We spend much of our lives at home in the kitchen, the major hub of activity in many American homes.
Luckily, the kitchen represents major opportunities for greening your home, whether you are undertaking a
renovation, buying new appliances, or just looking for ways to green your everyday activities. Below, we
first discuss the major components of the kitchen that have environmental dimensions, including appliances,
faucets and fixtures, cabinetry and countertops, and flooring. Then, we discuss healthy home considerations
for the kitchen, including controlling for moisture and pest. Finally, we provide advice on green kitchen
practices that you can implement today, at little or no cost, including advice on saving water and energy,
and choosing greener kitchen products.
If all U.S. households installed water-efficient appliances, the country would save more than 3 trillion gallons of water and more than $18 billion dollars per year. If you are in the market for a new dishwasher, consider buying an efficient, water-saving ENERGY STAR® model to reduce water and energy use.
It may seem counterintuitive, but washing dishes by hand uses much more water than using a dishwasher. Thus, if you have a dishwasher at home, make good use of it. Using an ENERGY STAR qualified dishwasher instead of hand washing will save, on average, 5,000 gallons of water and 230 hours of your time annually.
If you are considering a new dishwasher, ENERGY STAR qualified dishwashers typically use one-third less water than non-qualified models in addition to saving energy. The average ENERGY STAR qualified dishwasher uses 4 gallons per cycle, while the average non-qualified dishwasher uses 6 gallons a cycle. To save even more water, look for a dishwasher with a low water factor. A water factor is the number of gallons per cycle per cubic foot that a uses. The lower the water factor, the more efficient the appliance is. Also, consider appliances that offer cycle and load size adjustments, which are more water-and energy-efficient.
Also, scrape rather than rinse your dishes. Pre-rinsing dishes before loading the dishwasher can use up to 20 gallons of water. Modern dishwashers and detergents are designed to do the cleaning so you don't have to pre-rinse. If your dirty dishes are going to sit overnight, use your dishwasher's rinse feature. It uses a fraction of the water needed to hand rinse.
For more information on ENERGY STAR dishwashers, go to:
Refrigerators and Freezers
In most households, the refrigerator is the single biggest energy consuming kitchen appliance. Replacing a refrigerator bought in 1990 with a new ENERGY STAR qualified model would save enough energy to light the average household for nearly four months.
For more information on ENERGYSTAR refrigerators and freezers, go to:
Have your fuel-burning appliances -- including gas ranges and ovens -- inspected by a trained professional at the beginning of every heating season. Also, read equipment manuals and instructions, and make sure equipment receives regular maintenance.
For more information on proper maintenance of fuel burning appliances, go to:
For more information on water- and energy-efficient appliances, go to:
Faucets account for more than 15 percent of indoor household water use-more than 1 trillion gallons of water across the United States each year. Be sure to fix a leaky kitchen faucet immediately; gallons of water can be wasted daily from what appears to be a minor leak.
The aerator-the screw-on tip of the faucet-ultimately determines the maximum flow rate of a faucet. If you have an older kitchen faucet, consider replacing the aerator with a more efficient one. Aerators are inexpensive to replace and are an effective water-efficiency measure.
Many cabinets are made from particle board, hardwood plywood paneling, or medium density fiberboard glued together using a formaldehyde-based adhesive. Formaldehyde is a common type of Volatile Organic Compound (VOC), a harmful chemical that can contribute to outdoor smog, as well as indoor air pollution. Finishes commonly used on cabinets also contain VOCs. To avoid exposure to harmful chemicals, purchase cabinetry made with formaldehyde-free adhesives and finishes.
Also, use cabinetry made from natural and sustainably harvested, or locally grown materials such as certified woods (rather than tropical hardwoods). As another option, cabinets may be available through local building material reuse stores, where salvaged cabinets are routinely purchased and successfully reused. You can find local building materials reuse stores at www.buildingreuse.org/directory and http://www.habitat.org/env/restores.aspx.
Buying recycled-content materials helps ensure that the materials collected in recycling programs will be used again in the manufacture of new products. Recycled content countertops are now widely available, and are made of attractive surfaces such as stone, glass, or other materials. For instance, countertops can be made from a material that resembles granite but consists of a biocomposite mostly recovered newspaper and soy flour. Salvaged countertops can also be found at local building material reuse stores. You can find local building materials reuse stores at www.buildingreuse.org/directory and http://www.habitat.org/env/restores.aspx. Remember, use low-VOC sealants when installing countertops to protect the air quality in your home.
There are a number of flooring alternatives for your kitchen that have environmentally friendly attributes
without sacrificing style:
Sustainable grown/harvested materials
- Consider floors made of sustainably grown or harvested materials. For instance, the cork used in
linoleum and cork tiles is sustainably harvested from the bark of cork oak. Other examples include
floors made from the fast-growing bamboo (if harvested and manufactured in a green and sustainable way),
as well as certified hardwoods rather than non-certified tropical hardwoods. Sustainably grown and
harvested flooring is now often available at home improvements stores.
- Consider using reclaimed lumber as a flooring option. Hundreds of building material reuse stores sell
high-quality flooring salvaged from construction and renovation projects. Most stores are open to the
public. The Building Materials Reuse Association's Web site contains a
directory of member reuse stores.
Habitat for Humanity operates many reuse stores around the country and their reuse store directory can
also be found on their Web site. Online marketplaces for these materials are also in operation,
such as PlanetReuse.com and AmericanBuilderSurplus.com.
- Another flooring option is recycled-content flooring made of materials such as recycled tiles, rubber,
or stone. For example, ceramic tile is a durable and low-maintenance alternative to wood or vinyl tile
flooring, and can be available in up to 100 percent recycled content. Reused salvaged ceramic tile may
be available at a local building material reuse store. Generally, the cost for floor tiles can very
depending on their characteristics and features, but using recycled-content material or non-toxic
adhesives does not necessarily increase the cost.
- Reduced toxicity - Vinyl flooring should generally be avoided due to the use of hazardous and toxic substances in the production process. If you like the features of vinyl flooring, consider linoleum instead, which is made from sawdust and linseed oil, making it a more natural alternative.
It is increasingly common for manufacturers to make green claims about flooring. However, you should do a bit of research to determine if flooring alternatives advertized as green really are. Some things to look for include:
- Wood that is labeled as sustainably harvested should carry a well-known certification.
Sealing and coating chemicals
- Avoid flooring coated or sealed with a formaldehyde-based chemicals, which emit VOCs, or polyurethane,
which contains a class of chemicals that cause or aggravate asthma (diisocyanates). And ask the
retailer or supplier how they assess the validity of formaldehyde-free claims.
- A long shipping distance reduces the environmental attributes of flooring due to transportation
energy use and GHG emissions, especially for heavy materials such as flooring.
- Maintenance - Consider maintenance issues when selecting your flooring materials, and avoid options that require frequent maintenance or harsh chemicals for cleaning or waxing.
A special note about bamboo: Bamboo is currently very popular because of its aesthetics and its green reputation, which is based on the fact that bamboo is fast-growing and bamboo harvesting does not destroy the bamboo root system. However, much bamboo is imported and has a long shipping distance. Due to the popularity of bamboo, it is increasingly displacing forested areas. In addition, bamboo strips are commonly sealed with formaldehyde-based chemicals. Finally, bamboo lacks the certification systems established for wood flooring. Thus, although some bamboo may be truly "green," homeowners need to investigate the source of bamboo and make their own assessment about the bamboo's attributes relative to alternatives.
Installing New Flooring
First, take care when removing and replacing old flooring in a home. Some flooring materials used until the 1970's contained asbestos material. This included resilient floor tiles (vinyl asbestos, asphalt, and rubber), the backing on vinyl sheet flooring, and adhesives used for installing floor tile. Breaking, removing, chopping, sanding or other disturbance of these tiles can release asbestos fibers into the air and should only be done by a trained and certified professional.
During installation, make sure that non-toxic and/or non-VOC-emitting adhesives are to avoid indoor air quality problems in your home, which can persist long after installation. If you use a polyurethane-based varnish or coating, be sure to wear adequate personal protection and ensure good ventilation.
Too much moisture in a home can lead to mold, mildew, and other biological growths. This in turn can lead to a variety of health effects ranging from allergic reactions and asthma attacks to more serious illnesses. In addition to health problems, severe moisture problems can lead to rot, structural damage or premature paint failure. Hence, it's important to use techniques to control moisture when building, renovating, maintaining, and operating your home.
Make sure wet areas, such as spills or stains, are dry within 24 to 48 hours to prevent mold growth. Control excess moisture (such as standing water from air conditioner drains or refrigerator drip pans) and fix leaks, drips and seepage problems. Thoroughly clean and dry water-damaged carpets and consider removal and replacement of items that appear to be permanently water damaged. Also, remove food wastes promptly. If mold and mildew does appear on hard surfaces, wash it off and dry completely.
Combustion Pollutants and Ventilation
In the home, combustion pollutants are gases or particles that are generated by burning fuels, such as gas, kerosene, oil, coal, or wood, in combustion appliances including ranges, ovens, and stoves used for cooking purposes. The major combustion pollutants released are carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and particulates.
Typically, combustion appliances are safe. However, under certain conditions these appliances can release pollutants into the home that can seriously damage health. Providing ample ventilation and correctly using your appliances. For instance, install and use exhaust fans over gas cooking stoves and ranges, and keep the burners properly adjusted. Using a stove hood with a fan vented to the outdoors greatly reduces exposure to pollutants during cooking. Also, properly select, install, inspect, and maintain your appliances.
The EPA enforces national standards for the tap water provided by public water systems. As long as contaminants remain at these low levels, the water is considered safe to drink for healthy people. (Note: People with severely weakened immune systems or other specific health conditions may wish to further treat their water at home.) Still, to improve the taste or because of health concerns, 4 out of 10 Americans use a form of home water treatment. These devices range from simple pitchers costing less than $20 to sophisticated reverse osmosis units costing hundreds of dollars.
A water treatment device can be free-standing, attached to a tap, plumbed in with a dedicated faucet (also called a point-of-use device); connected to a refrigerator's water and ice dispensing system; or centrally attached to treat all water entering a house (a point-of-entry device). Before purchasing a home water treatment unit, consider local water quality, cost and maintenance of the unit, product performance, and certifications to make sure that the unit will meet your needs and address your particular concerns.
While EPA does not endorse specific units, there are three different certifications to look for on the label, which are accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) - NSF International, Underwriters Laboratories, Inc. (UL), and the Water Quality Association.
For more information on water filtration devices, go to:
http://www.epa.gov/ogwdw/faq/pdfs/fs_healthseries_filtration.pdf (PDF) ( 7 pp, 1.7MB, About PDF)
Safer Pest Management
A variety of approaches are available to control pests (e.g., insects, vermin) that may enter your kitchen, however many common insecticides can contain toxic chemicals. The best way to manage pests is to try to prevent them from appearing in the first place. For instance, stop insects from entering your home by removing sources of food, water, and shelter.
If pest prevention does not work, consider natural or less-toxic alternatives to chemical pesticides. If you decide to use chemical pest control products, use them safely and correctly (and do not use any more than is needed). Always carefully read and follow the pesticide label's instructions and safety warnings.
While EPA does not endorse specific units, there are three different certifications to look for on the label, which are accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) - NSF International, Underwriters Laboratories, Inc. (UL), and the Water Quality Association.
For more information on safer pest management, go to:
What is a Pesticide? - http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/about/index.htm
Do's and Don'ts of Pest Control - http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/controlling/dosanddonts.htm
Controlling Pests in the Home - http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/controlling/residents.htm
Using Environmentally Preferable Products & Cleaners
Environmentally Preferable Cleaners
Cleaning products are necessary for maintaining healthful conditions in the home. But many cleaning products can present health and environmental concerns, including eye, skin, or respiratory irritation, or more serious issues.
When purchasing cleaners, look for key words on product labels. Try to avoid most products labeled "Danger/Poison" (indicating that they can be lethal when ingested in very small quantities), as well as products labeled as Corrosive, Severely Irritating, Highly Flammable, Highly Combustible, or Strong Sensitizer. Also, when possible, try to select cleaning products that are labeled as low-VOC, readily biodegradable, bio-based (such as citrus- or pine-based products), and solvent-free. Some products' environmental claims have been verified and certified by a third-party group (such as Green Seal or Scientific Certification Systems).
Also bear in mind that several simple, non-toxic, and inexpensive household substances can also be very effective for most types of household and kitchen cleaning jobs; these substances include white vinegar, baking soda, mild liquid (e.g., castile) soap, lemon juice, and borax. (Note that vinegar and lemon juice are acidic, so they are useful for removing mineral deposits and wax or grease build-up, but they should not be used on all surfaces.) Recipes for making natural, non-toxic cleaning formulas are available on various Web sites such as thegreenguide.com and care2.com.
Check out EPA's environmentally preferable cleaners Web site for information to help you choose household cleaners with reduced health risks. For information on specific green household cleaning products, go to:
EPA Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Database of
Environmental Information for Products and Services -
EPA Design for Environment Program partners and products list - http://www.epa.gov/opptintr/dfe/pubs/about/index.htm
National Institutes of Health Household Products Database - http://www.householdproducts.nlm.nih.gov
Environmentally Preferable Products
EPA launched the Environmentally Preferable Purchasing (EPP) program to help the federal government "buy green," and to stimulate demand for green products and services. Environmentally preferable purchasing means adding environmental considerations to buying decisions, along with traditional factors such as performance and price. Environmentally preferable products are those that are considered to be "greener" overall than their conventional counterparts. Recycled content is one factor in determining an EPP product, but the program considers other environmental attributes discussed above, including reduced energy use d uring production and use; conservation of resources; lower impacts on air, water, and land; and reduced or eliminated toxics or hazardous constituents.
EPA's EPP Program has summarized information about popular environmentally preferable products and services, including environmental attributes to look for, procurement guidance, tools, case studies, and other useful resources. Although geared towards the federal government (and its own institutional, mainly non-residential, buildings), this program can also help consumers identify EPP products and places to buy them.
For information on popular environmentally preferable products, go to:
Reducing Water Use
Below are home maintenance strategies and everyday household practices in the kitchen to help you conserve water.
By making just a few small changes, you can save a significant amount of water, which will help you save money
and preserve water supplies for current and future generations. Some tips include:
Fix Leaks. You can significantly reduce water use by simply repairing leaks in fixtures (e.g., faucets)
and pipes. A leaky faucet wastes gallons of water in a short period of time.
Do not let water run unnecessarily. For instance, keep drinking water in the refrigerator instead of
letting the faucet run until the water is cool. Letting your faucet run for five minutes uses about
as much energy as letting a 60-watt light bulb run for 14 hours, and uses up to 8 gallons of water a day!
Wash only full loads of dishes, and select the appropriate water level or load size option on the
dishwasher to use less water.
Reuse water in your home. Don't pour water down the drain when there may be another use for it.
For instance, when you give your pet fresh water, reuse the old water for your houseplants.
Do not use water to defrost frozen foods; thaw foods in the refrigerator overnight
- Monitor your water bill for unusually high use. Your bill and water meter are tools that can help you discover leaks.
Water Use and Energy
You may wonder what water use and energy have to do with each other. In most cases, electricity or gas are used to heat water, and this costs you money. In addition, your water utility uses energy to purify and pump water to your home, as well as treat sewage generated by the community. Currently, about eight percent of U.S. energy demand goes to treating, pumping, and heating water, which is enough electricity to power more than 5 million homes for an entire year. Water heating also accounts for 19 percent of home energy use.
By reducing your household water use, you not only reduce your water bill, but you also help to reduce the energy required to pump and treat public water supplies. In addition, by reducing water use and saving energy in the process, you are decreasing the amount of greenhouse gases produced to generate electricity, thereby helping to address climate change. In fact if one out of every 100 American homes were retrofitted with water-efficient fixtures, we could save about 100 million kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity per year-avoiding 80,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions. That is equivalent to removing nearly 15,000 automobiles from the road for one year!
Water use and energy use are closely related!
For more information on how water use impacts your energy bills, go to:
Benefits of water efficiency
Water efficiency in the home
Reduce hot water use for energy savings
Saving water saves energy: make the drops-to-watts connection
Managing Household Waste
Reducing Household Waste
Between 1960 and 2007, the quantity of waste created by the average American doubled from 2.7 to 4.6 pounds
per day. The most effective way to stop this trend is by preventing waste in the first place, by reducing
the amount of materials we use and reusing materials when possible. Recycling and purchasing goods made
from recycled products are also important strategies. Below are specific actions you can do to decrease
the amount of waste produced in your home:
Choose products with minimal packaging
- Packaging materials account for a significant amount of the trash we generate, and consume
resources and energy to produce. Consider buying items in bulk, those with minimal (or no)
packaging, or products in concentrated form.
- "Close the loop" by choosing products or packaging that has recycled content. These materials
perform as well if not better than virgin materials and buying recycled content products helps
sustain the market for recycled materials.
Choose recyclable products
- Identify items and/or packaging that can be recycled, and then be sure to recycle them! Our
landfills are full of recyclable products that were discarded.
- Remember, many products (and most packaging waste) can be recycled into new products. Although the
recycling process uses some energy and raw materials, it is still a more sustainable option than
disposing of materials. In most communities, you can recycle paper, many plastics, glass, and
cans. Some cities and towns will also recycle compostable food waste. Make sure you have the
appropriate recycling bins for curbside collection. Set up recycling receptacles in your kitchen
to make it easy to keep recycle materials separate from the trash, and post an information sheet
that lists the locally accepted recyclables on or near your recycling bins for easy reference.
Use durable products
- Choose products (e.g., housewares, appliances, electronics) that will stand the test of time.
Although durable products sometimes cost more initially, their extended life span often offsets
the higher cost and saves money over the product's life.
Borrow, rent, or share items used infrequently
- Before you buy seldom-used items, like certain party goods, first consider renting or borrowing them.
Repair before replace
- Try to repair before you consider replacement of items in your home, including electronics and
appliances. Donate items you can't repair to vocational schools or repair shops.
Buy reusable products
- Many products are designed to be used more than once, such as cloth napkins, dishcloths,
and washable utensils. Consider these and other options:
- - Use a reusable sports bottle instead of disposable plastic bottles.
- - Bring your own reusable cloth bags for carrying your purchases. Purchase reusable shopping bags or reuse the paper or plastic ones.
- - Before discarding containers, consider whether it is hygienic and practical to reuse them.
- - Reuse other items throughout your house. For instance, reuse wrapping paper, gift bags, and bows. Use the Sunday comics for wrapping children's birthday presents. Be creative!
- - For cleaning chores, try to use durable and reusable items such as mops and reusable rags or sponges, rather than disposable (one-time-use) products.
- Compost food waste instead of using the garbage disposal or throwing it in the trash.
Compost makes an excellent fertilizer and improves the soil. If you do not have a use for
compost in your yard, offer your compostable materials to community composting programs or
garden projects near you. For more information on composting, go to: www.epa.gov/composting.
- Be creative! - Think of new ways to reduce waste everyday. For instance, use the back side of old documents for notes and phone messages.
Hazardous materials are found in almost every home. If you walk around your kitchen, you'll probably find hazardous materials or products you and your family use every day. Leftover household products that contain corrosive, toxic, ignitable, or reactive ingredients are considered to be household hazardous waste such as certain cleaners, pesticides, and rodenticides. Highly toxic items should always be treated as hazardous waste. Disposing of household hazardous wastes improperly pollutes the environment and poses a threat to human health.
You can reduce the impact of household hazardous waste from your home by:
- Communities offer a variety of options for safely managing household hazardous waste.
Check with your local government for information on programs in your area.
Reconsidering what you use
- Read labels on the products you use and ask yourself, "Do I really need to use this product?"
Safer alternatives may exist. For example, for some applications, you could use water-based (latex)
paint instead of oil-based paint, compost instead of chemical fertilizers, cedar chips instead of
mothballs, or boric acid instead of commercial ant and roach killers.
- Reconsidering your methods - Think about what you do in your home that generates hazardous waste and ask yourself, "Is there a safer way I can be doing this?" For example, you could use sandpaper or a heat gun instead of chemical paint strippers, or a plunger instead of a chemical drain cleaner.
For more information on managing household hazardous waste, go to:
Climate Change and Waste
Most people don't realize that waste is linked with global climate change. How?
The manufacture, distribution and use of products - as well as management of the resulting
waste - all use energy that results in greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide,
and contribute to climate change.
By recycling your waste, you reduce the amount of materials that need to be manufactured and,
thus, reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Reducing and diverting packaging and food waste reduces methane emissions in landfills.
Methane is another, even stronger greenhouse gas.
For more information on waste and climate change, go to:
Other Practices for the Kitchen
Buy locally or regionally produced materials
- Using locally produced or salvaged materials reduces the demand to ship materials typically
sourced and manufactured long distances from their ultimate use. This helps support the local
economy as well as reduce air emissions.
Keep the kitchen clean
- Dust mites, pollens, animal dander,
and other allergy-causing agents can be reduced through regular cleaning.
Follow label instructions carefully on hazardous household products
- Potentially hazardous products often have warnings aimed at reducing user exposure.
- Always use household products only for their intended purpose and according to the manufacturer's instructions. Never mix household products unless directed on the label. Making sure you provide plenty of fresh air when using these products.
- Wear gloves and eye protection when handling any hazardous products.
- Keep household products in their original containers so that safety information and directions for use are always with the product.
- Store any hazardous products in a secure place (where children and pets cannot reach them) and away from potential sources of heat, sparks, or flames.
- Safe disposal of hazardous household products - Safely dispose of partially full containers of old or unneeded chemicals. Because gases can leak even from closed containers, this single step could help lower concentrations of organic chemicals in your home. Do not toss unwanted products in the garbage can; instead follow your local government's instructions for disposing of hazardous waste.
Link to Whole House for information on windows and doors, heating and cooling, air sealing, insulation, hot water heating, and lighting.