Friday, February 11, 2011

Clever Tips for a Toxic-Free Environment

Healthy Child Healthy World published a very clever list of things you can do to avoid toxic products at home. Here is a summary:

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. 
  • 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). 
  • 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."
Home Furnishing
  • 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-use reduce your exposure to volatile organic compounds (VOCes) – often recognized as that “new smell.” 
Safe Solutions 

  • 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. 
  • 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. 
  • 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.
Home Furnishings
  • 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. 
  • 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.

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