With green living being as popular as ever—especially with more and more eco-friendly, toxin-free products hitting the shelves—you may be wondering what you can do in your home to reduce toxins and make it a healthier place for your family. We spoke to experts to find out the key areas in the home you should focus on to make your living space a little more eco-friendly.
Do you want to detox your home but don’t know where to start? Got a couple of green products in your kitchen but want to know what else you should you be doing? Consider this: The average family is exposed to thousands of environmental toxins and the majority of this occurs in the home. The good news? There are simple things you can do to make your living space greener and healthier for your family.
“The first point I would say is don’t get overwhelmed,” reassures Nneka Leibe, director of healthy living science at the Environmental Working Group. “There are simple changes that can make an impactful difference.”
Here are five expert-approved priority tasks you can do in your home to go a little greener:
“One thing people don’t realize is that the indoor air is a poorer quality than the outdoors. Even in cities,” says Maia James, green home consultant and founder of gimmethegoodstuff.org. In fact, indoor air is as much as two to five times more polluted than air outside.
“A lot of people are thinking about the pollution they are exposed to outdoors,” Leibe says. “When we started to dig into the products we have indoors, we realized that a lot of the things we have in our home and furniture either release chemicals or are made with chemicals that we suggest to avoid.”
Don’t panic: You can improve your air quality quickly by replacing many of the items below.
If you want to go one step further, James recommends investing in an air filter to actively clean the air. For a low-fi option, you can add wool rugs and plants—both have been shown in studies to be natural VOC absorbers. And don’t forget to open your windows every day!
Those dust bunnies may look harmless, but nasties like lead, phthalates, BPA, flame-retardants, PFCs, and chemicals from cleaning products lurk in them. Gary Ginsberg, Ph.D., an assistant professor and toxicologist at Yale School of Public Health, has studied household dust extensively. He says dust is a key source of children’s exposure to contaminants at home, with levels of phthalates, lead, and flame-retardants in dust relating closely to levels in blood and urine. Children and babies ingest a lot because they spend more time on the floor and put things in their mouths. They are also much smaller and still developing, so toxins have a much bigger potential impact on their health.
Vacuum regularly using a HEPA filter vacuum, wet-mop floors, and wipe down surfaces. Fit filters to heating and air-conditioning units, take off your shoes when you get home, and use a doormat to reduce the amount of outdoor dust and soil coming into your home.
“Another small change that is really impactful is purchasing a water filter,” Leibe says. The quality of tap water can vary widely, so it’s important to check yours via your water utility’s website or a resource like the EWG Tap Water Database. Just make sure to regularly clean the water container and change the filter.
Many beauty products contain small amounts of chemicals, including EDCs and lead. James recommends starting with the products that are used the most often and on the biggest areas such as moisturizers, sunscreen, and shampoos. Many people are surprised to hear the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not require safety testing for personal care and cosmetic products, so it’s up to the consumer to check labels. The EWG Skin Deep Cosmetics Database is a great resource for researching ingredients as are apps such as Think Dirty, which let you check on the go.
Replace plastic bottles with stainless steel or glass. The dangers of BPA are well known, but the plastics used to replace it (like bisphenol S aka BPS) are also thought to contain EDCs, according to the EWG and James. Never heat food in the microwave in plastic as this can lead to chemicals such as phthalates leaching into it, and replace non-stick cookware as these are made with PFCs.
All of the experts interviewed were keen to emphasize that we should not be lying awake at night (on our non-organic mattresses) panicking. “I know it’s hard to not freak out about this stuff as you begin to educate yourself,” James says. “But it’s helpful to remember that it’s all about cumulative risk. No one item in the home is going to make or break your family’s health.”
“It’s not a life or death situation,” Dr. Ginsberg agrees. “There are a lot of low-level risks out there. We are doing much better today than we were when I was a kid. We don’t want to overwhelm people because then [they] will be paralyzed.”
“All of these changes combine to reduce our body burden of chemical exposure,” Leibe adds. “They’re small changes but very, very important to reducing the number of chemicals we’re exposed to that lead to adverse health impacts.”
The onus is now on us, as consumers, to do the legwork to find out what’s in the things we use. “The biggest piece of advice is that because of lapses in regulation, parents have to become amateur investigators,” Leibe concludes. “They can’t rely on claims and advertising hype.”
By increasing your knowledge and making smart choices, it is possible to make your home a greener and healthier place. So you can sleep better in more ways than one!
Main image: Some plants, such as Spider Plants, Mother-in-Law’s Tongue, Peace Lilies, Aloe Vera, and Garden Mums are natural air purifiers, according to NASA. So this Earth Day, why not take your kids to pick out a little greenery for your home?