Despite all our efforts, it is very difficult to entirely evade environmental toxins and toxic chemicals in our homes. This is because harmful toxins are in the food we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breathe. With that said, we also encounter toxins in the form of chemicals in our household on a daily basis. These are founds in food containers, cleaning items, plastic bottles, cushions, mattresses, cookware, electronics, and our indoor air.
The below episode provides a good introduction to common harmful chemicals found in our homes, and how they impact our health:
Most Common Household Toxins
Though it might not be possible to entirely eliminate toxins in our households, it is my humble belief that we can do a great deal to reduce our exposure to toxic chemicals in our homes. I have compiled a list of toxic chemicals commonly found in almost every home, and I wrote a simple quick tips on how to reduce exposure to these toxins.
Chlorine is mainly found in household tap water, toilet bowl cleaners, laundry whiteners, scouring powders, and mildew removers.
There are many avenues whereby you can get exposed to this particular chemical, including through the skin while cleaning and through inhaling fumes.
In order to reduce exposure to this chemical, it is advisable to go for more natural choices when cleaning. For instance, instead of using products with chlorine, you can choose vinegar for cleaning toilet bowls, baking soda and Bon Ami for scrubbing, and borax powder and vinegar for whitening clothes. You can also install filters in the shower and on your kitchen sink to reduce the intake of chlorine through tap water.
This chemical is commonly found in drain uncloggers and oven cleaners. Sodium hydroxide is an extremely corrosive toxin, also known as lye. The two main avenues where you can get exposed to this toxin are through inhalation and through skin exposure. If lye is inhaled, it can result in a severe sore throat, which can last for days. Sodium hydroxide can cause severe burns if it comes into contact with your skin or eyes.
There are healthier choices that can be used in place of sodium hydroxide. For instance you can use mechanical tools, such as a plunger, to unclog your drains, and using baking soda paste to clean your oven.
Ammonia is found in glass cleaners, polishing agents for jewelry, as well as in sinks and bathroom fixtures.
Since ammonia evaporates without leaving a streak, it is not surprising that people often mistake it for a harmless chemical. Ammonia and its effects should not be underestimated. We often get exposed to ammonia through inhalation. When mixed with bleach, ammonia can create a lethal gas which can be very dangerous. Ammonia can be especially lethal to elderly people with breathing problems and lung issues, and to those with asthma. Furthermore, ammonia can lead to the development of asthma and chronic bronchitis in individuals who get a lot of exposure to this harmful chemical.
Choosing healthier products like alcohol, which produces a polished finish on any mirrored or metal surface, reduces the health risks of such chemicals by a great deal.
This toxic chemical is mainly found in the kitchen, in glass and multi-purpose cleaners. This is the compound that gives many cleaners a sweet smell. The compound is classified as glycol ether, a group of powerful solvents that should not be toyed with.
When inhaled, 2-Butoxyethanol can cause sore a throat. It should also be noted that with very high exposure, the solvent can lead to pulmonary edema, narcosis, and it can cause severe kidney and liver damage, which can be fatal. Although standardized 2-Butoxyethanol is safe for workplaces, I strongly advise against the use of products with this solvent if you are cleaning in a confined area at home.
A healthier alternative for 2-Butoxyethanol for cleaning windows and mirrors is diluted vinegar and newspaper. There are also healthy alternatives available for kitchen tasks like Bon Ami powder, which is made with natural ingredients like baking soda and ground feldspar.
QUATS or Quarternary Ammonium Compounds
This is commonly found in most household cleaners labeled as antibacterial, as well as in fabric softener sheets and liquids.
QUATS is a type of antimicrobial, which helps in antibiotic-resistant bacteria breeding. These particular compounds are also a common cause of skin irritation. It is also speculated that prolonged exposure to QUATS may lead to respiratory disorders like asthma.
A healthier option for fabric softener is vinegar. Vinegar works just as well as any fabric softener, if not better. Why do I say it works better? It is because it actually works better than many fabric dryer sheets or softeners as it aids to avert static cling in the dryer as well as removing soap residue in the rinse cycle. For disinfectants, antifungal tea-tree oil is a better alternative. By adding water to the mixture of a tablespoon of vinegar and a few drops of tea-tree oil, you’ve got yourself a natural disinfectant. You can also add a few drops of lavender essential oil for a nice scent.
Triclosan is commonly found in antibacterial labeled hand soaps and most dish-washing detergents.
It is an antibacterial that may support the growth of drug-resistant bacteria. Currently, research is being conducted on whether it disrupts hormonal function. However, traces of triclosan were found in dangerous concentrations in streams and rivers. Triclosan was found to be toxic to algae.
Avoiding the use of antibacterial with triclosan and using healthier alternatives like soaps and detergents with short ingredient lists can help a great deal. If you cannot do without hand sanitizers, it is advisable to use alcohol-based ones rather than ones with triclosan.
PERC or Perchloroethylene
PERC is mostly found in upholstery and carpet cleaners, spot removers, and dry cleaning solutions. The main avenue for exposure is through inhalation.
According to some scientists, perchloroethylene is considered a neurotoxin and a possible carcinogen. These were after numerous complaints from people living in apartments where dry cleaners are situated. The symptoms exhibited by the complainants ranged from a loss of coordination to dizziness, amongst others. In some areas, the regional government has taken measures by planning the elimination of PERC machines in residential buildings. Other regions like California have taken the notch higher by setting timelines for the total elimination of all PERC use in the state.
Rather than the chemical solvent used in dry cleaners, a wet cleaner is a better alternative as it uses water-based technology.
Chloroform is mainly used as a pesticide, fire extinguisher, disinfectant, and as a cleansing agent. The main avenues for exposure to this compound are ingestion and inhalation. Carbon-based fire extinguishers can be used as an alternative to those with chloroforms.
Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers or PDBE
PDBE is used in a wide range of products, which includes electronics, building materials, plastics, furnishing, textiles, and motor vehicles.
The main avenues for exposure are inhalation and ingestion. At household levels, PDBE has been found to reduce fertility in humans. When people are exposed to large amounts of PBDEs, it has been found to cause cancer.
Dioxins are mainly found in food. However, in recent days, dioxin has been found in some of the women’s sanitary products, especially tampons, and in water bottles.
Despite the fact that most people exposed to dioxins is through diet, exposure at lower concentrations can be through contact with water, soil, and air. It has been proven that exposure to dioxins has serious health effects like diabetes, hormonal problems, cancer, and infertility.
Phthalates and polyvinyl chloride (PVC)
PVC is mainly found in flooring. PVC flooring has been found to be the main contributor to the levels of phthalate metabolites in urine, mostly in pregnant women. It has been found that contact with PVC flooring is how these women got exposed.
Mold can grow anywhere in the house from toys, books, clothes, walls. What is dangerous about mold is the tiny spores that spread through the air. Mold spores can be difficult to eliminate, as they quickly multiply in moist environments. Mold can pose a major health concern mostly to people with weakened immune systems, existing respiratory problems, or allergic reactions.
The best way to prevent the growth and spread of mold spores in your household is to controlling moisture levels, keeping your home clean and well ventilated, and use special air purifiers to filter the mold spores.
It is no secret that pesticides pose a very serious health concern. Countless studies have positively associated leukemia and non-Hodgkin lymphoma with exposure to pesticides. Other available evidence has proved cosmetic use of pesticides has had negative outcomes, including neuro-developmental disorders, birth defects, and also fetal deaths.
Limiting exposure to pesticides is one way to eliminate or minimize the effects of these toxins in the environment.
VOCs or Volatile Organic Compounds
VOCs are widely used as constituents in household goods, including paints and other solvents, disinfectants and cleansers. VOCs can pose major health problems, including loss of coordination, headaches, nausea, irritation in the throat, eyes, and nose, damaged kidneys and liver, and a damaged central nervous system.
To reduce exposure to this toxic chemical, you can start by using non-VOC natural products, and increasing ventilation and air filtration in your home.
Strategies To Reduce Toxins In Your Home
Use natural products
Using vinegar for cleaning toilet bowls, using baking soda and Bon Ami for scrubbing, using borax powder and vinegar for whitening clothes. A healthier choice like liquor can be considered, which produces a polished finish on any mirrored or metal surface that reduces the health risks.
To avoid contaminating your household with toxins collected from soil using shoes, you can decide to come up with the no-shoe policy. This means that no shoes are allowed in the house.
Avoid chemical pest control
Limiting exposure to pesticides is one way to eliminate or minimize the effects of these toxins in the environment.
Use Air-Purifying Plants
I can highly recommend you to use house plants to reduce indoor air pollution. These indoor plants can go a great way in reducing pollution by clearing the air of formaldehyde, benzene and other pollutants.
Keeping your home clean and well ventilated can be of a great tool when handling these toxins. It helps in the saturation of air and also in preventing the spread of mold.
Clean Air Filters
You can start by brushing off dirt outside into a trash container; if need be, you can also scrub of heavy grim using soap solution and finally dry it. You can also decide to replace the filters with new ones if cleaning them seems tedious.
Use Low or No-VOC Products
Avoiding VOC products or limiting the use of VOC products like Paints, Caulks, Sealants, Finishes, and Carpeting can go a long way in reducing the exposure to toxins. Also, while using VOC products, you can start by increasing ventilation when using its by-products.
Use Non-Toxic Cleaners
As I mentioned above, a healthier option for fabric dryer sheets or softeners is vinegar.
Vinegar can also work as an alternative for carpet shampoo. Mix both water and vinegar in a spray container, add lavender essential oil for scent, and some salt and shake. It might be simple, but it works like a charm.
A healthier way to remove mildew is by mixing water and vinegar. For mild mildew stains, pour equal portions of water, and white vinegar then soaks your clothes in the solution. You can opt for full-force vinegar in cases of tougher mildew stains.
For oven cleaning, what other better way than to use the product already in your kitchen. Make a paste using one part water and three parts baking soda, smear it in the side of your oven and leave it to settle overnight. Wipe away the paste with a moist towel, pour equal parts of water and vinegar in a spray bottle, and use it to remove the leftover paste.
A healthier choice for window cleaning is alcohol, which produces a polished finish on any mirrored surface and reduces the health risks by a great deal. You can also spray vinegar on the surface and wipe it with a newspaper for a shinier finish.
The dangers that surround us at our homes of which we have no control over are countless. With too many available products, it’s now more difficult than ever to distinguish between ones that are safe for our health and ones that are not. So be safe and try to do it naturally!