Recipe for a Green Kitchen

You may be buying healthy foods like whole grains, organic veggies and milk, and even local honey, but now it’s time to consider the “health” of your kitchen. Your cabinets and refrigerator can be just as safe, green, and nontoxic as the food and products you put in them. And in addition to being better for your family’s well-being, a healthy kitchen saves money and helps the planet, too. So, whether you’re ready for a floor-to-ceiling renovation or just looking for a little facelift, here are some tips for making it healthier, greener, and easier on your bank account. 


Cabinets Household cabinets are often made from particleboard, tiny wood shavings pressed together using a resin that off-gasses formaldehyde, sometimes giving off that “new cabinet” smell. Formaldehyde (even at low levels) causes eye, nose, throat, and skin irritation and the Department of Health and Human Services suspects it to be a carcinogen. Instead, spend a bit more for a solid wood material (wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FCS), which regulates against mass deforestation, or bamboo is best) not fortified with chemicals. Paint or stain in no- or low-VOC options – it’s safer and healthier.

Counter Tops Inexpensive counter tops are usually made from plastic laminates and resins, which are very hard and not at all toxic. But they frequently have particle-board backing, which (you guessed it) emits fumes. High-quality stones like marble, slate, limestone, and sandstone may seem expensive, but are a sounder long-term investment. If you choose a granite counter top, make sure to have it tested for radon – the uranium base is sometimes radioactive and can release radon gas as it decays. Another perhaps less expensive option is to leave your existing counter tops in place and tile over them.


Hardwood Hardwood floors are easy to love: aesthetically pleasing, a cinch to clean, and kind to those with allergies or chemical sensitivities. The most earth-friendly wood is FCS-certified. Reclaimed flooring is a beautiful option too—salvaged from another site and installed in your home. Your “reuse” story will be just as beautiful as the historical patina.

Bamboo The king of sustainable materials, bamboo is durable, inexpensive, normally pesticide-free, and a rapidly renewing natural resource. It takes only four years from planting to harvest bamboo!

Cork Made from the Mediterranean cork oak, this hypoallergenic material can be cut repeatedly from very old trees. Its natural texture has small pockets of air, making it almost bouncy to the foot and easy on adventurous kids.

Tile Made from ceramic, stone, or recycled glass, tile is virtually free of potent chemicals like volatile organic compounds and is highly durable and easy to clean. Be mindful of the adhesives, especially grout sealer, when installing. Such substances are made of solvents, such as petroleum and toluene that can affect your nervous system and cause irritation. Use mortar and grout as a nontoxic alternative.


Install Skylights For a bigger renovation, skylights offer benefits like natural light, passive-solar-heat gain, and natural indoor ventilation. They reduce energy costs, freshen your home naturally, and are very eco-chic. And being able to stargaze while washing dishes is a very cool bonus.

Grow Houseplants In the kitchen, leafy greens usually end up in a salad. Incorporating a few plants into your decor will purify the air and bring a bit of nature inside. Houseplants consume carbon and emit oxygen, refreshing the room’s air constantly. Pick up a copy of my book, Healthy Child Healthy World, for a complete list of purifying plants you can find easily at your local nursery.


Choose Energy-Efficient Appliances Energy Star Products have earned a star rating for energy efficiency – the more stars, the better. Updating your refrigerator, dishwasher, or cooking appliances means you’ll decrease your water and utility bills, and reduce your home’s energy drain. You can recycle your old appliances with the expertise of Earth 911.

Unplug, Unplug, Unplug Not using that blender as much as you thought Unplug it! Appliances continue to draw energy even when on standby or not in use, so unplugging them can really be a savings, especially that mobile-phone charger.

Make the Switch to CFLs Compact Fluorescent Light bulbs, or CFLs, are the ultra-efficient, swirly version of their standard incandescent counterparts. They use 75 percent less energy than regular bulbs, thus saving an average household electrical budget between $12 and $20 a month. Recycle them at designated centers, but exercise caution – they contain small amounts of mercury.

As seen in Cookie Magazine.

Published on: March 10, 2010
About the Author
Photo of Christopher Gavigan
Christopher Gavigan is Chief Executive Officer of Healthy Child Healthy World. For more than a decade, he has dedicated himself to improving the lives of children and families. He holds degrees in environmental science and geography from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and has extensive graduate training in child psychology and education.
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