I became more aware of toxic chemicals when I was pregnant with our first child. I was shocked to learn that the average home contains 500-1000 toxic chemicals, many of which we are unable to see, smell or taste. Although it can seem like a daunting task, detoxifying your home is simpler than you might think. The below information is intended to help you make choices that will get you and your family on your way to a healthier home and life.
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, our indoor air can be 2-5x more polluted than the outdoor air we breathe! Dust mites, allergens and a multitude of toxic chemicals pollute our home air. With respiratory ailments like asthma on the rise, it’s important that we do what we can to eliminate these respiratory invaders from our homes. Changing air filters regularly and keeping windows open for cross-ventilation lets our house breathe. An in-depth list of some of the best air purifiers can be found here. Adding indoor plants such as Peace Lilies, Weeping Figs, Rubber Plants, Chinese Evergreen, Bamboo Palm and English Ivy naturally detoxifies the air in your home. Studies run by NASA have proven that house plants can reduce up to 85% of indoor air pollutants. A good rule of thumb is 7-10 plants per 900 square feet. Just be sure to keep plants out of reach of small children and pets.
“Air fresheners” and products with synthetic fragrances such as perfumes, candles and dryer sheets are highly toxic and were shown to have the largest number of chemicals at some of the highest concentrations. Airborne contaminants like dust, mold and odors can be reduced by burning beeswax candles with natural cotton wicks. Beeswax candles are a renewable resource and contain none of the harmful chemicals often found in paraffin candles – plus they burn cleaner, significantly longer, and have the highest melting point of any other candle wax. I especially enjoy the natural honey aroma and golden glow they provide. Scientific studies confirm reports from alternative health practitioners and entomologists that beeswax candles emit negative ions, which in turn cleanse the air. A rainstorm is an example of a negative ionic event – have you ever noticed how the air smells so fresh and clean after a rainfall? Negative ions may also provide relief from sinusitis, migraine headaches and allergies, while reducing the severity of asthma attacks, enhancing the immune system, and increasing alertness, productivity and concentration.
Himalayan Salt Crystal Lamps emit negative ions as well, significantly reducing a myriad of indoor air pollutants. They also make a beautiful and ambient nightlight.
Detoxifying your home isn’t just about clearing out physical toxins. Toxic energies can also pollute your space and bring you down. The Native American tradition of sage smudging helps to clear stagnant, negative “vibes” and promote peace and clarity. You can buy a bundle of dried white sage from your local health food store, metaphysical bookshop, farmer’s market or even dry your own. Simply light the end of it, blow on the embers to create smoke, and walk around the perimeter of the house giving special attention to windows, corners and behind doors. Sweet Palo Santo wood, otherwise known as Holy Wood and Peruvian sage, has been used since ancient times as an incense for purifying and clearing or warding off of hucha (Quecha for heavy energy) or spirits. It has many healing benefits. To use, light it as an incense (never leave unattended) and it will extinguish after a few moments, adding a wonderful sweet scent to the air. It can also be used unlit as a sachet in closets and drawers. I keep a bowl of Palo Santo sticks in our living room. It’s also a good idea to examine the relationships in your life and clear out any negative habits or thought patterns. Read more about detoxifying your life of negativity here.
The bottoms of our shoes carry dirt, dust, bacteria, viruses, fertilizer residue, chemicals, pesticides and other toxins that simply don’t belong inside a home – especially a home with pets and crawling babies! Some cultures remove their shoes as a form of respect for the home. According to reflexology experts, feet do not have the chance to breathe, stretch and feel when confined in shoes. Going barefoot allows your pressure points to be stimulated.
Simplify Your Space
I could dedicate an entire post to this subject but the main point is that clutter can really impose on the harmony of a home. It collects dust and allergens and takes away from the peacefulness and beauty that a simple home can inspire. Clearing out the old also makes way for the new – gather unnecessary and unwanted items and have a yard sale, donate to a charity, and recycle the rest.
There is simply no reason to use harsh chemicals in a space where family members and pets eat, sleep, crawl and play. Many non-toxic cleaning products are on the market that work just as well as their toxic counterparts. Be sure to read the ingredients though because some labels claim to be all-natural, green or eco-friendly and actually are not. Eco-Buzz posted a wonderful guide to cutting through the greenwashing of cleaning products. We keep ingredients like castile soap, white vinegar, borax, baking soda and lemons on hand to create basic yet effective natural, pleasant smelling non-toxic cleaners which also saves some cash.
As an alternative to dryer sheets, we hang our clothes outside to dry in the sun in the warmer months. Some neighborhoods prohibit outdoor clotheslines but a drying rack can be used as an alternative. In the colder months we like to use Wool Dryer Balls. They offer a sustainable alternative to dryer sheets and help protect the environment. Using several dryer balls creates a constant motion that allows for more air to circulate around your wet laundry drying your clothing faster. Wool fibers naturally absorb static cling, soften clothes, and absorb toxins and odors. Wool balls also make a fun non-toxic toy for babies and pets!
Personal Care Products
Deodorant, toothpaste, cosmetics, body washes, lotions, hair products, nail polish and perfumes are loaded with toxins and it can be overwhelming to cut through greenwashing tactics and decipher labels and ingredients. The EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database and app makes it easy, providing you with easy-to-navigate safety ratings for a wide range of products and ingredients on the market. Another great find is the Cosmetic Ingredients Maze app which allows you to simply type in the name of the ingredient and the app will tell you what it is, where it is derived from and how harmful it is.
Anti-Bacterial Hand Soaps & Sanitizers
A word on the anti-bacterial soap and hand sanitizer craze – these are no more effective and much less safe than washing with simple soap and water. For a sanitizer to be effective against germs, it should contain at least 60% alcohol which is not only flammable but can be dangerous to children if accidentally consumed. Because of this, many companies have put non-alcohol products on the market including Triclosan, which is considered a pesticide by the EPA and is highly toxic. Also, because of the way they kill bacteria, they can actually cause bacteria to become stronger and more resistant. Clean Well botanical hand sanitizers and disinfectants kill 99.9% of germs yet contain no harsh chemicals. Sometime I carry a non-toxic zipper pouch with some wet cloths sprinkled with drops of essential oils. Cinnamon, clove, geranium, lemon, lime, orange, thyme and rosemary oils have been proven to have antibacterial and antimicrobial properties. These work well when I don’t have access to soap and water.
Mattresses & Couches
We spend a significant amount of time sleeping and children spend even more time sleeping. Conventional mattresses typically contain dangerous chemicals and toxic gases that are not healthy for anyone, but are particularly unsafe for babies and children. They usually contain petroleum-based chemicals, toxic foams, synthetic fabrics, and are treated with chemical fire retardants. Both children and adults can become ill by repeated and continuous exposure to chemicals that are continuously emitted while sleeping. There are many non-toxic mattresses on the market that are very comfortable and no more expensive than conventional mattresses. Also, a Duke University-led study has shown that more than half of U.S. couches contain potentially toxic flame retardants that pose risks to humans as the chemicals migrate from furniture foam into house dust. The study says flame retardants are linked to hormone disruption, cancer and neurological toxicity. Tests by the Consumer Product Safety Commission and other labs suggest the chemicals won’t reduce fire risks but will instead burn in a few seconds, emitting toxic gases, soot and smoke that account for most fire deaths and injuries. A separate study published in Environmental Health Perspectives found that the children of hundreds of mothers who had pentaBDE in their blood during pregnancy had lower birth weight, lower IQ scores, shorter attention spans and less fine motor coordination.
Cook and Bakeware
Some cookware and cooking practices are detrimental to our health. Foods cooked in aluminum can react with the metal to form aluminum salts that are associated with Alzheimer’s, dementia and impaired visual motor coordination. Non-stick finishes like Teflon scratch easily and release little bits of plastic into the food when cooked, as well as toxic fumes over high heat.
The best options are cast iron, pure clay and stainless steel without abrasive cleaning (we use baking soda and lemon juice with a non scratch pad). Groovy Green Livin and Healthy Child Healthy World are some good resources to help you choose safer pots and pans.
Food & Beverages
Food and beverages may be contaminated with a variety of chemicals that have been added during their production, handling, storage, and processing such as pesticides, GMO’s, additives, artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, hormones, antibiotics, municipal sludge used as fertilizer, mold, bacteria and industrial chemicals. Many of these chemicals cause cancer, and damage brains, reproductive and immune systems. Certified organic, ideally homegrown or locally grown, is the best choice. A little girl’s project shows us why we should choose organic produce here.
We are part of the 10 percent of the population that does not use a microwave oven. According to Paul Brodeur, author of the book, “The Zapping of America,” military and industrial interests have prevented biologists from fully researching the effects of microwaves because the military relies upon unrestricted use of microwave radar surveillance. Imagine if the biological effects of microwave ovens were revealed to the public.
We try to buy as many fresh and bulk food items as possible (instead of those stored in plastic or aluminum cans) and store them in glass mason jars with BPA-free lids such as Lehman’s disposable or Tattler reusable canning lids. If you can’t buy fresh or in bulk, look for food items in glass jars or products from companies that don’t use BPA. Plastic and aluminum food packaging, in addition to creating unnecessary waste, also creates health problems. Some types of plastic are carcinogenic while others migrate from packaging into our food and water. Typically, the softer the plastic, the less chemically stable it is, and the more it vaporizes over time even after the smell disappears. Some plastic food wraps and flexible plastic food containers are made from PVC (identified by the #3 on the bottom of plastic containers) which is the worst of the plastics. PVC can cause cancer, birth defects, genetic changes, vision failure and liver dysfunction. It is toxic, can’t be recycled, and is often the material of cheap, disposable toys that you don’t want your baby sucking on or playing with. Foods in #7 plastic containers and the majority of canned foods are exposed to BPA, a plastic and resin ingredient used to line metal food and drink cans. Even at low doses, BPA has been linked to cancer, birth defects, miscarriages, obesity, and insulin resistance, which can lead to Type II diabetes. Recent studies also show that the plastic liners in Tetra Paks, which were once considered safe, leach endocrine disruptors just like canned foods.
Drinking plenty of good, clean water is important for a healthy body. We recently invested in an under the sink water filter that we use for drinking and cooking and use other filters in our baths and showers. Here are the EWG researchers’ top tips to learn how to stay hydrated while cutting down on your exposures to common drinking water pollutants:
Drink filtered tap water instead. You can read the bottle label, but you still won’t know if the water is pure or just processed, polluted, packaged tap water. The EWG found 38 contaminants in 10 popular brands.
Learn what’s in it. Tap water suppliers publish all their water quality tests. Bottled water companies don’t. Read your annual tap water quality report. Look up your city’s water in EWG’s National Tap Water Atlas. If you have a private well, have it tested.
Filtered tap water
Drink it, cook with it.
- Choose a filter certified to remove contaminants found in your water: http://www.ewg.org/tap-water/getawaterfilter.
- Carbon filters (pitcher or tap-mounted) are affordable and reduce many common water contaminants, like lead and byproducts of the disinfection process used to treat municipal tap water.
- If you can afford it, install a reverse osmosis filter to remove contaminants that carbon filters can’t eliminate, such as chromium-6, arsenic and perchlorate (rocket fuel).
Change your water filters on time. Old filters aren’t safe – they harbor bacteria and let contaminants through. Consider using a whole house water filter. For extra protection, a whole house carbon filter will remove contaminants from steamy vapors you and your family inhale while showering and washing dishes.
Carry water in safe containers. Hard plastic bottles (#7 plastic) can leach BPA into water. Carry stainless steel, glass (we use Lifefactory) or other BPA-free bottles but be aware that many BPA-free substitutes may also be harmful. Don’t reuse bottled water bottles either as the plastic can harbor bacteria and break down to release chemicals.
Use filtered tap water if your baby consumes formula. If your water is not fluoridated, you can use a carbon filter. If it is, use a reverse osmosis filter to remove the fluoride, because fluoridated water can damage an infant’s developing teeth. If you choose bottled water for your infant, make sure it’s fluoride-free. Learn more at www.ewg.org/babysafe.
Wireless & EMF Congestion
There is a lot of published research and data on safe amounts of electromagnetic field frequency and radiation. The problem is that the testing is conducted on a single device at one time. A cell phone, computer or microwave individually emits a certain acceptable amount of radiation. However, if you take all household electronic and wireless devices into consideration, the effects are cumulative. An EMF meter is the only way to find the most congested sources of radiation. A good rule of thumb is to keep all electronics at least 6 feet away from your bed and only keep essentials plugged in at bedtime.
Remember, detoxifying your home and life doesn’t have to be done in a day. The key is becoming more conscious consumers and making more informed choices moving forward.
What tips to you have for living a less toxic life? Please share by commenting below!