Subscribing to an eco-friendly, toxin-free lifestyle in New York almost inevitably seems like an exercise in futility. Consider your steady diet of smog, exhaust, and secondhand smoke, not to mention dry cleaners blowing fumes into your apartment. Sooner or later, the city catches up with you: allergies, stress, fatigue, that general run-down feeling.
The good news? You needn't relocate to Wyoming to detox. The city has plenty of businesses that can lead you to healthier living with minimal effort on your part. Some require subtle changes (like ditching the Pine Sol in your bathroom); others are more drastic (having the air quality evaluated in your home, installing special filters). Here, a sample of earth- and body-friendly services and products that make it easy to be green:
If the powerful (chemical) agents you've been using for cleaning are beginning to worry you -- something (could it be the Soft Scrub residue in your tub?) is giving you headaches or a rash -- maybe it's time for some new allies. Such as Green Clean. Malcolm Berman and his team bring their own nontoxic cleansers derived from natural plant or mineral sources to every job (read: no chlorine, petroleum, phenols, or ammonia), and prefer elbow grease to product overload. "It's just more pleasant," claims Berman. "There aren't the harsh smells. It brings a certain sense of well-being in your home that you can't quite put your finger on, but people have expressed it to me." Green Clean does it all: windows, floors, appliances, and laundry (providing your building has facilities). It also offers a special service for people with allergies or chemical sensitivities and will tailor the job to your needs (like using high-efficiency-particular-arrestor, or hepa, vacuums to tackle pet hair, or, say, avoiding citronella-based products). Initial deep cleaning, $24 per person per hour; regular maintenance, $18.75 per person per hour. Office cleaning also available.
MICRO ECOLOGIES, INC.
141 East 61st Street
Don't get Bill Sothern started on mold. A cursory query about the stuff to Micro Ecologies' resident industrial hygienist resulted in a lecture on Stachybotrys -- a.k.a. "the black mold" -- reminiscent of high-school chem, complete with a mold fighter's equipment demo (some tools could have been plucked from the set of The X-Files). "There are some very nice buildings in this city, and there is some very toxic fungi growing in them," says Sothern. Still, be thankful for his passion, because in layman's terms, Stachybotrys is a bad, bad thing (and chances are it's in your apartment). Exposure to it and other fungi can lead to allergies, asthma, and sinusitis, and has been linked to chronic-fatigue syndrome. Micro Ecologies will go into your home, identify the source of growth and cause of contamination (common culprits include the coils in heaters and air conditioners, water damage, and inadequate ventilation), and rectify the problem using nontoxic or low-toxicity ingredients. Ecologies also offers pest control (using nontoxic gels to seal off possible pest entryways) and lead, asbestos, and general air-quality testing, and it sells hepa vacuums and filtered air cleaners. And, oh, it does tap-water tests, although, as Sothern adds with a touch of pride, "New York has some of the best water in the country." Home evaluation, $250; commercial spaces, $350. Lead and asbestos testing, $75 per sample.
140 West 72nd Street
Two differences between Ecomat and other dry cleaners: (1) It's actually a "wet" dry cleaner, meaning it uses water combined with gentle, nontoxic soaps and advanced drying techniques to launder wool and delicate fabrics instead of the water-free liquid-chemical method used by most cleaners; (2) Ecomat eschews perchloroethylene (or perc), a nonbiodegradable pollutant the Environmental Protection Agency identifies as a possible carcinogen (just what you want seeped in your favorite silk shirt), commonly used by traditional dry cleaners. (Consider this: A study by the Consumers Union and the Hunter College Center for Occupational and Environmental Health found that 24 of 29 city apartments with dry-cleaning facilities in the building exceeded the Health Department's limit for perc; the stuff is hard to contain.) Clothes cleaned by Ecomat don't have that dumped-in-Windex odor, and prices are competitive with those of regular dry cleaners ($5 for pants, $6.50 for sweaters). Free pickup and delivery throughout Manhattan. Eco-clean wash-and-fold service also available.
TERRE VERDE TRADING CO.
120 Wooster Street
Terre Verde owner Katherine Tiddens likes to say that everything in your home that is smelled and touched enters your body as food. That's why everything she sells in her spacious eco-department store -- from furniture and carpets to towels and baby toys -- is organic. Her basic rule of thumb: If she doesn't know what's in it or how it was made, it doesn't get shelf space. "When you buy a package of food, it has to say what's in it," says Tiddens. "We feel the same should be true of a can of paint, or a cleaner, or bar of soap." So what won't you find in Terre Verde? Products made from particleboard or plywood (because the formaldehyde in the glues renders the wood nonbiodegradable, and formaldehyde fumes seep out over time), plated metals, and products with artificial fragrance.
And if you're among those who long ago traded in ponchos and peasant skirts for Brooks Brothers and Prada, not to worry. Terre Verde's products -- from the organic-cotton-and-wool mattresses and bed linens to the scented soaps and candles -- are often surprisingly luxurious. While Tiddens freely admits that her stock is a bit more expensive than traditional products (a full-size organic-cotton-and-wool bed and boxspring will set you back $1,375), she justifies the cost by citing the "invisible price tag" attached to cheaper versions sold elsewhere. In other words, you'll pay more, but you'll be breathing (perhaps literally) easier.