How much of your day is spent indoors? Inside your own home? If you're like most Americans, you spend up to 90 percent of your life in an enclosed, indoor location - and more than half of that inside your own home. Strangely enough, our concern for environmental health doesn't always translate into a concern for a healthy indoor environment as well as a healthy outdoor environment.

The overall health of a home is usually affected by not one, but many sources of pollutants. Add heat, humidity, and modern-day, energy-efficient construction practices to the picture, and the concentrations of existing pollutants dramatically increase. In an effort to save energy and make our homes energy-efficient, we've tightened them up, which means we're sealing in our homes many chemicals found in common cleaners.

That's the bad news. The good news is that the process of detoxifying your home is simpler than you might think. While larger and more unwieldy environmental problems loom all around us, preventing and reducing the risks associated with exposure to pesticides, household cleaners, and other sources of toxic chemicals can be done by anyone, at any time.

Cleaners, polishes, and pesticides are significant sources of toxics in the home. When these must be brought into your home, be sure to use and dispose of them according to directions on the label. Chemicals in cleaners and polishes are often a mixture of complex, unnamed compounds. Some contain strong acids (drain cleaners) or bases (oven cleaners). Do not use of dispose of these together. Others may contain petroleum distillates knowns as "grease cutters."

Avoid detergents with mercury, phosphates, and heavy metals, such as arsenic and zinc, which can cause persistent problems in both indoor and outdoor environments.

Consider these one dozen ways to use non-toxic alternatives in your home:

  1. Surface Cleaner: For tile and bathroom fixtures, use baking soda dissolved in water, applied on a damp cloth. For cleaning your toilet bowl, use baking soda and vinegar or lemon juice and borax. Cola that has gone flat can be poured in the bowl, left to sit for one hour, brushed, and flushed.
  2. Drain Opener/Cleaner: Pour boiling water directly down your kitchen drain, not into the basin, twice weekly to prevent clogs. Use a drain trap/strainer to catch food or hair. To clear a clogged drain, use a metal snake or plunger.
  3. Oven Cleaner: Clean your oven often with baking soda (mix three tablespoons soda with one cup warm water). Rub gently with steel wool. Use oven liners or tinfoil to catch spills. Sprinkle salt on spills while oven is still warm. When the oven cools, scrape and wipe the area clean.
  4. Chlorine Bleach: Use dry bleach, borax, or washing soda to whiten clothes. Never combine bleach and ammonia together, as they produce a toxic gas. Borax is also a good grease cutter.
  5. Window Cleaner: Apply vinegar and water (two teaspoons vinegar to one quart water), squeegee off, and dry with a soft cloth or newspaper.
  6. Linoleum Floor Cleaner/Wax: Mop with one cup of white vinegar mixed with two gallons of water to remove dull, greasy film. Add a small amount of skim milk to the rinse water. This will shine the floor.
  7. Rug and Upholstery Cleaner: Club soda works well as a stain remover as does a solution of water and vinegar (1/4 cup each). Upholstery shampoo can be made by combining 6 tablespoons of mild soap flakes, 1 pint of boiling water, and 2 teaspoons of household ammonia. Mix and whip the mixture with a beater. Brush only the foam into the soiled upholstery. Be sure to wash kitchen utensils completely after use.
  8. Furniture Polish: Polish with one teaspoon lemon oil or almond oil dissolved in one pint of baby oil. Wash with oil soap or Castile soap and water.
  9. Spot Removers: Use club soda to remove fruit juice, tea, gravy, ketchup, and mud; cold water immediately for blood; lemon juice for ink, and perspiration; beaten egg whites for spots on leather. Use the oil from crushed walnuts to conceal nicks and scratches.
  10. Shoe Polish: Avoid polishes which contain trichloroethylene, methylene chloride, or nitrobenzene. Instead, rub shoes with lemon juice and buff with soft cloth.
  11. Metal Polish (Aluminum, Brass, Copper, Silver): Soak silver in one quart of boiling water with one teaspoon baking soda or cream of tartar, one teaspoon salt, and a piece of aluminum foil. Polish with toothpaste and rinse. Pour lemon juice or vinegar and salt over copper and rub. For brass, use one-half teaspoon salt and one-half cup white vinegar with enough flour to make a paste — let it sit 25 minutes to 1 hour. Wipe clean. Soak aluminum in one quart boiling water with two teaspoons cream of tartar.
  12. Insect Control: For an effective insect spray, blend six cloves of crushed garlic, one minced onion, one tablespoon dried hot pepper and one teaspoon pure soap in four quarts hot water. Let the mix sit one to two days and then strain it before using. To control roaches, place bay leaves around cracks in the room. Set out a dish of equal parts baking soda and powdered sugar or equal parts of oatmeal flour and plaster of Paris, or chopped bay leaves and cucumber skins, or crushed tobacco and water. As for ants, pour a line of cream of tartar, red chili powder, paprika, or dried peppermint leaves at point of entry. To control fleas, give your pets brewer’s yeast, garlic tablets, or vitamin B and wash them regularly in herbal baths prepared with fennel, rue, or rosemary to repel fleas from animals. Finally, cedar chips, newspaper, and dried lavender are good substitutes for moth balls.