10 Ways to Green Your Home

Tips on how to make your household cleaner and more efficient

By Megan Murray Elsener

When it comes to being green, it can be easy to say you recycle or don’t let the water run while brushing your teeth.  But have you really taken any major steps to improve the quality and health inside your home?

“Making small changes on a home-based and local level will grow exponentially to affect the larger environment in a positive way,” says Heather Muenstermann, owner of Green Genes. “Keeping a clean and healthy environment for the developing bodies and minds inside our homes is a great reason to make changes.”

Muenstermann, along with green experts Manda Aufochs Gillespie, author of the upcoming book, The Green Mama, and Maria Onesto Moran, an expert on green alternatives for the home, weigh-in on how to make important, yet easy, adjustments starting today.

1. Read labels for skin products. “What goes on your skin ends up in your body and particularly for children whose skin is even more porous than adults,” says Aufochs Gillespie. “Pick up that bottle of sunscreen, baby shampoo, or bum cream and read the ingredients. Would you feed that list of unpronounceable chemicals to your child? Probably not, so don’t put it on their skin either.”

2. Choose non-toxic cleaners. “You can either buy non-toxic cleaners or even make them yourself. I love the Earth Friendly brand because it’s effective, affordable, and safe. They have an exclusive refill system for their products,” says Onesto Moran.

3. Skip the paper towels.“Reduce the use of paper towels,” adds Muenstermann. “We use tea towels and dish towels in place of paper towels as much as possible. It’s a great way to reduce your paper usage and save trees. We also use old t-shirts that are well beyond wear-ability for cleaning around the house.”

4. Improve indoor air quality. “I encourage people to think green when purchasing paint, cleaners, furniture, and flooring,” says Onesto Moran. “Try to avoid air fresheners, cleaners, paints and finishes that have solvents and toxins in them. Indoor air is typically seven times more polluted than outdoor air because of the things we bring home.”

5. Choose toys wisely. “Make sure toys are free of PVC,” recommends Muenstermann. “If you open a plastic toy and are overwhelmed by fumes, that’s toxic off-gassing from Poly-vinyl-chloride and you want to avoid that. Kids, especially babies, put everything in their mouths. We want toys to be safe and that’s why wooden toys are among our favorites.”


6. You are what you eat. “While parents are more educated than ever, our food choices don’t reflect that,” adds Aufochs Gillespie. “Get back to the basics and start early. When it comes to feeding yourself and your children, prioritize organic foods. Ideally choose organic when it comes to all meats and dairy, the ‘dirty dozen’ most contaminated fruits and vegetables, baby food and other concentrated foods, and any foods you eat a lot.”

7. Buy re-usable snack bags. “We use re-usable snack bags and containers, instead of plastic bags as much as possible,” says Muenstermann.  “I love Snack Taxis, re-useable snack and sandwich bags, to help reduce plastic bag usage. These simple habits reduce waste, and that not only makes a difference within the household, but in the bigger community and environment as well.”

8. Reduce your carbon footprint. “One of the easiest ways to reduce your carbon footprint is to reduce the amount of meat, specifically beef, that you eat,” suggests Onesto Moran. “How far is your food traveling before it ends up on your plate? Aim for less than 250 miles.”

9. Choose organic cotton.“I feel strongly about organic cotton for clothing, bedding, and crib mattresses,” says Muenstermann. “While it’s delicious to the touch and quite durable, there’s the bonus of knowing your child’s clothing has not been chemically treated and processed. I am also a huge proponent of second hand items because I prefer it to have had several previous lifespans instead of being an item new off the factory floor, created with chemicals and who knows what else.”

10. Don’t feel guilty. “I don’t believe in trying to guilt parents into going green,” says Aufochs Gillespie. “Everyone wants what is best for their children’s health and once parents realize that what is the healthiest for their child is also healthier for the planet, it becomes simpler to navigate a reasonable path forward. Start with changes that sound fun or interesting to your family.”

Local parents share what they are doing to help their family “go green.”

I make our own laundry detergent and cleaning solutions. I save money, use less harsh chemicals, and I reuse the same plastic containers over and over again.
Andrea Miller

We use tumblers instead of buying water bottles, and take canvas bags to the grocery store. The kids enjoy having their own bright-colored personal tumbler.
-—Bryan Simms

Our family limits showers to five minutes. We also wash our clothes in cold water and turn the water off while brushing our teeth.
Josey Vargas

We recycle cans and bottles, take them to the recycling center and turn them in for money to put in the kids’ savings accounts.
Emily Xiong

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Megan Murray Elsener is a Chicago mother of three.