Your home is your castle. Or is it?
What if the very structure that keeps you warm and secure, that provides a place to relax and enjoy your friends and family is also contributing unnecessarily to your toxic load? It could be hard to grasp, so we'll start with the easy stuff.
Cleaning chemicals. As with personal care products, unless you've already made the switch to naturally derived, nontoxic products for housekeeping, the products you're using are toxic. You breathe in and your skin absorbs those toxins. The solution is simple. The next time you run out of one product or another, whether it's floor cleaner, window cleaner or bathroom cleaner, replace it with something less harmful. The replacement could be something very simple such as white vinegar or baking soda, available at any grocery store. For lots more information on how to clean without toxins, as well as every other aspect of creating a more healthy home environment, we suggest Debra Lynn Dadd's excellent book, Home Safe Home: Protecting Yourself and Your Family from Everyday Toxics and Harmful Household Products. Your local health food store also stocks a number of nontoxic yet highly effective cleaning products.
Insecticides. The chemical industry has perpetuated a myth that pesticides are safe for humans. The testing that substantiates these claims tests only one product on mice or other creatures whose nervous systems are substantially different from those of humans, and they do not account for cumulative exposure from multiple chemicals over a prolonged period of time. If you have less than perfect health, all the more reason to stay away from pesticides. Your body already has enough to contend with. Any toxins that your body is unable to process out are stored in your body, and as they accumulate, symptoms and disease will also accumulate. Will they kill you? They may not, but they can. Why take a chance with something as precious as your life and health?
If you have kids or grandkids around, they're much more susceptible than adults. Think about it. A ball bounces on a lawn that's been sprayed with pesticides or herbicides. The ball becomes coated with the stuff. Children play with balls, then put their fingers in their mouths without washing their hands. Result? Poisons go straight into the child's mouth.
Find nontoxic methods to deal with household pests, inside and out. Numerous books are available to help you with this process and these websites on nontoxic pest control will also provide info. Ask yourself about your reaction to insects. If you have a phobia or fear of them, perhaps you should deal with it directly, rather than with poisons that can be very damaging to your health. Very few insects are actually hazardous to humans and it's rare to find them inside. Good housekeeping (and storing foods in airtight containers) will usually keep the most odious critters like cockroaches out of the house. Ants find their way in through holes. Try plugging the hole with some caulking compound before you reach for the poisons. Others insects like daddy long-leg spiders, are perfectly harmless. Consider just giving the bug a lift to the great out-of-doors next time you find one, instead of dosing the bug, and yourself, with poison.
Furniture, toys and carpeting. Here's an ironic twist. This is one time when old furniture and old carpeting are a real blessing. Why? Because they don't "outgas" chemicals into the atmosphere within your house (though if they have areas with mold, they can emit allergens into the air). New carpets can be heavy contributors to toxic load, especially if they're in an area where you spend a lot of time, like your bedroom. As with carpets--furniture, children's toys, and mattress covers made of plastic also outgas toxic fumes. Sometimes you can even smell the fumes if you sniff them very closely. One way to significantly reduce (though not eliminate) their outgassing is to set them out in strong sunlight for a day or two before bringing them into your home or giving them to your children. Thoroughly washing plastic toys and furniture can also help.
Much of the furniture made today is made of composite materials, such as wood chips stuck together with toxin-containing glue and other chemicals. As attractive and useful as they may be, if furniture containing pressboard or plywood is less than a couple of years old, they're contributing formaldehyde, a carcinogen and the substance used for embalming, into the air you breathe. A simple short-term solution? Keep your house well-ventilated. Also, bring lots of houseplants, especially spider plants, into areas where you have new furniture and carpet.
If you're considering a new carpet and haven't bought the carpeting yet, investigate the purchase of a natural fiber carpeting or other natural floor coverings. Hardwood flooring finished with a nontoxic coating is attractive, durable and safe. So are tile floors, which are easy to damp-mop and very durable. Area rugs in strategic spots will keep your feet warm and soften noise. If these alternatives don't work for you and you're still convinced you want carpeting, select nylon carpet with jute backing. Better yet are natural carpets made from untreated wool, cotton, seagrass and sisal, with natural latex backing. Also, ask for "rag pad" padding (a standard carpeting industry term), made from recycled rags and polypropylene felt. Have the carpet installed in the summer, when you can leave the windows open more often to let those fumes out when the carpet is newer and more outgassing is occurring.
If you live in a manufactured home, or a newly built conventional house, you're probably experiencing a lot of outgassing from plywood within the walls, the cabinets, as well as under the flooring. Depending on your state of health, and your ability to ventilate your home, you might want to consider a high quality air filter. Make sure furnace and air conditioning filters are replaced regularly. Otherwise ventilate, ventilate, ventilate, and bring in those houseplants, lots of them.
Unless you've already removed it, if you're in an older house, built before 1980, there's a possibility that your house has lead paint inside it. (According to Deborah Lynn Dadd, author of Home Safe Home: Protecting Yourself and Your Family from Everyday Toxics and Harmful Household Products, "Manufacturers removed much of the lead from paint in the 1950s, and the federal government banned lead in paint altogether in 1978.") Lead paint chips can be a big problem but it's not one you need to worry about immediately unless you have small children in the house. If you do, it's extremely important to their brain development to prevent their contact with tiny paint chips. These paint chips are common in areas such as window sills and the floor in front of them where friction from the window causes a rain of tiny particles, and where toddlers are frequently creeping around on the floor and pulling themselves up to look out. Proper and frequent cleaning can drastically reduce the problem. Proper steps must also be taken to remove the paint when you decide to remodel. Call the Environmental Protection Agency's Lead Hotline (1-800-LEAD-FYI) for more information, or visit the EPA's website http://www.epa.gov/iaq ].
In some parts of the country, naturally occurring radon gas can also be a big problem. It's the second leading cause of lung cancer. If you have a basement or rely on well water, it's important to test. In the meantime, visit the EPA's website for radon information. http://www.epa.gov/docs/iedweb00/radon/index.html
If excessive moisture in your home is creating molds, it can contribute to your toxic load. How much is excessive? It depends on your health. If you're suffering from allergies, excessive fatigue, depression or other health problems, it could be part of the problem. This problem is not an easy one to solve, especially if you live in a damp climate. Cleaning with chlorine bleach can help (though it's toxic to humans and is an environmentally damaging cleaning product). Again, ventilate! ventilate! during any use. You may have to replace moldy wood. If mold damage is extensive, you may have to move. Before you face that possibility, consider consulting an immunnologist who may be able to boost your immunity and reduce your reactions. Personal detoxification (see How to Detox) can also help boost your immunity by bolstering the capacity of your detox system.
Dust means dust mites. They're ugly little critters, though you need a microscope to see them. One answer is to dust more frequently and wear a dust mask if you're going to be exposed to a whole lot of dust at one time. A HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Arrestance) vacuum may be a worthwhile investment for persons with respiratory problems, allergies or a compromised immune system. They can eliminate particles as small as .3 microns in size-- the size range of dust, pollen and plant and mold spores. Your mattress, mattress pad, and pillows may be a source of dustmites--especially if they contain feathers. Non-woven fabric covers are available to prevent dustmites from bothering you while you are sleeping.
Then there's the question of our dear pets and their animal dander. We can't imagine how hard it would be to have to find a new home for a pet because you'd become allergic to it, but we know it happens. Frequent vacuuming with a HEPA-filter type vacuum, and running a high quality air filter in the home could reduce the impact of animal dander if you have allergies or respiratory problems.
As important as your home is to you, it's less important than your health. If your health, and that of your family members, is good and you simply wish to protect it, there's no great rush about making your home less toxic. (Reducing consumable toxins and doing a periodic detox will be more helpful in the short term for most people.) You can detoxify your home over a course of years, simply incorporating the new philosophy toward nontoxic living into your household maintenance routine. Do the easy and less costly things first. On the other hand, if you're already suffering effects that indicate symptoms of toxicity, make changes as quickly as possible, starting with the easy ones first. Those improvements, along with detoxification processes (see How to Detox), may contribute to significantly improved health.