You eat well, get plenty of rest and exercise regularly. When it comes to staying healthy, that covers it, right? Not so fast. You may be neglecting one major piece of the well-being puzzle: home health. Keeping a healthy home means creating an environment that limits exposure to toxic chemicals. While that sounds like common sense, you may be shocked to learn how many household items contain harmful pollutants. You can improve the purity of your home with the simple tips below.
Pesticide exposure has been linked to several significant health impacts, including brain and central nervous system damage, cancer, asthma and more ² , So, the next time an unwelcomed critter makes its way into your home, ditch the can of pesticide spray and squash it (or trap it and release it outside) the old-fashioned way. If your home is overrun with creepy-crawlies, go back to the basics: tightly seal all points of entry to your house, use sticky traps and store all food in secure containers. The EPA’s online guidebook, “A Citizen’s Guide to Pest Control and Pesticide Safety” also has tips to manage pests without toxic chemicals.
Synthetic fragrances are loaded with toxic pollutants that can damage air quality. Scented petroleum-based wax candles may contain chemicals linked to cancer, allergies and asthma, so opt for 100 percent soy candles instead. ³ And avoid chemical air fresheners and sprays—a diffuser that uses all-natural essential oils works just as well.
Laying on your couch should be a worry-free experience. But many couches manufactured before 2015 were made with flame-retardant material which have been linked to brain and nervous system problems. 4 But couches aren’t the only culprits—furniture made with pressed wood, permanent pressed fabric and/or particle wood may contain harmful chemicals, too. Always check the manufacturing label to see if your furniture has been made with unsafe chemicals. If that’s not possible, a “sniff test” will usually do the trick: Items with strong chemical odors probably have unhealthy additives.
Ironically, many of the cleaners you use to make your home healthy contain chemicals that can irritate the skin, eyes, nose and throat and cause great harm if ingested. Avoid cleaners made with ammonia, ethylene glycol monobutyl acetate, sodium hypochlorite (the main component of bleach) and/or trisodium phosphate. Not only do these chemicals pollute your home and damage the air quality, but they can also contaminate rivers and lakes when washed down the drain.¹ Choose green cleaners that say “petroleum-free,” “biodegradable” or “phosphate-free.” Better yet, make natural cleaners yourself. Vinegar is a great bleach alternative and works wonders for removing grease and soap scum. Essential oils, lemon juice and baking soda are other natural yet effective cleaning agents.
You’d pass on a cocktail made with traces of chlorine, E. coli, lead and pesticides, so why take that chance on a glass of unfiltered water? Even “safe” drinking water (either from the tap or bottle) can contain trace amounts of these pollutants or, depending on your local infrastructure, more significant amounts. The good news? Though no single water treatment system can remove every type of contaminate, many store-bought versions remove most of these impurities. Research carefully to see what type of treatment each system provides.
By now, you’ve probably learned to avoid plastic made with BPA, but phthalates, another group of chemicals in plastic, also have potentially harmful effects. Eliminating use of all plastics is nearly impossible, but you can reduce your exposure to hazardous chemicals by not buying plastic with a recyclable 3 or 7 on the bottom (those numbers indicate they are made with phthalates); microwaving food in paper towels or glass containers; and eating fewer canned foods (steel cans may be lined with plastic).5
Getting your home tested for radon and lead-based paint should top your home health to-do list. Both substances are known to cause severe health problems, including brain damage, birth defects (from lead poisoning) and cancer (from radon). 6
Lead-based paint may be obsolete now, but it was commonly used in homes built before 1978. If you live in an older home, get it inspected for any traces of lead.
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive substance found in soil. So, if your home is built on radon-rich soil, you could be in serious trouble. A simple store-bought test kit that you mail to a lab for results can help you determine if you have a radon problem.
Creating a healthy home environment doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. Individually, these changes may seem small, but over time they may save you from a lot of harm.
1, 2, 5, 7 10 Affordable Ways to Make Your Home Safer and Healthier
3 Candles and Incense as Potential Sources of Indoor Air Pollution: Market Analysis and Literature Review
4 Five Couches without Fire Retardants You Can Buy Right Now