Make your house a haven, not a toxic waste site.
As humans we are hard-wired for progress, we are an animal that can’t stop striving. But along with all the advances we’ve gained comes no shortage of mess, one in particular is the multitude of chemicals we’ve created. And unfortunately, we are bombarded with the things. Environmental chemicals are so pervasive, in fact, that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention monitors a whopping 298 of them that have been found in humans – many of them courtesy of consumer products. These kinds of chemicals are known to build up in the body and can lead to a demise in health, from infertility and birth defects to certain kinds of cancer.
Avoiding all environmental chemicals would prove virtually impossible, but you can try and lessen the load by not bringing things home that are known to add to the chemical soup we are living in. Here are eight places to start:
1. Oven cleaner
Corrosive oven cleaners like Easy Off are tough on baked-on gunk ... and even tougher on your body. Case in point, here is what the National Insititutes of Health lists as symptoms of swallowing or merely breathing in oven cleaners: Breathing difficulty; throat swelling; severe pain in the throat; severe pain or burning in the nose, eyes, ears, lips, or tongue; vision loss; abdominal pain; bloody stools; burns and possible holes of the esophagus; vomiting, possibly bloody; collapse; low blood pressure – develops rapidly; severe change in blood acid level – leads to organ damage; skin burns; holes in the skin or underlying tissues; irritation.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want chemicals that strong in my cabinet, let alone being sprayed about in my kitchen. Especially when we can do this instead: How to clean an oven naturally.
2. Non-stick pans
Hailed as a brilliant solution for low-fat cooking … what were we thinking? Metal pans coated with the synthetic polymer known as polytetrafluoroetheylene (PTFE) – or more commonly known by the trademark name Teflon – remove the need for fat to prevent food from sticking. That’s good, but unfortunately, toxic fumes from Teflon released from the cookware at high temperatures can kill pet birds and be the cause of flu-like symptoms (called "Teflon Flu" or, as scientists describe it, "Polymer fume fever").
Teflon comes from a family of chemicals known as perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) that have been found in almost all Americans who have been tested for them. They are associated with smaller birth weight and size in newborn babies, elevated cholesterol, abnormal thyroid hormone levels, liver inflammation and weakened immune defense against disease, notes the consumer watchdog, Environmental Working Group. They wreak havoc on the environment as well. The EPA says PFCs present "persistence, bioaccumulation, and toxicity properties to an extraordinary degree."
If you use non-stick cookware, read: How to cook with non-stick cookware if you’re stuck with it. If you’re in the market for non non-stick cookware, here’s a good place to start: 9 nontoxic cookware brands for healthy cooking
3. Air fresheners
The EPA notes that the four general ingredients in common air fresheners are formaldehyde, petroleum distillates, p- dichlorobenzene, and aerosol propellants. And that’s just the basics. Remarkably, there is no requirement for ingredients on air fresheners to be disclosed; and the products that do have ingredient lists summarize a potpourri of potentially deleterious chemicals under the sneaky umbrella terms of "fragrance.” Many products contain phthalates, which have been associated with male reproductive system birth defects and hormone disruption, and synthetic musks, which are linked to allergies and hormone disruption. A University of Washington study found that eight popular air fresheners released an average of 18 chemicals into the air. “On average, one in five of these chemicals were hazardous substances highlighted in federal and some state pollution standards,” notes EWG. “Fully half the air fresheners tested released acetaldehyde, a likely human carcinogen according to the EPA.”
Air fresheners mask odor rather than removing it. Your best bet is to remove the source of the odor in the first place; after that, baking soda and natural scents can be employed.
Pesticides are meant to kill things. Of course an ant's body is different from a human body, but what’s toxic to pests is toxic to humans too. Pesticide exposure has been linked to headaches, nausea, skin irritation and other symptoms. And a recent study found that children who had been exposed to insecticides indoors were 47 percent more likely to have leukemia and 43 percent more likely to have lymphoma. Other evidence connects home pesticide use with neurological consequences, such as lower IQ and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Why take the risk? Combat pests by keeping your home free of accessible food and water and seal any cracks or crevices where bugs can enter. If you have an invasion, use non-toxic approaches which can be super effective.
Conventional perfume is not made from the beautiful things its name and fragrance may suggest. Generally rose scents, for example, are not made of roses. Perfumes are chemical concoctions created in the lab in an effort to mimic the pretty-smelling things in the world. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a coalition of over 100 groups seeking transparency about chemicals in cosmetics, commissioned independent laboratory tests that revealed 38 secret chemicals in 17 leading fragrances.
Notes Scientific American of the perfumes tested: “Among them are chemicals associated with hormone disruption and allergic reactions, and many substances that have not been assessed for safety in personal care products.” Some of the undisclosed ingredients are chemicals “with troubling hazardous properties or with a propensity to accumulate in human tissues.” Examples include diethyl phthalate, a chemical found in 97 percent of Americans and linked to sperm damage in human epidemiological studies, and musk ketone, which concentrates in human fat tissue and breast milk.
On the other hand, these non-toxic fragrances are sweet-smelling and won't make you sick: 12 companies that make luxurious all-natural perfumes.
6. Antibacterial soap (and anything with Triclosan)
We’ve been on the anti antibacterial-soap soapbox for years and the rest of the world is catching on. A few companies have started to reformulate their products without Triclosan (the most common antibacterial chemical in antibacterial soaps) and Minnesota became the first state to ban it in consumer products for cleansing or sanitizing. Why? Consumer Reports lays it out pretty tidily:
- Antibacterial soaps won’t help prevent infections caused by viruses.
- Antibacterial soaps aren’t better than soap and water at preventing even bacterial infections.
- Overuse of antibacterial soaps may breed resistant bacteria.
- Triclosan may pose other health risks, too. (It could contribute to infertility, early puberty, obesity, and other problems.
- Other research hints that children with long exposure to triclosan may be more likely to develop allergies.
- Triclosan is so ubiquitous these days, that in one recent study the chemical was detected in the urine of 75 percent of the people tested.
- Antibacterial soaps may be harmful to the environment.
We don’t need it in our homes, plain old soap and water is a beautiful thing
7. Chlorine bleach
The easy fix for stains and brightening works because it’s really strong. It’s also corrosive and can release fumes that lead to respiratory distress. For starters it can make asthma worse, it can lead to new asthma, and it can irritate the skin and eyes. Wired magazine notes that household bleach is the number one cause of accidental poisonings, with more than 50,000 cases (including eight deaths) reported to poison control centers in a single year.
8. Scented cleaning products
In the same vein as perfume and air fresheners, most scented cleaning products that are imbued with “spring meadow” or “moonlight breeze” – most notably laundry detergents and fabric softeners – rely on synthetic fragrance. And many of those may cause acute effects such as respiratory irritation, headache, sneezing, and watery eyes, just for starters. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health found that more than 30 percent of the substances used in the fragrance industry are toxic. But again, they get to be placed under the mystery ingredient of “fragrance” since they are considered trade secrets. What does a moonlight breeze smell like anyway?
Rather than dousing the things you wear in these chemicals and spraying them all around your home, opt for all-natural cleaners or fragrance-free products. And note there is a difference between fragrance-free and unscented. Fragrance-free should indicate that no fragrances have been added; unscented just means it has no scent, sometimes fragrances are added to unscented products to mask the smell of other ingredients.