Did you know that the dust in your home can contain terrible toxins like lead, cadmium, and formaldehyde? I hate the thought that my little toddlers could be breathing those chemicals in while crawling or running around. If you work indoors a lot or the weather keeps you inside with small children it is worth it to cleanse your home of toxins. Of course, it is impossible to get rid of all toxins. But we can try to cut our exposure down as much as possible by doing a few simple things.
I've been wanting to cover a clean, pure, non-toxic home on my blog for awhile. I think that going into winter is a great time to talk about this! Next week we will cover natural paint, furniture, natural cleaners, recycling at home, and maybe some other interesting natural home topics. If you have any suggestions, feel free to shoot me an email!
I like to focus on the air quality as #1. So here are my tips to start cleaning up the air in your home!
A simple first step that most Canadians practice is to take off their shoes before coming inside of a home. Your shoes carry lead, formaldehyde, and other harmful chemicals on them from walking on streets and sidewalks. Small children and animals will come in direct contact with these chemicals while sitting or crawling on the floor. These toxins also go into the air and eventually into our bodies, where they accumulate and wreak havoc. So if you don't already do so, try keeping your family's shoes all in a "mudroom" or similar organized set-up.
High Quality Air Filters
Through the years we have used many different air filter brands and have selected the ones that proved most effective. I'm not an affiliate of any of these companies, I'm just sharing what worked for us. When buying air filters, you should choose a filter based on what is best for your finances and size of home. We use Honeywell Permanent True HEPA Round Air Purifiers. The Honeywell filter is recommended for rooms 11’ x 14’. A HEPA filter stops any allergen or dust particle measuring 0.3 of a micron or larger. Non-HEPA filters do not filter as much, they are just circulating air and essentially kicking up dust. Our upper respiratory system can only filter 10 microns or larger, but nothing smaller, hence the need for an air purifier. We have 1 in about every room (or two in a large living area). A side benefit is that they create a nice soothing white noise in the home. The HEPA filter inside is lifetime (so you never have to replace it); however we do vacuum it with our HEPA vacuum about once per month. These filters were about $300 CAD six years ago, so I'm not sure if they have increased in price. We felt it important enough to save up money for the Honeywell filter to give our son some relief from the itching, as he had eczema as a baby.
Everyone loves having greenery to look at, and what's better than being surrounded by greenery that filter the air as well! My favorite plants to grow indoors also make food for me (such as herbs), but there are also some good, plain plants that clean the air very efficiently.
After a long and fruitful growing season on the farm, I will dig up some favorite herbs and put them in pots to grow in the windowsill and cheer up the grey colors of winter. It is so nice to be able to snip off some rosemary or parsley from my own plants, rather than buying half-rotten herbs in a clamshell from the store. They won't grow very fast since it is cooler in winter and I'm not using grow lights. But if I don't cut off too much, they most likely will last until spring and give a few small harvests.
I've found a great article showing the 9 Best Houseplants on This Old House website, if you want to learn more.
Eliminate Carpets, Rugs, and Curtains
Carpets and rugs harbor dust mites and also have little plastic parts that break off every time you vaccuum and walk on them. There are are over 500 dust mites per gram of dust to be exact lurking in your carpets. Carpets can also retain harmful lead and herbicides/pesticides, and many other extremely toxic materials which take years to break down and dissipate. New carpets have their own cocktail of poisons in them from manufacturing. There are many reasons to get rid of your carpets and rugs. Steam cleaning carpets (which will kill dust mites) will leave behind moisture and dust mites love high moisture environments, and their population will skyrocket. Although the steam has killed them, large populations will immediately displace those who were killed. And don’t forget, moisture breeds mold.
When my son was a baby, we removed our carpets and put in wood flooring to clean the air. But I still wanted to provide him with floor time (to develop his neck muscles) without the hard floor. So instead of buying toxic foam mats from a big name-brand toy store, I found all-natural hemp rugs from Rawganique, a wonderful Canadian company in the Vancouver area. They sell 100% hemp fiber rugs for a reasonable price. The hemp rugs are not very thick (about the thickness of a blanket), so I also purchased a felt/rubber pad separately from rugpadcorner.com (a US company that uses only natural or recycled materials with no glues or adhesives). This solution worked very well. When he was walking confidently we put shoes that grip on him, stored away the rugs, and vacuumed our wood floors every other day. I have also heard of mothers using homemade or heirloom rag rugs, non-toxic rubber yoga mats, or quilts, which are all great solutions. You can also buy 100% wool rugs from many home décor stores; however, they are typically quite expensive and may contain undisclosed chemicals.
We also got rid of all our curtains about 10 years ago and purchased wooden blinds from www.blinds.ca. Purchasing the blinds from the manufacturer is a less expensive option than buying them through an installer. Which means that, yes; you will need to install them yourself. But it is not as hard as it looks! You need to be able to operate a drill or a screwdriver, a measuring tape, and most importantly be able to measure your windows accurately. You will also need a helping hand to hold up the blinds while installing them. The trickiest part is actually measuring your windows to ensure that the blinds you are ordering fit perfectly. But Blinds.ca has some excellent How-To videos, customer support chat, and are very helpful over the phone. Once we did it ourselves, I was amazed at how simple it was and how expensive hiring an installer would have been.
A HEPA Vacuum
If you are going to rely on a vacuum to clean up toxins on your floors, I strongly urge you to purchase (or save up for) a HEPA filter vacuum. Without a HEPA filter, the dust mites, dust “bunnies”, grime, pet hair, pet dander, and old food goes flying into the air and into your lungs and nostrils as you’re attempting to clean your home. We have used the same Dyson HEPA filter vacuum for 12 years now and it works very well. The company has a great warranty plan. We had the hose develop a small hole in it after 5 years. We called them and they immediately sent out a new hose free of charge. There are many HEPA vacuums that are cheaper in price than the Dyson. But I would check on www.consumerreports.org before purchasing any of them. I know there are some interesting vacuums that use water as well, but I don't have experience using them so I can't speak to their effectiveness.