There are obvious toxins you need to be careful with, when using around the home, typically cleaning chemicals, pest sprays, and other aerosols, but you’d be surprised how many hidden toxins are lurking in places you may not expect.
Worryingly, we absorb and inhale these toxins on a daily basis. In fact, it is estimated that we expose ourselves to well over 150 chemicals every day. They end up in our bloodstream, in our gut, which affects our microbiome, our hormones and our general health and wellbeing.
Here are some to be aware of, along with our suggestions for improving the air quality inside your home.
Air fresheners, candles and room sprays
We all love a fragrant home, but many of products available are extremely toxic. Most regular products contain chemicals called phthalates that interfere with hormone function, have been linked to infertility, metabolism issues, and hormone related cancers.
The safest way of making your home smell beautiful is to invest in an essential oil diffuser, and if you don’t want to give up your scented candles, be sure to opt for soy & coconut oil or beeswax candles, which are the safest. If you use a linen spray, you can make your own with distilled water and essential oils.
We’ve covered natural cleaning alternatives many times, so we won’t dwell on cleaning products, but we just wanted to give a special mention to mould removers, which are among the harshest chemicals. If you’ve ever used one of these sprays, you’ll know just how noxious they are – and they only seem to work temporarily, as they do not remove the actual spores.
Far more effective is clove oil, which actually kills the mould spores rather than just removing them visually. Always wear a mask when removing mould as the action of cleaning can release the spores into the air.
If you’ve been exposed to flooding, or even suffered damp as a result of the recent consistently wet weather, consider getting a dehumidifier to pull moisture out of the air.
Stain-guard, water repellants, and flame retardants.
These usually contain perfluorinated chemicals, (PFCs), that are linked to a host of health issues including reproductive problems and immune system suppression.
Water repellents are sprays you may use yourself to protect shoes or certain fabrics, so if you do use these, then take them outdoors and leave them there to dry.
Unfortunately, there is not so much you can do about flame retardants, which manufacturers add to carpets and furniture. If you are buying new furniture, rugs, etc., try to avoid products that boast “anti-this” or “anti-that” treatments,”
Volatile Organic Compounds
Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOCs, are chemicals that are present new carpets, new wood flooring, furniture (particularly particle board furniture, which is bound together with highly toxic glues and resins) and paints, varnishes, etc.
Many of these items contain high concentrations of VOCs, such as arsenic, formaldehyde, and toluene, all of which vaporize into the air.
VOCs can cause everything from headaches and dizziness to eye irritation, sore throats, and even depression.
Always be sure to ventilate your house or apartment after painting or getting new flooring, or built-in furniture installed. Minimise your exposure by seeking out natural wood furniture (with minimal gluing), natural stone, rather than engineered stone, and natural fibres, such as wool, silk and linen. Look for paints that are labelled ‘zero VOC’ or ‘low VOC’.
An air purifier may also help to detoxify the air in your home.
Mattresses and bedding
Mattresses, doonas and pillows are also subject to VOCs, along with a dizzying variety of other toxic substances. Seeing as we spend so much of our time sleeping, in intimate contact with these items, we thought this item deserved a section all of its own. You probably recognise the chemical smell when your new mattress arrives, or you replace your bedding. This ‘off-gassing’ can give you a headache or dizziness at first. Though these effects don’t last, the off-gassing does continue throughout the life of the mattress.
Here’s what you need to look out for:
Polybrominated diphenyl ethers, also known as PBDEs, often used as flame retardents in the foam part of the mattress and/or topper.
PBDEs can be absorbed into your body through your skin, and are associated with thyroid, neurodevelopmental and reproductive issues.
Propylene oxide and TDI (Toluene Diisocyanate) are chemicals used to create polyurethane foam and memory foam, which are popular mattress materials.
While testing to date has been restricted to mice and rats, studies show propylene oxide and TDI are associated with increased tumor risk.
Toluene is a clear liquid chemical associated with the distinctive smell of paint and paint thinner. Also used in mattress foams, as an alternative to TDI, repeated and heaving exposure to this substance can result in seizures, cognitive impairment, hearing loss, and developmental delays in children or babies born to women exposed to high levels of toluene during pregnancy.
Dimethylformamide (DMF) is a clear chemical with the faint smell of ammonia that is commonly used in chemical manufacturing, acrylic fibre spinning, and more. DMF is not actually present in mattresses as a finished product, but it is used in the manufacturing process and could be released into the air as a VOC. Potential harms may include cancer and liver damage.
Benzene is a chemical commonly used in the creation of plastics, dyes, and synthetic fibres. It is one of the most common VOCs typically released from mattresses through off-gassing – again found in the mattress foams. Short-term effects can include dizziness or headaches, but long-term exposure can lead to anemia or immune system dysfunction.
Polyols are chemicals used to create polyurethane foam, which as we’ve mentioned, is a major component of most modern mattresses. Some mattress manufactures boast that they use a harmless variety of polyols, made from vegetable oil, but dig a little deeper, as this is often only used in small amounts, while the bulk of the polyols used are the more dangerous kind.
Polyols may cause dizziness, headaches, nausea, and trouble concentrating.
If you are buying a conventional mattress, it’s going to be hard to avoid this breathtakingly toxic cocktail, so it’s a good idea to seek out organic mattresses and bedding, that use latex, wool, linen and other natural materials, and avoid the use of retardant and repellent sprays.
Consider the impact of these substances on your babies and young children and take care not to expose them to these harmful gasses.
Check out https://www.thenaturalbeddingcompany.com.au/collections/mattresses
What else can you do?
The detoxification of your home may seem more than a little daunting. You obviously aren’t going to start ripping out carpets and wardrobes and dumping your furniture, but as you replace certain items, it will pay to look for more natural replacements.
In the meantime, there are other things you can do to improve the toxicity of your home:
Don’t underestimate the power of fresh air and natural light in the creation of a healthier home. Open up doors and windows every day and allow sunlight to flood into your space as much as possible.
Infuse your home with houseplants that will also improve your air quality.
Invest in natural Himalayan salt lamps, which release negative ions into the air, acting as a natural air sanitser, improving respiration, balancing the PH in our bodies, improving metabolic function, and aiding restful sleep. The negative ions also combat the positive ions emitted by the many ubiquitous electronic devices our modern homes are infused with.
Activated bamboo charcoal is also a natural way to neutralise odours and eliminate pollutants and bacteria.
Keeping your home clean (without harmful chemical cleaners), and well vacuumed will also help to keep your air quality on an even keel.
Good luck with your detox…