Ask G: What's a family-friendly way to clean carpets?

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As a family that plays games and spends a lot of time laying on the carpet I want to make sure that we are not coming into contact with any nasty chemical residues. What chemicals do steam cleaning and dry cleaning use to clean carpets and what are the alternatives? There are only so many spots bicarbonate of soda and vinegar can get out!

-- Leisa

Carpets can have a relatively short lifespan if not cared for properly, but the range of chemicals found in commonly used carpet cleaners mean that these products often do more harm than good.

Household carpet cleaners often contain formaldehyde, lye (sodium hydroxide), acids and pesticides while percholoroethylene (otherwise known as "perc") is found in many commercial carpet-cleaning solutions.

Perc is a well-known dry cleaning additive and known to cause dizziness, fatigue and nausea if ingested or inhaled.

So what's the greenest way to clean?

For starters, it's worth investing in a powerful vacuum cleaner with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate) filter, which does wonders for removing dirt, dust and other allergy causing contaminants from the carpet.

There are a number of eco-friendly carpet cleaning products on the market these days such as Seventh Generation's Carpet Spot & Stain Remover and Orange Power Carpet and Upholstery Spot Cleaner.

For homegrown options, try mixing equal parts white vinegar and water in a spray bottle and spraying directly on the stain before removing with a sponge and warm soapy water.

For heavier stains mix 1/4 cup each of salt, borax and vinegar and rub the paste into the carpet. Leave the mixture for a few hours or overnight and then vacuum.

To get your carpets smelling fresh, sprinkle baking soda and leave for several hours before vacuuming.

If you're looking for really deep clean, then Annie Berthold Bond, author of the book Home Enlightenment, recommends renting a steam cleaner. Before using, rinse the machine thoroughly and then use liquid dish soap or all-purpose solutions that contain essential plant oils.

And finally, why not introduce a shoe-free policy indoors? This will cut down on the amount of time spent cleaning the floor and will ensure that any nasty pollutants from outside don't get tracked inside.

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