You could be doing all the things for your health: organic produce, daily exercise, positive affirmations in the mirror every morning, all the things. You might have forgotten one major thing, though… The air. Air can be toxic, even in a home.
You’re walking through a busy city, like San Francisco or New York. The colors, lights and chaos are exciting, and even a little enchanting. Still, you can’t help but remember the commonly known fact that this city air isn’t the best on your lungs or skin.
Just then, an old truck drives by and pummels you with black smoke. Sealing in the worry you were just trying to shake off about the air quality.
You hold your breath, cover your nose and mouth in your sleeve, and beeline for a cafe and a face wipe.
Now imagine the air in your own home being just as toxic.
Sounds crazy, I know! But what’s crazy is how totally common it is.
Indoor air quality can even be more toxic than outdoor air quality. And think about it – we take that air in through our skin and lungs, process it through our liver like we do alcohol, and end up straining the liver in the long run.
Bottom line: the air we breathe is important.
I want to be clear, though – my goal here is not to freak you out! I want to help you make informed decisions for your body and where it breathes.
So before you tear your house apart, remind yourself that every baby step adds up. This is an opportunity for growth, not panic.
Let’s start with the basics. It’s important to:
- Regularly vacuum and mop
- Keep humidity low
- Increase ventilation in every room
See? Simple habits. Let’s keep going.
Instead of using synthetic cleaners and air fresheners, opt for natural products or make your own (white vinegar can clean almost anything, and essential oil-infused air fresheners last longer and work better).
A quick Google search will reveal countless DIY hacks or pure and clean brands. As a guiding rubric while you search, the products don’t have to be complicated in their makeup. Simple, natural ingredients pack a punch. Opt for products with a simple ingredient list.
But what exactly should you be looking for when reading product labels?
For that, I give you…
The top 12 most common toxins found in the home (plus tips on how to eliminate them)
1. Bisphenol A (BPA)
What it is: BPA is a compound found in plastic and canned foods to maintain food freshness.
What it causes: This synthetic hormone mimics estrogen and has been linked to breast cancer, heart disease, obesity, and reproductive disruptors.
How to avoid it: Avoid BPA by choosing glass, stainless steel, and cans labeled “BPA-Free”, as well as thermal receipts and “PC” (polycarbonate).
What they are: Phthalates are toxins frequently used in beauty care products.
What they cause: They wreak havoc on your hormones and have been linked to breast cancer, thyroid issues, and birth defects.
How to avoid them: Check the ingredients in your makeup and bottles in your shower (sometimes simply listed as “fragrance”). Thankfully, there are plenty of beauty products emerging that are toxin-free. My favorite brand for makeup and skincare is BeautyCounter. You can also find phthalates in plastic and children’s toys – one more reason to ditch all plastic!
What it is: Perchlorate is rocket fuel. And it’s found in produce, milk, and drinking water. Yikes!
What it causes: This toxin competes with iodine, which your thyroid needs to help it function well.
How to avoid it: Buying a reverse osmosis filter for your water and making sure you take in enough iodine will help offset the effects of this sneaky, rampant toxin. The water filter I use in my home is Berkey Filters.
4. Glycol Ethers
What it is: This is a common toxin found in paints, household cleaning products, and makeup.
What it causes: It’s been linked to asthma and allergies, fertility issues in both men and women, and birth defects.
How to avoid it: Watch out for products with the ingredients 2-butoxyethanol (EGBE) and methoxydiglycol (DEGME).
What it is: This is a byproduct of many industrial processes, like paper bleaching and herbicide production.
What it causes: Dioxin is harmful to men’s sperm count and quality, and it’s a carcinogen that affects your immune and reproductive systems.
How to avoid it: The industrial processes in the US have caused this toxin to infiltrate our food systems to the point where it’s hard to avoid. But – it seems to be mainly reserved to animal products. So, cutting back on these food groups are a helpful action step.
What it is: This is a contaminant that’s mostly found in corn crops across the US.
What it causes: It has been linked to breast tumors, prostate cancer, and delayed puberty.
How to avoid it: Buy organic produce and clean drinking water.
What it is: This is a naturally occurring heavy metal.
What it causes: Lead makes it much harder for your body to deal with stress. It disrupts your hormones, it harms every organ, and it has been linked to a staggering list of brain damage, organ and nervous system problems, and pregnancy and birth challenges.
How to avoid it: Thankfully, eating a healthy diet decreases your body’s absorption of lead! Additionally, carefully get rid of old paint and drink properly filtered water.
8. Fire Retardant
What it is: This is a compound used to slow or cool a fuel or combustion.
What it causes: They harmed humans and wildlife alike, disrupting the thyroid and causing lowered IQ.
How to avoid it: These chemicals have been under strict removal, by law, for quite some time, but they don’t go down easy. Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter, opt for different furniture instead of reupholstering old foam pieces, and get old carpet removed carefully.
What it is: This naturally occurring chemical is found in groundwater and is synonymous with bad news.
What it causes: It’s been linked to cancer, and it interferes with hormones responsible for bone density, insulin acceptance, weight loss or gain, and blood pressure.
How to avoid it: Avoid it by using a high-quality water filter.
What it is: The burning of coal has led to mercury in seafood.
What it causes: It disrupts women’s menstrual cycle and harms the baby’s brain while it’s in the womb. It may also be responsible for causing diabetes.
How to avoid it: If you love seafood, stick to wild salmon and farmed trout.
11. Perfluorinated Chemicals (PFCs)
What they are: Non-stick cookware was once a kitchen miracle. But it’s come out that the chemicals making your pots non-stick are harming the food and therefore your body. These toxins have also been proven to never, ever break down in the environment. Even though they have been banned, they stick (how ironic) for decades.
What they cause: Your thyroid and sex hormones are the most affected, as well as your kidneys.
How to avoid them: Avoid PFCs by throwing out non-stick cookware and not buying water-resistant fabrics (except the fabrics and cookware the explicitly say they’re PFC-free).
12. Organophosphate Pesticide
What it is: This chemical was created to affect insect nervous systems.
What it causes: This chemical is still in wide use on our crops even though it’s been linked to brain development and fertility issues.
How to avoid it: Opt for organic produce whenever you can and wash it well.
If you want to read more about these 12 toxins, the Environmental Working Group offers a downloadable PDF and a book titled, “Dirty Dozen List of Endocrine Disruptors”.
Now, to shine some sun on this email after the dreary list above!
A lovely way to help your home actively keep the air clean is to bring in plants! Not only does it feel good for the soul to have plants around, but there are many that multitask as excellent air purifiers.
Here are 12 easy-to-maintain air-purifying plants:
1. Spider Plant
2. Dracaena (or Dragon Tree)
4. Ficus (or Weeping Fig)
5. Peace Lily
6. Boston Fern
7. Snake Plant (or Mother-In-Law’s Tongue)
8. Bamboo Palm
9. Aloe Vera
10. English Ivy
11. Golden Pothos
12. Rubber Plants