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Toxicity in the Home – WGXC Radio

Fight indoor air pollution and keep toxins to a minimum for a healthier home.


I hate to be the one to tell you this, but there are toxins lurking in and around our homes. Unlike our ancestors who had mostly organic possessions that were made from wood, cotton, wool or even animal skins, our modern homes contain lots of plastics, PVCs, chemicals, mold, mildew, VOCs and the list goes on. We can have some control over what we are exposed to and I’d like to start with one of the easiest ways to eliminate our exposure to indoor air pollution.

Take a walk down the cleaning product and laundry detergent aisle in any store, and if you take a deep breath, you’ll probably notice a variety of smells. Unfortunately, a lot of those cleaners have toxic ingredients  and aren’t environmentally friendly. It’s not mandated for the producers to list ingredients, but if you do a little research you’ll find it’s questionable ingredients that make up a good portion of these potentially hazardous products, one disturbing trend I’m noticing is the super strong smelling laundry detergents and fabric softeners. A commercial on TV promises that if you use their product, your clothes will “smell just like they came out of the dryer” for weeks and weeks! When your clothes come out of the dryer, shouldn’t they just smell clean? I can even tell when my neighbors are drying their clothes from the perfume-like scent wafting out of the dryer vent!

Getting back to basics in your laundry area is easy and fairly inexpensive. You may have to pay a little more for environmentally friendly detergents that lack fewer ingredients, which is kind of ironic, but I go with a biodegradable, hypoallergenic detergent that is free of perfumes and dyes. Good old baking soda is one of the best and cheapest fabric softeners around. It’s actually softening the water, and since a lot of us have hard water, a ½ cup to 1 cup of baking soda in our wash can help boost our detergent’s power and reduce gray scale build up and smell. More stores are offering it in bulk, which is great, since I also use it for cleaning. Instead of chlorine bleach, try non-chlorine bleach that is oxygen based, basically hydrogen peroxide and water. I gave up dryer sheets a long time ago. Did you know that most static cling comes from over drying? I set the dryer for a shorter duration and once in a blue moon, I need to tack on a few more minutes or hang one or two items up to finish drying. If you like to hang your laundry outside to dry, more power to you!

Go old school by making a general cleaning solution of one part white vinegar and nine parts water. This will kill up to 90 percent of bacteria and many spores. It’s inexpensive and when you’re finished using a vinegar cleaning solution, dump it down your garbage disposal or toilet for added odor control.

Air fresheners and deodorizing products may contain allergens and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), as well as cancer-causing chemicals such as benzene and formaldehyde. There have been studies done that show that allergies and asthma symptoms can be compounded by being exposed to strong fragrances. It can’t be healthy for us to be exposed to chemicals that manufactures won’t voluntarily list on their products. Commercial air freshener sprays, plugs, stationary dispensers, and some scented candles can be toxic, and the companies making them have reported booming sales in recent years.

What is a healthier, greener alternative? Try essential oils that can add a fresh, natural scent to your home or your car without exposing you or your family to harmful chemicals. You can use diffusers with oils that gently warm the oil and water to release its fragrance, or reed diffusers for a subtle, steady effusion of scent. There are simple recipes online for creating your own air freshening spray using essential oils.

Do you swap out your clothes based on the season because there just isn’t enough room in your closets? Do yourself a favor, lose the mothballs. They are highly toxic. They are made of yucky chemicals that aren’t good for you, your home or your clothes! Use cedar chips, blocks or balls, and if you think you have moths, there are moth traps available at most hardware stores that attract the buggers using pheromones that will decrease the population. I’ve used similar traps to get rid of pantry moths and they do work. but you also have to do a thorough cleaning of wherever you are storing food.

One of the most prevalent indoor air polluters are fungal toxins like molds and mildew. Nine out of ten basements that I encounter have mold and mildew issues. Some have been so bad that I was only able to make it down the first few stairs before having to retreat after coughing and gagging on the noxious fumes. Water damage from a leaking roof or a flooded basement can almost guarantee mold spores are flourishing. Dehumidifiers are essential to maintaining low humidity levels, because if there’s one thing that mold thrives on; it’s humid, warm environments. Unfortunately, I commonly find things that shouldn’t be stored in a basement, such as paper, books, cardboard, upholstered furniture, fabric and textiles. Black mold is extremely hazardous and its best dealt with by mold remediation professionals. If belongings are contaminated, they should be removed from the premises and it’s important to wear an organic vapor respirator, wash clothes and shower immediately after dealing with moldy items. Did you know that mold isn’t just black in color; it can be pink, brown, orange and green? Since there is so much to know about mold, I suggest you visit the Centers for Disease Control’s website for more information if you think you are living with mold, www.cdc.gov/mold or call them, 1-800-CDC-INFO, 800-232-6348.

So avoid synthetic fragrances, clean naturally the way Grandma used to by making your own cleaners or buy bio-degradable, non-toxic, environmentally friendly products. If your basement smells “musty” you might have an issue with mildew or mold and it’s best to address it so that a possible problem won’t worsen.