Dr. Sarah Cimperman, ND
Opening the windows is one of my favorite things about spring, especially after a long winter of record-breaking snowfalls and low temperatures. Reveling in sunshine and warmer temperatures and exchanging and circulating the air inside our homes is as good for our bodies as it is for our spirits. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, indoor air can be “more seriously polluted” than outdoor air, even in the largest and most industrialized cities.1 While opening the windows helps reduce exposure to environmental toxins in the air, it’s just a start. There are lots of other ways to minimize toxic exposure inside our homes and here are ten tips to get started.
#1 | Take off your shoes
One of the easiest ways to prevent outdoor chemicals from becoming indoor toxins is to leave your shoes at the door. Insist that everyone else does too.
#2 | Filter tap water
Activated carbon filters can remove chlorine, lead, mercury, copper, pesticides, solvents, radon, parasites, some volatile organic compounds, and bad tastes and odors from tap water. Reverse osmosis also removes fluoride, cadmium, asbestos, bacteria, arsenic, barium, nitrates, nitrites, and perchlorate. Reverse osmosis filters use thin membranes to remove 99.97 percent of contaminants 0.3 microns or larger, while ulta-HEPA filters reportedly filter out 99.99 percent. Before you buy, check out the Water Filter Buying Guide from the Environmental Working Group.2 After you buy, change the filters regularly.
#3 | Nix non-stick
Replace non-stick cookware with cast iron (enameled or not), stainless steel, copper, glass, or ceramic cookware. If non-stick pans are your only choice, follow these four rules: Never preheat them when they are empty. Use them over low heat only. Never put them in the oven. And discard them as soon as the surface becomes scratched.
#4 | Get the plastic out
Replace plastic food storage containers, beverage bottles, and travel mugs with glass, stainless steel, or ceramic varieties. Avoid foods and drinks that have been packaged in plastic containers, cans, and cartons unless they specify “BPA-Free” and “Phthalate-Free” (look for Vital Choice and Eden Organics). Avoid foods that have been packaged in foam (polystyrene) materials like disposable cups, take-out containers and egg cartons (buy eggs in cardboard cartons). Replace plastic wrap with aluminum foil or parchment paper and eliminate your need for plastic bags by taking a reusable organic cotton bag with you to the farmer’s market and grocery store.
#5 | Use cleaner cleaners
Replace chemical cleaners with essential oils, baking soda, and vinegar. Pure essential oils are naturally anti-bacterial and tea tree essential oil is especially effective at removing mold and mildew. Baking soda acts as an abrasive agent to remove residue and stains from glass, ceramic, stainless steel, and silver. Add a few drops of water to make a baking soda paste for cleaning the stove, sink, counters, toilet, and tub. Use white vinegar to polish mirrors and wash windows and floors. On non-carpeted surfaces use a steam mop, which uses only water and steam to clean. Polish wood furniture with a mixture of three parts olive oil to one part freshly squeezed lemon juice, applied with a soft cloth, rubbed briskly, and allowed to air dry (test a small area before you apply it to an entire piece of furniture).
#6 | Make it yourself
To make your own non-toxic all-purpose cleaner, add the following ingredients to a clean glass spray bottle: 1 cup white vinegar, 5 drops pure tea tree essential oil, 5 drops pure lavender or orange essential oil (avoid synthetic and perfume oils), and a half cup water. Label the bottle with the ingredients and date. Shake it gently to distribute the essential oils, then spray the cleaner on dirty surfaces and wipe it off with a clean moist cloth or sponge. For tough cleaning jobs, omit the water and allow the solution to sit for a few minutes before wiping it off. This cleaner can be used on counters, sinks, stove tops, appliances and tiles, but don’t use it on surfaces made from wood, natural stone, or other delicate materials.
#7 | Avoid fragrances
Manufacturers are not required to disclose additives regarded as “fragrance” and a single fragrance can contain several hundred ingredients. Furthermore, “unscented” doesn’t necessarily mean fragrance-free because chemicals can be added to cover odors. Get rid of air fresheners and all fragranced household products. As an alternative to air fresheners, use pure essential oil diffusers. In the laundry room, replace liquid fabric softener with a half cup of white vinegar (mixed with 5 drops of pure lavender essential oil if you wish to scent your laundry) and substitute organic wool dryer balls for fragranced dryer sheets.
#8 | Research your personal products
According to the Environmental Working Group, the average woman uses twelve products containing 168 unique ingredients every day, while the average man uses six products daily with 85 unique ingredients, and most of them have not been tested for safety.3 Use the Skin Deep Cosmetics Safety Database to learn what you’re putting on your skin.4 Search by product, ingredient, or company to read safety reviews and make good choices when selecting items like soap, shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant, bubble bath, moisturizers, hair styling products, makeup, sunscreen and baby products.
#9 | Avoid dry-cleaned clothes
Find a cleaner who uses wet-cleaning, a water-based alternative to solvent-based dry-cleaning. Wet-cleaning uses biodegradable detergents and a humidity-controlled drying environment to preserve “dry-clean only” clothes. If you can’t avoid dry-cleaned clothes, store them in a well-ventilated spot away from your living area (like the garage) and each time they’re treated, allow them air out for several days before wearing them.
#10 | Use plants to clean the air
One six-inch houseplant per 100 square feet of living area can greatly improve indoor air quality. Several species have been shown to filter harmful chemicals like benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene, and toluene. These include the snake plant,5 spider plant,5 English ivy,6 grape ivy,6 peace lily,6 golden pothos,5 and weeping fig.7
Sarah Cimperman, ND is the author of the new book, The Prediabetes Detox: A Whole-Body Program to Balance Your Blood Sugar, Increase Energy, and Reduce Sugar Cravings. She graduated from NCNM in 2002 and has a private practice in New York City. Her expertise has been featured on Fox News and Huffington Post and in Natural Health magazine, Whole Living magazine, and the Well Being Journal, among other publications. Dr. Cimperman also writes two blogs, A Different Kind Of Doctor and The Naturopathic Gourmet.
- Environmental Protection Association. The Inside Story: A Guide to Indoor Air Quality. [Web page]. EPA website. http://www.epa.gov/iaq/pubs/insidestory.html. Accessed April 14, 2015.
- Environmental Working Group. EWG’s Updated Water Filter Buying Guide. [Web page]. EWG website. http://www.ewg.org/research/ewgs-water-filter-buying-guide. Accessed April 14, 2015.
- Environmental Working Group. Top Tips for Safer Products. [Web page]. EWG website. http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/top-tips-for-safer-products/. Accessed April 14, 2015.
- Environmental Working Group. EWG’s Skin Deep. [Web page]. EWG website. http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/. Accessed April 14, 2015.
- Papinchak HL, Holcomb EJ, Best TO, Decoteau DR. Effectiveness of Houseplants in Reducing the Indoor Air Pollutant Ozone. HortTechnology. 2009;19(2):286–90.
- Yoo MH, Kwon YJ, Son KC. Efficacy of Indoor Plants for the Removal of Single and Mixed Volatile Organic Pollutants and Physiological Effects of the Volatiles on the Plants. Journal of the American Society for Horticulture Science. 2006;131(4):452–58.
- Kim KJ, Kil MJ, Song JS, Yoo EH. Efficiency of Volatile Formaldehyde Removal by Indoor Plants: Contribution of Aerial Plant Parts Versus the Root Zone. Journal of the American Society for Horticulture Science. 2008;133(4):521–26.