12 easy ways to make your home healthier
Small changes such as opening your windows and taking off your shoes at the door can make a big difference to your family’s health. Here are 12 steps you can take today.
Would you like to improve your family’s health and carbon footprint without investing too much time or money? You’ll be surprised at how easy it can be. These 12 simple changes can have a huge impact on the health and greenness of your home.
- Keep your house dust-free
House dust can contain a range of toxic chemicals, including lead, pesticides and fire retardants. Overexposure to these toxins has been shown to cause illnesses such as asthma, behavioral problems, cancer, and brain and central nervous damage in children. Dust can also contain dust mites which can trigger allergic reactions in some people.
Vacuum your house at least twice a week with a vacuum cleaner that has a HEPA filter to trap pollutants. Carpets can be a hotbed of dust and toxins, so pay particular attention to them when vacuuming or consider removing them. Clean your vacuum bag and filter after each session.
- Don’t wear shoes in the house
University of Arizona researchers studied the bacteria on the soles of shoes and found fecal matter, E.coli, mold and pollen. If you wear your shoes inside, you’ll spread these bacteria around the house and rub them into your carpets where they can survive even longer than on floors. Establishing a no-shoes policy inside the house is the best way to counter this problem.
- Open windows
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found that pollutant levels in U.S. homes are two to five times higher than outdoors. Whenever the weather permits (and if you’re not trying to keep pollens out due to allergies), open your windows.
Not only do pot plants look fantastic, they can also neutralize household chemicals. Red-edged dracaena, snake plants, spider plants, English ivy, aloe vera, chrysanthemums and orchids are all effective at removing pollutants such as formaldehyde (found in furniture, paint and wallpaper) and benzene (found in synthetic fibers, detergents and plastics). See our article on Why houseplants are good for your family.
- Test your house for lead and radon
Lead poisoning can lead to miscarriage or premature birth in pregnant women, brain damage in children, and high blood pressure and kidney damage in adults. If your house was built before 1978 when lead paint was banned, have your home tested. The EPA recommends hiring a certified lead inspector or certified lead risk assessor rather than using a home lead test kit, which is much less reliable.
Radon is an odorless natural gas that comes from the breakdown of soil and rock under your home. It’s the second-leading cause of lung cancer after smoking. Test your home every few years with a home radon test kit available from hardware stores for around $20.
- Stop using pesticides and herbicides
The chemicals used to kill insects and weeds can put children at risk of birth defects, learning disabilities, asthma and cancer. Experts recommend prevention methods such as cleaning up food scraps promptly and storing food in tightly sealed containers to keep pests at bay. As for weeds, the safest way to eliminate them is to pull them out.
- Buy organic food or wash your fruit and veggies
Buying organic produce and dry goods can help reduce your family’s exposure to harmful pesticides. If your budget won’t allow you to go 100 percent organic, choose organic items that are in season or on sale. It also helps to know which foods have the highest concentrations of pesticides (strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples and grapes) and which ones contain the least (avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, cabbages and onions).
To remove pesticides from non-organic fruit and veggies, put two cups of cold water and 1 cup of distilled white vinegar in a spray bottle. Spray produce and let sit for five minutes. Rinse and enjoy.
- Use as little plastic as possible
While it’s hard to avoid it entirely, try to limit your use of plastic as much as possible. Even plastics that are free from bisphenol A (BPA) – a chemical compound that disrupts our hormones and can have serious effects on the brains and reproductive systems of fetuses and children – can still be harmful. Recent studies have shown that other endocrine-disrupting chemicals that are present in plastic, such as bisphenol S (BPS) and phthalates, may be just as damaging to our health.
Get rid of any plastic containers with the recycling codes 3, 6 or 7 printed on the bottom, as well as any containers that show signs of wear. Never microwave plastic or cling wrap because heating them can cause chemicals to leach and try to avoid storing your food in plastic as well. Use glass, ceramic or stainless-steel containers instead.
- Filter your tap water
An activated carbon water filter (tap-mounted, under-sink or in a water pitcher) can remove pollutants such as chlorine, lead and pesticides from your drinking water. Filtering may even be a healthier option than drinking bottled water – which can sometimes contain as many contaminants as tap water – and it’s certainly a more environmentally friendly option that saves an enormous amount of plastic.
- Use chemical-free soap
In 2016, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned antibacterial soaps containing 19 harmful chemical compounds, including triclocarbon and triclosan, because the manufacturers failed to prove that they were safe or more effective than regular soaps. But many of the soaps (and shampoos and cosmetics) we use still contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals such as phthalates and parabens.
Keen to ditch the scary chemicals? Try Castile soap. Made from vegetable oil (olive, coconut, hemp and others), it’s free from any harmful compounds. You can buy it in bulk and dilute it with varying amounts of water to create hand soap, body wash, shampoo, laundry detergent, dish soap and all-purpose cleaner. You can even put it in a foam pump bottle to create nice, fluffy hand soap. Once you try it, you won’t want to go back to the regular stuff.
- Switch to chemical-free cleaning products
If you’re ready to overhaul the way you clean your home, look into completely chemical-free cleaning systems such as Norwex. They use microfibers that remove 99 percent of bacteria without the need for any harsh cleaning products.
You might prefer to make your own natural cleaning products instead. To make an all-purpose cleaner, dissolve 4 tablespoons of baking soda in 1 liter of warm water. To clean your drains, pour ½ cup of baking soda down the drain. Add ½ cup of white vinegar. Close the drain with the plug and wait five minutes. Flush with a kettle full of boiling water.
- Avoid products that are coated in flame retardants
Countless household products – including couches, curtains, carpets, mattresses and computers – are covered in flame retardants that can have adverse effects on fetal and child development and cause a range of illnesses including cancer.
Seek out furniture labelled “NO added flame retardant chemicals” and choose healthier materials such as hemp or bamboo for your curtains. Before buying, ask the manufacturer or salesperson to clarify whether harsh chemicals were used at any stage of the manufacturing process. It will take a little extra work, but the positive impact on your family’s health will be worth it.