July 11, 2008 at 9:41AM
by Deirdre Dolan
Its air conditioning season in New York and this is the first year weve gotten on board. It feels great of course but I have to assume the new ecosystem in the living room had something to do with the death of our orchid. (Although, who am I kidding, it was just a matter of time. My husband says the blooms will return, but Ive watched more un-flowering stalks linger pathetically to death than I can count.) Ive moved a number of plants to the deck for the brutally hot weeks to come, but was reminded by this readers letter that theyll be more valuable to me as air filters when theyre back inside.
I have been faithfully reading your advice on making my house greener and improving my children's lives but I have come to two road blocks.
The first is we are renovating our kitchen but did not order green choices. I looked up plants to put in my house to get rid of the air pollutants but have found that all are toxic to animals and children which does not work for me since I have 2 cats and two young children. What would you suggest I do?
Second, while packing up everything in my cabinets I came to realize that under my kitchen sink I had about 20 bottles of harmful cleaning supplies. I no longer want these in my house but I don't know what to do with them. I can't just throw them away into a landfill and I don't want to continue using them in my house.
Again what do you suggest I do?
In terms of your kitchen renovation, if its still ongoing I wonder if theres any place you could decamp to until its complete? Plants can certainly help with airborne toxins, but a safer solution would be to remove yourselves (or at least your small children) and stay with family or friends until theyve had time to settle and off-gas.
Im not sure exactly which toxic plants you bought, or if theres any chance the store would exchange them for non-toxic versions, but we include the following list of indoor plants that are safe for both animals and children in our book. They help filter the air by converting carbon dioxide to oxygen and, apparently, even remove some of the chemicals.
Aloe vera formaldehyde
elephant ear philodendron formaldehyde
English ivy benzene
golden pothos carbon monoxide, benzene, formaldehyde
peace lily benzene, trichloroethylene
spider plant carbon monoxide
I can barely tell a peony from a pansy, but Cornell University has a comprehensive plant life site that includes photos with their lengthy list of poisonous plants.
In terms of safe plants for cats and kids to eat, the Cat Fanciers Association has a very long list of recommendations. But I think until your children are older the best solution for peace of mind is to keep your plants on high shelves, or re-hang them from the ceilings. If you think youre in trouble, call the poison hotline for help at 1 800 222 1222.
Now that youve decided to switch to homemade or green versions of cleaners, the best thing to do is use up your conventional supply and then recycle the bottles they came in (under one percent of garbage from consumer product packaging comes from cleaning products).
If you really dont want to use them (or are pregnant) try to think of a friend or an organization that might be happy to take them off your hands. Pouring them down the drain is safe enough (as long as you dont combine any of them, or, if its a powder, pour all of it down at once), but its also a waste.
As gas climbs to $5 a gallon though, it seems as good a time as any to consider how easy it is to just make your own cleaners. A combo of liquid soap, white vinegar and baking soda will take care of almost everything. For glass, mix equal parts vinegar and water, and for more demanding dirt make a paste of liquid soap and baking soda. If you cant be bothered mixing I highly recommend Bon Ami our book. Its eco friendly, cheap, a favorite of green clean goddess Debra Lynn Dadd, and my favorite thing to clean with.
Also, anyone with advice on saving orchids would be greatly appreciated.