If you’re like us, you do your best to take care of your health. We certainly try to eat well by choosing healthy, organic foods and we exercise as much as possible (Alison does yoga and Laura runs after small children—we think Laura gets more exercise!). And for many, being healthy usually stops with eating right and exercising. Creating a healthy home isn’t something most people consider, but it can be equally as important.
Our homes are like our third skin—our actual skin being first and clothes being second. What we have in our homes, how we clean them, and how we decorate are all decisions that affect our lives on a daily basis. We need to take care of our homes just as we do our bodies. For example, inhaling fumes from common household cleaning products that contain toxic chemicals can be just as bad for you as eating fruits and vegetables that were sprayed with pesticides. We like to say that what we put in our homes can be just as important as what we put in our mouths!
A Dozen Simple Must-Haves for a Healthier Home
1. Fresh Air. Open your windows to ventilate your home on a regular basis. Many of the products we use to clean and the materials we use to decorate and build contain toxic chemicals that off-gas and pollute the air we breathe. A study by the Environmental Protection Agency found that pollution inside a home could be two to five times higher than outside the home, even in large, industrialized cities. Opening windows creates a way for chemicals released from common household items to exit and fresh air to enter. In addition, sunlight can uplift our spirits. It is also is an effective way to cleanse linens and blankets killing dust mites. So open curtains and blinds during the day to let sunlight into your home and hang carpets, sheets and blankets in the sun occasionally.
2. A Shoe Rack. Have people remove their shoes before they enter your home. By having a shoeless household, pesticides from lawn and garden products, pollutants and dirt will not be tracked inside. This is especially important if you have young children that play on the floor.
3.Water Filters. Although water quality varies depending on where you live, tap water can contain a host of contaminants including chlorine, lead and organic material. Install filters in your kitchen for drinking water and in your shower for water used to bathe.
4. Natural Cleaning Products. Household cleaning products are one of the leading causes of indoor air pollution. Many household cleaning products contain chemicals such as ammonia and phenol, which can irritate your skin and lungs, and cause headaches. Look for non-toxic, environmentally safe household cleaning products.
5. HEPA Vacuum. Vacuum regularly to keep dust and other allergens to a minimum. The best vacuums contain a High Efficiency Particulate Air Filter to remove dust particles.
6. Low or no VOC paints and finishes. Many paints and finishes we use to decorate give off toxic fumes known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can be harmful. These chemicals can remain in the air even after the paint is dry. Low or No VOC paints are a healthier alternative to this problem.
7. Air Filter. Add HEPA/carbon filter to your heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, or placing standing filters in room where you spend a lot of time, such as bedrooms, to filter the air in your home. A HEPA filter will capture dust and other airborne particulates and Carbon will capture VOCS.
8. Hardwood Floors and Area Rugs. Opt for hardwood floors and area rugs in place of wall-to-wall carpets. Carpets house dirt, chemicals, dust mites and mold. Area rugs have the benefit of being easily removed so they can be professionally cleaned, shaken out or placed in the sun. Also avoid synthetic rugs and look for natural floor coverings made of untreated wool, jute, sisal or bamboo.
9. Healthy Bedding. You will spend almost a third of your life in bed, so make sure your bed is a healthy, chemical-free place to sleep. Next time you buy new bedding, look for organic, untreated cotton sheets, untreated wool pillows and a wool or latex mattress.
10. An Organizational System. Stress negatively affects our health and lack of organization and clutter can contribute to stress. Create a peaceful sanctuary at home by getting organized and eliminating clutter.
11. A Pleasing View. Studies show that we relax more when we have a beautiful view. If you don’t have a great view, create one inside your home with artwork and outside your home with window boxes, and landscaping. Bottom-up shades are a great way hide unattractive views.
12. Natural Materials and Solid Wood Furniture. When purchasing new furniture for your home or office, invest in natural materials such as solid wood, untreated cotton, linen, wool, etc… Pressed wood, like particleboard or MDF, contains chemicals like formaldehyde that can off gas.