Toxin-Proof Your Home: Improving Indoor Air Quality

You can rid your house of nasties by making a few smart choices.

| March/April 2009

  • The first step toward a toxin-free home is reading labels on cleaning and other household products.

Household toxins sneak into our homes on the backs of seemingly benign products. Most of us would never suspect that our mattress—or our all-purpose cleaner—could be making us sick. Yet household air is often heavily polluted by common household products. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Environmental Protection Agency, “the air within homes and other buildings can be more seriously polluted than the outdoor air in even the largest and most industrialized cities.” For people who live, work, eat and play inside, reducing indoor toxins is a critical issue.

First things first: read labels

Most of us have learned to read food labels; it’s time to turn the same level of attention to labeling on common household cleaning products such as dish soap and oven cleaner. If you buy without reading ingredient lists, you may be unknowingly inhaling formaldehyde and propane (common ingredients in chemical air fresheners), petroleum distillates (an ingredient in chemical-based oven cleaners and air fresheners) or other toxic chemicals.

There’s just one problem: Most conventional cleaning products don’t list ingredients on their labels. The product websites often do not list the ingredients, either.

The Oregon Toxics Alliance offers a list of common toxic ingredients in household products on its website, and you can find Material Safety Data Sheets for certain ingredients in household products through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Household Products Database. But if you want a full list of ingredients for chemical-based products, you usually have to contact the manufacturer directly. In contrast with petroleum- and chemical-based products, many natural household products list ingredients on the label so you know exactly what you’re getting. Visit Natural Home's resource guide for a listing of natural cleaning product manufacturers and suppliers.
Declare war on mold 

All homes contain low levels of some type of mold. Though individual sensitivity varies, some household molds are toxic, and even nontoxic varieties can trigger asthma or other respiratory distress. To keep excess mold from growing in your home, identify and eliminate potential sources of moisture such as roof or wall joist leaks, clogged gutters and drains, or plumbing leaks, and check for adequate air circulation. Don’t forget to check the basement or crawl space for leaks and stagnant water; spores from mold in the basement can circulate into your home’s upper levels. Get more details on minimizing mold growth.

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