You know organic groceries may be the way to go, but since a high percentage of toxins can be found in your house, it may be time to do a thorough sweep of your abode, too. Here are ten places chemical disruptors could be lurking.
“People spend more than 80 percent of their time inside, where air may be even more polluted than outdoors,” says James L. Sublett, M.D.
Newer homes are designed to be energy-efficient, meaning there’s not much ventilation, and irritants like dust mites, mold, and pet dander get sealed inside, potentially aggravating conditions such as allergies and asthma. To filter the air in all of the rooms in your home, Sublett recommends getting a MERV 11 or 12 disposable high-efficiency filter for your furnace and air-conditioning system. Change the filters every three months, and leave the fan on your air conditioner so pollutants such as pollen don’t get trapped indoors. You can find filters at allergyzone.com.
Wall-to-wall carpeting can also trap dust, pollen, and mold. “Let’s say you clean the carpet after a child spills juice,” says Danny Seo, an environmental lifestyle expert and author of Upcycling. “It may not dry quickly, and therefore becomes a breeding ground for mold.” Carpet tiles make a good alternative, since you can remove the individual squares for easy cleaning, drying, and replacement. Flor Carpet Design Squares let you interchange patterns and colors to customize your rug. Plus, they’re recyclable.
Lead, chlorine, and pesticides can contaminate the stuff that comes out of the sink, so getting a filter may be a good idea. “But test your tap water with a kit like those sold at Home Depot to make sure you really need a water filter before you invest in one,” says Seo. “Also, don’t trash old filters when it’s time to replace them, because they’re loaded with lead and other chemicals that can leak inside a landfill and pollute ground water. Instead, drop them off at a community disposal event for harmful trash.” Or invest in Multipure’s water filters, which last a lifetime, and thanks to their carbon composition are a-okay to toss in the trash.
“Many cleaners have artificial fragrances that can irritate your lungs and worsen conditions such as allergies and asthma,” says Jessica McKiverkin, a professional organizer and owner of J Mac Organizing. “You have plenty of basic ingredients right in your kitchen that won’t harm your health and are just as effective as store-bought products. Try using natural multipurpose cleansers such as apple cider vinegar distilled with water in a spray bottle instead of buying glass cleaner.” Also, lemon can remove hard water stains, and baking soda is great for scrubbing pots.
“The biggest impact on our health and the world is how we care for our clothes,” says Seo. “How many times you wash and dry a product has an even bigger impact on the environment than how it is actually made.” You can save energy and lower your toxic load by cutting back on using your clothes dryer and those chemical-laden fabric-softener sheets. “Try gently ringing clothes out after washing, rolling, or pressing on a towel to absorb excess water, and then hanging them to air-dry,” says Seo. Our favorite way to do it is with something like the Collapsible Indoor Tripod Clothes Dryer, which folds flat for easy storage.
“We like the convenience of nonstick cookware, but it’s full of chemicals like TOEEL and PTFA that have been linked to cancer,” says Seo. “A better bet is ceramic cookware with that blue coating, which is free of all those chemicals.” To make cleaning ceramic pans easier, cook on medium—not high—heat to avoid scorching the pan. Don’t soak a hot pan in cold water overnight, because it will lead to warping. Instead, sprinkle some baking soda and dish cleanser in the pan and scour with a Brillo pad. Seo’s cookware line has a ceramic-based nonstick coating that’s 100-percent free of harmful chemicals like PTFE and PFOA and is dishwasher safe.
Garments made from synthetic fabrics such as rayon, polyester, and spandex may be made or treated with toxic chemicals like formaldehyde in an effort to keep them wrinkle-free. Formaldehyde has been linked with upping your odds of lung cancer, so it may be a good idea to choose clothing made from natural fibers such as cotton, silk, hemp, or organic wool. Merino wool is less itchy, doesn’t wrinkle, and is odor-resistant, meaning you’ll save energy—yours and the environment’s—by doing laundry less often. Icebreaker’s super-comfy Villa Dress is made with merino wool and is versatile enough to wear to work and on date night.
Many shampoos contain sulfates, a sudsing agent that’s also used in laundry detergent and actually doesn’t help get hair (or clothes) clean and ends up making strands more brittle. Whole Foods has an entire aisle devoted to non-detergent beauty lines, but we particularly like Lotus Moon’s Abundant Shampoo because it’s sulfate-, paraben-, and fragrance-free, and is made with all-natural organic ingredients like pink grapefruit and sweet-orange essential oils.
Skin Care Products
The average American uses approximately 10 to 15 personal care products with a total of 126 different ingredients each day. “Their chemicals are absorbed into the skin and bloodstream, which can have toxic effects on our organs,” says Cecilia Wong, a holistic skin-care expert. The most common offenders are parabens; hormone disrupters such as DEA, MEA, and TEA; fragrance; mineral oil, and propylene glycol, says Wong. Just as you scour nutrition labels, read the ingredient list on your beauty products and opt for those with plant or fruit essential oils, herbs, and natural preservatives, which are high in vitamins and antioxidants and are safe for your body. Just be sure to toss natural brands after three months—since they’re preservative-free, they may go bad if kept for longer.
An organized home leads to a clearer mind and healthier body, says McKiverkin. That’s because letting stuff pile up not only makes it harder to think, but also tougher to clean because it becomes a breeding ground for sickness-causing bacteria. “The key is to pare down and minimize your belongings to maximize your space—whether it be by donating, recycling, or reselling,” says McKiverkin. Try handing off old blankets to an animal shelter, recycling computer ink cartridges at office-supply stores such as Staples, and selling kitchen supplies you no longer use on Craigslist.
Creating a Healthy Home
Designing and building a healthy home is the first step to having one. The air, water, and whole home systems all contribute to the overall health of the family living inside the home. Read about our healthy home initiative or contact us today to learn more about designing and building a healthy home.