Back in the day, many of us had concerns about office air quality – breathing in toxins eight hours a day in our hermetically-sealed downtown office cubes. Fast forward a few years and the landscape has changed for many of us, quite literally, thanks to more work-from-home days. And while you may love the new ‘WFH’ lifestyle, the EPA says that pollution inside the home can be two to five times greater than outside, because of the irritants, contaminants and off-gassing in the products we use daily. So, if you’re doing more 9-to-5 from home, keeping your living/work space clean, upgrading air quality and reducing the toxic load has never been more important. The good news is, unlike outdoor pollution, removing these obstacles to your well-being is fairly easy to do. Where to start? Try my stripped-down survival guide to greening up your cleaning routine – and your home.
Oh no! It’s coming from inside the house.
Yes, there are loads of toxic nasties spread liberally throughout most homes these days. Regardless of whether we can see them or smell them, our bodies are affected by the thousands of chemicals we’re exposed to in our homes. By some estimates, there are about 500 -1,000 chemicals running amok in our homes and most of them we didn’t intentionally put there. Chemicals are manufactured into our building materials, furniture, bedding, carpeting, etc., and there are even chlorine byproducts misting out from our showerheads and toilets – one more reason to close the lid.
While these chemicals may be tolerated individually and in very small doses, problems can arise when you’re exposed to them in larger doses or in combination. Everyone’s tolerance level is different, depending on genetics, nutritional status and previous chemical contacts. Making matters worse, the negative effects of household toxins are often compounded by the habitual use of alcohol, or prescription or recreational drugs.
You might want to put down the spray bottle too. Those everyday household cleaners aren’t regulated by law or required to meet legal safety standards, and many don’t even list ingredients, even though many have been linked to asthma, cancer, reproductive disorders, hormone disruption, and neurological problems. From endocrine-disrupting phthalates in mystery “fragrances” in air fresheners and laundry detergents to noxious fumes in oven cleaners, we’re creating toxic trails throughout our homes and lives, with the impact of this multiple chemical exposure largely unknown. Common sense, however, would suggest that, at minimum, the chemical pile-on we’re subjecting ourselves to on the daily does our bodies no favors.
Show toxins the door.
For a lot of folks, it was pretty normal to grow up watching their parents use toxic products on every surface of the house. Mom and dad probably doused you in antibacterial wipes, threw dryer sheets in with every load of laundry and lit scented candles for every special occasion. All well-intentioned, but not great for wellness. You, however are not your parents, so no need to follow their inadvertently toxic lead. It’s up to you to show toxins the door. To start, put the following items on your ‘must-ditch list’ – preferably, very, very soon:
- Air fresheners – even the so-called ‘green’ or ‘natural ones, emit compounds classified as hazardous under U.S. federal laws. Some are carcinogenic to boot. Same is true for air fresheners that claim to be ‘made with essential oils.’
- Antibacterial everything – be it wipes, hand sanitizers, hand soap, lotions, dish soap, detergents, disinfectants, you name it, all that antibacterial action contributes to the rise of drug-resistant bacteria, and can easily disrupt the bacterial balance of gut, skin and mouth microbiomes.
- Drain and oven cleaners – they come with labels indicating they are poisonous when ingested, and can burn eyes and skin, which should be enough to make you leave them on the shelf!
- Fabric softeners and dryer sheets – both of these heavily fragranced laundry items have been shown to cause allergies or asthma, while also being highly irritating to the lungs.
Get a toxin report card before re-stocking.
Sure, most everyone wants their home to sparkle and shine but safe to assume you’d also like to make that happen without putting your life at risk. So, as your supplies of soap, detergent, spray, polish, or tub scrub start to run low, commit to replacing them only with products that get high rankings on the Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning list. Review the A-F grades on the products you’ve been using, i.e., window cleaners, surface and toilet bowl cleaners, and anything fragranced, as fragrances typically use a cocktail of unknown ingredients including phthalates. If your brews get a grade C or below—and especially if they have a warning of any kind on the packaging—use the guide to find a safer alternative. There are plenty safer options on the market, and they can be easily ordered online if you can’t find them locally.
DIY your own artisanal brews.
Another option is to mix up your own household cleaners, using various combinations of non-toxic ingredients like baking soda, vinegar, and natural antibacterial and antifungal agents like tea tree oil. I love home-brewed options because they really tick all the boxes – they’re safe, effective, natural, very inexpensive, and best of all, they won’t poison the air, household surfaces or your body as you use them and as you go about the rest of your life – certainly a win all around.
To make your own, check out these excellent household cleaner ‘recipes’ or try one of the easiest all-in-one cleaners ever, recommended by our coach Dawn Brigid: Dr. Bronner’s 18-in-1 castile soap. Here’s how Dawn puts it to work, using these beyond-simple-recipes:
- Handwashing dishes – pre-dilute 1:10 with water. Squirt on a scrub brush and scrub dishes.
- Laundry – add 1/3—1/2 cup of soap for a large load in a normal washer. Add ½ cup of vinegar to the rinse cycle.
- Mopping — combine ½ cup of soap in 3 gallons of hot water.
- All-purpose cleaning – add ¼ cup soap in a quart of water in a spray bottle. Add ¼ tsp. tea tree essential oil if desired.
- Windows – pour 1 tbsp. soap in a quart of water in a spray bottle. Follow up with pure club soda, or half vinegar/ half water.
- Toilet – pre-dilute 1:4 with water in a squirt bottle. Add ¼ tsp. tea tree oil. Empty toilet, squirt bowl thoroughly, sprinkle baking soda on the brush, scrub bowl, let sit 10 minutes, turn water on, flush.
Taking the simple, non-toxic theme even further – for the cleaning averse, here’s what has to be the laziest cleaning hack ever: just add baking soda! With it you can:
- Clean drains – by pouring 1 cup baking soda down the drain, followed by 3 cups boiling water.
- Remove odors – from clothes by soaking them in a tub of water with 1 cup baking soda.
- Polish the silver – with a paste made of ½ baking soda and a few tablespoons of water to rub on silver with rag, rinse, then polish.
- Scour the tub – by sprinkling baking soda into the tub, and start scrubbing.
- Deodorize the fridge – by placing an open box in the back of the fridge to absorb odors.
Detox your home office.
Whether your home office space is a corner of the kitchen or the living room or a custom-built backyard shed, the goal here too is to keep the toxic cleaners, industrial solvents and chemical effluvia out. To do that, you may need to make a few minor adjustments, but your body will thank you for it. Here are 6 quick fixes to cut even more toxins out of your immediate surroundings:
- No shoes in the house – as most household dirt, pesticides and lead come in on your shoes. Barefoot, slippers or ‘indoors only’ shoes are the cleanest options.
- Think ventilation – it’s all about ventilation, so keep windows and doors open as much as possible to move fresh air through
- Purify your indoor air – air filtration systems are terrific for the home office, but they can also be expensive, so instead, for about $60 – $100, you can build a simple ‘Corsi-Rosenthal Box’ to draw airborne toxins, irritants and allergens away from you and into the filters.
- Detoxify your indoor air – with a few green plants which act as natural air detoxifiers.
- Clean your indoor air – as in, have your air ducts and vents cleaned with nontoxic cleaners, and have it done more frequently if you’re spending more of your daytime hours at home.
- Dust, mop and vacuum more frequently – to keep dust levels down, ramp up cleaning to once a week, and use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter to capture the widest range of particles and allergens.