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When you sink into your big plush chair, you could be dipping into chemical soup. Inhale those toxic gases from your fresh paint. Rest your feet on that thick carpet full of more than 120 chemicals.

When you sink into your big plush chair, you could be dipping into chemical soup. Inhale those toxic gases from your fresh paint. Rest your feet on that thick carpet full of more than 120 chemicals. Feel warm and cozy?

Your home can harbour hundreds of contaminants emitted from building materials, furnishings and mechanical systems. Since you spend about 90 percent of your time indoors, according to Toronto environmental group Pollution Probe, why not make your house healthy and safe?

Let's review the primary factors furniture, fabrics, carpets and paint that lead to unhealthy living environments.

Choose Furniture Wisely

Avoid furniture that pollutes during production and/or damages indoor air quality. Aim for one of these options:

  1. Traditional, handcrafted items;
  2. Products made of safe materials and by organic or non-polluting methods (finding this information can require legwork like a phone call to the manufacturer); or
  3. Recycled furniture or items crafted out of waste material.

Shop around at local stores (saves on shipment expenses, long-distance transportation and emission costs) for well made, long-lasting furniture from non-imported materials that can be repaired if necessary especially pieces made with natural materials that biodegrade safely. Choose solid rather than veneered products. Fabrics should be organic and use natural
padding and fillings such as goose down or cotton, not synthetics such as polyester foam, nylon and plastic.

Avoid super-smooth laminates and particleboard made with urea or formaldehyde glues that emit toxic gases in your home. Tropical hardwoods contribute to deforestation and related environmental damage. Other poor ecological purchases include furniture made from PVC, nylon and petroleum-based plastics; foam- and plastic-filled furniture; and upholstered items. Fireproofing creates a health risk if it contains bromine, halogens or formaldehyde. Meanwhile, stain resistance often brings fluorocarbons and other toxins into your home.

Choose Healthy Fibres and Fabric

Cotton makes a good choice but only if it's organic cotton receives 25 percent of all pesticides used. Every aspect of traditional cotton processing from cultivation to dyeing includes harmful chemicals such as toxic metals, formaldehyde, caustic soda, sulfuric acid, bromine and urea. These toxic residues remain in cotton and can cause problems in your nervous system, respiratory system and skin, as well as headaches, dizziness and eye irritations.

By contrast, organic cotton avoids defoliation and harmful chemicals and uses natural vegetable dyes. Natural spinning oils biodegrade well. With natural fabrics, you avoid heavy metals and cancer-causing toxins.

What do You Sleep With?

Wool might make an even better choice than cotton for bed comforters and drapes, as it can bend and spring back into shape 20,000 times without breaking compared to 3,200 times for cotton. Wool also absorbs large amounts of moisture under both warm and cool conditions without feeling wet and clammy. No other fibre does this as well. In addition, wool is naturally flame resistant.

Remember: Buy wool comforters from sheep not treated with pesticides and from wool processing plants that use vegetable oils instead of petroleum.

Sleeping under natural and organic fibres-whether cotton or wool might prove more healthy than sleeping under petroleum based fibres such as polyester. The heart rate of someone sleeping under a wool-filled, rather than polyester, comforter is significantly lower 100 per cent of the time, according to the Polytechnic Institute of Wales. For those allergic to wool, organic cotton comforters make the next best choice and are cheaper than wool.

The Health Cost of Carpeting

Most indoor air pollution experts agree that carpeting should be avoided whenever feasible. It is made up of more than 120 different chemicals, many of which can cause health problems. Carpets can collect dust and even lead, tracked in from shoes. They can also contain mould and dust mites. Smooth-surfaced tiling, linoleum or hardwood floors are preferred because they do not trap harmful matter like carpets do. Bamboo flooring is an exceptional environmentally friendly choice.

If you must have rugs and carpets, choose natural fibres with no chemical treatment. If you choose wool, make sure it's organic and has not received a moth treatment. Tacking carpets down is safer than gluing. Any natural-fibre underpadding without glue such as camel hair, wool or a blend of both, is far less toxic and holds up well. Also, install carpeting in the summer when you can thoroughly air out the house. Ask the installer to air out the carpet in the warehouse for at least three days before bringing it into the house.

Clutter and Paint Make a Difference

When planning a layout, remember that clutter which can overwhelm you quickly if you don't set aside a place for everything has a definite effect on your indoor health. It gathers dust, mites and mildew and therefore causes environmental illnesses and allergies, asthma and respiratory
infections. Uncluttered homes generate fewer cold infections.

Latex paints are less harmful than oil-based, although all commercial paints emit chemical compounds as gases, which people indoors will inhale. Also, any old layers of lead paint that might still remain on your walls can still send lead dust to the surface, particularly threatening children and pets.

On average, you'll spend half your life in your home, so why endanger your health-and the environment with the decorating choices you make?

Does Your Home Make You Sick?

The use of toxic materials in home decor has taken its toll across our country:

  • Sick-building syndrome results in 30 per cent of newly renovated homes.
  • Medical care for major illnesses resulting from indoor air pollution costs Canadians more than an estimated $100 million annually.
  • Lost productivity and increased sick leave as a result of illnesses related to indoor air quality cost Canadians about $600 million per year.
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