Your home is your sanctuary, it’s a place where you want to experience peace and good health. These days we are becoming more aware of what constitutes a healthy environment, both outdoors and indoors and so the trend towards greener homes is growing. This means there is an emergent need to eradicate poisonous chemicals and toxins that are both harmful to a home’s occupants, as well as the environment.
Removing toxins from your home environment is a similar process to detoxifying your body. It’s about removing obstacles that lead to ill health. The process is really simple. Identify the products in your home that are hazardous and replace them with eco-friendly alternatives for a much healthier, greener home.
Here is a list of the most common toxic products, their effects and some non-toxic alternatives:
Pesticides are a common household product. They are designed to kill living organisms such as weeds (herbicides), insects (insecticides), fungus (fungicides), rodents (rodenticides), and others. Unfortunately because they are designed to kill, they do harm other organisms, including humans. The World Health Organization estimates that there are 3 million cases of pesticide poisoning each year and up to 220,000 deaths, primarily in developing countries. It’s is often difficult to contain the area during the application of pesticides, so there is a great risk of exposure to other organisms in the same vicinity.
Harmful effects of pesticides: It has been noted that even low levels of exposure to pesticides have adverse health effects. Children and developing organisms are unfortunately the most vulnerable. The effects of exposure range from memory loss, loss of coordination, reduced response to stimuli, reduced visual ability, altered or uncontrollable mood and general behaviour, and reduced motor skills. Other health effects include asthma, allergies, and hypersensitivity as well as cancer, hormone disruption, reproduction and foetal development issues.
Alternatives: For a greener home consider using non-toxic products made from d-limonene.
Ammonia is a very common substance in the home, as it is found in most household cleaners. Ammonia releases fumes that are harmful to the eyes, lungs and skin. Products made with ammonia become even more harmful when mixed with chlorine bleach or other products that contain it. The byproduct of this combination is chloramines gas, which is extremely poisonous and can cause severe damage to the lungs. Ammonia is therefore particularly harmful to asthmatics.
Harmful effects of ammonia: Ammonia is known to burn and irritate the skin and attack mucous membranes. It is highly toxic to the body if accidentally ingested. Ammonium nitrate particles are formed when ammonia fumes come into contact with nitrates in the environment. These toxic particles attach themselves to dust and other household fabrics such as carpets and upholstery.
Alternatives: Replace ammonia with vinegar-based cleaners instead and you can also use regular soap to maintain a clean, but greener home.
Chlorine can be found in many household cleaners. It is also used as a fumigant and often added to water systems because it prevents the growth of certain bacteria. Unfortunately this means chlorine exists in treated tap water as well.
Bleach releases a chlorine gas, which adversely affects the respiratory system. This is why chlorine is often referred to as a choking agent and has also been classified as a chemical weapon. Therefore, eliminating this product shouldn’t only be a consideration for people wanting greener homes, but rather for everyone on this planet.
Harmful effects of chlorine: Chlorine attacks organic matter, skin and is a mucous membrane irritant. Inhalation of chlorine gas can cause coughing and breathing issues, including hyperventilation as well as chest pains, eye irritation, rapid heartbeat and even death. It has also been linked to dementia in elderly patients.
Alternatives: If you have a pool, avoid using chlorine as a disinfectant. Instead, consider silver-copper ion generators and salt water. They are great, safe alternatives.
There are also safer, natural alternatives to chlorine based home cleaning products available such as hydrogen peroxide-based bleaches.
Fabric Softener’s have lovely fragrances, but they are merely covering up the odours released by the toxic ingredients. Your clothes may feel nice and soft as well as be static-free, but this is because these chemicals actually form a layer of lubrication over the fabric.
There are huge amounts of harmful chemicals in fabric softeners which include, but are not limited to: enzyl acetate, benzyl alcohol, ethanol, a-terpineol, chloroform, pentane etc. You will find a comprehensive list on the internet.
Harmful effects of fabric softeners: It can cause central nervous disorders, respiratory issues, liver and kidney damage as well as loss of muscle coordination.
Alternatives: Invest in garments that are made from organic cotton, as they are much softer. Purchase a natural non-toxic fabric softener which can be found in most health stores that you will be visiting often anyway while planning your greener home. If you don’t want to spend money, then you can also make your own! Baking soda is a great, safe alternative. Washing your clothes in cooler water also helps.
Formaldehyde is commonly found in glues that are used with various woods, boards and carpeting during home renovations, construction and when making low cost furniture. It is also found in paint, varnish, adhesives, floor finishes, wall paper, cardboard and paper, as well as in some hair care products and nail polish.
Harmful effects of formaldehyde: It has been identified as a human carcinogen. Symptoms of exposure include headaches, nasal irritations, watery eyes, and burning in the nasal passages. It can also cause coughing, asthma, nausea rashes, allergic reactions and in some cases has been linked to birth defects.
Alternatives: Buy solid wood furniture instead as it doesn’t contain formaldehyde or if you prefer pressed wood products, then ensure that they are adequately sealed with a plastic laminate coating. Replace regular paints with Low-VOC and Zero-VOC paints which are commonly found in most paint stores. Ensure proper ventilation where exposure cannot be avoided.
Nonstick cookware and bakeware: Teflon is a product used for nonstick surfaces. It contains perfluoroalkyl acid, a synthetic material that is harmful to humans and animals. Exposure can occur when the cookware or bakeware is scratched or overheated.
Harmful effects of perfluoroalkyl acid: it has been linked to ADHD, high cholesterol, thyroid disease as well as infertility.
Alternatives: Opt for alternative nonstick cookware, such cast iron, glass or stainless steel. And replace your non stick cookware and bake ware immediately if you notice chips or scratches.
PVC (polyvinyl chloride or vinyl) is found in many household items, ranging from food packaging, toys to shower curtains and building materials. It is known to be the most toxic plastic to both the environment and our health. PVC is made from a chemical called vinyl chloride, which is a known human carcinogen according to the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). One shower curtain made from PVC can release more than 100 chemicals into the air. Diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) is often added to PVC to make it more flexible.
Harmful effects of PVC: Some of the chemicals released by PVC products can cause developmental damage as well as damage to the liver and central nervous, respiratory, and reproductive systems.
Alternatives: Simply avoid packaging with the #3 or the letters “PVC” on it, which can usually be found next to the recycling symbol. Substitute PVC containers with glass containers and use reusable shopping bags instead of plastic ones. Some manufacturers are starting to become more aware of the dangers associated with PVC and are supporting the green home trend by excluding it when producing textiles, wall covering and various furniture items.
Anti-bacterial soaps: Many antibacterial products found in the home include triclosan which is meant to prevent bacterial infection. Triclosan can be found in antibacterial soaps, cosmetics, detergents, surgical cleaning agents, toys and some toothpastes. In 2013, the FDA issued a consumer update citing the need for additional studies of its potential hazards and developmental effects, which is definitely a red flag. Furthermore anti-bacterial soaps can create antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Harmful effects of anti-bacterial soaps: There are many health risks associated with triclosan, some of which include dermatitis, allergies, immune, thyroid reproduction and brain development issues. By using anti-bacterial products we become more resistant to the bacteria, which only forces it to become stronger by mutating into more harmful strains.
Alternatives: The best method to remove bacteria from our bodies is to use plain soap or pick a liquid soap that includes alcohol instead of triclosan. Work up a lather and wash hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds. Don’t forget to clean under your nails, the cuticles and palms. Use a clean towel to dry your hands.
Radiation is found everywhere in the home. So when striving for a greener home, you need to think beyond chemicals. Radiation is produced by electronic devices and appliances. Sources of electronic radiation include: Cordless phones, cellular phones, cordless baby alarms, microwave ovens, wireless routers, radios and Bluetooth devices.
Harmful effects of radiation: Although radiation produced by electronic devices and some appliances is of a very low frequency, the cumulative effect can be harmful to our bodies. While there is not much scientific research, certain proposed health problems have been linked with radiation. These include: Irregular behavioural patterns in children, disrupted sleep patterns, frequent headaches, stomach issues, skin cancer, hypersensitivity and increased blood pressure, feeling of melancholy or depression and exhaustion and fatigue.
Alternatives: It’s not easy to rid your home of all these electronics. Some people may do so to achieve the ultimate green home, but it depends what extreme you want to go to. Instead, you can invest in an electric filter as well as special paints (Y-paint and air pure paint) to block out the radiation, as well as window shielding film. Bed canopies and shielding floor mats are also a good investment for the bedroom, as they will protect you from harmful radiation which disrupts your sleep by interfering with your brain wave patterns.
Detoxifying your home doesn’t have to be a daunting project. There is no need to get stressed out about it, as this will also have a negative impact on your health and your home environment. Take it one step, one room, one cupboard and one product at a time.
You may be satisfied with the alternative, greener products and therefore happy to eliminate them, but in some instances this may not be the case. If so, then simply take the necessary precautions to limit or prevent exposure completely. For example wear protective clothing and masks when cleaning and ensure sufficient ventilation. But remember, the more toxins you can eliminate the better as it will be one step closer to a happier, greener home.