Home is the one place where you are supposed to feel the safest. It is your comfort zone, your sacred place and your haven. Each day when you leave your home, you are bombarded with countless environmental toxins that include everything from exhaust fumes on the street to the obnoxious cleaning supplies used in your office. Because these types of environmental toxins are absolutely everywhere, there is little that you can do to avoid them completely. This is why you strive to keep your home as clean and toxin free as possible. What you might not know is that household toxins lurk in some of the most unsuspecting of places, and despite your best efforts your own home may still be a victim of toxic overload.
Even the smallest amount of household toxins can cause serious health problems, especially for smaller and more sensitive bodies, such as children and pets. Common complications associated with exposure to everyday toxins include respiratory issues and allergic skin reactions. However, the scope of possible health complications is quite severe, and even deadly is some cases. Dangerous household toxins generally fall into one of three different categories:
- Neurotoxins: This category of toxins includes chemicals that affect neurons and brain activity. This can sometimes be noticed with something as seemingly benign as a mild headache, or as severe as extensive brain damage and loss of intellect.
Endocrine Disruptors: These types of toxins interfere with your endocrine system. Your endocrine system is responsible for producing hormones that regulate processes such as growth, normal development, metabolism, reproduction, sexual function and sleep patterns. Endocrine disrupters confuse the system by mimicking the hormones that are produced by the body. This can cause disturbances in any of the processes that the endocrine system is responsible for. Common endocrine disruptor side effects include premature puberty, fertility issues, immune disorders, ADHD and even some hormone related cancers.
- Carcinogens: This word is used to describe a group of chemicals that either promote or cause the growth of cancerous cells and tumors.
Once you realize the potential threat that common household toxins poses to your health, and the health of everyone that you share your home with, you will of course want to eliminate them as soon as possible. Sometimes recognizing these toxins is as easy as recognizing some key words such as “warning”, “hazardous”, “toxic”, “danger” or “caution”. Other times the toxins do not present themselves so obviously. Here is a list of some of the most common household toxins and where you can find them.
Phthalates: Phthalates are chemicals that are also referred to as plasticizers and are found in many cosmetic and beauty products including hair products, deodorants, facial cosmetics and fragrances. Phthalates are considered endocrine disruptors and are especially toxic to younger children who are more at risk of developmental issues from early and frequent exposure. Additionally, one of the most common phthalates, DEHP, was once commonly used in plastic food storage containers. Although the dangers of this particular phthalate have been recognized, resulting in its removal from many products, the phthalates used in its place have been shown to be just as hazardous.
BPA: More formally known as bisphenol-A, this is found in products made from polycarbonate plastics. A few years ago the BPA found in baby bottles and plastic dishes made controversial headlines and parents everywhere quickly began looking for the “BPA Free” label before introducing plastic products to their children. In 2012, the FDA banned the use of BPA in baby bottles, but it is still acceptable for use in other common products such as water bottles and other drink containers. Some companies have begun using a substitute by the name of BPS or bispehnol-S. Unfortunately, BPS is a very close chemical relative to BPA and has been shown to also disrupt normal cell and hormone functioning, and therefore should also be avoided. Bisphenol-A and bisphenol-S are classified as endocrine disruptors that disrupt the natural function of hormones.
Flame Retardants: Flame retardants are chemicals that are used on many household furnishings such as sofas, mattresses and carpets, but also on electronics and in some cases, even clothing. The application of these chemicals is meant to protect you and your loved ones from the dangers of household fires; however rather than protecting you from the potential dangers, they expose your body to toxins. Flame retardants use a chemical called polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or BPDEs, which have been linked to so many different health disorders that they can actually be considered endocrine disruptors, neurotoxins and carcinogens. Several years back the United States prohibited the use of a couple of different types of BPDEs, however there are others that are still in use and just as toxic as the ones that were phased out.
PFCs: Perfluorinated chemicals are used to make some of your household staples water repellent, stain resistant and non-stick. These chemical can be found everywhere from your non-stick pans, to the inside of food packaging, carpets, backpacks and water resistant clothing such as coats and boots. PFCs disrupt thyroid function and can possibly cause infertility in both men and women.
Glyco Ethers: These endocrine disruptors have been shown to impact male fertility, and can be found in some of your most beloved clothing items. Glyco ethers are commonly used in dry cleaning products and can be absorbed through skin contact and through the inhalation of fumes.
Urea-formaldehyde: When you think of pressed wood products, you might think of less expensive furniture such as ready-to-assemble desks, dressers and entertainment centers. What you might not know is that pressed wood might be everywhere in your home, in paneling or insulation, especially if you have a home that predates 1970. The issue with pressed wood isn’t the wood itself, but rather with the glue that is used to hold the wood together and form the board. The glue is urea-formaldehyde, which can cause respiratory issues and is considered a carcinogenic substance. Newer pressed wood products are less toxic than older ones because of more regulation of the substance in recent years.
Ethylene-based Glycol Ethers and Terpenes: These are substances that you might commonly find in air fresheners, air sanitizers and some cleaning supplies. While these substances aren’t considered toxic on their own, when they are released into the air and interact with the ozone they create volatile organic compouns, or VOCs, which are toxic and poisonous substances. The fact that most of these types of products are used in small and enclosed areas makes the potential for toxic exposure even greater.
Your furniture, carpeting, clothing, dishes and personal care products are just the beginning of potential hidden toxins in your home. Add in all the additional sources of toxins such as materials used in home construction, pesticides, cleaning supplies and local environmental pollutants and you have a much larger potential problem. It can be easy to look at this list and feel overwhelmed, or even worse, hopeless. Even though it is impossible to completely eliminate your exposure to toxins, the good news is that there is plenty that you can do to reduce your exposure. Here are a few steps that you can take to make your home healthier.
First, start by thinking naturally. It is true that all-natural products do sometimes cost more. However, there are plenty of natural, toxin-free products that can fit within a price point that is accessible to everyone. Additionally, when you stop to consider the long term cost of toxin overload, the few extra dollars that you might spend on all-natural products becomes easier to justify. Whenever you can, choose products that do not contain any of the hazardous substances that are listed above.
Make your own products. It might seem time consuming, but even something as substituting your glass cleaner for a vinegar solution will immediately reduce the VOCs in your home. Keep your pantry stocked with vinegar, baking soda, lemon juice and sea salt. These four ingredients alone can replace almost all of your regular household cleaning products and require no more than a few minutes of your time to mix up.
Research the product list of your personal care products. Learn the chemical names of the potentially toxic ingredients and check your labels. Choose to support companies that make a priority of protecting your health and the environment by carefully selecting natural, gentle ingredients for their product lines.
Keep your home ventilated. Keep your windows and doors open as much as possible when the weather permits. You can also take advantage of the air purifying power of household plants.
Dust frequently. Not only is accumulated dust an allergy trigger, all of the airborne toxins in your home can cling to dust, accumulate and spread through your home. Dust and mop all hard surfaces in your home at least twice a week and use a vacuum with a HEPA filter to remove dust and toxins from your carpet and soft furnishings.
Use fresh or dried flowers and herbs as a natural air freshener and deodorizer.
When shopping for clothing, linens and furnishings choose items that have not been treated with a flame retardant and that do not require dry cleaning. If you have something that must be dry cleaned, speak to your dry cleaner about less toxic alternatives to regular cleaning products.
Replace old materials in your home with newer, less toxic alternatives and paint your walls with a low VOC paint.
If you are creative and love the challenge of a big project, try making your own furniture, or refinishing the furniture in your home with toxin free materials. This is admittedly time consuming, but the joy of the project and the pride of knowing that you furnished your healthy home with your own hands is incredibly rewarding.
Consider trading in your plastics for other materials. Consider ceramic dishes and cookware, and swap out your plastic shower curtain for a cloth one.
- Speak up. Talk to others about the unknown dangers of hidden toxins in your home and mention the steps that you are taking to create a home environment that is healthy and non toxic. You can make a powerful impact on the lives of others just by vocalizing what you know and sharing what you do.