango chunks, papaya chunks, tropical fruit salad, and most pineapple items from Native Forest; and tuna from Vital Choice or Ecofish).
3- Invest in reusable stainless steel water bottles***(we suggest Kleen Kanteen).
4- If you use a baby bottle, try one of many BPA-free versions now avaliable (please do your research though…even if the bottle says BPA-Free). Thinkbaby (locally Austin) is a good brand, along with some glass alternatives.
And please, don’t get overwhelmed. Just try to stay informed, and act accordingly whenever possible.
*Canned food liners seem to leach the most BPA (far more than hard plastic, which most importantly should be avoided to heat liquids in or to put in the dishwasher). Most pre packaged glass food and drink containers do contain a small amount of BPA in the underneath lining of the lid, but relatively speaking these are still good options (especially when compared to cans).
**Plastics #1,2,and 4 do not contain BPA and are considered safer (though Pyrex or glass containers are even better choices for food storage).
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This short video provides a great overview of how to best prepare for your baby’s first home.
Another great resource from Healthy Child, Healthy World. Enjoy!
The Good Guide is a fantastic and relatively new application available for the iPhone (also found on the web at www.GoodGuide.com). This thing is just perfect for trips to the grocery store. Any time you have a question about a product, you just type its name in the search box and voila! Watch out though, once you get the hang of the Good Guide, you can easily spend an hour plus in the personal care aisle alone.
One of my favorite features is the box that comes up telling you about what ingredients to avoid in the particular type of product you just searched for. After a while, you know what to avoid in deodorants, shampoos, face washes, etc.
Hey lets be honest, trying to figure out what bad things are in many of our products is difficult when the list reads like this: fjalsjfpopjsalfj, alkjflkasdjfljasd, ajfldjfadlsjfkliajsjklf, polkay, fa’skdfpokkfas, faffoda,skfioas, fakopsfkpoaskfpo, oakfpoaskfoka, ofafkopkfpodsakpgeoarf, lgjgahfflkjhadjaif, ajfoajisfjaoi;jfagahtjfue, gsliljttoudnhjkaye jshdfkjhfhsskj, ahskdhfakshfkjkadsshni and lawjfisajifo.
You get the picture, right? That is how those ingredient lists look to the lay person, and even to many people like me, who may know more or less what to look for and avoid. It can be totally overwhelming with such long lists of unpronounceable words and such small writing.
Another great feature of the Good Guide is the rating system which includes three categories: Health, Environmental, and Social; all of which usually come with an explanation. Additionally, those categories are combined for an overall ranking. All ranking are done on a scale from 1 to 10 and are also color coded, green being the top tier of course!
If you just want recommendations, the Good Guide has those too. It is quite interesting to see that some of the brands you might associate with as green, actually don’t rank very high at all. Equally interesting is the fact that some of the more common and mainstream brands have recently made changes to include or alter their products to be more in line with the increased consumer demand for healthy, green, and socially-responsible choices. Our decisions really do make a difference, it seems.
If you are curious as to why the Good Guide should be trusted, check them out for yourself, but I can tell you they are advised by a team of doctors. And, no not all products are listed, but over 70,000 are. That’s a pretty darn good start as far as I’m concerned, and I definitely have noticed this number increase since I first started using this application. Their self-proclaimed organizational status is not “non- profit“, but instead is “for benefit,” whatever that means. But seriously, they are linked up with a ton of great organizations like the Environmental Working Group, Healthy Child Healthy World, and Green America.
Energy efficiency is a very real issue in today’s environment. Modern construction codes require a much tighter building envelope than the homes most of us grew up in (though there are minimal ventilation standards determined by ASHRAE).
The tighter and more efficient we make our building envelope, the more we are trapped with the “things” inside our home, ultimately affecting our air. Common items found inside our homes contain potentially harmful VOCs. Frequent examples are formaldehyde and some plasticizers (to mention a few), individually and in many cases, both commonly found in: in carpet, vinyl, plywood, OSB, MDF, PVC, insulation, paint, sealers, adhesives, furniture polish, candles, air fresheners, household cleaners, un-vented fuel burning appliances, clothing, etc. Flame retardants, widely used in and on (but not exclusively with) petroleum based products (which are more apt to catch fire), are another potential indoor environmental problem. Some common products that generally contain fire retardants are: furniture, carpets, mattresses, pillows, and even computers. Then, there are home pesticides, which frequently contain additional potentially harmful compounds like organophosphates.
If most of us didn’t consistently build and fill our homes with such high levels of toxins (low to moderate levels are probably alright for most people, and yes it is difficult to say what low to moderate levels really are, but the newer European Chemical Standards are probably headed in the right direction), we wouldn’t be required to have as much mechanical ventilation (exhausting conditioned indoor air, and bringing in outdoor air) in our homes during the heating and cooling months, which means we could achieve even tighter and more efficient homes. And if you are thinking less ventilation sounds like a bad thing, keep in mind your HVAC system conditions your air (by filtering and dehumidifying it), which removes particulate and keeps moisture at comfortable levels. Therefore, the more outside air we bring in, the more work your HVAC system has to do to.
So end the end, we stay on the safe side..but again, the reason is just an attempt to accommodate all the toxic stuff in our homes including many of the materials our homes are actually made of.
Use of these high VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) materials is unfortunately the norm for most builders (though I must note Austin does have at least a handful of builders that do go against this negative grain). The VOC list goes on and on, like a freshly opened can of worms. Some supplementary organizational links, relating to the ever important subject of IAQ (Indoor Air Quality) and many other healthy home related subjects, can be located via the “why ecosafe” page listed under “resources.” Furthermore, one of many good (and in this case interactive) reads, is on an Oprah blog, called Detox your Home.
So as they say, it is what it is, and the required ventilation standards probably wont change any time soon (and currently for good reason), resulting in slightly less efficient homes than could be achieved otherwise. That said, we can reduce our use of toxic products and materials (one step at a time), from the start of construction, all the way to our purchases and use of household items long after construction has been completed. This is a lifestyle!
Education is power; get informed. Go green!
Another subject that can be tricky is household cleaning. How do we kill all those pesky germs and bacteria, without turning our homes into a toxic environment? Well the answer is, go natural. Before the 1940’s and 50’s (the start of the so called “chemical age”), people cleaned with simple ingredients like vinegar, lemons/limes, baking soda, etc. For fragrances things like essential oils (many of which are naturally antimicrobial, ie. lavender) were used. And then somehow, all that was lost, and we moved in the direction of chlorinated bleach and many other toxic chemicals to clean our homes.
I don’t know about you, but for me, cleaning in small space like a bathroom with chlorine bleach is not a very pleasant experience. My eyes water, nose runs, and my head starts to feel kind of like styrofoam (if you can picture that..), and if I’m not wearing gloves, my skin starts to feel like it is falling off my hands. Maybe I’m not doing it right or something (I’m being sarcastic here..), I would probably be fine if I was wearing a full body suite and respirator …but who wants to do all that?
The fact is “normal” houshold cleaners today contain toxic chemica
ls such as:Alkyl dimethylbenzyl ammonium chloride/hydroxide, Ammonia, Butyl cellusolve, Chlorine, Diethanolamine, Dipropylene glycol monobutyl/methyl ether, Ethylene glycol, Glycol ether, Hydrozyacetic acid, Monoethanolamine, Naptha, Nonylphenol polyethoxylate, Petroleum distallates, Phenols, Sodium hydroxide, Sodium hydroxide, Sodium hypochlorite, and Triethanolamine(thanks Renee Loux for this long and hard to spell list!).
Additionally, the majority of furniture polish, candles, and air fresheners are loaded down with unhealthy stuff like Formaldehyde and Phthalates.
Sounds super confusing right? Let me try to simplify a litte bit, most (if not all) of these chemicals are bad to come in contact with. A few here and there probably aren’t going to be a big deal, but the cumulative effect just can’t be good for us. And if you don’t want to take my word for it, do your own research and see what doctors and scientists have to say about each and every chemical listed above.
Now that the problem has been presented, here are some potential solutions. Make your own cleaners, but if that sounds too granola hippie for you, buy natural cleaners (that are already pre-mixed). Its super easy, and I’m pretty sure you and your family will actually prefer the change.
Personally, I removed all the toxic (and most of them smelly) cleaners from under our sinks and put them in the garage in a air tight plastic tub. Then I replaced them with these much greener alternatives:
Also included but not pictured was dishwashing liquid soap from Seventh Generation, and a number of essential oils I purchased for $5-$10 a piece. I felt like I was breathing easier immediately after! And, cleaning with these products, I’m lovin’ it! Everyone is different so find what works for you, and here are a few places to start.
*The borax can be harmful if ingested (and I mainly use it as an odor free pesticide, though I am currently experimenting with even less toxic alternatives), so store it in a safe place away from kids and pets.
Or, try my friends at TX Green Clean (here in Austin) who mainly use steamers to clean and sanitize your home.
I always try to tell people that greening your existing home doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Sure there is so much stuff to do and often times not enough resources (time/money) to fix everything in one fell swoop.
So rather than get overwhelmed, I treat this process like my workout routine, one day at a time, always striving for consistency, but definitely understanding I’m not going to get in shape or stay in shape in one day or one workout.
Here is what I did today. I got rid of of our not-stick pots and pans that had less that optimal cooking surfaces. Take a look..*
Pretty gross, huh? Well, during the past year, we have started to purchase new pans that are free of Teflon, mainly because we don’t want to eat it (Teflon, that is)! And looking at our old pots and pans, it is fairly apparent, we were doing exactly that, eating it (as well as potentially breathing in [during cooking] suspect perfluorinated chemicals used in Teflon’s production which have been associated with infertility, but have (to date) not been proven to cause cancer in humans). Not any more, here come the replacements (which we purchased one at a time)! Look at the difference.
These “newbies” (to our kitchen that is) have been working out well so far. They are (from left to right): stainless steel (a classic in any gourmet kitchen) by T-Fal, a scratch resistant ceramic-based nonstick interior from Cuisine Art’s “Green Gourmet” line (I’ve had this one for about eight months and still no scratches..), and cast iron by Lodge (a little more difficult to clean than the previous two, but I still use it all the time).
From everything I’ve read these “newbies” should grow very old in our kitchen, without scratching and without contaminating our food with Teflon. Like I said (and many before me have said), one step at a time is all it takes!
*Obviously new Teflon pans are not as bad (on the surface..) as my old ones, mainly because they are not all scratched up, but the reality is they eventually will be (scratched up, or even worse overheated **), and then what? Personally, I would rather invest in and use something that is less delicate, longer lasting, and healthy from start to finish! Now that’s green..
** Always remember to use the vent in your kitchen when cooking.
Paint removers & paint strippers are usually not very pleasant to work with right? From the harsh eye and skin irritating chemicals to the unbearable smells that require a respirator, paint strippers are always toxic… not necessarily.
1- “Citrasolv” by Citrasolv- this orange liquid product seemed to be the most eco-friendly and was helpful with finish cleaning, but I would not recommend it for heavy duty paint removal. No harsh fumes. No reproductive toxicity warning label.
2- “Multi-strip” by Back to Nature- this product came in a gel form and claimed to be able to remove up to 15 layers of paint in one application (This did not happen). Multi strip did work well though and did so without any harsh fumes. The back of the container had a warning label from the state of California (the leading state in product accountability and public protection as far as I’m concerned) which identified a chemical in this product that caused reproductive toxicity. This doesn’t mean Multi-Strip is a bad choice though, just that you probably don’t want to be in close contact with this product if you’re pregnant. Multi-strip dries when ready for removal, and requires a reasonable amount of elbow grease (like most paint removers). We followed up a scrape with a few soap and warm water scrubbings. This would be my product of choice in the future for heavy duty jobs jobs.
3- “Ready-Strip-Spray” by Back to Nature- this product came in a spray bottle (which was convenient) and worked reasonably well but didn’t quite have the toughness I was looking for on this job. No harsh fumes. This product also carried the same warning label from the state of California regarding reproductive toxicity. In my opinion, it would be another good finishing touch spot remover.
4- “Citristrip” by W.M. Barr and Co.- This product came in gel form and worked the best performance-wise (with the Multi-Strip being a close second), but it did have a very strong smell. The smell was that of orange, but my gut tells me this was a cover for VOCs in the product. This was the only product that did make me feel slightly light headed. Do I dislike this product compared to traditional paint strippers? No, absolutely not. Would this product be my first choice in the future? No, it would not. Citristrip did have the same state of California warning label regarding reproductive harm.
5- “Hi-Speed Ready-Strip” by Back to Nature- This product claimed to strip paint in 30 minutes or less, came in a blue liquid form and seemed to work a lot like the “Ready-Strip-Spray” with one big difference – it stained the concrete blue. I attempted numerous cleaning methods to get the blue out of the concrete, but they all failed. The only thing that worked was an angle grinder with a grinding stone attached to it, and this process creates a lot of dust and alters the finish of the concrete slab (which is especially important to avoid when using a transparent stain). I was extremely frustrated with this product and would not recommend it for any application. In retrospect, I should have used it on a small, out-of-sight section of the floor first, but in my defense, I never expected a paint remover to stain like a blue dye. Again, this product gets no love from me! No harsh smell. Same warning label regarding reproductive harm.