We spend on average about 90% of our time indoors. And while there is tremendous focus on what goes into our bodies (and rightly so), the environment we live and breath in most of the time is often overlooked. Many are surprised to learn their homes are packed with toxins directly related to many diseases and even cancer. The good news is it doesn’t have to be difficult. There are simple ways to have a healthier home. Here are 10 ways to get started today.
1. Remove Your Shoes
It’s not just the dirt and grime kept out of your house when shoes are removed at the door. Researchers have found our shoes carry all sorts of ugly and toxic characters that then make their way into our homes.
40% of shoes in one study tested positive for the “C.diff” bacterium (a bacterium that causes diarrhea and colitis and almost half a million illnesses in the United States each year); 421,000 differing bacteria were found; E.coli & coliform were also seen on 96% of the shoes.
The bacteria can live a long time and transfer onto our home flooring surfaces. Those shoes also trek in pesticides, fertilizers and allergens which then all make their way through your home including into the air. And don’t forget to add those entry mats at each door. (1,2)
2. Improve Air Quality
Air is the one thing we interact with continuously and depend on to live. And yet, most times we do not give much thought to the air we breath inside our homes. However, indoor air has been shown to be 25 - 45% more toxic than outdoor air.
In our quest to be more energy efficient we have tamped down the flow of air even more and trap pollutants inside with us. The best place to start is by reducing indoor allergens (those brought in by our shoes, emitted through allergens and products used for cleaning, personal care, etc).
A simple way to improve your indoor air quality is to open your windows more often. Let the air ventilate through the house. Another way is to add air purifying plants to your home. And, adding an air purifier is also a great investment in improving air quality. Look for one that is high efficiency and includes HEPA filtration, like this one.
3. Choose Healthy Cookware
Those beloved non-stick pans make cleaning a cinch and they also commonly contain chemicals that leach into your food when heated and / or when the coating is scratched.
These pans also release toxic fumes upon heating. Labels adorn most non-stick pans (that we often overlook) warning to not heat on high and avoid scratching. With just a few minutes at high heat the coating starts to breaks down and we then ingest these chemicals.
Good news is there are options. Look for cookware that is free of PFAS, PFOA (a carcinogenic chemical released when PFAs are heated), lead and cadmium.
4. Go Glass
Most plastics are made with BPA, a toxic compound to human health. BPA has been found to be an endocrine disrupter contributing to myriad diseases and health conditions such as cancer, asthma, ADHD, obesity, Diabetes among others. Plastics also contain other chemical leaching compounds.
Glass, however, has long been revered as the ultimate in food storage as it will not leach chemicals into food or drinks nor will it warp, stain, or retain smells. They are also affordable and non-toxic.
5. Replace Candles, Plug Ins and Air Fresheners
Those lovely candles and scents you burn, spray, mix, apply and slather may be emitting more than 100 VOCs (which mean they are volatile and release into the air), including some that are classified as toxic or hazardous by federal laws and even some that are proven carcinogens right into your air and on your body.
Even products advertised as “green,” “natural,” or “organic” emitted these chemicals in a study by the University of Washington. (8) In that study, a wide range of products were tested in addition to air fresheners, such as detergents, softeners, dyer sheets, all-purpose cleaners, soaps, sanitizers, lotions, deodorants and shampoos.
Bare in mind, a single fragrance in a product can contain a mixture of hundreds of chemicals, some of which react with ozone in ambient air to form dangerous secondary pollutants, including formaldehyde. You read that right. One “fragrance” can have a mix of a hundred chemicals.
Even worse, the CPSA (which regulates cleaning supplies, air fresheners and laundry products) and the FDA (which regulates fragrances for personal care items) do not require the listing of any ingredients, including fragrances, on their labels.
Simple step is to opt for fragrance-free home and personal care supplies; throw out those air fresheners and even candles and opt for pure essential oils in a diffuser for scenting the air.
6. Clean up your Cleaning Supplies
We have become hypersensitive to germs these days with antibacterial products at every turn. Unfortunately, the very products we are using to get things, including our hands, sparkling clean may be harming us more than helping.
As seen in the entry on air fresheners, households products, including all-purpose cleansers, soaps, personal care products, laundry and bath cleaning products contain thousands of hidden chemicals that are hazardous to our health. Some are even known cancer-causing agents such as formaldehyde and others such as Triclosan, commonly seen in antibacterial soap, is linked to hormone disruption among other disease concerns.
What to do? Look for the third party green certifications on products. You’ll see a Green Seal or EcoLogo or better yet, download the EWG’s Healthy Living app to scan the barcode on your products right in the store (or at home) to see exactly what’s in it and review its rating and make a better choice.
And, do not dismiss the basics. It is amazing what a little Baking Soda, White Vinegar and Water can do around the house (my essential cleaning go-tos).
7. Dust & Vacuum More Often & Better
Seriously? One more thing to add to that to-do list? Well this might just well be the just cause and a little happy motivation for grabbing that vacuum and dust cloth a little more often.
In short, household dust is filled, comprised really, of toxic chemicals like VOCs, Phthalates, pesticides and other material tracked in on shoes, off-gassed from personal care and household products and the list goes on.
“They know that consumer products—vinyl flooring, personal care products, electronics, furniture, carpet pads, paints, cleaning products, and more—have a strong driving force to shed compounds into materials with lower concentrations of the substances. For example, a flame retardant might volatilize off the plastic parts of a TV set into the air, stick onto airborne particles, and move into dust, which settles on floors and carpets. The compounds will continue to migrate until they reach equilibrium with the surroundings, says Diamond.
"And heating the product, such as turning on a computer, also speeds migration into the home environment; a compound will condense in a cooler part of the room, where dust often resides…Many of the contaminants identified so far in dust are associated with hormone disruption, cancer, and reproductive damage.” This quote is from a very informative and interesting article on dust you can read right here.
What to do? Eliminate as many of the sources as possible and then simply dust and vacuum frequently. If possible, opt for at least once per week and use a top rated vacuum with a HEPA filter (does not read top priced) to remove the particles from the floors and keep them from recirculating into the air. (a few other options here). This step goes hand in hand with that air purifier for the home.
8. Replace your Vinyl Shower Curtain
You know that new shower curtain smell? Well, think of it as a warning, not a welcome “newness.” That smell is off gassing and may just be toxic to your health. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic shower curtains, otherwise known as Vinyl Shower Curtains emit toxic chemicals, known as phthalates and VOCs (which mean they are volatile and release into the air).
A study showed vinyl curtains contain over 100 such toxins. In addition, some of these chemicals were found in the air 28 days after a PVC shower curtain was unwrapped and hung. This investigation shows that PVC shower curtains are significant contributors to indoor air pollution. (11)
Also lookout for PEVA or EVA curtains. These are alternatives to PVC but still include other toxic chemicals.
Some VOCs have been shown to cause developmental and reproductive system damage, irritate skin and eyes, and harm the liver and respiratory tract. And some are linked to cancer. Phthalates have been linked to hormone disruption, infertility and cancer. (12)
What to do? Opt for a fabric liner free of added toxins. Polyester makes a nice choice as it is naturally water repellant and absorbs less water than cotton.
9. Replace Shower Filter
Most of us take drinking filtered water quite seriously and understand the importance to remove harmful chemicals and contaminants from our water source. We often though overlook our shower water when thinking of clean water even though it flows over the largest organ of the body. Bare in mind our skin has the ability to absorb much of what it comes in contact with and is responsible for several key health functions.
Our tap water (unfiltered shower water) contains over 300 chemicals and pollutants. Some of these include VOCs such as pesticides, herbicides, lead and mercury, chlorine, fluoride, and endocrine disrupting chemicals. Other items in tap water may simply be dirt, scale buildup, odors and pharmaceuticals. (13)
A single 20-minute shower will expose you to a greater absorption of chlorine, fluoride, and any other chemicals that are in your water than 5 days’ worth of your drinking water! (14)
Aside from any serious health risks associated with VOCs and other toxic chemicals, these undesirables can cause eczema, acne, dry our hair, skin and nails.
A simple and inexpensive solution is to install a shower head filter that filters out the chemicals and pollutants.
10. Sleep on an organic, all natural mattress (organic mattress topper at minimum)
And here we find those nasty VOCs again. Yep, right in our mattresses. There are likely myriad toxic chemicals right where you sleep for 8 hours every night.
In addition to those VOCs, polyvinyl chloride (PVC, a reproductive toxin) and flame-retardants are all routinely used.
What to do? Next time you are in search for a new mattress look for one made with natural latex and wool. Also look for third party certifications such as Made Safe, GOTS, and GOLS. My recommendation is this mattress that meets all of those certifications. You’ll receive $150 off through this link.
There you have it. My 10 steps to take to have a ton toxic home. Are there more things you could do? Yes, of course. These are the easiest and simplest ways to take steps now to a healthier home and thus a healthier you.
Remember, to not fret and do not panic or beat yourself up for the many items on this list that may be lurking in your home. And, do not feel you have to run out and replace all of these this week. If you do, you will hit overwhelm and likely make no changes and feel even worse for it. Instead, look for the easiest place to start making changes and simply begin there with one thing.
The Simple List:
Remove your shoes
Improve Air Quality
Choose Healthy Cookware
Replace Candles, Plug Ins and Air Fresheners
Clean up your Cleaning Supplies
Dust & Vacuum More Often
Replace your Vinyl Shower Curtain
Replace Shower Filter
Sleep on an organic, all natural mattress