How to Keep Toxic Chemicals Out of Your Home

Woman using spray cleaner on counter top
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Chemicals in commercial products are not rigidly regulated in the United States, which is why consumers need to be smart about what they bring into their homes.

A documentary film came out last year called “The Human Experiment.” It suggested that we humans are the unwitting subjects of a terrifying mass experiment in toxic exposure. It asked the question, “What if the greatest environmental disaster of our time is not an oil spill or nuclear meltdown, but rather our long-term and persistent exposure to toxins?”

Unfortunately, it’s true that many of the objects and products we buy and use contain ingredients that are known to be carcinogenic. And yet companies continue to face minimal regulation from the government; the United States has even fewer laws restricting chemical use than China. Is it any wonder that people are sicker than ever, with cancer, infertility, and behavioral disorder rates skyrocketing?

The least we can do is start with our own homes. There are some basic steps you can take to minimize exposure to toxic chemicals at home.

Mix Your Own Cleaning Supplies

Don’t buy chemical-filled cleaners, which may make your house seem clean but really make it more toxic. You can clean just as effectively with vinegar, baking soda, and lemon juice. Or buy some truly green cleaning products, including laundry soap, from companies like Meliora K, The Simply Co, or My Green Fills.

Buy Used or Organic Clothes

You know that new clothes smell? It is actually toxic residue left over from the manufacturing process, and it is not something you want to be taking into your body. Buy organic fabrics whenever possible, avoid certain production methods such as ‘distressed’ jeans that rely on exorbitant quantities of chemicals, and stick with used clothing as much as possible that has already had a chance to off-gas.

Go Zero-Waste, or at Least Plastic-Free

While zero-waste may be too extreme (or impossible, depending on where you live), then you can at least cut down on the amount of plastic you use. Single-use plastics are a sickening waste of resources that mostly end up oceans and waterways, where they do not biodegrade but continue to emit the toxic chemicals that are used in their production. Be prepared to refuse plastics; carry your own reusable water bottle, plate, cutlery, coffee mug, grocery bag, etc.

Use the EWG Skin Deep Database

When shopping for skin care products of any kind, use the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database. With more than 60,000 products listed, it can give you the real low-down on what’s contained in a particular product and what it means for your health. It’s a great resource to have.

Take Your Shoes Off

No matter how vigorously you wipe your shoes at the front door, they will still track in all kinds of disgusting toxic stuff. Shoes bring pesticides and herbicides into the house. TreeHugger writer Melissa Breyer pointed out that “the ‘track-in’ exposures of these chemicals may exceed those from residues on non-organic fresh fruits and vegetables.” Shoes are also responsible for 98 percent of the lead dust found in homes. Ick. Just leave them on the porch or in the garage.

Open Your Windows

When you keep your windows closed, you seal yourself up with all the chemicals emitted from within the house, particularly if your house is new and has not had sufficient time to off-gas. Carpets, doors, paint on the walls, flame retardant coatings on new furniture – these are not things you want staying in the house. Open those windows to let the fresh air flow through and flush it out.

Get Rid of Your Carpets

Wall-to-wall carpets feel good underfoot, but they’re bad. Made of petroleum byproducts and synthetics such as polypropylene, nylon, and acrylic, they are usually treated with stain repellents, antistatic sprays, artificial dyes, antimicrobial treatments, and other finishes. The backing is often vinyl or synthetic latex, and the padding contains PVC or urethane. All of this means that carpets are a pretty major culprit if you’re trying to detox your home. A much healthier option is to replace regular carpets with hardwood, tile, or non-toxic wool carpeting.

Stop Using Nonstick Cookware

The chemicals used to create a non-stick or water-repellent surface are called ‘poly- and perfluoroalkyl’ substances. They are highly persistent in the body and the environment, and have been linked to a wide range of health problems including infertility, thyroid disease, organ damage, and developmental problems. It’s a steep price to pay for having one’s eggs slide out of the pan easily. Go for non-coated pans instead, such as cast iron, which works wonders when used properly.

Shop the 'Clean Fifteen'

The Clean Fifteen is a list of foods, released by the Environmental Working Group, that are least likely to have pesticide contamination, even when grown conventionally. By shopping this list as much as possible, you can minimize personal and household exposure to toxic pesticides even if you cannot afford to buy organic produce. These include many foods with natural protective coatings, such as avocados, pineapple, sweet corn, mangoes, kiwi, grapefruits, etc.