In this two-part series, our guest writer Amanda Tharp of the New Collective is sharing non-toxic home tips for making your space safer and healthier. Part 2 focuses on improving product health at home. [Read Part 1 on improving indoor air quality.]
One of my sustainability “sheroes” is a former colleague and mentor of mine, Kirsten Ritchie. An Engineer and sustainable product guru, Kirsten taught me that “if you can lick it, you better know what’s in it!”
I’m guessing you are not walking around your home licking the walls or sofa, but hear me out for a minute! To ensure you’re setting up a healthy home environment, it’s important to be mindful of the products you come into contact with every day.
Although you may not be licking these surfaces, a child or pet may be and, at the least, your skin is likely coming into contact with them (for example, sitting on a sofa, or touching the dining table).
We all know the foods we eat are vitally important in the effort to lead a healthy life. While subtler in nature, your skin is your biggest organ with the capacity to absorb what you put onto it and transfer it into your bloodstream.
For this reason — in addition to air quality concerns — the products you physically come into contact with every day can impact your personal health.
From irritating your skin to causing birth defects and cancer, the vast array of chemical ingredients in production come with a vast array of potentially dangerous side effects. The Environmental Working Group’s classification system is a useful guide in ensuring the products you use every day are safe enough for you and your loved ones.
The good news is more ingredient transparency exists today than ever before, making it simpler to rule out dangerous products with a little forethought and research, which the below tips will walk you through.
4 Tips To Improve Your Product Health at Home
1. Opt for the Real Deal
This is a great two-for-one to-do item as it is featured in our air quality tip list as well.
Items that will come into contact with your skin regularly, and therefore could leave a residue and be absorbed (such as sofas, lounge chairs, bedding, and bath linens), should be selected very thoughtfully. Opt for natural textiles and materials free of applied stain-resistant, antimicrobial or water-resistant finishes. Although from a cleanability standpoint these sound too good to be true, these applied finishes have been proven to be harmful to human health and should be avoided.
2. Keep it Clean, Kids
It’s important to filter your drinking water, but I suggest going a step further to add a filter to your shower head and faucets as well. We live in Pittsburgh, a great city for many reasons but notorious for high levels of lead in water particularly in historic areas of town like my neighborhood. When we first moved here my fiance and I immediately bought a heavy-duty filter for our drinking water.
However, before long, we noticed we were developing skin reactions after showering. We had not considered the same lead-heavy water we had been afraid to drink was being absorbed by our skin with each shower and handwashing!
3. Teflon: the Canary in the Coal Mine
I think my Mom loves me just a teeny tiny bit less every time I advocate for nixing Teflon in lieu of cast iron, ceramic, stainless, and copper cookware! (Sorry, Mom.) Some suggest Teflon’s impact on our human health is a grey area, but as one expert says:
“Never cook on Teflon or other nonstick cookware with a pet bird in the kitchen. The fumes from an overheated pan can kill a bird in seconds.”
If the fumes can kill a bird in seconds it’s likely not great for you either — because there are safer options readily available, I recommend opting for an alternative.
4. Keep Your Cookware off the Menu
Plastic of any kind coming into contact with food can transfer or “leach” very small amounts of the plastic into the food. This is typically considered too minuscule an amount to be considered dangerous, however, the potential of that plastic to build up in our body overtime should not be ignored. Furthermore, heating plastic as is typical when reheating in a microwave oven is proven to leach far more plastic than if it is kept at a cold temperature.
I suggest removing the plastic, plastic wrap and foil from your kitchen. Opt for wood, stone or glass cutting boards, glass storage containers, and heating on the stove rather than in the microwave. When storing food, beeswax is a healthier alternative to plastic wrap or foil.
Minimize Outside Influencers
In addition to the products we come into contact with and those impacting the quality of the air we breathe, there are additional influencers like light intrusion and electromagnetic forces we can control to further improve the health of our homes.
Tips to Beat Light Pollution
Light pollution can interfere with our natural circadian rhythms and impact our health over time. This light may come from an outside street lamp or from the blue light of your late-night social media scrolling (I’m guilty of this one).
No matter the source, this interfering light can make it more difficult to fall asleep, disrupt your natural secretion of melatonin, decrease your REM sleep time, make you groggy in the morning and impact your long-term health. Try the following tips to retake your light night sleep.
1. Wake up with the sun.
A quick shift of your furniture layout, orienting your bed to face an eastern window can help your body realign with its natural circadian rhythms.
2. Or, wake up with the (simulated) sun.
If eastern exposure isn’t possible in your room, opt for a natural light alarm clock rather than using your cell phone.
These clocks simulate sunset and sunrise with color temperature to reset your circadian rhythm, helping you to sleep and waking you up gently in the morning.
3. Stop scrolling.
Use a timer to remind yourself to put down the phone 1 – 1.5 hours before you need to fall asleep. The blue light from your cell phone is mentally stimulating, leading to eye strain, making it difficult for you to fall asleep, and to get an adequate amount of much-needed REM sleep.
4. Shut it down.
If you live in the city or have light pollution coming in at all hours of the day, try installing blackout shades to set yourself up for a healthy night’s rest.
If your budget allows, you can have these installed with a timer allowing you to program them to open at sunrise or whenever you’d like to get moving.
Tips To Beat Electromagnetic Radiation
In addition to light pollution, today our bodies face interference from an onslaught of electromagnetic radiation.
From the very low frequencies of our computers and outside power lines to mid frequencies of our Bluetooth devices, wifi routers, smart home devices, cellphones, and televisions, to higher frequencies from our microwave ovens, and for some of us, the highest radiation levels from x-rays and therapeutic based radiation treatments, these outside influencers are ever-present in our lives.
Only time will tell what kinds of health implications our devices and their resulting forces will create for us long-term.
In the meantime, for those who are skeptical or like to live with a reasonable level of caution, there are ways to decrease the radiation in your life outside of bringing out a tin foil cap.
1. Slow it down.
Nix the microwave and throw your leftovers on the stovetop, plug in your popcorn makers, slow cookers, and the like.
2. What’s your Wifi password?
You’ll never have to worry about this again if you plug your laptop or desktop directly into the modem rather than relying on wifi.
3. Shut It Down.
If using WiFi, put your WiFi router on an appliance timer, set it to turn off when you are asleep, and/ or unplug the router when you are not at home.
4. Keep Big Brother At Bay.
Avoid Bluetooth headphones, smart home devices like Alexas, Nests, and Ecobees. Use your cell phone with headphones or speakerphone rather than holding it to your ear and mouth.
While there are many things out of your control this year, making your home healthier, beginning today is not one of them! Whether you are a renter or homeowner, live alone or with ten roommates, knowledge is power and there are many steps you can take to incrementally improve your air quality, the products you use and surround yourself with, and the outside influences which impact your daily life. With continued attention paid, demand for transparency and healthy products, you can continue to move the needle of progress forward and improve your daily life in the process.
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