Chemicals are part of our lives. We treat illnesses, paint our houses, and even clothe ourselves with products that have been developed through chemical research. However, there are reasons to be cautious about our exposure to some chemicals.
Why reduce toxics
We spend nearly 90 percent of our time indoors. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, indoor pollutants may be two to five times higher than outdoor levels. And only a fraction of the more than 75,000 registered chemicals have gone through complete testing for human health concerns.
Children are especially susceptible to the negative effects of chemicals, warns the EPA's Office of Children's Health Protection. Pound for pound, children breathe more air, drink more water, and eat more food, and when they play, they crawl and put things in their mouths. As a result, children have an increased chance of exposure to potential pollutants, and because children's bodies are still developing, they may process these pollutants differently from adults.
What you can do
Simple changes in our everyday routines can reduce our long-term exposures to low levels of potentially harmful substances—changes in how we choose the products we buy, or the ways we clean our houses and take care of the yard. These changes will not only make our homes safer, they may also save us money.
Inside your home
Reducing toxics inside your house can be as simple as looking for a few key words on products when you buy cleaning products. The words caution, warning, danger, or poison indicate that the product's ingredients are harmful. Choose the least hazardous product to do the job.
If you have hazardous products at home, be sure to dispose of them properly.
Before you use a product, carefully read the directions and follow the instructions. Be sure to use the correct amount of a product. Remember, you won't get twice the results by using twice as much
Select products made from plant-based materials, such as oils made from citrus, seed, vegetable or pine. The U.S. EPA's Design for the Environment program can help you identify cleaning and other products that perform well, are cost-effective, and are safer for the environment. Look for products with the DfE label and protect your family's health and the planet.
Keeping your house clean
Remove your shoes when you enter your house. Your shoes can track in harmful amounts of pesticides, lead, cadmium and other chemicals. Keeping a floor mat at your doors for people to wipe their feet on when they enter will also help.
Vacuum carpets and floors regularly. Children playing on your carpet may actually be more exposed to pesticides lodged in the carpet than from the outside, because pesticides break down less readily indoors than outdoors in the sunlight. Use a fine particulate filter, such as a HEPA filter, in your vacuum cleaner, if possible. Otherwise, the dust vacuumed up is redistributed into the air where it can be inhaled.
Single-ingredient, common household materials such as baking soda, vinegar, or plant-based soaps and detergents can often do the job on your carpet or other surfaces. If your carpet needs professional cleaning, enlist a carpet service that uses less-toxic cleaners that are low in VOCs and irritants.
Instead of more complicated detergents, try using a combination of washing soda and borax in your machine. These are usually as effective as more complex formulas and are also usually cheaper.
Don't rely on dryer sheets for freshening your laundry. Clotheslines are a great way to keep clothes, sheets, and towels smelling clean In winter, fluff the clothes in the dryer, and then hang to dry indoors. You get the added benefit of increased humidity.
Avoid bleach when possible. If whitening is needed, use non-chlorine bleach, which is oxygen based and often highly effective.
Buy clothes that don't need drycleaning or use an alternative called "wet cleaning." Clothes that have been drycleaned emit perchlorethylene, a chemical that can cause cancer. The wet cleaning process uses water so there are no harmful gases emitted from the cleaned clothing.
Bath, beauty, and hygiene products
Avoid using antibacterial soaps. Triclosan, a common antibacterial agent used in soaps and cleaning products, is believed to contribute to antibiotic resistance, and causes other health and environmental problems.
Which is best: Antibacterial or plain soap? Visit the Minnesota Department of Health to learn what health professionals are saying.
Use eye drops, contact lens solutions, and nasal sprays and drops that are free of thimerosal or other mercury-containing preservatives.
Look for unscented and natural dyes in products to avoid potential allergic reactions.
In your yard and garden
Caring for all the green and growing things in your yard can have a big effect on how much waste your household creates. From grass clippings and leaves to pesticides and water, the eco-impact of your lawn and garden can be significant. Learn more, visit the MPCA's yard and garden webpages.