Last week we went to look at some homes for sale in our neighborhood. We walked into one home where I immediately felt I could not breathe. The air was full of odors from “perfumed” air fresheners and odor eliminators. After 5 minutes in this house I had to leave… I developed a severe headache and felt I was being asphyxiated.
It occurred to me how many people are using these kinds of products in their homes, with NO idea of how toxic they are!!
People are not aware that in their own homes, they are living among toxins on a daily basis.
Many of the seemingly innocent household necessities are actually potent toxin sources: our appliances, furniture, building materials, cleaning products, cosmetics, and more are all suspect.
Combined with naturally existing toxins (such as mold, fungi, pollen, and dander), all of these offenders can transform your home into a health-sapping minefield. And these nasty toxins can have staggering effects on your health, ranging from suppressed immune function (which leads to more frequent illness) to asthma, heart disease, and cancer.
This phenomenon is so prevalent that there’s actually an official name for it: toxic home syndrome. One researcher says that it “occurs when individuals and families are exposed to a potent mix of airborne pollutants within the home arising from poor ventilation, causing respiratory and skin diseases to occur more frequently.” It’s estimated that tens of millions of homes are victims of it (and that’s almost certainly a conservative estimate).
The home has long been the ultimate symbol of security, a safe and sacred space protected from the chaos of the outside world. But an increasing number of scientists are starting to agree that toxic home syndrome is real.
As crazy as it sounds, mundane tasks like cooking, doing laundry, watching TV, or sleeping in your bed may be dramatically increasing your risk of serious illness and decreasing your life expectancy. In fact, one study conducted in Europe estimated that household pollution could be linked to an annual loss of more than two million healthy life years in the European Union alone.
However, by learning about the most dangerous household toxin sources, you can give your home a detoxifying makeover, so you can rest assured that it’s a safe and healthy place.
The hidden killers unveiled
Research has revealed a startling fact: the air inside an average home contains more than 900 chemicals, the vast majority of which can have deleterious effects on your health.
Here’s some of the most worrisome toxin sources that add to this chemical soup…
Mold proliferation. Mold spores thrive in damp, stagnant places. If allowed to flourish, mold in your home can become a massive impediment to your health. Be especially protective of your bathroom and other areas where moisture often collects. Use mold-resistant shower curtains (and replace them often). Conduct routine mold inspections; check under shower moldings, under the sink, and other tucked away areas, and replace any areas of the room that have been mold-infested. Prevent further mold growth by assuring good ventilation.
Natural allergens. Like mold spores, natural allergens like pollen and dander are bound to make their way into your home. The key is to minimize their effects upon your health by properly ventilating your home, minimizing your use of carpets and rugs (which are a perfect habitat for allergens), and cleaning regularly (make sure you really ventilate the house whenever cleaning, or you’ll just stir up all the toxins rather than eradicating them).
Poisonous gases. A surprising number of noxious gases can get trapped in poorly ventilated homes. Some of them are natural, like radon, which is highly radioactive; it’s released from the Earth’s soil and seeps into your house and even into your water supply. Others are a product of household items, building materials, and everyday processes, like carbon monoxide (which is released through cooking, heating, smoking, incense and candle burning, and every other kind of combustion). Paint, building materials, and furniture materials also often “off-gas” all sorts of toxic chemicals, including lead, formaldehyde, nitrogen dioxide, and acrolein. If at all possible, replace lead-based paint with certified lead-free paint, purchase furniture that hasn’t been treated with flame retardants, and replace outdated (and most likely toxic) building materials with green materials.
Toxic household products. Industrial products are riddled with toxins of all sorts. I’ve written in detail about many of these toxin sources here, here, and here—bedding, cleaning products, dryer sheets, wrinkle-free shirts, and everything in between all contain volatile organic compound.
While outfitting your entire house with toxin-free products can be a huge task, doing so can also be immensely beneficial to your health—so take it one step at a time. Don’t try to take shortcuts, but just replace all these unhealthful household items at whatever pace works for you.
And speaking of short cuts…
Air fresheners are not the answer
As awareness around the importance of good house air quality has increased, so has the demand for effective air freshening methods.
While the right air filtration system can be incredibly helpful, it’s very important to acknowledge that the same cannot be said for chemical air fresheners—they are a huge part of the problem, not a solution to it. In fact, they’re arguably one of the worst offenders of all in the “toxic household products” category.
Air freshener products like Febreze and Glade are packed with health-disrupting chemicals that, according to the Environmental Working Group, can cause asthma and other respiratory issues, skin problems, reproductive dysfunction, immune suppression, and cancer. And on top of all that…they’re terrible for the environment.
Febreze is classified as an air freshner, created by Proctor & Gamble. It reports to work by “trapping” odor molecules in a donut-shaped chemical.
The first thing that is really important to understand: the product does not remove odor molecules and it doesn’t clean the item it comes into contact with.
The odor molecules are still there. Your nose just can’t perceive them because you smell the chemical product instead.
That alone should be your first warning. We know inhalation of any chemicals is dangerous, and several of its ingredients listed below are known to irritate the lungs…but this is a chemical whose entire purpose is to be inhaled!
Unfortunately there is not much data being shared on Febreze and their many products, but the Environmental Working Group (EWG) did conduct a test for the ingredients of one of their products, Febreze Air Effects.
Shockingly, P&G only disclosed THREE ingredients in this product, but the EWG…they found 87 chemicals in total!
For lots of tips on how to clean and freshen your home in a safe, sustainable, and healthy way, see my article on green cleaning products, as well as the EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning.
Make home healthy
It may be some time before our society mends its toxic ways. In the meantime, though, you can at least turn your home into a healthy island in a sea of environmental toxins.
By making smart product choices, ensuring proper ventilation, and cleaning regularly, you can ensure that your home remains a safe and health-supporting haven, despite the constant assault of toxins that you may have to bear outside its protective walls.