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Originally published Friday, April 19, 2013 at 11:01 AM

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Give new meaning to 'clean house' with eco-friendly products

Whether it's paint, plaster, stain or stripper, there's a more healthy way to tackle that job.

Special to The Seattle Times

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SPRUCE UP your home this spring using materials that are friendly to the environment and your health. Whether you want to paint every room in the house or give your window treatments a face-lift, these eco-friendly products might literally help you breathe a little easier.

Brighten the walls with a fresh coat of zero-VOC paint. Volatile organic compounds, used to prevent mold and mildew, are found in many traditional paints. But they also can trigger asthma, headaches and skin rashes. Look for paints that instead use zinc oxide to help keep mold at bay.

Or, try something completely different on your walls: milk paint. This substance is quite true to its name, made from milk protein, lime, clay and earth pigments. The Old-Fashioned Milk Paint Company produces these soft-hued paints that frequently were used in Colonial America and perhaps more than 6,000 years ago in cave drawings. The paint is packaged as a dry powder, and you simply add water and mix. The paints have a slight milky smell when wet, but they are odorless when dry. Milk paint is biodegradable, nontoxic and can be used on most surfaces. Information and a color palette at www.milkpaint.com.

If you're looking for yet another alternative to traditional paint, try natural, nontoxic clay plaster on your walls. The company American Clay offers hundreds of colors that can be applied using a paint roller and other methods. The plasters actually help regulate humidity in a room by naturally absorbing and releasing moisture, depending on the season. Clay plasters are mold-resistant and work on a variety of surfaces. See application techniques and more at www.americanclay.wix.com/new/home.

Does your back deck or fence need staining after the winter rains? TimberSoy is a natural wood stain that quickly penetrates into wood pores and helps preserve your deck, fence, kitchen cabinets, floors and trim. The bio-based material is fully absorbed by the wood and functions much like sap by protecting the wood from rot. Petroleum-based stains often dry out the wood. Read more at www.ecoprocote.com (find TimberSoy in the left column).

Soybean oil also has passed the test as a powerful paint stripper for your furniture-refinishing needs. SoyClean paint stripper can remove oil-, lead- and latex-based paints, and works on wood, metal, concrete, glass, bricks and other surfaces. The solution is made from soy as well as other citrus, vegetable and seed oils. The company also makes a variety of soy-based cleaners, sealers and lubricants. More at www.soyclean.biz.

Let in the spring light with natural woven shades for your windows. These Smith+Noble window treatments are made from bamboos, grasses and reeds on a loom. The natural-tone shades add texture and soft light to your favorite room. Check out materials, sizes and styles at www.smithandnoble.com. Look for "natural woven shades" in the drop-down menu.

Roll up that heavy winter rug and throw down an eco-friendly jute rug from West Elm. The hand-woven rugs have a clean, ribbed look and come in a variety of earth-toned colors. Jute is a fast-growing plant whose biodegradable fibers can be spun into strong, durable threads. Expect to get a lot of mileage from your jute rug. Sizes, prices and styles at www.westelm.com.

Do a little spring purging in the bathroom by opting for a nontoxic shower curtain that doesn't off-gas potentially harmful chemicals. Traditional shower curtains are made from PVC plastic and often give off a strong smell when opened or dampened. Look instead for shower curtains made from natural materials, or PEVA, a type of plastic that doesn't contain chlorine molecules found in PVC. You don't have to give up your favorite bright patterns, either. The company Rock Candy Life makes shower curtains that are 100 percent recyclable, and chlorine- and PVC-free, with pattern names like "royal" and "Moroccan." The stylish and whimsical prints rotate, and once a design is sold out, the company creates a new, limited-edition design. More at www.rockcandylife.com.

Michelle Ma is a Seattle-based freelance writer.

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