Our homes should be spaces to nurture and protect us. Unfortunately, however, we can be exposed to many toxins without even knowing it. In fact, due to the “off-gassing” of many conventional chemicals in everyday household products and construction materials, your home’s air quality can be up to ten times more polluted than outdoor air.

The top four chemicals you should avoid in your home include pthalates, asbestos, flame retardants and petrochemicals, which are fragrances and preservatives in cosmetic and personal care items. Keep reading to learn more about the chemicals, as well as the most common places these chemicals exist.

  • Pthalates: This plastic softener is widely used and is present in toys, cosmetics, shower curtains and multiple places where you and your children risk regular exposure. The most worrisome aspect of pthalates is their connection to endocrine disruption and their unique dangers to infants whose systems are sensitive and rapidly developing. While avoiding plastic is a good start, it can be tough. Up the safety factor by looking for materials free of pthalates and storing food in glass. Do not microwave food. If you must, do it in ceramic or glass dishes. And choose toys made of washable fabric or natural wood finished with nontoxic paint or linseed oil.
  • Asbestos: Asbestos is not a banned substance at this time, although its use is declining. Yet, it recently showed up in a fingerprint toy kit where children could breathe in the substance. Many families are exposed to asbestos either passively or while remodeling, when old building materials are removed or disturbed. Be sure you properly remove of asbestos while remodeling.
  • Flame Retardants: Most commonly found in polyurethane foam and electronics, PDBEs are also in fabrics and many other common household products like carpet pad. These hormone-disrupting chemicals were found to be 3.2 times as prevalent in toddlers than their mothers. Choose natural latex foam for your upholstery. And if you have carpet, choose a natural felt pad instead of a foam one. A natural mattress versus a conventional mattress is also a much healthier choice.
  • Petrochemicals, Fragrances and Preservatives in Cosmetics and Personal Care Items: Many of these chemicals have been linked to cancer and hormone disruption. Avoid DMDM hydantoin, fragrance ceteareth and PEG compounds. Choose brands that are plant based, fragrance free or lightly scented with organic essential oils. And because any fragrance can be irritating, opt for fragrance-free items if you are sensitive.

Other Tips to Reduce Toxins and Run an Eco-Household

  • Food: Start with your weekly grocery list. Reduce packaged foods, stay away from plastic (instead buy in bulk and use reusable fabric bags), plan to eat one organic meal per week, and store and cook your food safely. Commit to using inert storage containers in glass, reusable natural fabric and ceramic. For travel or school lunches, choose “safer plastics.” Learn more at www.coopamerica.org/programs/livinggreen/articles/saferplastichabits.cfm. For beverage consumption, choose reusable metal water bottles and filter your water at your own tap. Pick cast iron or stainless cookware over Teflon for preparing food.
  • Wall Finishes/Flooring: Choose natural ingredients, nontoxic glues, low-odor finishes and 0-VOCs when you are painting or wallpapering your walls. Select hard-surface flooring. Also, clean often with locally harvested or eco-friendly materials, and use nontoxic dustless installation for hardwood floors.
  • Electro-Magnetic Fields: Unplug those “black box chargers” when not in use; they give off high-levels of EMFs. Use power strips to power down. Turn off as many appliances as you can when they’re not in use and get some distance from microwaves and TVs. Increase your protection from large devices, such as power panels. You can buy a gaussmeter that you share among family and friends to periodically test EMF levels. Make sure you don’t sleep with your head near a device that gives off EMFs.

Know Your Choices

Be a sleuth when it comes to understanding your most safe and eco-friendly options. Think about a product’s raw materials, how it was manufactured, how it gets to you and how it is installed once it is in your home. Do your research, ask questions, read labels, assess your options and take a deep breath and do the best you can. Think nontoxic, buy the best quality and most timeless style you can afford— so you aren’t replacing products for your home any time soon.

Know you are making an informed choice and that nothing is perfect. Actually, your sanity and happiness should take priority over perfection. As many eco-friendly products are now available, you should never compromise by bringing toxic chemicals into your home.

The environmental movement is not a new trend. It just seems that now, more than ever, people are yearning to look thoughtfully at how we can all thrive in this modern world. That is true sustainability. A great resource to check out and share this Earth Day is the Environmental Working Group Web site, ewg.org.