More and more people are proactively removing unnecessary and potentially harmful chemicals from the home. There are a number of good reasons to do this. Many of these toxic chemicals end up in our community’s ground water and can influence our ecosystem, agriculture and drinking water. The medical community has also noticed a rise in chemical sensitivities and other instances where chemical exposure is hurting our immune systems. Homes with children and/or pregnant women need to be extra vigilant that toxins are limited. Pound for pound, babies and children absorb, drink and eat more chemicals than adults. To further complicate the issue, children’s bodies are still developing, and chemicals can dramatically influence that process. Likewise pregnant women and even nursing mothers need to limit chemical exposure as these chemicals will be passed along to the infant.
But what can you do? In this modern age toxic products in the home have become the norm. They are easy to find, aggressively advertised and often on special at our local super market. It is nearly impossible to remove every chemical from our household. (Actually, it is possible, but also challenging and not always practical.) That said… there are simple changes you can make to dramatically reduce household toxic chemicals without hurting your budget or becoming an anti-chemical zealot.
There are 2 key areas where you can target to eliminate toxic products from the home: bath and beauty and general cleaning agents. (Food could also be a category all its own, but merits its own blog post.) Before we delve into these categories, it would be best to start with a general rule of thumb...
Look for red flags. When selecting products for the home, read the label carefully. Look for “signal words” that indicate high risk. Signal words to watch out for include "caution,” “warning,” “danger”, and “poison.” Trust us, manufacturers don’t put these terms on the label because they are benevolent. These are legal obligations based of FDA regulations and subsequent liability. Warning, danger and poison are the biggest red flags. Caution is a bit of a gray area and can simply address common sense recommendations, as in: “Caution - do not set this product on fire and leave the room.” Cautions are usually less insidious, though still worth noting.
Bath and Beauty Products
- Rule out the usual suspects. Seek out bath and beauty products that are unscented, natural, organic and feature natural dyes. Key ingredients to rule out include phthalates, formaldehyde, phenols, sodium laureth sulfate (also known as SLS), coal tar, toxic dyes, and synthetic fragrances. Unfortunately, there are a number products labeled as “natural” or “organic” that still contain these chemicals, so it’s best to read the label thoroughly. This is really important when you are selecting shampoos and bath products for your child.
- Plants are preferable to synthetics. Choose plant-based products made from natural oils. These products are not only less toxic than their synthetic counterparts, but they are also biodegradable and made from renewable resources.
- No more sneaky mercury. Invest in a mercury free thermometer. A broken thermometer can lead to toxic mercury levels in the home and dire health consequences. Likewise, when purchasing eye drops or nasal spray, avoid products containing thimerosal, a preservative that features mercury.
- A little bacteria is a good thing! Avoid antibacterial soap. While not toxic in its own right, antibacterial soap leads to stronger bacterial strains such as Staph. And while the commercial antibacterial hand sanitizer industry would never admit it, it's actually healthy for humans to be exposed to certain amount of bacteria.
- Raid your pantry. Baking soda, vinegar and plant-based ingredients are inexpensive and have a long established history of keeping homes clean without introducing toxic chemicals. Baking soda is especially effective on carpets, rugs, sinks, drains, tubs and toilets. Vegetable oil with a splash of lemon is great on wood. Mix vinegar and water in a spray bottle for an effective window and mirror cleaner. Simmer cloves and cinnamon on the stove top for a natural air freshener.
- Seek out eco-friendly pros. If your carpets need a deep clean or you have pest issues, choose professionals that feature eco-friendly services. In our experience, these companies are better for your home and the environment, are comparable in price and often feature a higher level of customer service.
- Add beneficial enzymes and bacteria to the mix. Incorporate a quality enzyme and beneficial bacteria product into your cleaning regimen. These versatile solutions can be used as chemical-free deodorizers and all-natural cleaning agents. Just add a product like EM-1 Effective Microorganisms to a spray bottle and mist the area. It can also be added to the laundry for deeper cleaning and fed to household plants in the place of organic plant food.
- Kick your shoes off and get comfortable. Have everyone in the family remove their shoes when they come inside. Shoes will dirty your home, requiring more frequent cleaning, and they also track in chemicals and pesticides from outside.
- A little bacteria is a good thing! We hate to repeat ourselves but again, avoid antibacterial products as they do more harm than good. These products only kill off beneficial bacteria and increase the likelihood of dangerous bacteria strains like Staph.