The naturally healthy home
Time for spring-cleaning! We clean our kitchens, bathrooms, bedrooms, playrooms – but what kind of supplies are we using to clean those areas? Take a look at the bottles of cleanser you’re using, and I challenge you to pronounce all the ingredients! Maybe now’s the time to think about having a naturally healthy home.
We all know that chemicals are a part of life. Cars pollute the air burning gas, and companies produce our food with a load of ingredients we can’t pronounce. Almost everything we use and consume has chemicals. Luckily, there’s one place we can minimize the effect toxins have on our lives: at home.
While we can’t decide what chemicals and toxins are found in home products, we can choose the brands and products based on what they contain. This, along with some other changes, will ensure that your home is as toxin-free as possible.
There are many ingredients found in common household products that should be minimally and properly used or avoided altogether. Phthalates. Formaldehyde. Perchloroethylene. 2-Butoxyethanol.
Yes, quite a mouthful, and unfortunately it’s not always easy to know what is in your products because cleaning products are not regulated as strictly as food in regards to what goes on the label.
Luckily, we have the internet with a host of information at our fingertips. You can Google most any product and find the ingredients and often reviews and warnings about it. There are also databases that help you find all of the information you need to know, such as the Environmental Working Group.
What is the TSCA?
The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), is the principle federal statute governing the use and safety of the thousands of chemicals we are exposed to in our everyday lives, but it needs to be updated and reformed. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), while responsible for the TSCA, has little authority to enforce this law, enacted in 1976.
It was broken from the start, with thousands of chemicals grandfathered in because they were already on the market. So much so, that the EPA could not even ban asbestos, which we all know is a cancer-causing substance still in use.
Currently, there are nearly 85,000 chemicals currently approved for, and in use, that the federal government and consumers know little to nothing about. Ultimately, real toxic chemical reform needs to ensure protection of public health, protection of the environment and of course, the most vulnerable populations.
EWG is a non-profit organization with tons of resources to help you make informed decisions about the products you buy. They have information about the chemicals found in sunscreen and cosmetics, pesticides found on produce, even a database of national drinking water, along with their Hall of Shame for household cleaners.
What Toxins Should I Look For?
There are many concerning things found in household products to pay attention to. These can range from chemicals that are generally hazardous to work with and should be used with caution, to chemicals that have been known to cause health problems.
One of the most common ingredients in cleaners, bleach certainly gets the job done, and quickly. However, there are many health concerns that go along with using bleach. First of all, it stays on surfaces so even if you think the surface is clean, you, your kids and your pets can all still come in contact with it.
Studies show that children who are exposed to bleach could end up having respiratory problems. Pets who touch surfaces with bleach may lick themselves in the affected area and ingest it.
As if that weren’t enough, exposure to bleach can lead to irritation inside the lungs, on the skin when it is contacted, and can cause lightheadedness. Not only is bleach extremely dangerous on its own, it can have bad interactions with other cleaners such as vinegar and especially ammonia.
The fumes caused by bleach interacting with ammonia are toxic. (1)
Ammonia has similar properties to bleach and is often found in window cleaners because it doesn’t leave streaks behind. Inhaling ammonia fumes can instantly cause breathing problems and cause chronic afflictions such as asthma and bronchitis.
It can’t be stated enough, however: do not mix or bring in contact with bleach. (2) The release of toxic chloramine vapor is so toxic that it can be deadly. Don’t do it…!
This chemical is a known carcinogen, yet it is found in a surprising number of places in your home. Not only do some household cleaners contain it, but also air fresheners, paper towels, nail polish, toothpaste, baby wipes, even particle board furniture and clothing.
Fabrics are treated with formaldehyde to make them wrinkle free, waterproof, stain resistant or other things that make them easier to care for. Formaldehyde exposure can not only lead to cancer but also respiratory problems, headaches and nausea, among a long list of other problems. (3)
This strangely named chemical is responsible for plastics being flexible and can be found in more than just plastic products. It is used in personal care products for texture, as well as in the containers we use every day.
Food kept in flexible plastic packaging with phthalates can absorb the chemical, thus passing it on to us, when we ingest whatever is in the container, which can, in turn, affect our endocrine systems.
Phthalates have been linked to all sorts of birth defects as well, as they can cross the placenta. And after the baby is born, they can be found in formula and baby food packaging as well as the formula itself. (4)
What are Endocrine Disruptors?
How exactly can chemicals disrupt our endocrine systems? The endocrine system is responsible for hormone production, and chemicals that enter our body through ingestion or skin absorption can mimic these hormones and wreak havoc. They can cause natural hormone reactions to be more strong, or be nonexistent.
These reactions are especially concerning for children, as a disrupted endocrine system can affect normal growth processes from birth through puberty. (5)
- Fire retardants
- Glycol Ethers
How to Avoid Them?
- Check out EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning (www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners/) and avoid products with those ingredients.
- Read labels. Do your research. It is almost impossible to avoid every harmful ingredient, so be vigilant and do your best.
- Avoid eating or consuming anything kept in plastic containers. Buy glass whenever possible or buy as much as you can without any packaging at all. This includes bottled water: buy a chemical-free reusable bottle and fill it with filtered tap water. This way you can avoid phthalates and BPA, which can be found in both plastic containers and some cans.
- Avoid synthetic fragrances. These may smell good but can contain concerning ingredients. Try organic essential oils (make sure they don’t contain anything bad).
- Make your own cleaners. You can clean almost anything in your house with water, vinegar and baking soda.
- Avoid cooking on nonstick pans. They’re more convenient, but also can release chemicals when heated or leach them into your food if they get scratched. Use stainless steel or cast iron instead.
- Eat more off of the Clean Fifteen list, and more organic, plant-based food in general.
We are lucky to have the Environmental Working Group on our side, doing the work for us, and advocating for our health and safety. They get it, and they work tirelessly to protect our food sources, soil, streams, air, and personal products.
Every time you go into the store to buy organic and healthy products, you are voting for a healthier future! We deserve to know the truth about everything we slather on our skin, and everything we consume, and EWG is helping us do that. Retail therapy only goes so far, if what we are buying only contributes to the problem. Sign up for their newsletter to stay current on new legislation. Removing toxins from your home is only the first step!