Green Certification: Focus Area 1 – Chemicals

Better living through chemistry is an advertising rhyme, and social statement. It’s gone too far.

Remember when the soap isle at the grocery store had several brands of laundry detergent, for example? Now there are more brands, and each brand has multiple choices. The first step in that direction, as I remember it, was when phosphates were mandated out of detergents in some states, making a brand available in the phosphate and phosphate-free options. Now you can get detergents with different scents, unscented (my personal favorite), with and without whitener/brightener boosters, with and without softeners, and even high efficiency. That’s what I mean by going too far.

Laundry detergent is just one example in the panoply of cleaning supplies and chemicals in our lives. We are overwhelmed by chemicals, and they are taking their toll in unimagined ways. For your sake, the sake of your guests and employees, the sake of living things at your inn, and the sake of the planet, start being more judicious in your chemical use.

I stated that chemicals in our lives are taking their toll on us in unimagined ways. Those include:

  • allergies
  • asthma
  • autoimmune efficiencies
  • behavior problems
  • birth defects and miscarriages
  • cancer
  • digestion problems
  • heart problems
  • immune system compromise
  • neurological disorders
  • skin sensitivities
  • sleep disturbances

The red marks help illustrate all the places you can avoid harsh chemicals to improve your inn’s environmental footprint.
Chemical Pollutants to Avoid in Your Green B&B

Here’s a short list of chemicals — or chemically-based products, especially petroleum-based chemicals — ones commonly used in inns, so you can start thinking about where you can reduce chemical use:

  • cleaning products
  • electronics
  • fertilizers
  • finishes
  • herbicides
  • laundry
  • perfumed products
  • pesticides
  • plastics

Aside from the dangers associated with chemical storage there are the hazards of using chemicals. Why would you have ingredients stored around which, if combined, could at least make someone sick or hurt them, if not outright kill them and others? Why would you have chemical products with big, red WARNING signs on them, or a skull and crossbones, that you use frequently?

What can you do to reduce the use of harmful chemicals at your inn? It turns out there is plenty you can do. And much of what you do here rolls over into benefiting other areas, like air quality, water conservation, and your budget.

  • baking soda, white vinegar and lemon, wonderfully earth friendly cleaning products, are great cleaning products, and inexpensive; fresh air and sunshine do great jobs too
  • use natural fertilizers like compost and aeration to improve your garden and lawn
  • use low VOC (volatile organic compounds) paints, “varnishes”, glues, waxes, cleaners, flooring, shower curtains (which means no vinyl curtains)
  • use natural herbicides, if you can’t avoid them; reducing your lawn/garden watering will reduce the need for some herbicides
  • replace scented, harsh detergents with environmentally friendly ones, using to point you to good choices
  • use baking soda and white vinegar in the washer to soften and control static of laundry
  • skip scented candles, plug-ins, potpourri, detergents, cleaning supplies
  • replace as many petro-chemical pesticides as possible with natural pesticides, if you can’t do without them
  • avoid plastic as much as possible, in order of most to least dangerous:
  • use glass or metal storage containers over plastic
  • buy cloth over plastic goods when possible

And when you can’t readily avoid plastics, at least be sensitive about which plastics to use. This list helps you see what the “better” plastics, the least damaging plastics to you, you can use. This is in order of best to worse:

  • polyethylene (#2, #4 & #5, HDPE, LDPE, & PP) is commonly used to make jugs for liquids like milk, juice, water, shampoo and detergent; bags for food-storage, shopping and trash; lining/liners for cereal- and cracker-boxes, milk cartons, and hot cups; squeeze bottles; tubs for condiments and butter/margarine/yogurt; and cloudy baby bottles
  • polyethylene (#1, PET and PETE) is common in bottles for sodas, water, juices, condiments, and for microwave trays
  • polycarbonate (#7) plastic is used to make reusable water bottles and food can lining
  • polystyrene (#6) — inflated (Styrofoam) or non-inflated (egg cartons, meat rays, take-out containers, cutlery, cups/plates/bowls)
  • PVC (#3) plastic used to make plastic wrap, food trays, cooking oil bottles, plumbing materials, and medical tubing and bags

Two big chemical families I urge everyone to avoid are sodium lauryl sulfate (in any of its numerous spellings and chemical names) and endocrine disruptors, like phthalates (contained in air fresheners and flooring, as well as some toiletries), BPA, pesticides, and flame retardant. The sodium lauryl sulfate is “only” an irritant, but endocrine disruptors are life altering.

Endocrine disruptors act like hormones in the endocrine system, disruption the physiologic function of hormones created by the body. They have been connected to reproductive problems, motor impairment, learning disabilities, disrupted thyroid function, and abnormal growth and development. There’s a lot of potential harm that comes to living beings through exposure to this chemical collection.

The excess use of chemicals, and the use of some specific chemicals at all, is negatively impacting a people, animals, plants, and your budget.

Inside and out, there are many areas of your home and inn where you can avoid and reduce your use of chemicals. It’s easy to cut back, make changes to what you use, in some areas of inn operations. It’s important to go further than easy.

To become a green-certified bed and breakfast inn you can start with cleaning out the chemicals from your operations.


You can use the article Eight Areas of Focus For Green Certification as the index to access all eight green certification articles.