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Breathe Easy: How to Spare Your Own Indoor Air

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You have a matched pair, all pink and pretty, and I want you to keep them that way. I'm talking about your lungs, your portable oxygen tanks.

You already know that smoking isn't good for your lungs, but did you know that cleaning sprays are connected to a 30 to 50 percent increased risk of asthma? One study involved 3,500 people from 10 countries and was published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. Researchers found that the regular use of sprayed fresheners, furniture cleaners and glass cleaners is linked in a significant way to breathing difficulties.

I've noticed this phenomenon in spades -- spray an air freshener or a cleaner, have trouble breathing -- that's my experience and my unscientific experiment of one. So if you've had your own experiment of one or are paying attention to the experiment with 3,500 other people, you may want to know what to do besides leaving the house a mess and smelling like yesterday's boiled cabbage.

Green Cleaning for The Chlorine Generation

Luckily, there are simple products that work and are green, safe and friendly. They are the things your great grammy used, vinegar and baking soda being the stars of the eco-lineup.

But we older people have not carried on that tradition. We are The Chlorine Generation, disinfecting everything that moves under a microscope with products sporting the phone number of a poison control center, products that little grand-kids could take out from under the sink and investigate at their peril.

But, better late than never, and here are three less toxic cleaning recipes:

Tub and sink cleaner

Sprinkle baking soda on the porcelain fixtures and rub with wet rag. Add a little liquid castile soap to the rag for more cleaning power. Rinse well to avoid leaving a hazy film.

Drain cleaner

This recipe will free minor clogs and help prevent future clogs. Pour ½ cup of baking soda down the drain first, then ½ cup vinegar. Let it fizz for a few minutes. Then pour down a teakettle full of boiling water. Repeat if needed. If the clog is stubborn use a plunger. If very stubborn, use a mechanical snake.

Glass cleaner

Use vinegar and water in a spray bottle to clean glass. Actually, I just dump some vinegar on my glass dining room table and rub it around. I use white or apple cider vinegar and the smell evaporates quickly.

Stale Rooms, Safe Fresheners

Some of us now live in well-insulated houses or apartments, no fresh air coming in through chinks in the log cabin walls. This is good for our utility bills, but sealed rooms keep in all the gunky dead air. So open those windows and doors and let the fresh air in. Air is a great air freshener.

If you want a flower scent, grow or buy some lavender for potpourri and, when the scent gets weak, refresh with essential oil of lavender. I've also boiled cinnamon sticks in water on the stovetop for a few minutes. Last, I've tried to tell Cranky Pants that home-made chocolate chip cookies are not the best way to make the indoor air fragrant, but he says cookies don't cause asthma.

Words for the Wise

Asthma can be especially hard on older adults, as they are more vulnerable to the side effects of asthma meds. Here are the symptoms of asthma and they are not part of normal aging: wheezing, coughing, tight chest, shortness of breath and feeling tired. If this is you, see your doc and get rid of those spray cleaners and fresheners. If this isn't you, take a deep breath and be happy.

Mel Walsh is a gerontologist, author and columnist. Her book, HOT GRANNY, is available at Amazon. Visit Mel at www.melwalsh.com. Twitter: @MelWalshWriter.