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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, March 1, 2010

Dirt-free living

BY Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Photo illus. by RUSSELL MCCRORY | The Hon. Adv.

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9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday and Friday

Ala Moana Pacific Center, 1585 Kapi'olani Blvd., Suite 1704

$95 per class

Registration: 944-8255

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There's nothing fancy about Stephen Ashkin's strategy for creating an eco-friendly home. If you want to live green, he believes, you've got to live clean.

Ashkin, who's been dubbed "the father of green cleaning," suggests that homeowners start by adopting behavior to keep dirt at the door mat, kitchens free of crumbs and bathrooms stocked with good ol' fashioned hand soap.

That may sound more like something you learned growing up than in any eco-manifesto, but Ashkin's philosophy speaks to common sense:

The dirt you bring in often contains toxins.

Crumbs attract bugs, and that tempts you to spray them with indoor pesticide.

And cleaner hands limit the spread of germs before they can attach to surfaces.

Ashkin is the founder and president of The Ashkin Group, an internationally recognized environmental consulting firm. He's spent the last 20 years focusing on green cleaning and has participated in a variety of industry and government environmental advisory groups, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. He'll be in Honolulu this week to lead workshops on his principles of green cleaning.

His strategy contains a number of simple suggestions:

• Keep the dirt out. Doormats that are soft and absorbant enough to capture dirt and moisture are preferable.

And never wear your shoes indoors, especially if there's an infant in the house all those outdoor chemicals, bird droppings and other toxins can end up in the mouth of a thumb-sucking child.

"Think about where your shoes have been," he said. "Why do we want to track that into our homes?"

• Clean your floors frequently with a vacuum cleaner capable of capturing fine particles.

"Pay attention to places that have the most risk," Ashkin said. "If you have children, you need to pay attention to where they play."

• Keep your kitchen counters free of crumbs that will attract bugs, which would force you to use dangerous pesticides.

"By definition, they are toxic," he said. "They are specifically designed to kill living organisms."

• Wash your hands often with soap and water. Ashkin discourages the use of antibacterial soaps, saying there is no evidence that they work. Also, alcohol-based hand sanitizer is good but should be used in conjuction with soap and water in order to remove dirt.

• Don't reject traditional cleaning products, because many are now more eco-friendly than before, and forget about trying to make your own because the homemade cleaners lack preservatives.

"Those products can actually support mold and bacterial growth," he said. "So you are cleaning your food preparation surface with a product that is contaminated with bacteria. To me, it is just not smart."