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Some Tips on Household Toxics


* Not all products that claim to be environmentally friendly are safer than traditional brands. Some cost more, are not as effective, or both. Others work well and are competitively priced. Learn about the products and determine your priorities.

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* No matter what product you use, use it properly. Read instructions and warning labels. Have good ventilation when solvents are used. Never pour hazardous wastes -- from furniture polish to motor oil -- down drains or sewers. Follow local disposal rules.

* Preventive steps reduce the need for chemicals: Pour boiling water down drains weekly to keep them clear. Rinse and squeegee shower tiles now and then to prevent soap-scum buildup. Try to get to the root of pest or mildew problems, so repeated use of caustic drain cleaners and tile cleaners is not needed.

* A home brew may be the answer. For cleaning glass, some people swear by 1/4-cup of vinegar per quart of warm water in a spray bottle. For scouring, try baking soda on a damp sponge or rag. But experimentation can be dangerous: Some cleaning products emit toxic fumes when mixed together. And some cleaning lore is false: Borax, for example, is not a disinfectant.

* Learn what ''green'' labels on products mean. Two such certification programs exist: Scientific Certification Systems rates products on particular aspects, so a toxic product could get a stamp of approval for a recycled bottle. Green Seal rates performance on a range of environmental issues.

* For further information, The Washington Toxics Coalition offers ''Buy Smart, Buy Safe,'' a 20-page guide rating the environmental and health risks of common commercial products and alternatives. (It does not rate performance or value, however.) Included are numerous tips on such tasks as removing lead-based paint For a copy, send $5 to: WTC, 4516 University Way NE, Seattle, WA 98105.

Cornell University's Cooperative Extension offers, for $1, a four-page backgrounder: ''Household Cleaning Products -- What About Substitutes?'' Another $1 fact sheet addresses disposal of household toxics. Write to: Cornell Cooperative Extension, Media Services Distribution Center -- Publications, Business & Technology Park, Building 7, Ithaca, NY 14850.

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