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.