Time to exorcise more dirt demons. You've done the windows. Now for the kitchen. Open the oven. Wait! Can't face it yet? Neither can we. Let's be gentle—on your family and the environment—by using a green cleaner to remove winter's sludge and salt from the floor.

First, choose or mix a formula that won't fill your indoor air with irritating and sometimes toxic fumes. In 2005, household cleaning products were responsible for 218,000 calls to US poison control centers, more than half involving exposures to young children. But looking on labels can be frustrating because many manufacturers don’t list unhealthy ingredients, which are government-protected as trade secrets. Many greener cleaners, however, carry assurances that they are free of specific problematic chemicals.

Here are common ingredients to look out for and avoid in floor and all-purpose cleaners. Note: Many also carry the enviro-stigma of being derived from petroleum, a non-renewable resource.

Alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs): These surfactants help dislodge dirt, but once they go down the drain, they also slip through water treatment plants and into surface waters. APEs are also the only detergent additives that actually become more toxic as they degrade, causing hormone disruption in aquatic creatures. They’ve also been found in house dust. Not something we want to drink or breathe!

Ammonia: Its grease-cutting but caustic fumes can irritate eyes and bronchial passageways. Bad enough for most of us, but very bad for asthma sufferers.

Glycol ethers: Used to dissolve oily stains and dirt, many of these solvents have been linked to harmful reproductive effects in animals and in pregnant women who worked with these chemicals. A 2006 California study found that exposures to fumes from glycol ethers in home cleaning products can exceed safety limits established for industrial settings. Enough said! We can do without these, thank you very much.

Phthalates: Oh, those crafty perfumiers, how jealously they guard their secrets. The Food and Drug Administration aids and abets them by letting them list "fragrance" as a catch-all term for ingredients, including phthalates, slimy molecules that help disperse synthetic scents into the air. Alas, that means we also inhale the phthalates, which are proven hormone disruptors and reproductive toxins in animals, and have been linked to genetic deformities in baby boys. When you see “fragrance” on a label, give the product a pass, unless the maker assures that only specific natural plant oils (like lavender, lemon or eucalyptus) are used.

For all-purpose cleaners that are free of the above, work well on impermeable surfaces (kitchen floors, countertops), and whose makers readily disclose all of their ingredients, go to: Ecover.com, SeventhGeneration.com, and DrBronner.com.

To make your own floor and surface cleaner, combine:

1 cup white vinegar (cuts grease like ammonia)

2 gallons warm water

A few drops of mild green dish soap (to dislodge dirt). See companies above sustainable soaps.

Mix and mop.

And to scour away caked-on crud, use baking soda on a scrubber sponge.

Voila! An eco-friendly, squeaky clean kitchen—until your next baking endeavor, that is.

This article originally appeared in Plenty in March 2008. The story was added to MNN.com.

Copyright Environ Press 2008

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