I love scary movies. Not the gory kind—that’s not my scene. More like the hair-raising suspense that comes from a good ghost story, crime caper or thriller. You know, when the baby sitter realizes that the freaky call is coming from inside the house? Eeeek!
So how does my love of spine-tingling cinema translate into clean living? Just like in the movies, sometimes the toxins that do us damage are coming from… inside our own homes!
From mattresses to household cleaners to the water coming out of our taps, there are countless sources for chemicals and toxins to make their way into our dens.
As wellness detectives, interested in cleaning up our diets and lifestyles so we can feel better, it’s important to also take a hard look at our home environment. But don’t worry, you don’t have to overhaul everything at once. Even the smallest step toward a more natural home is a huge improvement (for yourself and the planet). Making little changes that last is what counts.
So let’s talk about what chemicals to look out for, where they might be hiding and how we can find healthier alternatives (and make sure to check out the handy downloadable Checklist we created for you!).
Common Household Chemicals You Should Avoid
- Formaldehyde is a colorless, flammable gas that has a strong odor (it stinks!). It’s a known carcinogen that’s found in the manufacturing of wood products and a variety of household products (like glue, nail polish, paints and more). Protect your home by ditching products that contain this known nasty ingredient, keeping humidity low, and airing out your home for increased ventilation.
- Benzene is derived from coal and petroleum and can be found in plastics, detergents, tobacco smoke and paints, to name a few. It’s considered a Volatile Organic Compound (VOCs are gases that products release over time) and it’s been closely linked to leukemia. Avoid cigarette smoke and limit your time at the gas pump and near car exhaust fumes to reduce your exposure.
- Chlorine Bleach is found in lots of household cleaning products (think toilet scrubbers, tile cleaners, laundry detergents and straight up bleach itself). This guy causes eye, throat and lung irritation, and if mixed with ammonia, bleach creates poisonous gasses. Fresh air is your best protection against this one.
- Phthalates are sneaky buggers found in everything from plastic food containers to shampoo. They can throw your endocrine system way outta wack. Follow the tips in the Checklist below and here’s a few more tips for ya: Switch to glass containers and look at the ingredients in your beauty products. If it’s got anything with phthalates in the name, find a healthier alternative!
- PCBs. Even though PCBs were outlawed in the U.S. around 1979, these chemicals are still in circulation (and also considered a likely carcinogen). Most of our exposure comes from the air (when these particles are released through decomposition of older products) and through food. Fish are particularly likely to carry PCBs in their bodies, since the chemicals have made their way into the water. Limit PCBs by skipping the fish dish.
How to Create a Non-Toxic Home
Environmental Working Group is a leader in up-to-the-minute research on toxins. Their experts examine every facet of our lives, looking for the troublemakers. So I teamed up with them to created this Healthy Home Checklist, which you can download here. Use it to help cut down on the toxic load your home carries.
This checklist will help you identify the not-so-obvious roots of a problem, and that’s just what this checklist will help you do in your home space. Let’s start cleansing!
The Healthy Home Checklist
- Filter your tap water. Check EWG’s online tap water quality database for local contaminants and a filter that removes them, if needed. Look up your water and find a filter to purify your tap.
- Kick the bottled water habit. For water on-the-go, get a reusable water bottle, like stainless steel or glass option (not plastic or aluminum lined with plastic). Learn more.
- Eat organic. The sad truth is that lots of fruits & veggies are loaded with pesticides and chemicals these days. Opting for organic can ensure your greens are more hearty and clean. Check EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce to be sure you buy organic when pesticide residues are highest.
- Say no to fragrance. It’s hard to know exactly what’s in a “fragrance,” so it’s safer to choose fragrance-free personal care products. Always check ingredient lists to be sure. Switch to essential oils to add some beautiful scents to your days. Learn more.
- Check your toothpaste. Choose fluoride-free for kids younger than 2 and teach older kids to rinse and spit; fluoride is toxic if swallowed. Also, pick a paste without triclosan—you’ll see it on the ingredient list. Learn more about fluoride and triclosan.
- Ditch extra products. Less is more. Skipping cosmetics like hair spray & detangler (tip: don’t wash out all your conditioner), and air fresheners is less toxic—and way cheaper! Learn more at EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database.
- Use greener cleaners. Most products on the market don’t have a full ingredient list—which makes it tough to identify toxins! Find greener cleaners at EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning.
- Ditch compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). They contain mercury and should be handled and disposed of with care. Use them where there’s no danger of breaking near children and be sure to clean up broken bulbs quickly and safely. Learn more.
- Be mindful of your carpeting. Be sure to opt for a formaldehyde-free carpet options. Also, circle back to the EWG’s Healthy Cleaning guide for your best carpet cleaners.
What an amazing resource, thanks so much Kris & EWG! I know what I’m doing tonight! 😉 xox
Are there any drugstore brands of nail polish which do not contain Formaldehyde.?
American Apparel has formaldehyde-free nail polish I believe.
It’s easy to search for formaldehyde-free nail polish on EWG’s Skin Deep Database:
Hope that helps!
Elizabeth, Managing Editor at KrisCarr.com
love the tip for using essential oils for fragrance! I use them for green cleaning too… what’s your favorite essential oil?
My favorite household cleaner: vinegar/water and essential oils like: tea tree/peppermint/eucalyptus/rosemary/lemon. They all smell great (unlike vinegar!) and have their own fabulous anti-microbial properties!! Although, not being a chemist, I wonder if the vinegar breaks down the oils and changes their effectiveness? Anyone know?
Love, love love tea-tree oil!! It’s natural properties make it useful all around the house–antiseptic and natural solvent as well as the greatest disinfectant.
I use rubbing alcohol instead of vinegar.
Great article. Really looking for a whole house water filter. Any suggestions?
Maybe try the guys at Life Giving Water? http://www.lifegivingwater.com … Or .com.au
They gave me a heap of advice on my filters – I ended up getting the shower filter and drinking water filter from them, and they also have stainless steel water bottles that filter and alkalise water.
Every day you learn something new! Point #9 and your article about chemicals in our furnishings is very insightful. We just take things for granted and assume that what we bring into our homes is safe. Beware of that “new piece smell”; it may be housing lots of toxic chemicals inside! Thanks Kris.
It’s so true. You’re welcome Jovanka!
What type of soap for the shower is a safe one?
Osmia Organics has the best soap. Love their blackclay facial soap too!
This is a great article, Kris! It is scary, and some people exposed to these chemicals for too long can experience extreme sensitivities.
Thank you for the info and guidance!
Does anyone have any tips/resources for safe ways to fragrance your home? I’m used to having air fresheners (plug-ins,ect.) and recently stopped using them because of the toxic chemicals that they release. I’m missing a nice subtle fragrance though! Any ideas?
I melt beeswax, coconut oil & essential oil in my Scentsy warmer and it smells wonderful!
I love this idea, thank you!
I recently purchased a Hubmar Ultrasonic Nebulizer Naturamist for my home from Puritan’s Pride. One of the recipes I am using right now called for one drop tea tree oil, 2 drops lemon essential oil and 3 drops geranium essential oil in one ounce of water. The diffuser holds more than one ounce of water so # of drops is increased accordingly. Love the way it scents my home and it has an automatic cut off which is most convenient.
I made a spray with water and essential oil (has antiseptic value too). I got my recipe off of Thrifty Fun, where there are many more great ideas for helping your home smell fresh without toxic chemicals.
We are in the process of remodeling a room and tore out the old carpeting. We were wondering if there is an affordable option for flooring that is non-toxic or less toxic. I checked into cork and bamboo but they are out of our price range.
Great post. Thanks, Kris!
I love Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds and use it for everything from washing the floor, clothes, toilets, etc.
I also have been trying baking soda “shampoo” with apple cider vinegar rinse. My hair loves it, but I strongly dislike the smell of my hair over time. Anyone else do this type of hair care and have some tips for me?
You can use lemonwater of stead of acv. My skin like it more and it smells way better.
I mean: instead
Great list Kris! Thanks for these great tips! I want to share awareness about another healthy home tip that I just discovered regarding EMF (electromagnetic field) output. I was feeling a drained and unfocused after working 30″ or more at a time. My personal healer came by did a simple measurement (with a little EMF meter that can be purchased at most hardware stores) of the frequencies near my desk. We found the refrigerator and our indoor fuse box EMF’s were off the charts (both are near my desk). I moved my desk and feel loads better. Additionally, I will be replacing both of these with safer EMFs as soon as I can.
Wow, that’s incredibly interesting! Thanks for sharing.
I have heard of quartz plugs you can put into your home electrical system that neutralizes EMFs as well. Has anyone seen them? Do they work?
Also do those stickers that you put on your phone work? The ones that supposedly reduce radiation?
Hi Kris, Just yesterday I attended a Norwex party. Norwex is a line of cleaning products that are designed for you to uses only water with the majority of the cleaning materials. They are made in Norway in response to all the toxins use in our cleaning products, as well as the wasteful nature of the plastics and money used to buy them. I ordered a few of the products, and I’m anxious to see how they work. They have washcloths that one woman said she uses without any cleanser for her face! I can’t imagine. I haven’t looked at the website yet, but I thought I’d share what I just learned! Keep up the great work you’re doing!
NORWEX is awesome! I clean almost everything with just water and microfiber. Started using and distributing August of last year and haven’t looked back!
I appreciate the effort to make this information easy to follow but I can’t help feeling so overwhelmed. As a mother of 3 little kids, I get so worried and stressed that everything around them can harm them. I guess, baby steps and take a look at one thing at time will eventually lead to a healthier home environment. Thank you for your blog and information!
Baby steps work. No need to get overwhelmed. 🙂
Formaldehyde: the word itself is disgusting LOL
My home checks out pretty well but then again I did not build it and I would be really curious to see if the insulation is eco friendly… you know, that pink fuzzy stuff they spray between the walls?
Next step for me is to build my dream home which will be 100% eco friendly, stylish + luxurious & off the grid !
My home was quite good but I have used Neways products for years now. The one that surprised me was the compact fluoroescent lightbulbs! I had no idea they contained mercury….. Off to the shops for alternatives today!
Great article! Thanks for the really down and dirty specifics, and the facts that back it up. As usual Kris, you supply your readers with timely information that they can get started on the very next day. I have been on EWG email list for a while now, and they are a great resource for living green and for alerting the public to the dangers that we are exposed to on a daily basis. So helpful!
Thank you Kris! I caught part of this on FB this morning and happened to have a minute to check out the actual article tonight. These are some great tips! I was wondering about the light bulbs and now I have my answer. Now I “liked” EWG on FB too!
great post Kris! let’s also not forget EMF exposure in the home – from tv cable and satellite boxes, to Smartmeters (which have replaced the analog electricity meters). google “emf pollution” and it brings up a lot of interesting facts to learn about that you wouldn’t even think of!!
Thanks Kris for the heads up. Started cleaning out the toxic cleaning supplies. Thought I was finished and I looked down at my cute painted toe nails. Is this a no-no too? Might have to add a footnote 🙂
Ha! Footnote, I love it! Here’s the link for Skin Deep’s section on nail polish, in case it helps: http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/browse/nail+polish/
Elizabeth, Managing Editor at KrisCarr.com
Great article, Kris! I’m with you!! I’ve actually been really careful about my cleaners, shampoos, makeup, water bottles, toothpaste, pretty much all of your suggestions for quite a while. It’s REALLY horrifying how these toxic products are legal to be sold in North America!! We absolutely need to spread the word!!
Mary Jane xoxo 🙂