Toxicity in Your Home: With an increasing awareness of the toxic nature of our modern environment, many people are making an effort to reduce their exposure to harmful chemicals. Although you may be on top of drinking filtered water and buying organic when possible, many other toxin sources are less obvious and well known. Today we explore the lesser-known toxins found in furniture, household appliances, and more– so that you can be informed to make better choices.
This article has been medically reviewed by Dr. Charles Penick, MD
What is a ‘Non-Toxic Home’?
Virtually anything can be toxic when consumed or exposed to in a particular dosage. Generally, when we refer to toxicity in the home, artificial materials and ingredients are used, which disrupt the body’s natural functioning.
In the modern world, it is practically impossible to have a completely ‘non-toxic’ home environment. The air quality that comes from living in a city, for example, is automatically going to increase your toxic load. Homes are, for the most part, always built using toxic materials.
Some things are beyond your control, and unless you are living with a debilitating autoimmune condition, odds are you can handle a degree of less-than-favorable conditions. Keeping a non-toxic home really refers to doing everything in your power to control the things you can and let go of the rest.
By understanding the kinds of toxicity in the home, you can start to make more informed choices to decrease the toxic burden on your body and your family.
Understanding Toxicity in Your Home
Although the exposure to, say, a conventionally made couch will generally not cause any immediate adverse reaction—the problem lies in the chronic and constant exposure to not only the sofa but also the synthetic rug, the use of poisonous cleaning products, the synthetic ingredients in make-up, taking a bath in tap water, lighting artificial candles, the pollution of the city, the EMFs of the wi-fi and smart meter on the home, etc.
The list goes on, and on, and on. The toxic materials that we could probably get away with if the exposure were truly isolated may seem harmless in themselves. Still, this constant low-dose exposure to various chemicals leaves us living in truly artificial environments that build up a toxic load over time.
Two types of exposures to be aware of include:
Toxicity in Your Home: What is Off-Gassing?
When toxic materials are first made, they release said toxins into the air. These compounds are known as VOCs or volatile organic compounds. Although the word organic is in there, don’t be fooled—these compounds are highly toxic and can wreak havoc on your immune and hormonal systems.
VOCs vary based on their ‘boiling point’, where the material is turned into a gas and released into the air. This means that some materials are more easily going to turn into dangerous vapors than others.
Some examples of the three types of VOCs include:
- VVOCs (Very Volatile Organic Compounds): Formaldehyde, Acetaldehyde, Acrolein, 3‐bBtadiene, and Isoprene.
- VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds): Benzene, Toluene, and Xylenes
- SVOCs (Semi-Volatile Organic Compounds): Polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), Polybrominated flame-retardants, Perfluoroalkyl acids (PFAAs), and Phthalates.
Now, these ingredients may seem utterly foreign to you, but they are well-known in the field of homeware and construction. Formaldehyde, for example, serves several purposes in manufactured products. It is in building materials, household products like glues, permanent press fabrics, paints and coatings, lacquers and finishes, and the use of un-vented, fuel-burning appliances, like gas stoves. It is also in many consumer products, including cosmetics, dishwashing liquids, fabric softeners, as well as in fertilizers, and pesticides.
A conventional mattress alone often contains chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), formaldehyde, benzene, methylene chloride, toluene, trichloroethane, naphthalene, perfluorocarbons, and polyols such as polyurethane. (YUCK!)
The off-gassing that occurs with products that simply exist in the home (like your couch, fridge, carpets, and mattress) is one kind of chronic emitter of toxins—the other is caused by the frequent use of toxic products. Examples in the home include cleaning products and products like scented or artificial candles and scented plug-ins.
Again, it’s easy to think that wiping down the counter with a conventional cleaning product may be harmless, but the opposite is true. Mainstream culture downplays the impact that toxic cleaning products in the home can have on our health. It is normalized through advertising and by merely seeing these products sold in supermarkets across the nation. But ask yourself: if these cleaning products come with a toxic warning sign or a warning to call poison control if ingested: why would this be safe, even in small doses, on areas in which you live?
The dish detergents leave coatings on your plates, bowls, and cups that we eat off. Even down to the toilet bowl cleaner, which you come less in direct contact with, simply smelling the toxic smell used to scent these products exposes your body to VOCs on the regular.
How to Create a Non-Toxic Home
1. Opt for Non-Toxic Housing Materials and Household Goods
The best thing you can do is to, from the start, invest in non-toxic materials. Whether it be building materials, furniture, appliances, paints, rugs, mattresses—the list goes on: investing in goods made non-toxic is #1.
One of the benefits of living in this modern world is the wide range of companies investing in your health and producing non-toxic products without compromising aesthetics. Companies like Medley Homes make custom made couches without using the array of toxic chemicals usually found in couches.
A couch may seem harmless, but generally, couches contain:
- Toxic frame materials, including formaldehyde-based adhesives such as urea-formaldehyde or phenol-formaldehyde glues
- Toxic glues containing chemicals such as toluene and naphthas
- Toxic stain or wrinkle-resistant treatments using perfluorochemicals (PFC’s), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS)
- Toxic flame retardant
Medley offers an array of non-toxic options for their custom made couches, that include organic cotton, hardwood frames (using use zero VOC finish made of beeswax, carnauba wax, and olive oil), natural latex, down feathers, and Oeko-Tex textiles and fabrics are certified free of harmful chemicals and additives. Their sofas contain no harsh chemicals or flame retardants. They are also handmade in California!
2. Buy Second Hand
Do you know that ‘new car smell’? Yep: VOCs. The worst a product will be, in terms of off-gassing, will always be when it is brand new. New items made with toxic ingredients are the worst of the worst when it comes to VOCs, so one thing you can do to lessen your toxin exposure if you can’t afford to go completely non-toxic is to buy second hand.
This applies to cars, furniture, and homes themselves. The less new your toxic items are, the less they will off-gas VOCs (as a general rule). Chemicals off-gas at different rates, but generally, you’re looking at peak-off-gas times:
- Household appliances: 1 month
- Carpets: up to 5 years
- Mattresses: 2+ years
Don’t be fooled by no smell either. Although the ‘new car smell’ is an obvious sign of VOCs, many toxins don’t smell from the start. Some VOCs, like Phthalates, are odorless.
3. Skip the Toxic Cleaning Products
Swap out your conventional big-brand (toxic) cleaning products for non-toxic versions. Even mainstream supermarkets carry healthier versions of dish detergents, counter-top sprays, laundry detergents, and bathroom cleaners. Look for eco brands and do a little bit of digging because many brands also use ‘greenwashing’ tactics to make their toxic products look eco.
There are great websites like the Environmental Working Group that allow you to plug in ingredients listed on household products, to get a toxic load rating. By doing a little bit of due diligence at the start, you can confidently continue to buy products you know are safe for you and your family.
You can also make a DIY version of almost any cleaning product you could ever need, using straightforward ingredients from any supermarket.
Apart from opting for non-toxic and going second hand, ventilation will always be a non-toxic household’s best friend. Making sure you have adequate air-flow will help keep things moving. Let fresh air in with open windows and doors when possible, and consider investing in a HEPA air filter, which will trap the pesky VOCs and help purify your home.
Some plants are also known to purify the air. One plant won’t do much for a room, so if you want to reap the benefits of clean air from plants alone, you better load up!
Air purifying plants include:
- Devil’s Ivy or pothos
- Dwarf Date Palm
- Peace Lily
- Spider Plant
- Rubber plants
- Boston Fern
Toxic homes are the norm since most houses and all the things we use to furnish them contain toxic materials. The toxicity comes from the off-gassing of VOCs from products and materials themselves or the repeated use of harmful ingredients found in cleaning products. Products can take a long time to off-gas, which is why investing in a non-toxic product from the start is best. If buying something made using toxic building materials, better to buy secondhand, ensuring that the worst of the off-gas (which happens when products are new) is no longer happening.
Detox Your Home!
When it comes to detoxing your home, the kitchen is the best place to start. You might be thinking… “I already replaced all of my toxic kitchen cleaners. What else is there!”
Unfortunately, not all appliance companies have your best interest in mind, with most nonstick cookware, contact paper, and food packaging containing toxic coatings that are linked to:
- Liver damage
- Thyroid disease
- High cholesterol
- And certain types of cancers
Recent findings from the FDA showed traces of about 5,000 different synthetic compounds in the blood of 98% of the U.S. population. The same research showed that our diets are the #1 source of these toxins. And it’s not just because you cooked this morning’s eggs in an old Teflon® pan… These toxins have leached into our food and water supply and even contaminated livestock and fertilization matter.
The good news is, it’s not too late to make a change.
Made with naturally smooth, non-toxic ceramic, Caraway cookware is free of PTFE (Teflon®) and other toxic materials.
This means no leaching and no harmful toxic fumes. These gorgeous, earth-toned essentials are naturally non-stick with just a touch of butter or oil, making cooking and cleaning a breeze.
Medical Disclaimer: This article is based upon the opinions of Dr. Daniel Pompa. The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from the research and experience of Dr. Pompa and his associates. This article has been medically reviewed by Dr. Charles Penick, MD for accuracy of the information provided, but Dr. Pompa encourages you to make your own health care decisions based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified health care professional.
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