Many of us have done a detox in order to eliminate internal toxins from our body, but how many of us do anything about the toxins in our own homes? Common household and body-care products are increasingly being found to have negative health effects on the nervous and immune systems, on our reproductive systems and on our endocrine, cardiovascular and respiratory systems.
The average home contains 500-1,000 chemicals, many of which we are unable to see, smell or taste. While these chemicals may be tolerated individually and in small doses, problems can arise when one is exposed to them in combination or in larger doses. Everyone's tolerance level is different depending on genetics, nutritional status and previous contacts with many chemicals, but the negative effects of household toxins are often compounded by the use of other drugs especially the habitual use of alcohol, or prescription or recreational drugs.
Indoor air is typically 2-5 times more polluted than outdoor air. Home insulation, so wonderful for keeping our homes warm in winter and cool in summer, doesn't allow fresh air in, so we're constantly breathing in the same stale air. Wall to wall carpeting keeps us cozy, but can introduce a myriad of toxins to our well insulated homes. It can also trap dirt, fleas, dust, dust-mites and lead.
Many of the cleaning products we use to clean our furniture, bathrooms, windows etc. are full of toxic chemicals, some of which do not even appear on the labels. Similarly with the many personal-care care products we put on our skin and the pet-care products we use on our pets.
Most tick and flea products contain active ingredients and solvents that might cause cancer in animals. Also, substantial human exposure is possible by absorption through the skin, while playing with and handling the pet.
The pesticides we use on our gardens eliminate not only plant pests but also most of the insects that are beneficial to help control these pests. Of the 30 most commonly used lawn chemicals, 19 have studies pointing toward cancer and 15 are known to cause nervous system poisoning.
This is not to say that we should not keep our houses comfortable and clean and our yards looking good. What's important is to understand that how we do this can have an important impact on our health. Abundant toxins can and do lead to health problems.
Taking more care to reduce our exposure to both internal and external toxins, by detoxing our bodies and our living space allows the body's own detoxification to function more efficiently. This strengthens our resilience to the daily onslaught of factors impacting our health.
There are many things you can do to "detox" your home, some more practical than others.
Here are my 20 suggestions:
- No shoes in the house (as most household dirt, pesticides and lead come in on your shoes). Go barefoot or wear slippers.
- Place floor mats vertically by your entryways to wipe your shoes. This way more dirt and residue from your shoes stays outside on the mat
- Keep the air clean. Keep your windows and doors open as much as possible to ventilate. Use green plants as natural air detoxifiers. Remove odors with baking soda. Use fresh flowers or bowls of herbs like rosemary and sage to add a pleasant fragrance to rooms. Have your air ducts and vents cleaned with nontoxic cleaners. Get a portable air cleaner/purifier, especially for the bedrooms.
- Switch from the standard household cleaning products to cleaner and greener ones. These don't damage your health or the environment's as much and work as well as the mass marketed ones. You can also use basic ingredients you have around the house, for instance, vinegar in place of bleach, baking soda to scrub your tiles and hydrogen peroxide to remove stains. According to Annie Bond, the author of "Better Basics For The Home," she can clean anything with water and these five basic ingredients: Baking Soda, Washing Soda, Distilled White Vinegar, Vegetable based liquid Soap eg Dr. Bronner's Peppermint Soap and Tea Tree oil.
- Replace your skin care and personal products with less toxic and chemical free options. Deodorant, toothpaste, cosmetics, hair products, nail polish and perfumes are often loaded with toxins. Learn how to identify them and avoid them.
- Use plastics wisely (as some contain Bisphenol A (BPA), which is linked to cancer and Phtalates, which are linked to endocrine and developmental problems). Avoid plastic food packaging (when you can). Don't wrap food in plastic. Don't microwave food in plastic containers. Choose baby bottles made from glass or BPA-free plastic. Avoid vinyl teethers for your baby. Stay away from children's toys marked with a "3" or "PVC." Avoid plastic shower curtains.
- Avoid non stick pans, pots, bakeware and utensils (as Teflon contains perfluorinated chemicals (PFC's) which have been linked to cancer and developmental problems).
- Keep house dust to a minimum (as more dust means more toxins). Mop all surfaces at least once a week. Use a vacuum cleaner (with a HEPA filter, preferably) for your carpets. HEPA-filter vacuums capture the widest range of particles and get rid of allergens.
- Avoid excess moisture (as it encourages the growth of mold and mildew). Check areas for moisture accumulation or leaks (particularly basements). Regularly clean surfaces where mold usually grows - around showers and tubs and beneath sinks.
- Get a shower filter (as many of the contaminants in tap water become gases at room temperature). A shower filter can help keep these toxins from becoming airborne.
- Get a water filter (as more than 700 chemicals have been identified in drinking water). Filtering your tap water is better than drinking bottled water.
- Avoid stain-guarded clothing, furniture and carpets (due to the presence of PFC's). Wrinkle free and permanent press fabrics used for clothing and bedding commonly contain formaldehyde - use untreated fabrics where possible.
- Be conscious of toxins in carpeting, especially in products made from synthetic materials. Use natural fiber wool & cotton rugs. If possible, replace your wall-to-wall carpeting with hardwood floors, all natural linoleum or ceramic tiles. Use nontoxic glues, adhesives, stains or sealers for installation.
- Seal (with a non toxic sealer) or replace particleboard walls, floors or cabinets (which often contain formaldehyde, which can emit irritating and unhealthy fumes for decades). Avoid plywood, fiberglass, fiberboard and paneling
- Avoid harmful pet-care products and avoid toxic pest control (including traditional termite exterminators).
- Replace toxic lawn and garden pesticides and herbicides with less harmful natural ones.
- Tell the dry cleaner not to use the plastic wrap or remove it as soon as possible (as the plastic traps the dry cleaning chemicals on clothes and in your closet). Let your dry cleaning air out (preferably outside) before storing it. Use "wet cleaning" if you are lucky enough to have it in your area.
- Use low VOC, low odor latex (water based) paint. Open all windows to ventilate properly when painting indoors.
- Have your house checked for carbon monoxide leaks, (most commonly found in leaking gas stoves, gas fireplaces, furnaces and chimneys and gas water heaters).
- Check Radon levels in poorly ventilated basements that have cracked walls and or floors. Radon is an odorless gas that forms as uranium in rocks and soil breaks down. Radon is linked to lung cancer
We can reduce our risk of chronic illness by limiting our exposure to these toxins but don't let this become an obsession which can cause so much stress that it creates more of a negative impact on your health than the toxins themselves.
And finally, no amount of environmental toxins are as important as emotional toxicity. You can do all the above, but if your house is full of anger, resentment, jealousy, unhappiness and a lack of love, compassion and forgiveness, the house will remain toxic.
Frank Lipman MD is an internationally recognized expert in the fields of Integrative and Functional Medicine. A practicing physician, he is the founder and director of the Eleven Eleven Wellness Center in NYC, where for over 20 years his personal brand of healing has helped thousands of people reclaim their vitality and recover their zest for life.
To bring his approach to a wider audience and not just his NYC patients, he recently created Eleven Eleven Wellness and Total Renewal, a leading edge integrative health program to get your health on track.
He is the author of REVIVE: Stop Feeling Spent and Start Living Again (2009) (previously called SPENT) and TOTAL RENEWAL: 7 key steps to Resilience, Vitality and Long-Term Health (2003).
Dr. Lipman lectures throughout the world on chronic disease prevention and sits on the Board of two non profits from his native South Africa, the Ubuntu Education Fund and Monkeybiz. He also has an intense passion for World music and is a frustrated DJ.
Follow Dr. Frank Lipman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/drfranklipman