What comes to mind when you think of indoor toxins? Dust? Mold? Shower drain cleaner? Bleach? All makes sense. You certainly wouldn’t want to have prolonged exposure to any of those.
What about your rugs, upholstery, mattress, or laundry detergent? Yep, that’s where I usually lose people.
Let’s start from the beginning. Did you know that indoor air quality is more polluted than outdoor air? This is difficult for a lot of people to wrap their heads around because when they go outside they are subjected to pollen which makes them sneeze and emissions which makes them cough. However, our “stuff” can constantly emit toxins into the air and then stay trapped due to poor ventilation. It doesn’t help that the US is a sedentary country with most of the population spending 90% of their day indoors, according to the CDC. (1)
Why should you care?
There is a nationwide increase in immune system disorders, neurological problems, chronic fatigue syndrome, chemical sensitivities, allergies, and hormonal disturbances that point to environmental factors. A 2004 report by the British Medical Journal states “it is clear that environmental and lifestyle factors are key determinants of human disease – accounting for perhaps 75% of most cancers.” Additionally, estimates show that most Americans have somewhere between 400 and 800 chemicals stored in their bodies. Because effects from exposure to toxins are difficult to identify, it can be years before problems from exposure manifest themselves as a disease or chronic ailment. (4)
Hormonal disturbances and immune system disorders are particularly of concern for my clients because indoor toxin exposure could be contributing to infertility, miscarriages, or chronic illness in their families. It is no secret that anaphylactic and immune system responses in children are increasing rapidly. I don’t know about you, but when I was in school, I could eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich without worrying that my classmate was going to keel over from the smell. It has been impossible to pinpoint the exact reason for the sudden increase in allergies and chronic illnesses, but it is safe to say that limiting you and your family’s exposure to toxins is likely to be beneficial.
So should you throw out all of your things and live a minimal life with little to no furniture? Uh, no, that’s not practical or fun. I don’t know about you, but I absolutely love a wonderfully furnished home with alllll of the fixings. A beautiful, functional home of my own is something I grew up dreaming about. I could not wait to grow up and have my own space that no one could mess up or tell me how to decorate it. (I obviously didn’t think that my future husband would have an opinion haha!)
Because I grew up and now have a house of my own to do just that, I realize that there are more obstacles than I thought between me and my perfect home. I am passionate about an environment that accurately reflects my personality while also being passionate about the health of everyone in it. I have been doing research for the last several years on what to use in my house that will not be harmful to my family’s health and fits the bill aesthetically. It is a journey, so I do not ever claim to know everything there is to know, and I am still learning more and more as I jump in with both feet.
Here are some quick tips that will drastically reduce your indoor toxin exposure (blog posts devoted to each to come!):
If you feel overwhelmed with what your options are when it comes time to purchase any of these, please note that I offer baby registry curation and interior decorating services. The scale can be as little as you would like to as large as you would like. For example, a few toxin-free mattress options to full-on nursery design.
The prospect of having a house fire is terrifying, but, unfortunately, even if flame retardant chemicals slow the burning of household goods, the gases released when flame retardants are burned are lethal themselves. It seems like putting flame retardants on household items would be a good idea to make sure your things don’t go up in smoke (pun intended), but they can be devastating to your health even without putting flame to them.
Flame retardant chemicals are known endocrine disruptors and cause an array of cancer and brain-related health issues. Items with chemical flame retardants will continuously off-gas throughout the course of its lifetime. Once an item has off-gassed, or released toxic chemicals inside your home, fine dust accumulates making it difficult to remove from the air. The good news is that flame retardants are being phased out of some household items. The bad news is that many of the older things that you get up close and personal with on a daily basis and are meant to last for a long period of time have chemical flame retardants on them.
Common household items with flame retardants: mattresses, polyurethane filling for upholstery, baby carriers, car seats and strollers, rugs and rug pads, foam products, electronics, cars
I highly suggest that you replace your mattress if you are battling infertility or other chronic illnesses. You sleep on your mattress for roughly ONE-THIRD of your life and they are one of the worst offenders of carrying flame retardants chemicals!
Speaking of flames: Did you know that firefighters face a 9 percent increase in cancer diagnoses and 14 percent increase in cancer-related deaths than the general population due to the number of toxins encountered from burning synthetic materials? (3) Just another reason to buy naturally flame deterrent items such as wool.
Did you know that vinegar is a natural disinfectant and deodorizer? Also that you can buy huge, inexpensive jugs of it at Costco? And that mixed with water it makes the perfect cleaner for almost everything?!
Typical household cleaning products have dyes, chemicals, and fragrances in them that are unnecessary. I get a headache even walking down the cleaning aisle at the store because of the potent smell. Vinegar mixed with water works wonderfully on most surfaces to disinfect and clean (including streak free windows!). If you want to get fancy, add some essential oils to your mixture.
If you have marble or natural stone that needs to be cleaned without the acidity of the vinegar, use a mixture of mild castile soap and distilled water.
If you are using glyphosate products like Roundup, it is time to stop. It is so carcinogenic that the term “organic” was developed to describe the food items that are not sprayed with it and many stores are starting to pull Roundup off of the shelves. In case you haven’t heard, Monsanto, the manufacturers of Roundup, have doled out billions of dollars to those that have sued saying that Roundup is carcinogenic.
Mom was right. Don’t wear shoes in the house! Not only does it make cleaning more time consuming, but your shoes also track in chemicals and pesticides from the yard. I am working on a natural lawn care post that will come out around September, but regardless you can’t control what the neighbor or your work put down on their lawns and what has traveled on the road via rain.
Honestly, what grosses me out more than anything with shoes in the house is thinking about all the public restrooms your shoes went into throughout the day. Now your child or pet is lying on the floor in those germs. Disgusting.
Finally, purchase organic foods aka foods not sprayed with pesticides and chemicals whenever possible. If you can grow your own pesticide-free food or develop a relationship with your local farmers via local farmer’s markets, even better!
Phthalate and PVC cause endocrine system damage, meaning they chemically mimic hormones. This is dangerous to everyone, but especially so for children and pregnant women. Researchers have associated pregnant women’s exposure to phthalates with adverse effects on the genital development of their children. These risks may even prevail in low-dose exposure. (5)
Try to avoid plastic wherever possible and avoid recycling symbol #3 to decrease exposure to phthalates. Especially never heat food items in plastic or put anything hot into plastic containers.
As you know, I love to decorate in style, but while limiting my exposure to indoor toxins. One of the sneakiest places I have found PVC is in window treatments such as curtains and “bamboo” blinds. Make sure what you are purchasing is exactly what you think it is such as cotton, linen, or actual bamboo.
Common sources: window treatments, plastic food containers, plastic wrap, cosmetics, plastic bottles
Not all candles are bad, but many scented candles send VOC particles into the air that are well beyond safe limits. Scented candles can contribute to indoor air pollution just as much as second-hand smoke. Yikes.
The toxic components come from the way that paraffin wax is processed from petroleum products then when burned, creates highly toxic, known carcinogens called Benzene and Toluene. Additionally, wicks are believed to have a high concentration of lead creating airborne heavy metals.
On top of all of this, consistent with cosmetics, chemical fragrances, in general, are created artificially and are highly toxic.
As I started limiting the fragranced things in my life, I started becoming more and more sensitive to low-quality candles. I prefer to mix a few essential oils to diffuse them through my diffuser. Plus there are health benefits to diffusing each oil. I have been lusting after this stone Vitruvi diffuser one for a while!
If you prefer to have a candle in your home, beeswax candles scented with essential oils are the best alternative. A lot of people ask about soy candles, but I stay away from them myself. Soy is highly genetically modified in the US, so I prefer not to use it.
More in-depth information to come on how to make healthy choices while beautifying your home!
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