Don't Miss Out

Subscribe to OCA's News & Alerts.

Housework made clean, green (Columbia Daily Tribune)

When Martha Laird launched Casa Bonita Housecleaning in July, she began to suffer allergic reactions.

Laird believes her reactions were a result of the long hours she logged doing housekeeping tasks for her clients using traditional, chemical-laden cleaning products.

These products, she said, can cause rashes, nausea, headaches, dizziness and respiratory irritation.

Looking to alleviate her symptoms, she tried using environmentally friendly cleaning products -- commonly referred to as green products -- to clean windows, bathrooms, floors and furniture.

Today, Laird, a native of Ecuador who relocated to Columbia three years ago, operates what she believes is one of Columbia's first environmentally conscious cleaning services.

With more than 30 clients, Laird said she has found a market niche that not only promotes her own health, but her clients' health and the environment as well.

"We realized that there was a demand for environmentally friendly solutions," she said through a translator. "Lots of research has been done about the dangers of indoor pollution and how in many ways it's worse than outdoor pollution."

Some of her products carry labels of well-known brands, such as Simple Green and Murphy's Oil Soap. Others are simpler remedies such as vinegar and baking soda, which she uses for scouring.

The products, she said, meet the standards created by Green Seal Inc., a not-for-profit environmental group that began certifying cleaning products as Earth-friendly in 2000.

To earn and use the Green Seal logo, cleansers must be biodegradable, sold in recycled packaging, and free of chlorine, carcinogens, harmful vapors and other toxins that could hurt people or aquatic life.

And just because a product is certified by Green Seal doesn't mean it takes more elbow grease to get the job done.

When a product is endorsed by the environmental group, Laird explained, it means it has been tested and proven as effective as traditional cleaning products used for similar purposes.

"In many cases the job done is just as good as using the harsh chemicals," she said. "You get superior product as using harsh chemicals."

Green cleaning services are sprouting across the country, from Atlanta to San Francisco, although a number of Columbia cleaning companies surveyed said they do not use green cleaning methods.

"We use what's in the market," said a woman who identified herself as Linda and the owner of Fresh Air but declined to give her last name. "I don't think there is a demand for those products, but I would change if a customer requested."

Craig Minowa, an environmental scientist with the Minnesota-based Organic Consumers Association encourages the use of the environmentally responsible products.

"A lot of toxic chemicals are found in the vast majority of the traditional" cleaning products, he said. "When you flush them down the drain, the chemicals go directly into the water supply, adding higher levels of chemical toxins into drinking water."

He said green products are inexpensive and are effective simple alternatives to the commonly used harsh chemicals.

One of Laird's customers, Jennifer Holman, said her family is pleased with the green cleaning service Laird promotes.

"They do a great job and they are very professional," she said, noting that she has referred several friends to Laird.

Casa Bonita Housecleaning charges a standard cleaning fee of $50 for a three-bedroom home with two baths. Rates vary depending on the nature of service desired.

Laird is hopeful her business will grow exponentially as more people learn about the dangers of indoor pollution and the efficiency of environmentally friendly cleaning products.

She estimates that most of her clients select her services because of her eco-safe methods and her prices.

"Everybody is concerned about the pollution from the air outside, but the concentration of many chemicals are far higher indoors than outdoors," she said. "We spend more time indoors than outdoors and need to concentrate more efforts indoors."