Dogs count on us to take care of them. If you’re reading this, you are one of the people who deserves a dog and does his/her best. But there may be things you don’t know – some easy changes that can extend the life and improve the health of your dog.
Housekeeping is one of those things.
There are so many toxins in our cleaning supplies that if ingredients were listed on their labels, we would never, ever buy them. Most contain a potpourri of toxins, including artificial fragrances, acids, bleach, ammonia, and more.
These toxins can be inhaled or absorbed through the skin, and can cause illness, including neurological problems, hormonal issues, and cancer.
Some contain antibacterial agents that can actually make bacteria stronger. Many are made using petrochemicals, further depleting oil supplies. All wash into our soil and water supplies.
According to US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) studies, indoor air pollution may be two to five times, and sometimes more than 100 times, higher than outdoor air pollution.
Indoor air pollution is caused by many things, not just cleaning supplies, but cleaning products are things that we can pretty easily control. Some air pollution sources, such as air fresheners, release contaminants more or less continuously.
Other sources, including cleaning products and pesticides, release pollutants intermittently.
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are one culprit.
According to the EPA, VOCs are chemicals that are found in many household products, including aerosol sprays, cleansers and disinfectants, moth repellents and air fresheners, as well as dry cleaned clothing. VOCs evaporate into the air when these products are used or sometimes even when they are stored. VOCs irritate the eyes, nose and throat, and cause headaches, nausea, and damage to the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system. Some of them can cause cancer.
Cancer kills roughly 20 to 25 percent of our canine companions in the U.S. and Canada. Weakened immune systems can open the door to cancer. Toxins weaken immune systems.
In people, 80% of cancers are linked to the environment. One study reported that from 1948 to 1990 there was a 48% increase in cancer rates. When we, and our pets, inhale toxic fumes, the poisons go directly into the bloodstream and then to the internal organs.
In 2008, the Washington, D.C. based Environmental Working Group conducted a study to determine the effects of cleaning solutions on our pets, and found high levels of toxic chemicals from house- hold cleaners in dogs and cats. For dogs, blood and urine samples were contaminated with 35 chemicals, including 11 carcinogens, 31 chemicals toxic to the reproductive system, and 24 neurotoxins.
Obviously the cleaners, waxes, and sealants/stain barriers we use on our floors and carpets are critical – dogs spend a lot of time lying, sitting, and walking “barefoot” on these areas, and occasionally find something to lick off the floor – or off their paws. And clearly the detergents we use on their dishes and their beds can be hazardous. Less obvious, but just as dangerous, are most commercial cleaners, flea bombs and sprays, and even pet shampoos.
To read about ingredients and cleaners that should be avoided, visit this website.
Even commercial products that claim to be safe may not be. Descriptions like “natural”, “eco-friendly, “non-toxic,” or, frighteningly, even “organic” don’t ensure a product is safe. “Organic” in chemistry refers to chemicals that are carbon-based, including some that release harmful fumes and may cause brain damage or cancer, according to the Organic Consumers Association.
Green Your Cleaning
The good news is that using non-toxic cleaners is easy, they can clean as well as the commercial products, and they cost much less. With a little preparation (half an hour at the grocery store and half an hour of mixing your own cleaners), you can have a sparkling house that will make your mother-in-law proud, make your home safe for you, your children and your pets; and you’ll save money doing it.
Ingredients: white vinegar, lemon juice, baking soda, Castile soap, tea tree oil, olive oil, empty plastic spray bottles, jars with tops, reusable dusting cloths, old cloth towels or diapers, spatula or cardboard (useful for scooping up solids), club soda, plastic bristle scrub brush and/or dobie-type of sponge, permanent marker to label each container.
Deodorizer/Antibacterial (spray bottle)
Use straight 5 percent white vinegar. Straight vinegar deodorizes; and kills most molds, bacteria and germs. Just spray it on and wipe or rinse it off.
Hard Floors and Surfaces
Mix vinegar 50/50 with water as a general cleaner, especially for floors.
Spray or pour a cup of vinegar in the bowl, let it stand an hour, then scrub, with or without baking soda sprinkled on the brush.
Windows & Mirrors (spray bottle)
Mix ¼-½ teaspoon Castile soap with three tablespoons vinegar and 2 cups water. For stubborn fingerprints, use a dab of rubbing alcohol and a dry cloth.
All-Purpose Spray Cleaner (spray bottle)
Mix a few drops of Castile soap with about 2 cups of water.
Furniture Polish (container with lid)
Mix ½ teaspoon oil, such as olive, or better yet, jojoba (which doesn’t go rancid), which will condition the wood, with ¼ cup white distilled vinegar or fresh lemon juice, to lift dirt out of the wood.
Lemon Oil Duster (container with lid)
Mix 10 drops of pure lemon oil with 2 tablespoons lemon juice and a few drops of olive oil or jojoba.
Sinks, Tubs, Tiles, and Pots & Pans (mix on the spot)
Mix ½ cup of baking soda and a little Castile soap. Scoop onto a sponge or mesh cleaning pad and scrub. Baking soda alone works almost as well; I keep a shaker bottle of baking soda at the kitchen sink and one in my cleaning kit, which I refill from large containers.
Sprinkle baking soda around the room. If you like, add a little dried crushed lavender. Allow it to sit for about 30 minutes, then vacuum.
Urine or Poop
For urine on a hard surface, wipe up liquid with a cloth. Spray 50/50 white vinegar and water solution on the stain and let it sit for several minutes. Then, blot the solution up with a clean cloth. If the spot stinks, pour some baking soda onto the area and let it sit for a few minutes before wiping up with a damp cloth.
For urine on carpet, try to clean it when it’s wet. If that’s not possible put a little warm water or club soda on the stain, wait a few seconds, and start to blot with a cloth. Follow with a 50/50 water- vinegar spray; let it sit a few minutes; blot again. Pour baking soda on the spot, let it sit overnight, then vacuum.
For poop, remove solid matter, then blot up moisture with rags or paper towels. Vacuum up any loose bits. Then follow the procedure for urine removal above.
The acid in vomit can stain fast, so scoop it up, adding warm water to get any that doesn’t come up easily. Coat the area with baking soda, let it dry, vacuum it up, then pour some club soda on and blot it up. If the area is discolored, try an oxy clean product, or another nontoxic cleaner/stain remover formulated for pet stains (find one at your health food store). Enzymatic cleaners ‘digest’ stains, so give them some time to work.
For fresh stains, rub an ice cube over the stain, then rinse with cold water. Blot. Put 3% hydrogen peroxide on the spot (hydrogen peroxide loses its power after a year, so make sure it’s fresh). Let it bubble. Blot. Repeat. Rinse. Blot. Other potential solutions: milk, followed by cool water rinse; or a corn starch/water paste left until dry and then vacuumed; or a paste made from meat tenderizing crystals and cold water – let it stand for an hour, then rinse.
[Related] Read about how to detox your dog.
Deb Percival writes about animals, sustainability, eco-travel, and well- ness for a number of magazines and websites. She and her husband share their house with two awesome black labs.