11 Tools to Detox Your Home
Being a longtime chemically sensitive person means that I have a lot of tools up my sleeve for detoxing environmental problems. This list doesn’t include DIY fixes, such as using washing soda to peel petroleum-based wax off a floor, but it focuses mostly on products that you can buy that help reduce your exposure, day-to-day. Most of all, I recommend you use your head. Remember your common sense, pay attention to where chemicals are in your home, and think through some solutions.
Cotton Barrier Cloths–440 Thread Count
Make jackets to block chemicals from car seats, crib and other mattresses, and anything coverable that is offgassing fumes. Although hard it would be ideal to cover couches and stuffed chairs made before 2005, with barrier cloth, or anything else that could be impregnated with fire retardants and stain repellents. The chemicals, polybrominated diphenyl ethers, called PBDEs, are endocrine disrupters, neurotoxins, and more, and are found most frequently in polyurethane foam cushions and electronics.
HEPA Vacuums and Microfiber Cloths
A study of house dust in regular homes across the U.S. found that all was contaminated with these six chemical classes: phthalates (plasticizer), pesticides, alkylphenols (hormone disrupting surfactants), brominated flame retardants, organotins (powerful fungicides, pesticides and bacteriacides, rigid-food packaging PVC, silicon curing), and perfluorinated compounds (Teflon and stain-resistant chemicals). One of your very best ways of detoxing your house is by using the best filtering vacuum cleaner available, the HEPA vacuum. In the 1940s, HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filters were invented to filter out radioactive dust particulate contaminants in bomb shelters during the atomic bomb tests. These filters were designed to capture particles down to 0.3 microns in size at efficiency ratings of 99.97 percent.
The fibers in these cleaning cloths are densely packed and designed with “hooks” to pull up dirt. They will help remove a significant amount of dust and without the additional use of a cleaning agent.
Seal Out Toxics
If you have cabinets, subflooring, or general furniture made of particle board, seal in the formaldehyde with SafeCoat Safety Seal.
Leave your shoes at the door? This subject seems to inspire very strong feelings in people, both pro and con. No matter what your opinion about it is, at least go with a door mat. Studies prove that we track lead, pesticides, and a whole lot more, into our homes on our shoes. An effective door mat, if people scrape the bottom of their shoes well before entering, will help reduce the amount of chemicals being tracked inside.
How does something smell? Like chemicals? Like an unhealthy natural material? Allow your nose to teach you about your surroundings. One good test is to pay attention to the first thing you smell on your re-entry into your home. When you have entered and been there for a few hours it is likely you won’t be aware of the smell any longer. Often the first thing you smell will alert you to an allergen or unhealthy chemical.
Especially when buying a house, it is important to have a series of tests done, including for radon, your water, pesticides (long-lasting pesticides such as chlordane), arsenic, and lead. There is some controversy about the effectiveness of lead swab tests, so heads up to have professional assessment of the lead in your home, and educate yourself about sources of lead in the home.
I suggest people join up with some friends and buy a communal gauss meter, a gadget that costs about $170 and reads electromagnetic fields (EMFs). I used a gauss meter for my house and learned some very reassuring things about where the high levels of EMFs were found in my home (and that they fall off very quickly, within three to six feet from the appliance).
I can’t tell you how many times I have used aluminum foil to seal in something that was outgassing toxic fumes. It is particularly handy if you are just moving into a home and a wall smells of spackle, or there is a lot of formaldehyde-based materials in the kitchen. Taping aluminum foil securely to cover the areas is a great temporary solution.
Acid and Base Awareness
I have found that the majority of odors are either alkaline or acidic. For example, if you are sensitive to perfume and someone spilled some in a guestroom of your house, what to do? I’ve found that much perfume is alkaline, so I suggest neutralizing it by spraying the area with white distilled vinegar, let it set for a few hours, and in my experience, the smell goes away. Acidic odors, meanwhile, can be neutralized by using baking soda. For example, soak clothes in 1 cup of baking soda to a load of laundry water, agitate every few hours, and then wash after a day’s soak. Or, famously, put an open box of baking soda in the refrigerator.
Buy water filters suited to your water situation, but filter your water. If you are on municipal water make sure you find a filter that remove chlorine, if you have well water, make sure you find a filter that removes bacteria.
Stay away from ozone filters (the EPA doesn’t recommend them) but consider an air filter, especially if a family member has allergies. Also make certain that you have a good air exchange in your home; consult with an expert about this issue if you are unsure.
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