For living life to the fullest, it’s an established fact that caring for our health must be a top priority. When we are really intent on being healthy, we feel the need to watch what we eat and make a concerted effort to include fitness and exercise in our routines. Food choices and fitness are two crucial and integrated pillars of good health and well-being, and we have made them a top focus in our home. But I found that trying to maintain healthy bodies and raise healthy children in a house stuffed with toxic chemicals just made no sense whatsoever. Repeated and chronic bouts of allergies, annual winter colds, and strep, sinus and ear infections were the norm. We had all had enough and I had to make room for a third pillar of good health in our house – our home environment.
Did you know that inside air is 2 to 5 times more polluted than outside (USEPA)? Or that there are over 81,000 registered chemicals in the U.S., found in all sorts of products, and only a fraction have even been tested for human health concerns? Cleaning up your home’s indoor air takes some focus and intention, but is easy to do. It is worth it: these straight-forward steps keep you from getting sick as often, can clear up a whole host of nagging, chronic health issues, and help your immune system stay strong over the long haul.
Who hasn’t tackled a tough cleaning job, using conventional cleaning products, and immediately felt sick or woozy? Usually it’s irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, headaches, dizziness, or fatigue that hit us. Such immediate effects are usually short-term and treatable. Sometimes the solution is as simple as getting out of the room and clearing your lungs. Sometimes though after exposure to indoor air pollutants, symptoms of chronic diseases like asthma or allergies show up, having been aggravated or worsened by the exposure to harsh chemicals.
Other health effects don’t show up for years, after regular, consistent exposure to indoor air pollutants. These effects, which include respiratory disease, heart disease and cancer, can be severely debilitating or fatal. Adding to the largely unrecognized onslaught, people react very different to the exposure of indoor pollutants. So while one person gets immediate headaches when a pollutant is present, someone else hardly notices any ill effect at all. Bottom line, it not just “advisable” to try to improve the indoor air quality in your home – even if symptoms are not noticeable – it’s imperative for living a healthy, long life.
Said another way, good indoor air quality reduces asthma, allergies, inflammation, skin and respiratory ailments and is essential to helping you and your family stay healthy. There is no wrong or perfect time to tackle this project, so why not now?
Here are steps you can take today to transform your home into a healthy oasis.
- Clean your house with non-toxic cleaners. Cleaning products are the single, biggest contributor to indoor air pollution. All conventional cleaning products contain at least one harmful chemical that can affect breathing, the heart, and immune system, as well as cause bodily inflammation and mental health issues. Switching to safe cleaning products is critical to your family’s health. Find products that are plant-based and ammonia, bleach, formaldehyde and fragrance free. Ammonia and bleach are highly corrosive chemicals. Synthetic fragrances contain endocrine disrupting chemicals that when are regularly absorbed can cause serious and chronic health issues. Plant-based products do not cause any detrimental health affects and degrade quickly, keeping streams and waterways clean. So choose organic, concentrated cleaners that are not only good for your health and house, but your wallet, and the environment too.
- Use natural, plant-based laundry products. Environmental Working Group (EWG) tested over 850 commonly used laundry products and only 11% received an “A” grade, with ingredients of little or no health concerns. Our skin is our largest organ and it’s in direct contact with clothes all day and bed sheets all night. When we wash our clothes in petroleum-based detergents, laden with artificial fragrances and fabric softeners, our bodies are constantly absorbing harmful substances. This puts a tremendous burden on our natural defense systems and wreaks havoc with our immune, neurological, endocrine and hormone functions. Little ones, due to their diminutive size, are exposed to the highest concentrations. This makes infants and young children the most vulnerable to developmental and reproductive affects or cancer.
- Put sports uniforms, work clothes and outerwear in the laundry immediately. Do this, especially during allergy seasons, to reduce the amount of dust and pollen that comes into the house.
- Wash bedsheets weekly. Dead skin cells are fodder for dust mites, strip and wash the sheets each week for healthy bedding.
- Encase mattresses and pillows in dust mite covers. This prevents the breeding ground of these little, nasty creatures from even existing. About 20 million people are allergic to dust mites in the U.S.; dust mite covers on our bedding reduces these allergies tremendously.
- Replace any plastic shower curtains in your house with washable fabric ones. Plastic liners are mildew magnets and if made of PVC they give off volatile organic chemicals (VOC’s) into the air – another major source of inflammation and sensitivities.
- Shower at night. Besides being a relaxing way to end the day, this prevents the day’s outdoor air contaminants from hitting the pillow and sheets with you.
- Wash your bath towels and mats regularly. Never leave wet mats on the floor to dry. Get them up off the ground to prevent mold.
- Leave your shoes at the door. All that foot traffic brings dirt, dust, and pollen into your home, so place a shoe basket near the entry and commit to having your family dump their shoes there. The dust that gets tracked in includes pesticides, herbicides, as well as pollutants that irritate our breathing passageways. Keeping these noxious substances out of the house will help everyone’s health. A side benefit is that dirty shoes left at the entranceway reduces the need for dusting and mopping of floors – the bane of all of us housekeepers out there!
- Buy a vacuum with the HEPA filter and use it regularly. If you’re in the market for a new vacuum, or if you or a family member or suffering from respiratory issues or allergies, make the HEPA filter type vacuum a priority. Not only will it capture pollen and dust but it will also capture the volatile organic chemicals (VOC’s) such as those emitted from the flame retardants coating most all home furniture.
- Air out your house every day. This may sound contrary to maintaining good indoor air quality, especially in pollen season, but off-gassing of VOC’s happens continuously from our furniture, home décor, curtains, carpeting and other manufactured products in our homes. Every home needs to be flushed out daily – even just for 5 to 10 minutes.
- Freshen your home naturally. Diffuse essential oils and swap out the artificially scented candles with toxin-free soy or beeswax candles. Fragrance and smoke are two extremely potent allergens and carcinogens we can all do without.
- Use indoor plants as natural air filters. Researchers at SUNY – Oswego have measured which plants do the best job of removing VOC’s Aloe vera, ficus, spider plants, and snake plants are some of the tops performers.
- Change or wash your air conditioning unit or furnace air filter regularly. If your system is air conditioning only, do so before cooling season starts and check after a month. Most filters will load up between 1 to 3 months of operation depending on the amount of time the equipment is used each day and if the unit brings in fresh air or just recirculates house air. By inspecting your unit each month, you’ll best understand how often your filter needs to be replaced or cleaned.
- Keep your air system ducts clean and air-tight. If your heating or air conditioning system is at least a few years old, have a professional duct cleaner or indoor air quality specialist inspect the ductwork. Duct gaps or leaks in the attic or basement can allow dust and mold to be pumped through the house. Duct leaks waste a tremendous amount of energy. Cleaning and sealing up leaky ducts dramatically improves the quality of air in your home and can save significant money in electricity and gas costs.
Here’s to a healthy home and living better longer!
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