Most of us know to avoid poisonous pesticides and harsh household cleaners, but what about air fresheners or permanent-press sheets? Toxic chemicals are lurking in many seemingly innocuous products. Reduce your exposure by choosing healthier alternatives within the following categories (and learn more in "A Healthier Home: Furnishings and Decor to Reduce Indoor Air Pollution").
Shower Curtains: PVC (aka vinyl) shower curtains and liners can release more than 100 VOCs that may linger in the air for up to 28 days, according to a 2008 Center for Health, Environment and Justice study. They also contain phthalates, which have been linked to developmental and reproductive disorders, hormone disruption and cancer in animals. If you’re in the market for a new curtain, opt for organic cotton, hemp or linen.
Electronics: Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are used in computer and television monitors—as well as cell phones, kitchen appliances and other electronics. These flame retardants have been linked to health problems ranging from birth defects to cancer. Visit the Environmental Working Group for a list of manufacturers who have pledged to phase out PBDEs.
Window Treatments: Most curtains are made of synthetic fabrics treated with flame retardants and chemicals. Buy or make curtains using organic untreated cotton, linen or hemp, or hang naturally finished bamboo shades.
Air Fresheners: The ingredient “fragrance” on a product label can refer to hundreds of synthetic petrochemicals that have been linked to cancer, central nervous system damage, birth defects and allergic reactions. The healthiest alternative: fresh air! Open the windows. Or make your own refreshing spray by mixing 1/2 cup filtered water, 1/2 cup vodka and about 18 drops of your favorite essential oil (or a mix of several) in a spray bottle. Shake well before using.
Bedding: Polyester-blended bedding and permanent-press sheets are treated with formaldehyde that remains in fabric long after washing. Even pure cotton is doused with pesticides, bleaches and dyes. Opt for bedding made from organic untreated cotton, wool, flannel, silk, hemp or linen, and choose natural-fiber pillows.