While those detox juices might taste good (do they, though?), we know the human body doesn’t really need any help. Our bodies are naturally self-cleaning machines—but our homes are another story. So until they can clean themselves, what can you do to limit the grime and the chemicals?
As with many areas of wellness, it starts with awareness. A study of more than 700 people found that those who read labels in an attempt to reduce personal exposure to potentially harmful chemicals had lower levels of them in their bodies.
You can take action in bigger ways too. But eliminating everything potentially problematic is impossible to do all at once. Some of the tips here are easy to incorporate into your life starting today; others take time and money. Go slowly, and know that any change you make for your health is a good one.
Toxins are naturally occurring, while toxicants are man-made; both are potentially dangerous, explains Kim Harley, Ph.D., renowned reproductive epidemiologist. You don’t want “natural” lead in your ice water or plastic particles in your spaghetti.
A healthier kitchen
Use the exhaust hood.
Cooking over a gas flame generates significant amounts of nitrogen dioxide and tiny particulates, which can irritate your nose, cause asthma flare-ups, or give you a headache or fatigue. An exhaust hood vented to the outside removes particulates and gases from your home. If you don’t have a hood, start saving for one. If you can’t go that route, open windows and/or doors while cooking to bring in fresh outdoor air.
For your next not-stuck omelette, consider stainless steel, cast iron, or enamel or anodized aluminium cookware. Non-stick cookware may be coated with PFAS. If you can’t swap pans yet, keep the heat exposure below 200ºC and open windows while cooking. But do stop using the pan if the non-stick coating chips or gets scratched.
A more liveable living room
Lose the shoes.
Several studies show that people who wear shoes indoors bring in lead, pollen, and pesticides, says Heather B. Patisaul, Ph.D., researcher in neuroendocrine and environmental endocrine disruptors. Kicking off your heels (or sandals) at the door is easy and free.
Know your furniture.
First, good news: Your old bookshelf can probably stay. Formaldehyde—a toxicant that can trigger asthma and difficulty breathing, in higher concentrations—is usually found in wood-adjacent materials like medium-density-fibreboard MDF. But as furnishings age, they emit less of it. An overstuffed chair is more problematic due to 1980s-through-2015 flame-retardant-treated foams, says Kim Harley, Ph.D., reproductive epidemiologist.
If you’re purchasing new furniture, check the Green Science Policy Institute’s list of products free of perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which are considered immune hazards. Also look for Greenguard Gold and Oeko-Tex Standard 100 certifications.
Clear your carpet.
Carpets can be magnets for dust and other pollutants. Which is why you remove your shoes at the door—right? Carpets may also be treated with flame retardants and waterproofing and stain-repellent formulas that can take years to clear from the body. If possible, look for wood or tile flooring or low- or no-VOC carpets that use natural fibres like wool. If going with a (more affordable) synthetic rug, look for the Green Label Plus or Greenguard certification. Until then, get a vacuum with a HEPA filter and use it at least once a week, Patisaul says.
Everyday dust floating through the air can contain concerning chemicals, mites, mould, pollen, and pet fur. “If you have good ventilation in your home, you can reduce mould and improve overall indoor air quality. Even if you need to use solvents in the home, like nail polish remover, the impact can be mitigated. If nothing else, open your windows once a day,” says Diana Ceballos, Ph.D., environmental health researcher.
A better-for-you bedroom
Make over your mattress.
“The Princess and the Pea,” circa 2021: The princess finds flame retardants in her mattress and refuses to sleep atop a possible cancer risk. Mattresses manufactured prior to 2015 may contain the chemicals—call the manufacturer or check the label. Replace an older mattress with a flame-retardant-free one or opt for a washable organic cotton pad as a layer between you and your existing mattress. Also, don’t smoke in bed—that’s why flame retardants were first added. (Don’t smoke in general if you can avoid it.)
Do your laundry, smarter.
Detergents and fabric softeners can irritate some sensitive individuals’ skin and may even lead to future allergic reactions. Review EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning for laundry products rated “B” or better. Vinegar also packs a strong antimicrobial punch in the laundry, and can help soften clothing naturally, as can baking soda. Instead of chlorine bleach, Silent Spring recommends lemon juice and oxygen bleach to brighten whites.
Fresh-cut eucalyptus, lavender, or other flowers can provide pleasant, chemical-free scents. And while the question of whether indoor plants actually “clean” the air is now being debated, the aesthetics can’t hurt.
Detect with devices.
Carbon monoxide is an odourless, colourless gas emitted from oil- or gas-burning heaters, furnaces, and ranges. If it builds to unsafe levels in an unventilated area, the gas can cause nausea, vomiting, confusion, and even death. Install a CO detector where you sleep, but one per floor is best. Place it about five feet above the floor on a wall or on the ceiling—carbon monoxide rises with warm air. Oh, and get your furnace serviced regularly.
A cleaner bathroom
Clean your cleaning tools.
Poison centres have experienced an increase in calls since COVID-19 as people have doubled down on cleaning routines, often without using the right gear or reading labels. In most cases, cleaning can be as easy as using water, a mild detergent, and a bristle brush. If you must disinfect, the EPA’s list of disinfectants for coronavirus breaks down categories into porous (e.g., laundry), hard nonporous (as in a bathroom), and food-contact surfaces, advising how long to leave the product on each.
Turn on your bathroom fan.
Is your bathroom more swamp than spa? Warm, damp conditions can breed mould, which can trigger a sore throat, wheezing, or more severe allergic reactions. Look under sinks, on curtains and walls, and in tile grout and caulk, and scrub away mould with soap and water. With your next home reno, install a bathroom fan or ensure that the existing one sends steam outside. In the meantime, wipe down walls after showering and air out the bathroom.
Upgrade your shower curtains.
Vinyl or PVC curtains may contain phthalates, endocrine-disrupting chemicals associated with early menopause, says a recent study. Swap out vinyl shower curtains for cloth ones you can wash regularly to decrease mould.
Rid pests naturally.
If you’ve got rent-free roomies in the form of ants, cockroaches, and other pests, check for leaky faucets and damp cabinets—critters can’t get by without water. If you must use pesticides, choose self-contained bait traps rather than sprays, says Harley. Mix and dilute outdoors, and increase ventilation when using indoors.
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This article originally appeared in the May 2021 issue of Prevention USA.