Keeping Our Homes Free of Unwanted Toxins

Exactly What Do You Mean By “Toxic Chemicals?”

There are few phrases that grate on my nerves more than “Well, we all lived through it and we’re fine now.” Whatever it is, there are so many things wrong with that statement I can’t even begin to go through every one. My two biggest  problems with it are: (1) no, we did not all live through it and come out the other side unscathed, (2) what our children are exposed to now is infinitely changed from our childhoods, what is in our environment, food, water, and air are certainly not the same.

Chemicals In Our EnvironmentIn my lifetime alone, 1000-3000 new chemicals were introduced every year. And what’s more, any health and safety data is available for only 15% of chemicals submitted for approval to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).[1. Going to Extreme Lengths to Purge Household Toxins]

The vast chemicals that our children are exposed to, many before they are even born, have reached well beyond being able to say that we, too, lived through it, let alone previous generations.

This doesn’t even speak to the fact that we didn’t all live through it, and if we did it was not always without incident. I have written before about the problem of determining causation, not just a proven correlation.

This really shows how we think and react to research linking exposure to potentially toxic chemicals and health effects. We need a new philosophy on chemicals and chemical safety.

Water is a chemical, oxygen is a chemical, but so, too, are lead, BPA, methylparabens, and PVC, plus a whole lot of nasty sounding chemicals that can be difficult to decipher whether they are harmful or benign. When we are making choices for our children it makes it that much more important and that much more overwhelming to manage.

Health Effects and Health Costs of Environmental Toxins

A recent paper published by Dr. Leonardo Trasande and Yinghua Liu found:

“[We] found that the costs of lead poisoning, prenatal methylmercury exposure, childhood cancer, asthma, intellectual disability, autism, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder were $76.6 billion in 2008.”

Our society is bearing the cost from what could be prevented through systemic change. All of these childhood illnesses and their associated costs could be eliminated, or at the very least greatly reduced, if we could:

“[I]nstitute premarket testing of new chemicals; conduct toxicity testing on chemicals already in use; reduce lead-based paint hazards; and curb mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants.”[2. Reducing The Staggering Costs Of Environmental Disease In Children, Estimated At $76.6 Billion In 2008]

That doesn’t sound like too much to ask to me. Unfortunately, not everyone, particularly regulating bodies and corporations, are not on that same page. Children and babies are more susceptible to environmental toxins because of their relative size and habits (putting everything in their mouths and spending a lot of time on the floor), but adults are also at greater risk of a whole host of diseases and conditions (infertility, endometriosis, cancer, heart disease, asthma, birth defects, and reduced IQ, to name a few) that have a proven link to exposure to certain chemicals.

Reducing Toxic Exposure While Living In The Real World

We can, and should, keep working toward chemical safety reform and emissions reduction, but we can also make changes to our own homes that can limit the toxins in a place that where we largely spend a proportional amount of time.

Eco-Friendly, Non-Toxic Eco-Home

1. The first step is to consider what are the areas of your home you and your family spend the most time in and what your activities are in each room.

The kitchen is a place that we spend a lot of time. We prepare meals, store food, wash dishes, and clean here.

The playroom is where my children spend much of their time that isn’t spent at school. They play games, roughhouse, watch television, read, and play with their toys.

The bedrooms are such an important area. My children spend at least 12 hours in their bedrooms within a 24 hour period. They build Legos, make forts, and sleep here. My husband and I sleep for 7-8 hours a night, plus reading and lounging.

The bathroom is where my children bathe, where I use an inordinate amount of products for a green mama, and where it needs cleaning regularly. For a room we don’t always want to spend a lot of time in, it really can add up.

2. Second, think about what can be changed in those spaces to make them healthier and safer. Right as you even enter your home, remove your shoes to prevent tracking the environment (clean or dirty as it may be) throughout the entire house. And when weather allows, open windows and let the fresh air and sun come in.

The kitchen generally means food and cleaning. Food should be whole, fresh, and organic whenever possible. Cleaners like dishwasher detergent or dish soap, countertop and sink cleaners, and floor cleaners can be homemade or store-bought, but with careful attention to the ingredients.

The playroom means playing and cleaning up after that play. Bring safe, eco-friendly toys into your home for your little ones. Materials like wood, organic cotton, organic wool are all good choices. As they get older the options become more limited without some plastic, but choosing quality over quantity is a good thing for your children and keeps clutter at bay!

Cleaning comes down to what type of room it may be, but baking soda and vinegar are your friends in every room. If a cleaning product is not something that would be safe to go in a mouth, don’t use it here. Keeping dust down by using a damp cloth will also keep any harmful toxins from being swept into the air.

The bedrooms will benefit from eco-friendly furniture built to last, organic cotton sheets, organic mattresses, and our favorite eco-friendly cleaners. It is amazing what kinds of chemicals go into a conventional mattress, pillow, and sheets. You and your family are touching these for hours at a time. This is not inexpensive, but starting slowly, it can be greatly beneficial.

The bathroom is a place we don’t always think about in terms of length of time spent, but within these walls we do so many things and use so many products that it should always be near the top of the list when thinking about exposure to toxins. Bath and beauty products can contain the most confusing ingredient lists of all, and yet these are what go on our largest organ. Keep it simple and opt for the safest ingredients possible, especially for children.

Bathrooms are also where people have the tendency to use the harshest cleaning products. Bleach for the sink and tub, toilet cleaners, and tile cleaners are all notorious for harmful ingredients. Anything you would want to put a Mr. Yuck sticker in should not be a part of your cleaning routine. Vinegar, baking soda, and a little Dr. Bronner’s go a long way, even in a bathroom.

3. Last, make the changes one step at a time. This post is not a comprehensive how-to manual for how to eliminate all toxins for your home – that information fills books – but think about this as a starting place. Use common sense, my growing Going Green Series, and the amazing books that are available to guide your choices.

What changes have you made recently to reduce toxins in your home? Which would you love to do, but find challenging?

I wrote this post for inclusion in the Green Moms Carnival hosted by Lori at Groovy Green Livin. Be sure to check out all the great green mamas’ articles!


Keeping Our Homes Free of Unwanted Toxins — 67 Comments

  1. Thanks for the links to the research. The evidence is mounting to the harm all these chemicals are inflicting on us and our children. The great thing is there are so many healthy choices we can make in our homes and it’s actually more economical than using toxic, chemical filled products.

    • It has been incredible, sad and frustrating, but incredible to watch the body of research develop over the last decade in particular. To see people respond with realizing we DO have healthy choices we can make is the greatest benefit to this.

  2. I hate that phrase too! It bothers me so much. Things have changed since we were kids!
    It can be done to make our homes a little more safe. I don’t think people realize that the air quality indoors is worst than the air quality outdoors and just opening the window or adding some plants to your decor can help keep the air we breath inside healthier! Thanks for the great post, Brenna! :)

    • Yes, indoor air quality is huge! One of my new goals is to develop a greener thumb so I can keep houseplants alive. I can’t vouch for the claims of air purification, but I have been loving my Himalayan salt lamp too!

  3. Toxic chemicals are dangerous in our health and in environment, thanks for sharing all of these ideas, hopefully people will woke up and consider different factors in their homes…

  4. Great post full of really useful information. I am just starting to look at natural homemade cleaning products; realizing how easy, safe and available they are and how inexpensive they can be.

    The big challenge is trying to educate the masses. Once they understand and believe change will come.

    Thanks and keep fighting the good fight.

  5. I have found the smallest carbon footprint for doing the laundry. We eliminated hot water, detergents, bleaches, and softeners. So no more chemicals going into our water ways and the whole petroleum bases industry for the laundry is out the window. Plastic bottle manufacturing, transported to and from manufacturing to be filled and again delivered to warehouses to stores and finally to our homes. Our clothes come out disinfected and the cottons smell like cotton (imagine that).

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  7. Unfortunately, the idea that if a chemical doesn’t immediately harm you it’s OK is what guides our chemicals policy. But researchers know now that the effects of exposures experienced while a fetus or infant can manifest themselves decades later. I really hope we get some toxic chemical reform passed soon.

    • Why is it that we have let the chemical industry dictate policy? There are just too many instances of industry riding roughshod over what is best for people, wildlife, and environment because of a small difference in profit.

      I am well aware that profits can lead to jobs, but it should never be at the expense of our life expectancy or our children’s future. Besides, how often do larger profits actually lead to greater wealth for a few instead of job opportunities for the many?

    • You are so right. I know that if I am feeling overwhelmed and large organic supporters (see my Food Fights post) are feeling rundown, then how does the public at large stand a chance? I do hope that the takeaway from the carnival is that we can all make a difference, one step at a time!

  8. Excellent article, Brenna! And you’ve offered some wonderful tips for keeping our households green. It’s important that we all do our part to minimize exposure to toxins in our homes, and it’s also important that we pressure lawmakers to bring legislation up to date to reflect the 10,000’s of new chemicals that have been introduced into our environment since the original Toxic Substances Act was passed in the 1970s.

  9. I’m optimistic that things will change this year. There is so much momentum as more and more people become aware of the problem and take steps toward positive change!

    For those who are interested, the American Sustainable Business Council (co-founded by Seventh Generation founder, Jeffrey Hollender) has a letter you can sign and send to your local lawmakers.

    • I am so glad that some can still have optimism for positive change. I do too, otherwise I would never be able to immerse myself in all of the information about environmental health and justice that I read every day.

  10. Thank you for your leadership on this. It takes both, business and buyers to solve this problem. It’s no longer B2C, but B&C…

  11. Great list of helpful tips for everyone to decrease our families’ exposures to toxins. When you consider all the potential sources, it can be very overwhelming to think of how to control our physical environment. Small, simple steps like these make it seems much easier.
    I love the idea of anything that would qualify for a Mr. Yuck sticker is out!

    • Thank you , Sarah! I have a tendency to get caught up in trying to make things as ultimately green as possible, but that can make it difficult to see how overwhelming these kinds of decisions are. I still believe that small steps, one step at a time, is the key for a mainstream audience to subscribe.

  12. Thank you for sharing this with us on Seasonal Celebration Sunday Brenna. I would like to feature this on Sunday and also share it on the Natural Mothers Network facebook page if that’s okay by you? Education is important, but initially it’s just a matter of educating people enough to care, so many don’t, as they think they’re okay. What they don’t realise is they’re probably not.
    The – What you can’t see won’t hurt you- mentality of the masses and in particular the post 60 + generation is deeply frustrating. Most people over here in the UK are aware of the dangers, but they just don’t seem to care enough to alter the habits of a lifetime. It’s apathythat is the enemy in this country and I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the case in the US too? How do you encourage the apathetic- the answer is key to solving the problem.
    Rebecca @ NMN x

    • I would be honored, Rebecca!

      How do you encourage the apathetic? That is the question of the ages. For those that have children, grandchildren, that can sometimes be enough. For the rest, I only wish we could harness the collective inertia toward a greater good.

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  15. Great info, got me thinking for sure. It never even occurred to me that I should start changing things like bedding, mattresses, etc over to organic products. Yikes. Time to get busy!

    • I would love for us all to have organic mattresses, but they were all bought long before we knew as much about the chemicals in conventional ones. My daughter is getting ready to move to a twin bed and I am lobbying for an organic, non-toxic mattress for her.

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  19. Love this article. I am aware that we are all exposed to things that are not healthy for us that so many people think are alright, yet when you start looking at what you can change in your homes it can get a bit overwhelming. Thanks for the good ideas! =)

  20. This is such an amazing, informational post! Thank you!

    I only clean with Method All-Purpose natural surface cleaner.
    It can be used on counters, tile, stone, wood, and glass. Not many cleaners cover that much ground! It smells so good too- I buy the french lavendar!

  21. I’ve just bookmarked your blog, because this is just the sort of thing I need. I’ve been wanting to stop using regular products to clean our house because of the potentially harmful chemicals. I’ve gradually started switching over to vinegar and water for somethings, but I just can’t shake Windex. It works so well! Ha ha. Thank you so much for this post and Happy SITS!

  22. This is a very informative post! Since having children, I think about chemicals in everyday household products more than I ever did before.

    Thank you for all of the great information!

  23. This is a great post! I think it is so important for more families to realize whats in the food they are eating and be aware of toxins and products we are using in our homes. I am taking more and more steps to living a greener lifestyle. I buy/food only all natural foods, have switched to using green cleaning products around the house, and even stepped into using health/beauty products to.

  24. Just found your blog and am loving it!!! Especially your banner (Im jealous lol). Thanks for putting all this information out there, it is super important to me as a mom and I love having it all here from another mom’s point of view:)

  25. Thank you for this post. Well written and linked.

    Years ago when there were recalls every year of toys from China, I wanted to draw an editorial cartoon that showed three cans outside a home: garbage, recycling, and a red toxic waste can that said Chinese toys.

    Why did this happen? A variety of economic conditions but parents need to be willing to pay more in order to avoid (when possible, it isn’t always possible since truth in labeling requires humans to tell the truth) items that hurt our children.

    • Thank you, Sheila. Many parents feel they don’t have a choice in the toys they can afford, meaning they rely on toys made in less than favorable conditions, but we, as a society, are paying for it in the end. It is such a tough situation, but I am seeing a lot of movement toward supporting handmade, companies who manufacture in the U.S., and those who prioritize safety over profit.

  26. We just moved back into our home and after sitting empty for a year, wish I could have done more than the general cleaning because everyone has allergies and it’s affecting us all. Great blog, visiting from SITS.

  27. Stopping by from SITS today. I’ve been trying to make changes over the years. Some of these household cleaners stink so bad they have to be toxic! I found the best product for dusting is a tightly wrung out sponge. It doesn’t have the dust flying around it’s odor free.

    • A damp cloth is one of the best ways to keep the dust at bay, and all of the nasty stuff our dust collects! I definitely think our noses know better than our eyes do. If something smells like a toxic chemical, it likely is. ;) And the less you use them, the more you can smell them.

  28. Wow! This is one of those posts I am going to have to read more than once to get everything I need out of it. We are having an ant problem right now and I am trying to be sooo selective about sprays, where I spray, and if I should spray at all. Thanks for the informative post!

  29. Wow! This is one of those posts I am going to have to read more than once to get everything I need out of it. We are having an ant problem right now and I am trying to be sooo selective about sprays, where I spray, and if I should spray at all. Thanks for the very intersting post!!!

  30. The instant I was pregnant I made the switch to all of my cleaning products being all natural/organic. I swear by Earth’s Best, Seventh Generation, and Babyganics! I also bath my daughter using Method bath wash, and I’m also a fan of California Baby products for her too. Your posts are very inspirational and I completely agree with your stance. Happy SITS Day!

    • Good for you! So many mamas take huge leaps when they are welcoming a new little one into the world. It can certainly be eye-opening to see what traditional products can do to our children. The good news is there are more companies out there creating safer products and the knowledge between parents is growing rapidly!

  31. I’ve been loving my “home-made” disinfectant. It feels good to spray everything down and know if something drops (or my daughter’s blanket gets dragged on it) it’s au natural. It’s amazing how few items you really need to keep a clean house! It’s crazy how marketing tells us we need a separate cleaner for each appliance or part of the house. Go Vinegar!

  32. Excellent points that I need to act upon! My sister is very green. We often have discussions about it all. You are so right about how often we are around chemicals. Thanks for passing on the message!

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