By John Goss
Allow me just a few minutes to discuss a couple of facts about my house … and yours.
Fact 1: The vast majority of the toxins we will be exposed to in our lives will be those found inside our own homes. Most of those toxins will get into our homes via the products we buy and use on a daily basis — from the foam inside your sofa to the cleaning products you use.
Fact 2: There is something we can do about it. Many of us generally believe that if something is for sale in America then it must be safe. While it is true that we have many product-safety laws, those regulations may not be as well researched, comprehensive, or enforced as we might wish they were.
Unfortunately, the products we buy and use inside of our homes can be, and often are, laden with very concerning ingredients and materials. It can be tricky to determine what is safe and what is not.
Pro Tip No. 1: Many manufacturers will try to use terminology that can hide the true nature of their ingredients or materials.
One very good example that comes to mind of manufacturers using terminology to hide the true nature of their products is that of “air fresheners.” This is a $2 billion industry whose products mostly do anything but “freshen” the air in your home or office. Some of the chemical compounds commonly found in air fresheners are well-known carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, lung tissue irritants, reproductive system disruptors, central nervous system depressors, and a lot more.
These products are marketed in ways that could lead us to believe that by using them you may actually be improving the air quality in your home. Not so much. Similar compounds are found in laundry detergents, dryer sheets, perfumes, scented candles, cleaning fluids, etc.
Pro Tip No. 2: Throw out, and never again buy, any product with words such as “fragrance” or “odor eliminator” in the ingredients list.
But the toxins don’t stop there. Believe it or not, the very mattress on which you spend one-third of your life may harbor concerning flame-retardants and other toxic substances.
Pro Tip No. 3: There are a lot of claims made about “natural” mattresses that are simply not supported by independent testing and certifications. It can be very difficult to tell good stuff from sneaky stuff.
The list goes on, but it’s not all bad news. In our line of work we consult daily with folks who want to make changes. There is a lot of information online that can guide us to safer choices. Information and science-based solutions are becoming easier to find.
There are some indoor toxins we can easily eliminate, but there are others that are built right into the very structure of modern homes. It is simply impractical for most of us to tear open our walls and replace toxic materials.
For those concerns we typically recommend robust air filtration as a catchall. The key here is to do your research and be sure that the air filter you are considering is going to do what you hope. Some are not as effective as others.
Pro Tip No. 4: With air filters, beware of “new technology” and bells and whistles. Air filters don’t need an app! And some that offer “exciting new technology” can actually pollute your air.
Another thing to consider is the water that comes into your home. The good news is that if you are on a municipal water system, you are extremely unlikely to get sick from a biological source such as protozoans, viruses, bacteria, or parasites. This is because municipal water treatment involves adding chlorine-type disinfectants to the water. The good news is that chlorine kills or damages many life forms. The bad news is that we humans are life forms, so it might not be such a bad idea to remove the chlorine (and lots of other stuff) after it disinfects our water but before we drink it.
Fortunately, there are many options when it comes to water filtration. Almost all of them will reduce or eliminate the chlorine in our water and also get rid of all sorts of other trace toxins as well.
Pro Tip No. 5: It is worth doing a bit of research about water filter systems because some systems are far better than others. Proper certification is key, as is filter longevity.
Obviously, the subject of indoor toxins can be very involved, so it is worth tackling things in small chunks. A Google search can provide a lot of information on the subject, and some of it is even well researched and credible. But some is not. I have spent years trying to tease out not only the truth, but real-world solutions as well … and I still get confused.
While it is important to detoxify our indoor environments, it’s also important to keep some perspective and a sense of humor, lest we drive ourselves nuts. Stress is also toxic.
John Goss of Montpelier is a part-owner of gimmethegoodstuff.org, a family-run web business that helps parents and others avoid toxic products in their homes through free shopping guides and blog posts, an online store, and in-home consulting services.