Create a Healthy Home
Prevention starts at home. These simple tips will reduce the whole family's exposure to the toxic chemicals commonly found around the house.
With all the warning labels on cleaning products, it's no surprise they're full of toxic chemicals. Seek out non-toxic cleaning products or make your own. A little baking soda and vinegar go a long way toward everyday household cleaning.
Try simple do-it-yourself recipes:
- Make a solution of half water and half vinegar for sparkling, streak-free windows.
- Add a cup of vinegar to the laundry for brighter whites or to remove odors.
- Mix together a small amount of baking soda and castile soap to create a gentle scrubbing cleanser for tubs and sinks.
Choose products and brands that fully disclose all ingredients and get safety ratings for household cleaning products.
Avoid products that contain synthetic "fragrance" (which can hide phthalates or synthetic musks); alkylphenol ethoxylates (found in some detergents and stain removers); ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, or EGBE (found in some glass, floor, oven and general household cleaners); and perfluorinated compounds (found in some stain guards).
Freshen the air naturally. Use vinegar or baking soda to make do-it-yourself cleaners—not only do they clean well, they also neutralize odors. Houseplants can also clean the air.
Chemical flame retardants (including PBDEs used in furniture and electronics) disrupt hormones—and don't actually prevent fires. As furniture degrades over time, flame retardant-treated foam sifts out as household dust.
- Wash your hands often. A recent study found lower levels of PBDEs among office workers who washed their hands more frequently.
- Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter, which can reduce PBDE levels in household dust and air.
- Dust with a wet cloth, which captures dust particles instead of moving them around and into the air.
- Replace old foam items in your home that are crumbling or have ripped covers.
- Select new furniture made with naturally flame retardant materials, like wool. Rooms furnished with items made from old favorites like cotton, wool and hardwood reach the flashover point (the point when most items are heated to the point of combustion all at once) more slowly than new materials treated with flame retardants.
- Remove old carpet and padding with care, aiming to minimize dust and shredding.
- Discourage children from putting electronics—think cell phones and TV remotes—in their mouths.
- Read the label on children's pajamas. Loose pj's require flame retardants, while most fitted or snug pj's are flame retardant-free. Labels will indicate if the fabric is flame resistant (which is a good sign that chemical flame retardants are used).
Which chemicals might you find under your kitchen sink or in the garage? Take our science tour of your home.Science overview of chemicals in household products >
Commercial pesticides are chemicals designed to poison ants, roaches and mice. They've also been linked to a variety of human diseases, as well, including breast cancer. They don't just disappear, either; they can hang around for years, allowing for multiple exposures. The best way to minimize insects is prevention, through careful and regular cleaning.
It's no surprise that weed killers aren't all that great for humans, either. But what are your options? Weeding by hand, of course. Frequent mowing makes it hard to spot the difference between weeds and grass in your lawn. And vinegar, salt, soapy water or rubbing alcohol may help control weeds in limited spots.
These compounds, also known as PFCs, are used in non-stick cookware and stain-resistant fabrics, carpeting and furniture. They may keep food and stains from sticking, but they stick around in the environment and the body for a long time.
Make the switch to cast iron or anodized aluminum cookware when it’s time to replace your old pots and pans. Prioritize replacing the cookware used over high heat and pieces that are scratched. When it’s time for new carpet, skip the stain-resistant coating—consider carpet squares for high-traffic and kid-friendly areas (individual squares are replaceable, in case of stains).
A big change you can make is to use non-chlorine alternatives to bleach for household cleaning and laundry. And since paper products are often bleached to make them whiter, choose toilet paper, tissue and office paper labeled "Processed Chlorine Free" (PCF). Look for unbleached coffee filters and organic, unbleached tampons as well.