One of the most overlooked aspects to good health is your living environment. I see it all the time where people clean up their diets and start exercising, but are still left with the same nagging health symptoms. This is because a big piece of the puzzle is still missing – the home. Our homes, which we happen to spend a majority of our time in, are a large source of toxins that we hardly ever think about. Is the air in your home making you sick? From air filled with chemicals, dust, mold and dry cleaning emissions, to furniture off-gassing, toxic paint and flooring, we are often living and breathing in a toxic environment. It is no wonder we cannot feel the way we want to feel, sleep the way we want to sleep and perform the way we want to perform. That is why looking at the home is KEY to getting healthy and being disease-free, starting with the air.
My husband and I just recently moved to Chicago from the mountains of New Mexico, and suffice to say, we are facing a big change in the health safety of our environment. In New Mexico, where the population is extremely low (it was just us and about 5,000 other people in our area), the air was clean and the water was sourced from snow and rain. We did not have to worry too much about air or water quality, and used a basic water filter for the home. Now that we are in Chicago though, where the population is dense, and the highways and factories a many, the air and water quality has diminished. Because of this, I have been putting in place my favorites techniques for creating a non toxic healthy home. So if you are wondering if the air in your home is making you sick, we’re going to answer that question. For the most of us though, it is pretty toxic.
If you fall under any of the following categories, you should be concerned with your indoor air quality.
- Live in a city
- If you live near mining areas (or previously mined areas)
- Live near factories, power plants or other industrial areas
- Live in an area with inversion layers
- Have high levels of air pollution
- Live near fracking sights
- Live in a building with smokers
Is the Air in your Home Making you Sick?
Here is a shocking fact – the Environmental Protection Agency found that INDOOR air was 2-5 times MORE toxic than outdoor air. In some cases it’s been reported to be 100 times greater. Yep, you read that right. Toxic indoor air is a real thing, and you should be concerned about it. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that 3% of global disease is due to indoor air pollution.
What toxins are in our home?
There are a wide range of toxins found in indoor air. These toxins come from many sources, generated from both indoor and outdoor sources. They include the following:
- dust mold
- industrial emissions
- vehicle emissions
- pet dander
- dust mites
- ground level ozone
- sulfur dioxide
- carbon monoxide
- radon (a noxious gas that arises from the soil and bedrock beneath homes and may be in building materials. It may contain radium or uranium)
- gases from cooking and heating
Many of these toxic chemicals are known to cause cancer, and to increase the risk for diseases such as heart and lung disease, asthma, headaches, migraines, fatigue, dizziness, rashes, and neurological conditions. These chemicals include volatile organic chemicals (VOCs), formaldehyde, PCBs, and PBDEs. The scary part, and the part that I was the most shocked by, is that these chemicals come from places you would never think of being toxic! Let’s say your furniture, or those scented candles you love so much. Or how about that brand new flooring you put in, and your mattress. Or even worse, your baby’s crib and bedding? Household items that you would never dream of being detrimental to your health are actually the source of very harmful toxins. The good news is that these are toxins that we have control over, and can clear.
- air fresheners
- household cleansing product
- furniture off-gassing (sofas, chairs, baby cribs, mattresses, mattress toppers etc.)
- dry cleaning
- non-organic cotton sheets, blankets
So how do we clean our indoor air from toxins?
Buy an Air Purifier
The first and most effective way to improve your indoor air quality is to buy an air purifier. Air purifiers quickly and effectively clean up the air and filter out the toxins that you do not want to be breathing. I personally use and highly recommend the HealthMate air purifier by Austin Air. It is a 4-stage HEPA air purifier that removes pretty much everything you are concerned about – dust, hair, pet dander, molds, spores, pollen, chemicals, gases and odors. It is a quiet unit and has been designated as a Medical Grade Air Purifier. They have multiple units to choose from depending on your needs. They have air purifiers specifically for babies, the chemical-sensitive, those with allergies and asthma, pet owners, and those with sleep problems. The best part is that it is light weight, easy to carry, and aesthetically pleasing. You can put it in the corner of your room and not be bothered by how it appears.
Buy Air-Cleaning House Plants
Did you know that house plants have the ability to filter some toxins from the air? The NASA Clean Air Study suggests that certain common indoor plants may provide a natural way of removing toxic agents such as benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene from the air. This can be very helpful in terms of an affordable yet effective way to improve indoor air quality. Plus we all love the look and feel of plants indoors, so this is just another added benefit!
Indoor plants that purify the air:
- Boston Fern
- Palm Trees
- Rubber Plant
- English Ivy
- Peace Ivy
- Golden Pothos
- Florists’ Mum
- Gerbera Daisies
Eliminate Air Fresheners + Scented Candles
Eliminating air fresheners and scented candles is probably one of the most overlooked steps in improving the safety of your indoor air. While air fresheners may smell good, they actually contain chemicals that are harmful to your health. Many of these products contain a hazardous chemical called phthalates. Phthalates are known to cause hormonal abnormalities, birth defects, and reproductive problems, but don’t think you will see this ingredient listed on the package. The National Resource Defense Council’s independent testing of 14 common air fresheners uncovered these chemicals in 86% of the products tested, including those advertised as “all- natural” or “unscented.” Therefore, we cannot even trust the air fresheners marketed as natural.
The reason we are concerned with these chemicals is that once they enter the bloodstream they can alter hormones and contribute to an array of health conditions such as allergic symptoms and asthma. Phthalates also interfere with testosterone production, and have been associated with reproductive abnormalities. Numerous animal studies have linked prenatal exposure to certain phthalates with decreases in testosterone, malformations of the genitalia, and reduced sperm production. The State of California notes that five types of phthalates—including one that we found in air freshener products—are “known to cause birth defects or reproductive harm.”
Now that air fresheners are off the list, what about candles?
As much as we love the scent of a lit candle, we are going to have to think twice before lighting up. Scented candles are known to emit carcinogenic substances like alkans, alkenes, benzene and toluene. These chemicals can be quite harmful to your health, and can even make you sick. In fact, many people report instantaneous headaches or feelings of dizziness when in a room with a lit scented candle.
In more later news reported by the BBC, citrus-scented candles in particular can react with elements in the air when lit to produce the carcinogen formaldehyde. In addition to the other harmful chemicals, the indoor air pollution emitted by the candles can cause damage to the brain, lung and central nervous system, as well as cause developmental difficulties.
*If you are going to use candles in the home, only use unscented 100% beeswax or soy candles. I really like Bluecorn Naturals 100% Pure Beeswax Candles. Make sure they do not contain paraffin or gel, and have a natural cotton wick (the metal wick can release the heavy metal lead).
Use an Essential Oils Diffuser
Now don’t be mad that I’ve taken away your scented candles and your go-to air freshener, because I have an excellent replacement – essential oils and a diffuser.
Essential oils not only offer a toxin-free way of making your home smell nice, but they can also help to purify the air. Certain essential oils have natural antimicrobial, anti-fungal and antiviral capabilities, clearing the air of potential disease-causing substances. In addition, essential oils have been found to boost the immune system, support toxin clearance and to improve respiratory health. Therefore, adding an essential oil diffuser into the home is a safe and easy way to purify the air naturally.
While quite a few essential oils can be used, I personally love the oil On Guard by DoTerra. It smells like Christmas morning, and is a blend of Wild Orange Peel, Clove Bud, Cinnamon Bark/Leaf, Eucalyptus Leaf, and Rosemary Leaf/Flower essential oils. On Guard protects against environmental and seasonal threats with essential oils known for their positive effects on the immune system and their antioxidant capabilities. I simply put about 6 drops in my diffuser (I have been loving this one by InnoGear) and let it run throughout the day.
Cannot live with an air freshener in the car? I’ve got you covered. One of the most unique products I have seen is this Portable Essential Oil Diffuser for the car. You simply plug it in at the USB port, and voila! The sweet smell of your favorite essential oil mists in the car while you drive.
Switch to Organic Sheets and Bedding
Who knew that your bed sheets, bedding, mattress and favorite mattress topper could be making you sick! This is definitely one area where people are completely in the dark, unknowing of the chemicals that may be breathing in all night long.
Numerous chemicals are used when making bedding and sheets that have real health effects. Own cotton sheets? Well cotton is a heavily sprayed crop, exposing you to the numerous pesticides. Pesticides are known to interrupt hormone balance, cause organ damage, and lead to birth defects. They are also toxic to a fetus, and lead to the production of benign or malignant tumors, genetic changes, blood disorders, nerve disorders and have reproduction effects. That is a long list for a good night’s sleep.
The second thing you want to avoid are all sheets that are labeled “Wrinkle-Free”, “Easy Care” and “Permanent Press.” These labels indicate the fabric has been treated with formaldehyde resin, one of the most toxic chemical fabric finishes and it’s designed NOT to wash out. Formaldehyde is a chemical known to increase the risk for cancer.
Finally, never purchase synthetic fiber sheets such as polyester microfiber. Polyester is a type of plastic, and we do not want to be sleeping on plastic. The chemicals used to dye and process synthetic sheets may include formaldehyde, chlorine bleach, carcinogenic and allergy-inducing dyes and heavy metals.
The best sheets to buy are 100% certified organic cotton. I personally love and use a brand called Boll and Branch. I use them for all my bedding and they just so happen to be the softest sheets EVER – that is one thing you do not have to give up when going organic. They are not only certified organic cotton, but they are also 100% fair trade too.
What about the Pillows, Mattress and Mattress Pad?
Traditional mattresses, pillows and mattress pads can be loaded with flame-retardant chemicals (polybrominated diphenyl ethers), which just so happen to be very harmful to your health. Flame retardant chemicals have been linked to infertility, birth defects, lower IQ scores, behavioral problems in children, and liver, kidney, testicular, and breast cancers. But that is not all, other common chemicals found in mattresses are boric acid, formaldehyde and antimony. These chemicals can cause developmental and neurological problems in infants, neurotoxicity, cancer, and damage to the lymphatic system or liver toxicity.
There is even compelling research being done about the connection between Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and the off-gassing of these chemicals. Definitely something to think about.
The worst mattresses, pillows and mattress pads are those made with polyurethane foam since this material breaks down over time. You are then constantly exposed to chemicals, especially the flame-retardants that are abundant in foam. I have experienced this first hand with a mattress pad I bought. I was really excited about the prospect of having a super comfy bed so I bought one of those memory foam mattress pads. I unrolled it in my bedroom and was immediately overwhelmed with a potent chemical smell. It was so bad I had to leave the room. I left it there for 12 hours, but when I came back it was actually no better. It was then that I read the warning tag, stating that it had to be aired out for 24 hours. I waited a day, and still the smell was beyond tolerable. This had me wondering, what in the world was the mattress pad made of, and how dangerous it must be for people to sleep on. Suffice to say I returned it that day and only buy organic bedding from now on.
Solution? Invest in organic bedding. From mattresses, mattress pads and pillows you can find them in all natural and organic wool, cotton and natural latex. There are many stores that carry organic bedding options, and they can be just as reasonably priced. One of my favorite brands for mattresses, mattress pads and baby bedding is Naturepedic. I also own organic cotton pillows by Sachi Organics, which have really been wonderful.
Not ready to invest? Try purchasing an organic mattress encasement, and start with the small stuff first – sheets, pillows, mattress pad…
*Beware mattress stores online and in your neighborhood selling “natural” or “green” or “sustainable” foam mattresses. Most supposedly natural latex sold in standard mattress stores is blended latex, rubber plus synthetic and anything but natural. Did you know a manufacturer can say their latex is natural if only 60% of the content is natural rubber? The other 40% is a synthetic blend of petrochemicals, certainly not toxin free. You want 95-97%.
Switch to an Eco-Friendly Dry Cleaner
Did you know your dry cleaning contains a very toxic compound called perchloroethylene, or PERC. PERC is labeled by the World Health Organization (WHO) as probably carcinogenic (cancer causing). Exposure can lead to neurological effects, liver and kidney illness, and an increased cancer risk. The problem is that PERC evaporates into the air and you can’t always smell it. Therefore, you could have your weekly dry cleaning hanging in the house emitting toxins without ever noticing at all. In fact, there is even a small, but definitely increased risk of cancer from wearing freshly dry-cleaned clothes once or twice a week.
- Only unwrap your dry cleaned clothes outdoors. Don’t hang dry cleaned clothing in your closet immediately. Hang them outside for a day or two to allow the chemicals to dissipate.
- If you live or work in a building that has a PERC dry cleaner, you may want to have your local health department check the level of PERC in the air.
- Find a dry cleaner that uses the “wet cleaning” method.
- Beware of dry cleaners that claim “organic” or “environmentally safe” methods. There’s very little regulation of what “organic” means in the industry. Always ASK if they use PERC.
Switch to Non Toxic Cleaning Products
Did you know that your household cleaning products are toxic? Yep, that toilet bowl cleaner, glass cleaner, all purpose cleaner, dish and laundry soap, hand soap and floor cleaner contain serious chemicals, and we use them all the time. These chemicals not only affect us when we use them, but are constantly emitting fumes that are harmful to our health as well. In fact, a large and growing body of evidence links frequent use of many ordinary cleaning supplies at home or on the job with development of asthma and other respiratory problems.
Common cleaning products include chemicals such as 1,4-dioxane, formaldehyde, borax or boric acid, DEGME, and fragrance. These chemicals have shown links to increase risk for cancers and for reproductive and developmental problems.
Solution? Switch to non-toxic, natural cleaning products. Don’t worry it is painless. You can either make your own using ingredients you have lying around the house like lemon, white vinegar and baking soda, or you can buy non toxic brands too. Some non toxic cleaning product brands include Seventh Generation, Method, Ecover and Mrs. Meyers.
Become a Shoe-free Household
The final tip for improving your indoor air quality and ensuring that the air in your home is NOT making you sick is to take off your shoes. It is the most simple and definitely the most affordable way to keep your home free of nasty toxins. Why you may ask? Well it just so happens that 30-40% of indoor toxins are brought in from outdoors. This includes things like pesticide and herbicide residues, car oil, lead dust, germs and microbes (bacteria), pollen, dust mites, animal dander, hair, human skin flakes, fungal spores or cigarette ash. And as if this list was not long enough, it turns out we even track in pollutants such as radon and other soil gases.
The simple act of removing your shoes when entering the home can drastically eliminate your exposure to harmful toxins in the home. This is especially important for all your mothers out there. Your children and furry friends are quite vulnerable to the contaminants that get tracked in by shoes, so make it a shoe-free household!