Entire books have been written on ways to minimize the toxic hits our bodies take every day. From the products we slather on them to the furnishings we live and sleep in to the offices we work in, even to the cars we drive, most of us are steeped in toxins around the clock.
Our bodies do their best to deal with this daily chemical barrage, even though it’s a job they weren’t really designed for. So, it’s up to you to lighten your toxic load wherever possible – and that clean-up starts at home.
Why there? Well, for starters, the EPA says that pollution inside the home can be two to five times greater than outside, due to irritants and contaminants in our beauty, personal care and cleaning products; off-gassing chemicals from bedding, modern furniture and fabrics; and even chlorine byproducts emitted from the toilet – so keep the lid down.
The good news is that, compared to outdoor, environmental pollution, the indoor environment can be purged of problematic stuff pretty easily. Where to start? Try my keep-it-simple, little pain-big gain guide to greening up your home and housekeeping, so your body doesn’t have to work so hard detoxing to keep your physical machinery clean:
Cleaning products are full of dirty secrets.
When it comes to household cleaners, it’s the Wild West out there — there’s no real policing of the industry. Makers aren’t required by law to meet safety standards or even provide complete ingredient lists. Though the ingredients may be an industrial secret, one thing that’s not a secret is that many of the most commonly used products have been linked to a rogue’s gallery of health problems, including asthma, cancer, reproductive disorders, hormone disruption, and neurotoxicity.
Give your cleaning products a healthy upgrade.
Given the stakes, the healthiest option is to quit the toxic stuff. To start the switchover, find out how to safely dispose of your remaining cleaning products or, use up what you have and don’t replace them the same old nasty stuff.
Phase in kinder, gentler cleaner-uppers that are probably not all that different from what your great-grandma used to use. We’re talking distilled white vinegar instead of bleach; baking soda instead of caustic tile-scrubbing products; and good old hydrogen peroxide to disinfect, sanitize and deal with stains. Also, keep a few cleaning classics on hand – lemon juice, washing soda and Dr. Bronner’s liquid peppermint soap with anti-fungal and anti-bacterial tea tree oil – to handle the rest of your household cleaning jobs.
And don’t forget lemons. They’re a natural disinfectant and can remove stains, in addition to adding a wonderful (and not harmful) fragrance everywhere you use it.
If DIY’s not your style, then buy a lot smarter, using the Environmental Working Group’s Healthy Cleaning Guide for their science-based rankings and recommendations on the best healthy products for your household cleaning jobs.
Dump these 8 Things That Smell – even if they smell nice.
Endocrine-disrupting phthalates blended into products? Mysterious ingredients simply labeled “fragrances?” Noxious fumes in oven and toilet bowl cleaners? It’s safe to say that multiple chemicals wafting through your day — and the myriad, unknowable ways they interact — will not do anything good for your physical health. Those chemical combos have the power to make you sick or, at minimum, trigger allergic reactions, skin problems, wheezing and coughing, among other common symptoms. So, now is the time to divest yourself and your home of a variety of sickening products, among them:
Don’t be fooled by air fresheners labeled ‘green’ or ‘natural’ or ‘made with essentials oils.’ Studies that tested a range of air fresheners found they all emitted compounds classified as hazardous (and some, even carcinogenic) under U.S. federal laws. Instead, open windows; use fans to move fresh air in and out; and use essential oil diffusers to ‘freshen’ the air.
Antibacterial soaps, household wipes, & hand sanitizers
These may contribute to a rise in drug-resistant bacteria as well as having a tendency to over-dry the skin and trigger hand eczema, irritation and rashes.
Fabric softeners & dryer sheets
Both have been shown to trigger allergies, asthma and lung irritation – a high price to pay for doing the laundry. Instead of stinking up your clothes with fake floral scents, add a little white vinegar in the rinse cycle to freshen and soften naturally.
Drain cleaners & oven cleaners
If you’re trying to irritate or burn the eyes and skin, these two products will do the trick. But if you prefer a more plesant option, use an old-fashioned but surprisingly effective drain snake or plunger for drains, and use a DIY paste of baking soda and water to make the oven sparkle.
Clear the indoor air, room-to-room.
If you’re serious about minimizing the indoor pollutants in your home, take a look around and take stock of the items that may be spewing chemicals into the rooms and spaces where you spend your off-duty hours – and move ‘em out. On the indoor air pollution to-do list:
In the bedroom: Say no to incense and candles. Aside from the risk of fire, the particulate matter they spread around the room can irritate the eyes, nose and throat. Another bedroom biggie is wall-to-wall carpeting. If you have it, make plans to remove it professionally, and air out the room to enable off-gassing fumes to dissipate. While you’re at it, when it comes time to buy a new mattress, go for the cleanest, greenest one you can afford, to guard against sleeping nightly in a cloud of off-gassing chemicals.
In the closets: Got dry cleaning? Let it breathe! Properly dispose of, or recycle the plastic wrap, and hang items for a few days in a well-ventilated, under-utilized space, like the garage or outside, to prevent potentially carcinogenic fumes from accumulating on your clothes and in the closet. Better yet, find a greener dry cleaner.
In the living room – and throughout the house: Dirt and dust are a big part of indoor pollution, so dusting and vacuuming once a week will help tamp down indoor air pollutants – but only if your vacuum is up to the task. Look for a high-power, high-quality vacuum that traps dirt and dust so nothing escapes when it’s time to empty it. If it has a HEPA filter, even better.
In the home office: An often over-looked source of indoor pollution? Laser printers and copiers, many of which emit toner dust and volatile, organic compounds, which can exacerbate respiratory problems. If you do have a printer at home and use it frequently, keep it away from where you work and play.
Throughout the house: Just add plants – nature’s air detoxifiers. In addition to adding appealing shades of green where every you place them, they also help filter out toxins and add fresh oxygen, so any room can benefit from their presence. Among the top air cleaners are easy-to-care for spider plants, English Ivy, rubber plants and Boston ferns.