Stop for a moment to consider how many different products you come in contact with every day: personal care products, cleaners, computers, carpeting, cabinetry, cushions, cosmetics and much, much more. These are the makings of modern life, but do you know what’s in them? Oftentimes, what’s in them ends up in you. Everyday you may be rubbing hormone-disruptors into your skin or inhaling carcinogens when you lay on your couch.
Protect your health from this constant assault by making sure your products and furnishings are non-toxic. There are an increasing number of safe and healthy alternatives. TWEET THIS
What to Do
- Use gentle castile soap and water, which has been shown to be as effective as antibacterial soaps. In fact, there are significant concerns about resistant bacteria developing due to antibacterial soap. In addition, triclosan, an ingredient commonly used in antibacterial products, has been linked to negative environmental and health impacts.TWEET THIS
- Buy safer cleaning products. Many local, online, and discount stores carry cleaning and home products that are very effective without harsh chemicals or fumes. Make sure you read the label and do a little research, if necessary, to make sure the company is making an honest claim. The following terms are not regulated: nontoxic, bio-based, chlorine-free, organic, phosphate-free, natural fragrance, and/or biodegradable.
- Make your own safer cleaning products. Click on Safer Solutions to find some basic ideas.
- Clean floors with a HEPA filter vacuum cleaner that traps fine particles of dust, soot and pollen, and wet mop regularly.
- Reduce your use of products altogether by investing in microfiber cloths or hand held steam cleaners, both of which clean effectively with water alone.
Personal Care Products
- Look for products made with certified organic ingredients and those with the fewest ingredients.
- Use fewer products and smaller amounts.
- Make your own! Some products are easily replaced with simple ingredients from your kitchen. Olive, almond, or coconut oil can make a wonderful moisturizer, oatmeal makes a nice face mask, and even toothpaste can be substituted with baking soda (if you really want to get back to basics). Click on the Safe Solutions header for some basic ideas.
- Avoid body care products with Parabens, Phthalates (DEHP, BBP, DBP, DMP, DEP), DMDM Hydantoin, Fragrance, Triclosan, Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfate, DEA (diethanolamine) and TEA (triethanolamine), Formaldehyde, PEGs (polyethylene glycol), and anything with "glycol" or "methyl." TWEET THIS
- Look for products made with natural materials. Call the manufacturer to find out what a product is made of (be sure to ask about adhesives, coatings, and treatments.)
- Re-invent and re-use to reduce your exposure to volatile organic compounds (VOCs) – often recognized as that “new smell.”
- If you make your own cleaners, make sure to properly label them.
- Dispose of conventional cleaners properly. Visit Earth911.com and enter your zip code to find out how. TWEET THIS
- Avoid the top toxics: nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs), triclosan, ammonia, chlorine bleach, DEA, TEA, hydrochloric acid, sodium hydroxide, and sulfuric acid.
- Look for products that disclose all ingredients on the label, so you can make an informed choice.
- Keep all types of cleaners out of reach or locked up, so children and/or pets do not ingest them.
Personal Care Products
- Regularly wash hands with plain soap and water (antibacterials are unnecessary), making sure to get between fingers, the back of the hands, and around nail beds (this takes about 20 seconds – or the amount of time it takes to sing the ABCs).
- Don’t get tricked by marketing claims. Many terms used on personal care products are meaningless because they are not regulated. These include the terms: Hypoallergenic, Doctor tested, Doctor approved, Dermatologist tested or approved, Nontoxic, and No synthetic ingredients. For information on specific labeling claims, see the Consumers Union Ecolabel website. TWEET THIS
- Keep personal care products out of children’s reach.
- Use as little product as you can get by with – you will reduce your exposure and save money and natural resources!
- Air out new furnishings and textiles before bringing them inside (or leave them in a closed, ventilated room) to allow any volatile compounds to off-gas. TWEET THIS
- Wash new linens and clothing prior to using them.
- Vacuum rugs and carpets often with a HEPA filtered vacuum. Wash them annually and use this guide to treat stains.
- Vacuum cushions and mattresses regularly.
- Vacuum curtains and other heavy textiles regularly. (How often will depend on how quickly you notice them getting dusty.)
- Dust electronics frequently. Dispose of them properly. Look for safer electronics when you replace or upgrade.
- Use a low or no-VOC, water-based paint or sealer to coat furnishings made with pressed woods or particleboard to seal in formaldehyde fumes.
- For a "soft scrub," mix together baking soda and liquid soap until you get a consistency you like. The amounts don't have to be perfect. Make only as much as you need, as it dries up quickly.
- To clean extra-greasy ovens, mix together 1 cup baking soda and 1/4 cup of washing soda, then add enough water to make a paste; apply the paste to oven surfaces and let soak overnight. The next morning, lift off soda mixture and grime; rinse surfaces well.
- Disinfect cutting boards by spraying with vinegar and then with 3% hydrogen peroxide (available in drug stores). Keep the liquids in separate spray bottles and use them one at a time. It doesn't matter which one you use first, but both together are much more effective than either one alone.
- For a good all-purpose disinfectant, mix 2 teaspoons borax, 4 tablespoons vinegar and 3 to 4 cups hot water in a spray bottle. For extra cleaning power, add 1/4 teaspoon liquid soap to the mixture. TWEET THIS
- General dusting is best done with a damp cloth. Dry dusting simply stirs up dust and moves it around. Also, try 1 teaspoon olive oil per 1/2 cup vinegar. Mix together in a bowl and apply with a soft cloth.
- For windows, put 3 tablespoons vinegar per 1 quart water in a spray bottle. Some recommend using half vinegar and half water. For extra-dirty windows try this: 1/2 teaspoon liquid soap, 3 tablespoons vinegar and 2 cups of water. Shake well. The best way to get streak-free windows? Use newspaper instead of paper towels to wipe them.
Personal Care Products
- Make your own moisturizer using olive oil, almond oil, or coconut oil. You can scent it with a couple drops of essential oil if you like. Note: Any scents, even natural oils, can trigger health effects in sensitive populations. Always watch for reactions when introducing new products. Find more recipes.
- Disposable baby wipes contain alcohol and fragrances which may irritate your baby's delicate skin. All you really need is water. Buy 2-3 dozen wash cloths or cut up old t-shirts or sheets to the size you need. Keep a spray bottle with water handy. Then spray and wipe. On the road, you can keep damp wash cloths in a zip bag.
- If you catch a diaper rash early, use Aloe Vera. Bad rashes benefit most from exposure to air.
- Visit Skin Deep to uncover any risks your current products may pose and to identify safer products.
- Buy furniture made from solid wood. Most furniture is made from pressed woods like particle board or plywood. The glues used in pressed wood typically contain formaldehyde, a known human carcinogen, which can slowly and silently seep into your indoor air. Look for solid or pressed woods that are formaldehyde-free. Also seek out woods that are FSC certified, reclaimed, or recycled wood. Used furniture is another great option, as it will likely have already off-gassed any VOCs. If you choose used, avoid furniture painted with lead paint (a swipe test kit from a hardware store will tell you if it’s safe), anything with mold or mildew (give it a good sniff), or anything with deteriorating cushioning.
- Look for local. Imported furnishings may not meet US safety standards. For example, almost all US manufacturers have already voluntarily reduced their use of formaldehyde in furniture, but cheaper imported furniture may still have high concentrations of formaldehyde.
- Avoid furniture that is marketed as stain-resistant, and do not apply stain-resistant treatments onto fabrics.
- Avoid products that contain PVC, such as inflatable furniture, artificial leather, PVC-coated fabrics, and vinyl furniture covers.
- Choose friendlier flooring. Healthy Child recommends an easy to clean hard surface like cork or hardwood (find out what types of adhesives or coatings are used) with a washable rug made from natural materials like organic wool. Still, most people like to have carpet at least somewhere in there home – and it is extremely affordable. Look for carpets that follow sustainable carpet standards like those outlined by the Carpet and Rug Institute.
- Opt for safer electronics. Televisions and computers can have components made with heavy metals and chemicals. Toxic flame retardants are a priority concern as they migrate out of electronics, cling to dust, and contaminate indoor air. Learn more and find safer products at GreenElectronics.com.
- Decorate responsibly. Textiles like curtains and rugs can have synthetic finishings like stain guards and moisture repellants that may contain toxic chemicals. Look for natural materials like wool, cotton, or even bamboo - and ask about any finishes. When you’re looking for paints, stains, or other finishes, watch for those labeled low-VOC or VOC-free.
Shop Healthy using our marketplace.
Cleaning is just a matter of lifting the dirt and microbes, then rinsing or wiping them away. General cleaning chores don’t usually require heavy-duty chemicals. Atomic energy is not necessary to unclog a drain, nor are the Marines necessary to combat mildew. Most of the time, we can use brain instead of brawn and milder, natural ingredients to do the same jobs.
Many modern concoctions, products of an inventive chemical industry and aggressively marketed by their advertisers, are overkill; sometimes they are significantly more dangerous solutions than the problem. Common household cleaners may contain ammonia; chlorine; volatile organic compounds (VOCs), such as solvents and formaldehyde; harsh acids; and lye. But the chemicals we’re relying upon to keep our families safe are often the same chemicals that contribute to indoor air pollution and child poisonings. These substances are capable of causing nausea, vomiting, inflammation, and burning of the eyes, nose, throat, and respiratory system. Some are linked to cancer, brain and central nervous system damage, asthma, liver disease, and other long-term conditions.
Household Products Database
Seventh Generation Label Reading Guide
Consumer Reports Eco-label Guide
Personal Care Products
A recent study in the UK found that the average woman wears over 500 chemicals on her body every day. Similar to the US, women douse themselves daily with perfume, moisturizer, lotion, and a wide variety of cosmetics that altogether contain hundreds of chemicals. Most of the women were completely oblivious to the number of chemicals they were putting on. Do you know how many you wear?
All of these chemicals are not necessarily bad, but some have been linked to health risks and many of them are simply question marks. Consider these facts:
- Even though the average person uses about ten products a day constituting hundreds of individual ingredients, safety testing of these products is voluntary and conducted by the product manufacturers. This means safety testing does not have to be done at all and even if it is, results might be less than credible since the person who wants to sell the product is in charge of testing it.
- Eighty-nine percent of the 10,500 ingredients used in personal care products have never been evaluated for safety by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) panel, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or any other institution.
- The FDA has banned only nine personal care product ingredients. For comparison, the European Union has banned over 1100.
Environmental Working Group’s Cosmetics Database
The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics
Many common furnishings are made with harmful finishes, fillings, and materials that negatively affect human health. When they are new, they can off-gas volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that pollute your indoor air. Also, these household products and the materials used to make the building itself, slowly break down over time into microscopic particles that become a part of your household dust. Then, these particles and molecules become a part of you – for example, as you inhale them everyday or when you eat without washing your hands.
Healthy House Institute
US Green Building Council’s Green Home Guide
- Chlorine bleach is a potent eye, skin, and respiratory irritant. It is highly corrosive, which means it can cause permanent damage to human tissue. At very high levels of exposure, contact with chlorine bleach can cause death. Chlorine bleach can be very hazardous when mixed with other cleaning chemicals such as ammonia or vinegar (or any cleaning products containing these ingredients). In 2007, the American Association of Poison Control Centers recorded over 50,000 calls regarding chlorine bleach poisoning events, making it one of the most common household substances to lead to poison control calls. One third of these calls concerned children accidentally ingesting chlorine bleach. Learn more.
- Studies show that Triclosan and Triclocarban may have endocrine-disrupting effects, which means they mimic or affect the activity of hormones in your body. For example, Triclocarban appears to amplify the activity of sex hormones like testosterone. Triclosan has been shown to interfere with a type of signaling in brain and heart cells, and exposure to Triclosan was shown to significantly reduce thyroid hormone levels in rats. These endocrine- disrupting effects could have serious health consequences, which many scientists find troubling. For example, one study done on human breast cancer cells found that Triclosan mimicked both estrogen and testosterone, generating concern that Triclosan exposure may increase breast cancer risk. Learn more.
Personal Care Products
- The Environmental Working Group found that more than one-third of all personal care products contain at least one ingredient linked to cancer. They also found that 57 percent of all products contain "penetration enhancer" chemicals that can drive other ingredients faster and deeper into the skin to the blood vessels below. Additionally, they discovered that 79 percent of all products contain ingredients that may contain harmful impurities like known human carcinogens, according to FDA or industry reviews. Impurities are legal and unrestricted for the personal care product industry.
- Most personal care products that contain phthalates don't list them on the label. In field research, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics listed as an ingredient only in nail polish. Yet the 2002 report, "Not Too Pretty," described phthalates in nearly three-fourths of tested products, even though none of the 72 products had phthalates listed on the labels. Phthalates are now ubiquitous in human bodies. A study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that every one of the 289 people tested had dibutyl phthalate (DBP) in his or her body. The CDC scientists speculated these high levels could come from personal care products and cosmetics, among other things. A later, more extensive study of 2,500 individuals found metabolites of at least one phthalate in 97 percent of the tested group. Two decades of research suggest that phthalates disrupt hormonal systems, which can cause harm during critical periods of development. Learn more from the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.
- Environment California Research & Policy Center purchased 21 products intended for use in a baby’s nursery and hired a professional laboratory to test them. They found that six of the products produced high levels of formaldehyde vapor. In particular, several brands of cribs and changing tables emit formaldehyde at levels linked with increased risk of developing allergies or asthma.
- One recent study by the Silent Spring Institute identified 66 endocrine-disrupting compounds in household dust tests, including flame retardants, home-use pesticides, and phthalates.
- According to EWG, fire retardants often make up a considerable proportion of product weight: Plastic can be up to 15 percent PBDEs and polyurethane foam up to 30 percent PBDEs. The Green Science Policy Institute also found that flame retardants can make up to 10% of fabric by weight. Consequently, pounds of these chemicals are found in our baby products and furniture. They leak out into dust, pets, humans and the environment.
- All polystyrene foam insulation used in building insulation (both XPS, such as Styrofoam, and EPS) is treated with hexabromocyclododecane, (HBCD), a persistent, bioaccumulating, and toxic fire retardant. This chemical was recently nominated for the first EU list of sixteen "Substances of Very High Concern" and will likely be banned in Europe. It has been widely detected in household dust, sewage sludge, breast milk and body fluids as well as wildlife and the global environment. HBCD is also used with fabrics and plastic; however 85% is used with polystyrene insulation, which is likely the primary source of the global contamination. Learn more from The Green Science Policy Institute.