Green living during flu season
With a nasty flu season upon us, it can be tempting to break out the harsh disinfectants and other products. But the science is clear: you can ward off the crud in ways that are gentle on your body and home environment, and that don’t send pollutants into our waterways.
Wash hands, wash hands, wash hands!
This is the single most effective way to avoid the flu. The most effective method is to use soap and water, but water alone is better than nothing. It’s best to avoid antibacterial soap (made with triclosan or triclocarban). These soaps are not proven to be more effective at warding off flu, but they do pollute waterways and may lead to “superbug” germs that resist treatment. When washing hands regularly, you’ll want something easy on your skin as well as the environment. We recommend vegetable based soap and castile soap without fragrance.
What about hand sanitizers?
Alcohol-based sanitizers (60% alcohol or more) are effective at killing germs as long as your hands aren’t dirty and greasy. They are also safe for environmental health as long as you don’t swallow it (practice caution with children!). Avoid products that contain fragrance and dye.
Clean surfaces with hydrogen peroxide
3% hydrogen peroxide — straight out of the brown bottle sold in the first aid aisle — makes a great sanitizer for hard surfaces. It is just as effective as bleach, but far less of an irritant and pollutant. Spray it on to countertops, door handles, sinks—and leave it for 10 minutes before wiping. Here’s an important trick: attach a spray nozzle directly to the brown bottle. If peroxide is exposed to light, it breaks down into water. Added bonus: studies show that soaking your toothbrush in hydrogen peroxide is the cheapest and easiest way to kill germs.
If you are in a day care or other situation where you need to clean up germs more quickly than you can with a 10-minute contact time, bleach may be your best bet. See advice from California public health how to use bleach in the safest and most effective way.
Avoid fragrance: On the best day, fragranced products contain chemicals that create environmental hazards and can trigger allergies and asthma. But when you are sick, the irritants in fragrance can be even more uncomfortable. For your own health and those around you, it is best to choose personal care and cleaning products without fragrance.
Better lip balm & lotion: Flu season can be hard on the skin and lips. Pick out the safest products before you shop by using EWG’s handy database. Or, if you’re in the store and buying on the fly, look for products with simple ingredients, no fragrance and no petrolatum. Here’s a handy list of ingredients to avoid.
For your runny nose: The most environmentally friendly tissue paper is made from unbleached 100% post-consumer recycled content. But which brand is easiest on your sensitive self? See tips from Grist.
A word of caution about antibiotics: We need these life-saving medicines! You can do your part to keep them working by using them only when they will be effective. Be sure to consult your doctor about whether antibiotics are right for your ailment. And if you have leftovers, do our waterways a favor and don’t flush them. Instead, you can return them to a collection spot, or seal them in a bag and throw them in the trash.