6 Ways To Detoxify Your Home
Our home is our sanctuary. It is the place where we go to rest, find comfort, and feel safe from the outside world. But what if I told you that the greatest source of exposure to toxic chemicals is actually within our homes? In fact, studies have found the level of toxicants in our indoor environment to be 2-5 times that of our outdoor environment, regardless of whether we reside in an urban or rural location. As more and more research is being conducted in the field of environmental medicine we are finding out just how much day-to-day exposure to such toxins is impacting our health. Since Canadians spend an average of 87% of their time indoors, it’s especially important to take measures to eliminate our exposure from within.
So what can you do to kick some of these toxins to the curb? Read below to find out 6 simple ways in which you can detoxify your home to make it a safer and healthier place for you and your family.
1. Ditch Your Shoes At The Door. Shoes track in a lot more than just dirt into your home. Think about all of the places you step in a given day – gas stations, parking lots, restrooms, driveways, treated lawns – the list goes on. Any toxin that the sole of your shoe encounters can easily be brought into your household, from pesticides, coal tar, and cigarette ashes to animal droppings, lead, and bacteria. When you have infants, toddlers, and pets crawling around it becomes even more important to maintain a chemical free environment. The best way to accomplish this is by making a habit of always removing your shoes at the door. If going shoe-less indoors is not feasible, at least wipe your feet on a doormat before entering or keep a pair of slippers on hand that you never wear outside.
2. Liven Up Your Space. Houseplants are a cheap and effective way to increase the quality of the air inside your home. Products that are made with synthetic materials have the ability to “off-gas”, or continuously release a host of chemical particulates into the air that you breathe. These compounds can be emitted from pretty much anything sitting in your home – insulation, mattresses, carpets, flooring, upholstery, paints, clothing, electronics, and toys are just a few examples. Plants serve as natural air purifiers because they can absorb the particulates released from off-gassing materials through the pores on their leaves. The soil and roots also contain a number of unique microorganisms that can effectively break down the toxic compounds so that they can later be used as a food source for new growth. Scientists at NASA conducted a study and discovered that the greatest purifiers are Garden Mums, Peace Lilies, Dracaenas, English Ivies, Snake Plants, Gerbera Daisies, Boston Ferns, Weeping Figs, Bamboo/Reed Palms, Spider Plants, and Aloe Veras.
3. Clean Green. Roughly 85,000 chemicals are available on the market today for industrial use, with more and more being added each year. The problem is that only a very small percentage of these chemicals have actually been assessed for safety, which means that ones that are potentially toxic to your health can make their way into your home without you even knowing. One of the biggest sources is from the products you use to clean your home. No labeling law exists in Canada to disclose all ingredients contained within a cleaning product or the potential long-term health risks associated with their use, which is not good! Using resources such as the Environmental Working Group’s guide to healthy cleaning (http://www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners) or the Think Dirty App (http://www.thinkdirtyapp.com) can help you find products that you can trust. Or better yet, get creative and make your own with natural alternatives such as baking soda, lemon juice, vinegar, water, and essential oils.
4. Up Your Laundry Game. Most people don’t realize that behind the “fresh” scent of every laundry room lies a soup full of toxic chemicals that are waiting to be absorbed into your skin. Most conventional laundry detergents, fabric softeners, dryer sheets, stain removers, and colour brighteners on the market today are jam packed with toxic substances that coat your clothes and are known to negatively impact your health. Launder your clothing wisely with products from brands that you can trust. Be sure to use the resources suggested in tip #3 to help you make an informed decision, as they are there to protect your health. Just because a product claims that it is “natural” or “green” doesn’t mean that it is safe or without harmful ingredients – don’t fall into the marketing trap. If you are a DIY kind of person there are many homemade recipes available online that are just as effective as the conventional products, yet they come with a less toxic price. For example, remove stains with soap nuts in place of stain removing pens, try softening your clothes with white vinegar instead of fabric softener, or ditch those disgusting dryer sheets and opt for reusable wool balls instead. You don’t need to smell like “sunshine” or “spring breeze” in order to be clean (by the way, do those even have a scent?!). Do your research before going to the dry cleaners to find a business that supports the use of non-toxic products. If none are available in your area then make sure that you remove your clothes from the plastic wrapping and air them out outside before wearing them.
5. Revamp Your Kitchen. This does not mean toss out anything and everything from you kitchen and replace it. It just means to re-think the ways in which you store and cook your food. Non-stick cookware may seem like a dream, but in reality it is not all that it is hyped up to be. The problem with Teflon (the non-stick chemical that you’ve grown to love called polytetrafluroetheylene) is that at high temperatures it emits toxic particles into the air and, ultimately, your food. These fumes are strong enough to kill pet birds and are linked to cancer, thyroid dysfunction, autoimmune disease, and infertility in humans! Instead of using non-stick cookware opt for stainless steel, cast iron, ceramic, or glass. If you are stuck with your non-stick pans take measures to avoid overheating them by always cooking your food at the lowest temperature possible. When it comes to food storage, beware of plastics! There are so many compounds found in plastics that a whole article could be written about them and their endocrine disrupting effects. Look around your kitchen for plastic items and you will find them everywhere – Tupperware, spatulas, cooking oil bottles, packaged foods, cling wrap, water bottles, etc. While it is not cost effective to replace all of these things at 1 time, you need to start somewhere. Never heat leftovers held in plastic containers up in the microwave. Leaching of the chemicals from the plastic can occur at rest, however, adding heat to the mix will accelerate the process. Opt for glass to store and reheat your food. When you are shopping try to buy products that are stored in glass jars opposed to plastic, cans, or Styrofoam.
6. Put Some Sense Into Your Scents. As tempting as it may be to make your home smell like “island margarita” or “warm vanilla sugar”, it probably isn’t a good idea for good reason! The word “fragrance” appears on the label of almost every type of personal care product, from air fresheners and deodorizers to candles/wax melts and perfumes. What most people don’t know is that this word can encompass a mixture of 3000 different synthetic chemicals, many of which are known to act as carcinogens, neurotoxins, allergens, and hormone disruptors. The majority of conventional air fresheners contain a toxin called 1,4-dichlorobenzene, which literally “masks odours” by blocking the receptors in your nose and ultimately eliminating your sense of smell! This chemical was detected in the blood of 96% of Americans studied and is a known pesticide and carcinogen. Candles are typically made from paraffin wax, which is a byproduct of petroleum. When burned it releases soot into the air that can then be inhaled. Although banned in Canada, many candles in the US still have wicks with metal cores that release lead into the air when ignited. These are things that you definitely do not want to be breathing in! The best way to keep your home smelling fresh is by opening a window. If you prefer to have a candle, opt for ones made out of beeswax. In place of an air freshener experiment with essential oils (ensure they are pure/organic/therapeutic grade) or create your own simmer pot by heating water on the stove along with your favourite natural scents as cinnamon sticks with cloves and nutmeg or citrus peel and vanilla bean.
My aim in presenting this information is not to scare you into thinking your home is unsafe. Rather, my goal is to educate, motivate, and inspire you to take control over your health at your own pace. Any attempt that is made to help eliminate your chemical exposure will have a positive effect on your health. Since we spend the majority of our time at home we might as well start here!
Dr. Jessica Geil, HBSc, ND
Hill RH, Ashley DL, Head SL, Needham LL, Pirkle JL. p-dichlorobenze exposure among 1,000 adults in the United States. Arch Environ Health. 1995 July; 50(4):277-80. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7677426
Potera C. Indoor air quality: scented products emit a bouquet of VOCs. Environ Health Prospect. 2011 Jan; 119(1): A16. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3018511/
EWGs Healthy Home Tips. 2016. Environmental Working Group. [accessed 2016 Sept 5]. Available from: http://www.ewg.org/research/healthy-home-tips/tip-6-skip-non-stick-avoid-dangers-teflon
Chemical Policy. 2016. Environmental Working Group. [accessed 2016 Sept 5]. Available from: http://www.ewg.org/key-issues/toxics/chemical-policy
Wolverton BC, Johnson A. Interior landscape plants for indoor air pollution abatement. NASA. 1989 Sept 15. Available from: http://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/19930073077.pdf
Nishioka MG, Burkholder HM, Brinkman MC. Distribution of 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid in floor dust throughout homes following homeowner and commercial lawn applications: quantitative effects of children, pets, and shoes. Environ Sci Techno. 1999; 33(9): 1359-1365. Available from: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es980580o
Volatile Organic Compounds' Impact On Indoor Air Quality. 2016. US Environmental Protection Agency. [accessed 2016 Sept 5]. Available from: https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/volatile-organic-compounds-impact-indoor-air-quality
Leech JA, Wilby K, McMullen E, Laporte K. The Canadian human activity pattern survey: report of methods and population surveyed. Chronic Dis Can. 1996; 17(3-4):118-23. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9097012?dopt=Abstract&holding=npg
Klepeis NE, Nelson WC, Ott WR, Robinson JP, Tsang AM, Switzer P. The national human activity pattern survey: a resource for assessing exposure to environmental pollutants. Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology. 2001; 11: 231-252. Available from: http://www.nature.com/jes/journal/v11/n3/full/7500165a.html