Indoor air quality might not be something that you think about all the time, but when it comes to the safety of the environment in your home, considering what types of toxins or irritants that might be floating around in the air is incredibly pertinent. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that indoor air can be anywhere from two to five times more toxic than outdoor and that the average person spends around 90 percent of their time inside.

This is a bit shocking to consider, but between the cleaning supplies we use to disinfect surfaces, to furniture polish, and even some of the products we put directly on our hair and skin, there are thousands of harmful chemical compounds that slide into our everyday lives, largely without us even realizing. 

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On the positive side, we can all take action to improve our indoor air quality by learning what to avoid and how to replace these things with natural, non-toxic alternatives. It’s just a matter of taking a little initiative, an interest in protecting ourselves and our families, and we can seriously lessen some of the worst toxins in our homes.

Paints and Varnishes

It’s not really difficult to guess that these are dangerous. We can smell it in the air as we apply them, but the problem persists far beyond that. Paints and varnishes have volatile organic compounds (VOC) which continually release harmful, cancer-causing vapors into our living spaces long after they’ve been put on our walls and doors and tables and cabinets and beds and…What isn’t painted or varnished? Did you know that when you are painting your home, indoor levels of VOCs can rise from 500 to 1,000 times higher than normal levels? Considering that these compounds have been associated with childhood asthma and other serious illnesses, you shouldn’t choose to slap on a new coat of paint so freely.

The Other Way: The good news is that there are better options available. If you are more of a DIY person, you can attempt to make your own natural paints. If this method isn’t on your radar, low or zero VOC paints are readily available in most hardware stores – the best bet for commercial paint, however, is to go with a non-toxic brand. Non-toxic paint is truly VOC free and is much better for you and the planet.

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Perfumes

Try These DIY Perfume and Cologne Alternatives to Save Yourself From Chemicals (and Also Save Some Money)!Felipe Ernesto/Flickr

Perfumes and fragrances are put into everything now. We seem to be obsessed with freshening the air – in the kitchen, in the bathroom, everywhere. We use air sprays, candles, deodorants, shampoos, and fabric softener obsessively in our homes (and our bodies), but often producing such smells we are often spreading toxic chemicals. Phthalates are often used in fragrances as they act as solvents and help spread the smell. However, these chemicals have been listed as endocrine disruptors that have been linked to breast and other cancers. Not exactly as rosy as they might smell…

The Other Way: Buy some organic essential oils and make all-natural versions of these things. Baking soda and a couple of drops of lavender for soft, nice smelling laundry. Make oil or water based sprays with nice smelling essential oils — spritz them on light bulbs to enhance the appealing scents. Check out DIY Laundry Detergent For Sensitive SkinEasy-Breezy DIY Lime Air Freshener, and DIY Natural Perfumes: How to Make Them and Why You Should Perfume, to get started.

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Carpets

Well, if the chemicals in indoor paint weren’t enough, our carpeted floors can be every bit as dangerous, if not more. Most carpets have a host of scary chemicals, fire retardants, stain resistors and various more volatile organic compounds such as benzene and formaldehyde. What’s more is that that new carpet smell — well, doesn’t it seem a little toxic? That’s because it is and has been party to eye, nose and lung problems. Carpets can off gas these chemicals for five years or more, meaning these harmful compounds can be present in indoor air indefinitely.

The Other Way: Nowadays, there are organic cotton and hemp versions of carpets, or of course, tile and hardwood (varnished appropriately) with naturally produced rugs are a good option.

Furniture

Baby cribs, sofas, mattresses, shelves and so on typically contain a deceptively detrimental amount of harmful chemicals and formaldehyde glues (found in particle board), more fire retardants (if it’s upholstered) and plastic foams linked to cancer, brain disorders, and hormonal issues. In other words, our living rooms, bedrooms, and kitchens are rich in cancerous chemicals.

The Other Way: It is definitely worth it to spend more on high quality, safe furniture, such as long-lasting hardwood than to settle for cheap, noxious options. Even better, find a spot to pick up some reduced priced secondhand versions that can be redone with natural fabrics and fillings. Look for cushioning and mattresses made with cotton or other natural materials.

Cleaners

Do Consumers Have a Right to Know What Chemicals are in Cleaning Products?Fated Snowfox/Flickr

 

In all of our pursuit for powerful anti-bacterial cleaners and super-strength sprays, we have in effect created sterile and extremely damaging environments to live in. Chemical cleaners are notoriously bad for the respiratory system, delivering chemical burns and endangering our children by being literally deadly when ingested. Cleaning product companies are not required by law to disclose the ingredients used cleaners on the label of the bottle, making it incredibly difficult for consumers to discern what it is that they are coating the surfaces of their homes with. 

The Other Way: It’s just cheaper, safer and more sensible to make our cleaning products, as it was done before the Second World War introduced petroleum into everything. Vinegar, lemon juice, and baking soda can pretty much handle all routine cleaning issues a typical household encounters. Check out this recipe for DIY Citrus Enzyme Cleaner and 10 Easy, Money-Saving Ways to Clean Your House with Fruits and Vegetables to help.

We’d like to say that this settles things up, that there are no more chemical dangerous lurking in the corners, but that simply isn’t true. Be wary of plastic products like PVC lawn furniture and shower curtains. Be wary of anything that smells like chemicals or artificial flowers. To put it blatantly: Be wary. Our homes have quietly and craftily become dangerous places. But, it is possible to reduce this problem right away and help initiate a return to a truly cleaner way of living.

For more ways to detox your home, check out these posts:

Lead image source: Suzette/Flickr