#164 How to Detox Your Home
Adventures in Sustainable Living Podcast
How to Detox Your Home
Did you know that there are now approximately 150 chemicals in our homes that are connected to allergies, birth defects, psychological disorders as well as cancer. And this is actually old news.
I have now met three different people who had numerous health problems, were on multiple medications, and were even given a poor long term prognosis for survival. But instead of accepting what their doctors said they took matters into their own hands. Each of them moved into a rural area, gave up all processed foods, ate only organic, and eliminated all toxic materials from their households. Within a year each one of these people said they were taken off all medications and their physical ailments completely disappeared.
And if you want to learn more, then join me for E164 How to Detox Your Home.
Welcome back everyone to the Adventures in Sustainable Living podcast. This is your host Patrick and this is E164 which is called How to Detox Your Home.
But before we get to that as you know by now in each episode I start with the good news story of the week. But I have also decided to add in one other thing and that is the sustainability question of the week. I will ask this question in the beginning and give the answer at the end of each episode.
That said, the sustainability question of the week is this:
What unsustainable ingredient is in 50% in all packaged products consumed in the US. Egg fiber, palm oil, sap extract.
So stay tuned for the answer at the end of the episode.
Now this weeks good news story is about coral. But if you want more information about just how important coral is to our planet, I devoted an entire episode to that topic. So go back and listen to E25 which was called the Keystone Life of Coral.
But to quickly sum things up, coral reefs are found in less than one percent of our oceans yet these reefs are home to nearly 25% of all know marine species. They are also important in the regulation of the ocean’s carbon dioxide levels. Our planet is losing coral reefs at an alarming rate mostly due to marine heat waves.
But as it turns out, there is good news. Certain species of coral are much more resistant to the affects of climate change than what we previously thought. This is attributed to what is being termed as “ecological memory response.”
It has become obvious that some coral have experienced previous heat waves and adapted to that temperature change. And Global Change Biology stated in their article on this subject that the coral microbiomes, meaning the community of bacteria and other organisms living in the reef, could be key to this survival response. This means that some coral species are more resilient to climate change that what was previously thought.
A 5 year study that was partly funded by the National Science Foundation, focused on over 200 reefs in French Polynesia. In 2010 starfish and a cyclone destroyed 99% of the reefs. The reefs began to reestablish but then 5 separate severe heat waves between 2016 and 2020 continued to damage the reefs. Despite this, large reef populations continue to regrow due to microbiome resilience, host and microbiome acclimatization and resistance to repeated heat stress. All of this is consistent with the concept of ecological memory.
Learning how reef systems adapt is certainly a vital step in conserving this valuable resource in our ever changing world. So, there is your bit of good news for this week folks. And being an active scuba diver that is good news for me because coral reefs are truly a beautiful site to see.
Now let’s move on to this weeks episode which focuses on how to detox your home. I would like to start this episode by giving you a few statistics that should be alarming to everyone of us. But this is simply an effort to help everyone realize the importance of what I am focusing on this week.
Additionally, what I hope to accomplish in this episode is to give you a deeper realization of how you always need to do your due diligence. You always have to be mindful of the choices you make. This is because so many things in our world are driven by economics and industry profits and NOT a concern over our health and well being as a consumer. This is because the global market for some of the things I am going to discuss here is over $300 billion USD annually.
So, let’s get started.
As I said above, there are about 150 chemicals found in our homes that are connected to allergies, birth defects, psychological disorders, reproductive disorders and cancer.
The average person uses about 25 gallons of products per year that contain hazardous chemicals. Most of these chemicals are found in household cleaning products and personal care products.
Since 1950, approximately 70,000 new synthetic chemicals have been invented and are now dispersed in our environment. No health or hazard information is available for greater than 80% of those chemicals much of which are in the products that we use everyday.
Depending on the source you read, each of us presently has somewhere between 300 and 700 synthetic chemicals in our bodies.
Research has revealed that newborn babies have synthetic chemicals in their bodies which have been passed along from their mothers.
The USDA even has what they call “acceptable levels” of pesticides that can be found in our foods. These chemicals have been linked to cancer, reproductive, immune and nervous system disorders. Once again keep in mind that only a fraction of these chemicals have ever been tested for human toxicity.
Since 1901 cancer rates in Americans have increased from 1 in 8,000 to 1 in 3. Numerous researchers examined data from 204 different countries between 1990 and 2019. In 1990 there were 1.82 million cases of early onset cancer. In 2019 there were 3.26 million cases. This reflects an increase of 79.1%.
The rates of asthma, which was once a rare disease, have now tripled in the last 20 years.
The so called “forever chemicals” are now found in every single place on Earth.
Micro-plastics have been found from the top of Mount Everest to the deepest parts of the ocean. We breath and eat micro-plastics everyday and they accumulate in our bodies the affects of which are yet to be determined.
The average home contains between 500 to 1,000 chemicals and toxins.
Manufacturers are not required to list all of the ingredients in the products that we use every single day.
AND…….we voluntarily subject ourselves to exposure too many of these chemicals simply because of our lifestyle. We are exposed to almost 80,000 chemicals every single day due to the foods we eat and the products we use. Common sources of these chemicals are things such as shampoo, deodorant, lotions, cremes, cologne, cosmetics, and fragrances.
And I used to think I could get away from all of this by living on top of a mountain in a relatively isolated community. But I was wrong.
And considering all of this you would think the only way to protect yourself would be to live in a plastic bubble but that contains toxins as well.
If you are not concerned by now, you should be. And as I always like to ask, how did we get here? Well, as with so many things, where we are now is a result of our so called progress. Let’s just take soap for example.
During the early to mid 1800’s soap chemistry was studied and improved. Costs were reduced and soap became affordable to everyone. Additionally, the availability of washing machines in the early 1900’s increased the use and popularity of soaps. Detergents made from chemicals became more popular in the 1900’s.
Post World War II, when our economy began to dramatically improve, the market was flooded with a plethora of new products that made our lives more convenient. The vacuum cleaner was actually invented in 1860 but was considered a luxury item. By the 1950’s they were the number one household cleaning tool due to the invention of fitted carpets.
Additionally, due to advertising and ease of the availability of products, efficient housekeeping supplies became widespread in the 1950’s. Our culture had advanced to the point that you truly no longer had to make anything because all the products you needed were easily available right off the shelf.
Wow! You would think how fantastic is that. However, as is usually the case, there are advantages and disadvantages to everything we do. Our ease and convenience has come at a price.
So what I want to do now is sort of go through the typical household and look at all the toxic products we have and then give you some eco friendly alternatives. By doing so you can begin to detox your entire home and dramatically reduce your exposure to toxic chemicals.
These products are designed to make your hair clean, shiny, bouncy, and smooth. That is why we use them and we get a little bit of instant gratification by doing so. The problem is that these products are loaded with toxic chemicals. Just pick up your shampoo and conditioner and read the label. I did this the other day with an old bottle of shampoo and I had no idea what any of the ingredients were and it look as if I was reading the ingredients of an industrial laboratory experiment.
So, let’s run down a quick list of some of these things.
Sulfates and surfactants are used to clean excess dirt and oil off of the scalp. They are also used for lathering. Parabens are used as a preservative.
Polyethylene Glycols are used as a thickening agent. Phthalates are used to increase the spreadability of the product and to make the fragrance stick to your hair and scalp. Formaldehyde is used as a preservative. Triclosan is used as an antibacterial. Fragrances are of course used to make it smell better. And of course this is just a short list.
The problems is that all these chemicals cause a wide range of problems: allergic reactions, hormone disruption, increased risk of various types of cancer, damage to your scalp, endocrine disruption and various reproductive disorders, detrimental nervous systems effects, and not to mention being highly dangerous to the environment.
As an alternative, look for shampoos that are free of sulfates and surfactants. Hydrolyzed keratin is a good alternative conditioner. Also look for ingredients such as coconut oil, olive oil, or jojoba oil. You can also purchase shampoo bars that are all natural. But I think the best alternative is to simply make your own which is what we do.
Another good alternative is to go the the website of the Environmental Working Group and look at their Skin Deep Cosmetics database which ranks the safety of body care products on a scale of 1 to 10.
These often contain volatile organic compounds, hormone disruptors, formaldehyde, acids, and fragrances containing numerous chemicals. And once again these chemicals can cause cancer, allergies, reproductive disorders and environmental toxicity.
But there are several things you can do to avoid this. The Environmental Working Group has a database on Healthy Cleaning Products. In the references section of this podcast I have links to several different articles on simple homemade cleaners that are safe and environmentally friendly. So be sure and check out the resources section at the end of the transcript.
First let’s look at cookware.
It is true that all the non-stick cookware makes our lives so much easier. The problem is that as the non-stick coating is heated the chemicals leach into your food. If the pan is over heated, the fumes can be toxic and have been associated with flu like symptoms. Furthermore, I have personally seen some veterinary patients in ER clinics that have died due to being exposed to the fumes associated with an over heated non-stick pan.
Much safer alternatives are cast iron, stainless steel, carbon steel, ceramic coated cookware, glass, crock pots and pressure cookers.
All the plastics that we use in our kitchens also contain a long list of toxic chemicals. You should never place hot food into a plastic container. This will cause the chemicals to leach into your food. Never use plastics in the microwave for the same reason.
Safer alternatives for heating and storing food are glass, stainless steel, and beeswax wraps. Better quality plastics are those that are labeled with recycling numbers 2, 4 and 5.
Our furniture often contains volatile organic compounds, formaldehyde, as well as a host of other chemicals which are released into the air from the materials the furniture of made of as well as the glues that help bind the furniture. This also includes the flame retardants that are used to treat furniture. Often times you have to call the manufacturer to determine what chemicals were used on their products.
Better options: natural fibers such as cotton and wool, wood that is untreated. Consider buying second hand furniture or refurbishing an old piece of furniture to give it new life. Even though the Forest Stewardship Council certifies sustainably sourced wood it does not address chemicals that are used in the manufacturing process.
Hardwood floors are certainly a good bet for improving the air quality of your home. The challenge comes with the typical finishing which is usually lacquer, varnish, shellac, sealers and even paint.
Some better options would be using refurbished wood for flooring. Bamboo is very durable and is quickly renewable. There are also natural linoleum products. Floors that are finished with oils from renewable sources are also a good choice. Shop online for wood that is finished with natural coatings that are safer.
Carpets and Rugs
Carpets and rugs are treated with chemicals to prevent staining, chemicals such as fire retardants, chemicals to make the moth resistant. They are also made from petroleum based products. The carpets themselves, the glue, and padding used during installation are loaded with toxic chemicals. They are also well known for retaining toxic lawn chemicals tracked in on your shoes.
The only way to avoid all of this is to not even have carpets. But if that is what you really want then avoid carpets treated for stain and water resistance. Considering nailing or stapling them during installation to avoid the glue.
The mattresses we often use are coated with several toxic chemicals. The foam, the coverings and coatings often contain formaldehyde and emit volatile organic compounds. They are also coated with fire retardants known to cause cancer. Considering we all spend about 30% of our time in bed, consider some safer options.
Some safer options would be a mattress made of cotton, wool, or natural latex. Consider purchasing a mattress covered with polyurethane laminate which is safer.
Even the bedding that we purchase can be toxic. Sheets are often coated with chemicals that are resistant to fire, water, stains, wrinkles. Any label on your bedding that says no-iron, water repellant, flame retardant, or permanent press are treated with toxic chemicals. It has been proved that flame retardants do not prevent fires and make smoke much more toxic.
There are actually no labels to specifically certify safe bedding. Your best bet is to call the manufacturer.
So far we have discussed hair care products, using safer bathroom cleaners, better options for cookware, reducing or eliminating plastics in your kitchen, less toxic options for furniture, hardwood flooring, perhaps not using carpets and rugs, and safer options for mattresses and beddings.
But besides this there are numerous other things you can do to detox your home.
Eliminate Synthetic Fragrances
Synthetic fragrances are found in things such as dish soaps, laundry detergents, air fresheners, dryer sheets, scented candles, shampoos, deodorants, soaps, perfumes, and colognes.
They may smell good but they can also be neurotoxic, cause liver and kidney damage, contribute to various forms of cancer, and can be hormone disrupters. You can avoid this by looking for products that do not list fragrances on the label or by simply making your own.
Switch to non-toxic cleaning products
Did you know that the cleaning products we use in our homes by far contain some of the worst toxins of anything we use. They are loaded with fragrances that make things smell clean. But in the end we are trading our health for having a nice clean smell. There are a lot of non-toxic options such as baking soda, vinegar, and essential oils. Be sure to check out the resources section of the transcript for links so that you can find recipes for homemade cleaning products.
Avoid Paraffin Candles
Most people do not know that those nice scented candles are a major source of indoor pollution. They actually emit toxic substances such as benzene and toluene. These are known to cause nervous systems disorders, cause brain and lung damage and cause developmental disorders in children.
They can also emit formaldehyde which can cause respiratory symptoms, nausea, vomiting, and coughing. Long-term exposure can cause respiratory cancers and even leukemia.
Instead of scented candles diffuse essential oils into the air or burn beeswax candles. These contain a wide variety of natural odors and are very pleasant. In fact, this is something that Annette does in our cabin all the time.
Have Your Water Tested
The Environmental Working Group says that our tap water contains over 300 chemicals. Things such as chlorine, pesticides, herbicides, lead, mercury, fluoride, forever chemicals as well as hundreds of others. At least in the United States, over 50% of our rivers, lakes, and streams are now so polluted they are not consider safe for swimming, fishing, or even drinking.
Even though tap water is considered safe to drink I could point to numerous examples where communities are consuming contaminated water for years before someone finds out.
My best advice is to have your water tested. This is what I do every few years even though we get our water from a clean mountain stream with practically nothing up stream from us. In fact in an upcoming episode I am going to discuss water filters at length so that you know just what type of filter to purchase.
Stop Using Chemicals on Your Lawn
There are approximately 30 commonly used chemical that we use on our lawns all because we want perfect looking grass. Out of all those products 19 of them have been shown to cause cancer, 15 of these products are known to cause nervous systems disorders. And this of course does not include the herbicides and pesticides used in our gardens that actually kill beneficial insects and bacteria.
Instead of chemicals considering weeding by hand. Just plain vinegar works as a great herbicide. If you have a garden or landscaped area use landscaping fabric or mulch for weed prevention. Another option is to allow a portion of your lawn to grow naturally or plant flowers and shrubs that are native to your area. Make it a small haven for insects, butterflies, and hummingbirds.
Take Your Shoes Off Before You Enter Your Home
This is something that most people never even think about. Perhaps it is because of my profession, I actually have specific shoes that I wear to work and ones that I wear only at home. I take my work shoes off before I even get into my vehicle to drive home. But this is just habit from years in the veterinary industry and I do not want to chance bringing anything home to my own animals.
What most people do not think about is that our world is not exactly a sparkling clean place to live. The single biggest source of lead contaminants, pesticides and herbicides that are in our homes is the result of walking into our home with your shoes on.
Simply taking your shoes off at the front door can eliminate as much as 60% of the toxins that you bring home. I have an inexpensive comfortable pair of shoes that I wear at home and only at home. By doing so, I completely eliminate a source of toxins on the homestead.
There is no doubt that in today’s world no one can completely eliminate exposure to toxic chemicals. They are just far too widespread in our environment. Furthermore, most people would be shocked to learn that there is zero federal regulation on the chemicals found in household products. The ingredients and the products we use everyday are not held to any sort of safety standard nor is there testing data or any sort of necessary notification required before bringing these products to market.
The USDA says that there are acceptable level of pesticides in our food. Manufacturers argue that exposure too small amounts of these toxins are unlikely to cause any sort of health problem. But I would argue that it is impossible to judge the cumulative health affects of constant chronic exposure to the multitude of chemicals we come in contact with everyday.
The rates of asthma, which was once a rare disease, have now tripled in the last 20 years.
Since 1901 cancer rates in Americans have increased from 1 in 8,000 to 1 in 3. Research data from 204 different countries between 1990 and 2019 revealed a 79.1% increase in early onset cancer. So what is the answer?
You may not be able to protect yourself from everything but what you can do is eliminate some of the worse offenders. These are our household cleaning products and personal care products we use everyday. There are easily available, organic, non-toxic, environmentally friendly alternatives to every single product we use in our homes.
I look at the amazing ease and convenience of our modern lives and am grateful for a great many things. But I also weigh in on the price we pay for such a lifestyle. Living a healthy, organic, sustainable lifestyle may not be what your are accustomed too. Making that change may seem painful at first.
But just imagine what your life would be like five years from now if you made one simple change every month. The best part is that you don’t have to be perfect. You just have to make progress. After all, the world does not need a small group of people living a perfectly sustainable existence. What the world needs is millions of people who are simply trying. That is what will make the difference.
And finally the answer to the sustainability question of the week.
What unsustainable ingredient is in 50% in all packaged products consumed in the US. Egg fiber, palm oil, sap extract.
The answer: palm oil.
Palm oil is in a surprising array of products. But the production of it is responsible for a significant amount of environment destruction, deforestation and habitat loss. My best advice is to avoid products with a lot of packaging and read the labels on the foods that you consume. Avoiding the use of palm oil is just another simple way to make a huge difference in the world.
Well, that it for this week folks. I hope you will join me again next week for another informative episode. And don’t forget to take advantage of the resources section of this episode because it contains a significant amount of information.
I want to end this episode with quote from Lyndon Johnson because I think this is perfectly applicable to sustainability.
He said, “Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose.”
So that is about it for this week folks. I hope you will join me again next week for another informative episode. Until then, always remember to live sustainably because this is how we build a better future.