They're in the air, your water, your furniture, and clothing—the very things that make up your home.
They have names like toluene, formaldehyde, dioxins, fragrance or parfum, petroleum, mercury, lead, arsenic, oxybenzone, parabens, PCBs, phthalates, talc, and more. While advances in technology have supplied us with many conveniences, they've also quietly unleashed a chemical assault on our bodies and planet.
We know the fish in the oceans are tainted with mercury from industrial waste. And polar bears in the arctic are showing up with extremely high amounts of toxic chemicals in their tissues. Male frogs and fish are being feminized by hormone-disrupting chemicals causing them to grow ovaries and lay eggs.
But how are toxins in the environment affecting humans?
The Environmental Working Group tested the umbilical cord blood of ten babies in 2009 and found more than 230 industrial pollutants across the samples. While this study alone does not prove that all children in the womb have this many toxic chemicals in their bloodstream, it does show that a wide range of toxins crosses the placenta. These pollutants are capable of damaging organs like the brain and kidneys, and of causing behavioral disorders as well as reproductive problems. How much damage these chemicals might be doing in combination with one another is yet to be fully tested.
We may never fully escape all of the toxins in our environments, but thankfully we humans are capable of becoming aware of these pervasive chemicals and heavy metals and taking action.
What’s great is that we can also start detoxing the world by starting with small changes in our own homes. Our homes are where we have the most control and also where we spend the most amount of our time. And it is where we cultivate health-conscious habits.
So here are some simple steps you can start taking today, right where you live.
01. Leave your shoes at the door.
When you walk about the world each day, your shoes accumulate dirt, grime, bug parts, and animals’ fecal matter. They also pick up chemicals from cars on the road as well as pesticides and weed killer residue from lawns, sidewalks, and treated buildings. Lead dust, which can accumulate in the body and harm all of its systems, has also been found on our soles.
Taking your shoes off when you get home and leaving them at the door is a super simple way to avoid tracking these invisible pollutants into your home.
02. Open the window.
Obviously, air is a pretty important factor in staying alive and well. Did you know that indoor air quality is recognized by the EPA as one of its major concerns when it comes to human health? Check out this pamphlet they put together about how to clean up the air you breathe in your home.
Your mattress, carpet, vinyl flooring and shower curtains, laminate on your countertops, particleboard furniture and cabinets, the paint on your walls, the fabric on your couch, even your printer and fabric softener are all contributing to a concentration of chemicals in the air in your home. These and other materials let off gas and release chemicals like volatile organic compounds (VOCs), flame retardants, and formaldehyde that can slowly sap your health.
This is one reason why you should open your windows as much as you can. Opening windows allows toxic gasses to circulate out of your home and welcomes in some fresh air. Even if it's freezing outside, crack that baby open for just five minutes a day.
Granted, there will be some pollutants and allergens that waft in on the breeze, but overall you'll be disbursing and diluting the concentration of toxins in the air of your home.
03. Switch out scents.
If you use artificially scented air fresheners, laundry detergents, or candles, replace them with more natural alternatives or unscented options.
Artificial scents contain many unlisted and untested chemicals, including phthalates, which act as hormone disruptors, and are linked to allergies and asthma as well as neurological symptoms such as dizziness and brain fog. Phthalates are also linked to birth defects, low sperm counts, nervous-system disorders, hormone dysregulation, diabetes, and obesity.
For alternatives, there are tons of essential-oil based products out there that smell amazing and even have aromatherapy benefits like boosting concentration, energy, and helping you sleep. You can use an essential-oils diffuser and pre-made blends to make it simple. Some studies suggest blends with oils such as clove, tea tree, oregano, thyme, or lemon oils have antifungal properties that can improve air quality. Thieves by the brand Young Living is one great option for purifying the air, as it combines clove, lemon, cinnamon bark, eucalyptus radiata, and rosemary oils and smells like Christmas.
Another way to fragrance your home naturally is by boiling dried flower petals, citrus peels, cinnamon sticks, cloves, or other natural aromatics on the stove. You can also replace artificially scented dryer sheets with reusable wool dryer balls and add essential oils.
04. Green your cleaning products.
There are a lot of caustic ingredients in chemical household cleaners that can be harmful to skin, eyes, and lungs. They also often contain artificial fragrances and toxic chemicals.
Fortunately, there are many non-toxic and natural cleaning products available these days even at the average grocery store. Begin replacing your chemical cleaning products with cleaner, safer ones.
There are also super cheap DIY ways to effectively clean your home that won’t expose you and your family to toxins. You can clean most things with white vinegar and baking soda and a few other common ingredients around your house. You can make a paste with baking soda and water to scrub the inside of your oven. Clean inside your toilet with baking soda, vinegar and a few drops of an essential oil like lemon or tea tree. Polish wood with lemon essential oil in water or lemon juice in olive oil. Hydrogen peroxide can be used as an all-purpose cleaner. It's antibacterial and antiviral. Or, make an all-purpose cleaner with a half cup of white vinegar and half a gallon of water; pour it into spray bottles, and use it in the shower, on windows, on mirrors, fixtures, and other surfaces. White vinegar can help cut through grease, treat mildew, and remove wax. Clean tiles, tubs, and sinks with a vinegar and baking soda mixture. You can use kosher salt or baking soda as an additional abrasive as needed.
05. Filter your water.
Like oxygen, we need plenty of clean H20 to live and thrive. As amazing as our water systems across the United States are at supplying us with water on demand that is clear and not teaming with parasites and sewage, there are still some scary invisible toxins hanging out in the water supply.
Some concerning items are added to tap water such as chlorine or chloramine to kill pathogens. These can irritate the lungs and skin and can combine with other compounds in the water to produce byproducts that may, in high enough concentrations, increase cancer risk. In many municipalities, fluoride is also added to the water supply to strengthen teeth. Unfortunately, fluoride interferes with healthy thyroid function, among many other unsavory side effects. Pharmaceuticals that get flushed or urinated out also end up in the water supply, such as antibiotics, anti-psychotics, hormonal contraceptives, and other hormone drugs. Drinking water has also been found to contain heavy metals like aluminum, arsenic, lead, mercury, radioactive elements, pesticides, weed-killer, traces of gasoline, and high amounts of iron, among other things.
The good news is you can avoid these toxins easily by purifying the water you drink. Carbon filter systems are plentiful and affordable such as Britta pitchers. They can filter out many different chemicals, including radon, chlorine, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like pesticides. They also improve the taste of water and can filter out larger micro-organisms like giardia. You can use a pitcher-style filter, add a carbon filtration element to your fridge water spout, strap one onto your faucet, and even add them to your shower head and bath faucet to reduce your exposure to vaporized toxins and reduce absorption through your skin while bathing.
Carbon filter systems are not able to filter out everything, including heavy metals, viruses, fluoride, or asbestos. Those seeking a more thorough purification system often consider those that purify with reverse osmosis and distillation, but these can strip minerals from the water. If you take this route, adding a little sea salt or trace mineral drops before you drink will help you keep the benefits of healthy minerals. You could also get a stand that holds up to a five-gallon jug, and fill it with filtered water from your local grocery store; just add minerals if needed.
Personally, I've been super happy with my Berkey Royal filter. It is gravity fed, requires no electricity, can include additional fluoride and arsenic filters, holds a couple of gallons at a time, and doesn't strip natural minerals from the water. I've also been happy with the taste of my Berkey filtered water. Berkey makes a variety of filters for travel as well as a sports bottle with a filtering straw. These are great for taking on your travels whether you're camping or visiting a country with limited water standards.
Whether you make these changes over the course of a Saturday or an extended-time period, you can grow in the assurance that you are minimizing the exposure to toxins for you and anyone in your home.