Contributed by Jackie Nunes
Many of us have taken steps to detoxify our bodies – going to the gym, avoiding sugar and heavily processed foods, and eating organic produce. But what about the place we call home?
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, indoor pollution can be two to five times greater than the pollution outdoors. Toxins lurk in plastic food containers, laminate flooring, cosmetics and cleaning products, vinyl shower curtain liners, bedding, nonstick cookware, stain-treated rugs and furniture, and more.
You can’t a lot of things about your environment and your exposure to pollutants, like smog and weather patterns like inversion. But you can control some. Small changes can decrease your “toxic load” and lessen your cumulative exposure to harmful chemicals.
Here are 25 actions homeowners and renters alike can take to live in a healthier home.
Choose nontoxic cleaning products
Cleaning your home is simply not enough to reduce the number of toxins inside it. In fact, most traditional cleaning products add harmful chemicals to your environment. If you are wiping your counters and scrubbing your floors with these products, you might actually be creating a more toxic environment, especially if you have pets or young children. Start with these steps:
- Purge harmful cleaning supplies. Start by going through the cleaning products you currently use. Read the labels. If the directions say “Use in a well-ventilated area” or “Call poison control hotline if ingested” or “Wear gloves when using,” it’s best to dispose of it. If you keep them, make sure you are storing chemicals safely and out of reach of children.
- Use homemade or eco-friendly cleaning products. Popular brands found in most health food stores, including Seventh Generation and Ecover, are effective, nontoxic options. Or clean instead with baking soda, lemon, vinegar, and salt – and avoid commercial cleaning solutions entirely.
- Replace fabric softeners and dryer sheets with wool balls. Studies have shown that of all daily cleaning products in the home, dryer sheets and fabric softeners are the most toxic. Chemicals in these substances linger on the skin and enter the body, which can cause a variety of health issues. Instead, switch to wool dryer balls.
- Avoid artificial air fresheners. Scented air fresheners harbor a variety of harmful chemicals that deaden nasal nerves and can worsen symptoms for individuals with sensitivities. Instead of spraying chemicals in the air, opt for natural air freshening. Boil cinnamon sticks and orange slices on the stove, or open the windows periodically and let in the fresh air.
- Buy some indoor plants. Many different types of plants can help freshen indoor air, reduce stress levels and brighten a space. Start with plants like aloe, English ivy, rubber trees, bamboo and spider plants that are easy to care for.
Reduce indoor exposure to toxins
- Change your HVAC air filter periodically. Some require changing every 3 months, some every month, depending on the filter type. Consult the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Dust and vacuum regularly. This will minimize particles that can fill the air in your home.
- Remove plastic bags from dry cleaning. To prevent off-gassing from leftover cleaning chemicals in your clothes, air out the garments before bringing them indoors.
- Keep an eye (and nose) out for mold and moisture. If you detect any, take steps immediately to eradicate it. Consult an expert if necessary.
- Choose eco-friendly furniture when shopping. Sustainable designs exert a minimal impact on the environment and can reduce the number of toxins inside the home.
Make simple changes in the kitchen
Water that comes into the home via the public water system can contain unsafe levels of toxic chemicals. According to the Harvard Gazette, 33 states within the U.S. have found unsafe levels of toxic chemicals in the drinking water. To combat this, install a whole-house water filter that removes at least 95 percent of contaminants. Many contaminants become “aerosoled” in hot running water, so you can also install a shower filter to prevent these microparticles from entering the air. Other ways to reduce indoor exposure to toxins include:
- Replace plastic containers. Instead, choose glass or ceramic ones.
- Avoid nonstick pans. Opt for aluminum, stainless steel or cast iron instead. [Editor’s note: newer ceramic cookware offers a superior non-stick surface without the hazards of Teflon™ and its successors.]
Take a natural approach to insect control
These harsh chemicals can enter the home on the bottoms of shoes or drain into the public water system and other waterways. Try these safer alternatives to chemical fertilizers and pesticides:
- Check the labels of anything you use. Make sure it is safe for animals and children.
- Consider bait traps instead of sprays. Traps let you confine insecticides to a small area and then dispose of them more safely.
- Use organic compost materials for fertilizer. They’re safer than harsh fertilizers. You can also make it yourself with yard waste, non-meat food scraps, and non-recyclable paper.
Other safe ways to keep insects at bay, even in an apartment, include:
- Keep your home free of clutter. Give bugs fewer places to hide.
- Put away pet food and dishes at night. After your pets eat, there’s no reason that insects should share their dishes.
- Clean up spills and crumbs. You’re not running a buffet for bugs.
- Repair torn window screens. They’re your home’s first defense against an insect invasion.
- Check baseboards, windows, and doors. Pests may enter through cracks too small to notice unless you’re examining thoroughly. Seal any cracks you find.
- Look for damaged wood that attracts insects. Replace or repair it immediately.
- Deep-clean surfaces and under large appliances. The cleaner hidden places are, the less likely they are to harbor insects.
Additional safety measures to consider
- Check your medicine cabinet.Make sure you have bandages and other first-aid supplies on hand to use in the event of an emergency.
- Know how to respond.Keep hotline numbers for poison control and other emergency services handy. It’s also an excellent idea to take a CPR class, which can help you save a life if someone inside the home has a medical emergency.
- Install a carbon monoxide detector. A detector with an alarm is the best way to protect yourself from the odorless, colorless, and potentially deadly gas.
Indoor air pollution and contaminants can cause a wide range of health issues even in normally healthy individuals. Avoid long-term illness and reduce exposure to chemicals by being more conscious of the items you bring into the home, and pay close attention to cleanup.
Jackie Nunes is a blogger at Wondermoms.org. She is a former pediatric nurse and now a full-time homeschool educator. She and her husband have three children. Their middle child suffered a traumatic brain injury when she was 4. Now 11 years old, she is hearing impaired and uses a wheelchair. Jackie and two other moms created Wonder Moms as a project to share real talk, helpful information, and practical advice with parents of kids who have intellectual disabilities, Down syndrome, autism, language and speech delays, deafness, chronic illness, or traumatic brain injury.