I had a lot of trouble writing this article, not because I didn’t have a lot to say, but instead because the topic depresses me a bit. It is sad how we, as a human race, have created so many unnecessary hazards for ourselves. Not only that, but these hazards seem virtually unknown to most of the population, meaning that many people are constantly bombarding their bodies with long term health risks without knowing it.
I am writing this article not so that you can avoid all of these areas of concern, because that is unrealistic. I am instead writing so that you can know what’s out there, so that you can take your own measured amount of risk.
So, how best to choose safe household products? As usual, the general rule is, the more pure and close to nature the materials are, the better.
The only pure elements I can think to look out for is lead, such as in old paint, and aluminum, found in things like pots, pans, and deodorant. Note that both of these materials can be poisonous in the right circumstances.
Of course a material’s composition is not always easy to tell. Here are some areas to look out for:
Wood – Is it solid wood, or particle board?
There are lots of nasty chemicals in particle board, which is why you’re not supposed to burn it in your fireplace. Doing so releases those chemicals into the air, but even just having the stuff in your house means potential off-gassing. Opt for good old fashioned solid wood when you can. It looks nice, holds up stronger, and is much friendlier on the chemical scale.
Cloth – What it means to go pure.
Unfortunately, there are way too many toxic chemicals manufacturers like to throw into their cloth products. If it’s baby toys or mattresses, you’re dealing with flame retardants. If it’s non-iron shirts, it’s formaldehyde. A lot of clothes are made of fabrics that have been processed with bleach, and even organic fabrics are sometimes soaked in toxic dyes. New clothes should be washed before wearing, because manufacturers sometimes spray new clothes with chemicals to keep them looking smooth and neat in their packaging. Finally, the cloth type itself should be considered, because artificial fabrics like polyester (which is a type of plastic, by the way) may leave residue on the skin, especially if sweated in.
The most trustworthy fabrics? Organic natural fibers such as organic cotton, wool, and hemp, that have been dyed with safe dyes. A word of caution though: There are fabrics out there that are labeled as “organic” that have not been kept organic through the whole process, i.e. cotton that was grown organically, but then bleached, or bamboo, which requires a chemical treatment to get that soft fabric from the originally organic fibers. One of my best ways to tell what I am getting is sight and smell. Real organic fabric smells wonderful, and if it’s not dyed, fabrics such as cotton will be an off-white color rather than pure white.
Plastics – How to make the enemy your friend.
Ok, plastics are far from natural, but they have become an integral part of our lives. So my rule of thumb here is to stay away from plastics when it’s reasonable to, but otherwise choose plastics that have the best reputation. Kitchen utensils for example, I try to go with wood, metal, or glass, instead of plastic. I even have a glass water bottle instead of a plastic one. However, when choosing a shower curtain, I didn’t like the mechanics of the glass partitions, so instead I made sure the shower curtain I got was PVC free. PVC, by the way, if you haven’t heard of it, is the worst known plastic out there in terms of toxicity. It leaches and off gases, and unfortunately is used in a huge range of household items from water pipes to children’s toys.
The best way to identify what plastics are safe is to look at the recycling number printed on the bottom of many objects. This tells you a bit about what type of plastic it is. PVC is recycle number three. Six is another number you’ll want to stay away from, which includes things like Styrofoam and plastic cutlery. Two, four, and five, are the safest, while one (used for bottled water, etc.), and seven, which is a catch all for other types of plastics, are cautionary tales.
Note that plastic listed as being dishwasher or microwave safe does not mean that it is healthy to put it in the dishwasher or microwave. It simply means that it won’t melt in these conditions. To avoid leaching from plastics I would avoid doing both practices where ever possible.
For us, we don’t own a microwave since we found we do just fine without one, and in its absence, we don’t have to worry about the radiation microwaves emit. As for the rare item we eat that comes in “oven safe” plastic packaging, I’ll empty it into a glass oven proof dish before cooking. Then for the dishes, if it’s plastic, I’ll either do it by hand, or if I’m lazy, I’ll do a plastic only load in the dishwasher on low heat to minimize the chance of leaching.
Cleaning Products – Keeping clean the old fashioned way.
When I started looking around the house for potential hazards for my daughter, I was reminded of what I read during my pregnancy. I read that pregnant women should not use cleaning products that are not safe to inhale or touch because they could do harm to the baby. Personally, I feel that if a substance is that harmful to an unborn baby, it’s probably no good to a crawling around baby who puts everything in her mouth, either. So first off, I replaced all of these types of cleaners in my house with non-toxic solutions.
Besides some brand name non-toxic cleaners, there are also some great natural ones you might unknowingly already have in your home. Baking soda, for example, is very multipurpose. With a few other ingredients, you can find all sorts of natural cleaning recipes online. Two natural cleaners I often find myself using is lemon juice, for stains, and vinegar, as a natural disinfectant.
But what else to look out for? Fabric softener is a big one. A lot of resources will warn you against using it on baby clothing because baby’s skin will often react to the strong chemicals that make up this product. Personally, I’ve also stopped using it on my own clothes. But how does one still get clothes soft? Well, I’ve heard baking soda can help, though I have not tried it thoroughly enough to confirm it. Also clothes turn out infinitely softer coming out of the dryer than they do line-dried. For my daughter Jade’s nappies that I air-dry, I’ve found scrunching them up a few times in my hands once they’re dry also really helps.
The last big change I have made in this area, is that I no longer use shampoo or conditioner on my hair or Jade’s. Both of these common cleaning products, besides being a lot less necessary then we are led to believe, are also known for having various carcinogens in them. They can even contain PVC, as this is sometimes put in the “perfum” or “fragrance” listed on shampoos, conditioners, soaps, perfumes and makeup that you can buy. When I first learned this, I was reluctant to change because I didn’t know how the transition would be, but when I started taking all my baths with Jade, I was worried enough about her drinking the bathwater that I was inspired to make the change. I can say now, that I’m happy with my decision and I look forward to going over the details of my experiences in another article.
Wireless – The price of unplugging
Many will remember the news articles going around about how mobile phones can cause cancer. This is because of the radiation they give off in order to transmit signals. However, many do not think about all the other devices they now own that also use radiation to transmit data. Wireless internet, Bluetooth, and cordless phones, all produce radiation, the safety of which is still too early to know.
Now I’ll admit, this has been a hard one to cut back on for me. Even as I type this, I am doing so from my tablet which connects to our Wi-Fi. However, there are easy ways to cut back. When I am home, I do not carry my mobile on me; I keep it in a central location in our house so that I can hear it ringing without being next to it. On my wireless devices, I turn off the Wi-Fi when I am not using it (which as a plus also saves battery life, by the way). I try to use as many wired products as possible, such as for my mouse and keyboard. When out and about, I keep my mobile in my bag farthest from me, and turn it off when it’s not needed. Also, as good practice, it’s good to hold mobile phones away from your head when they are trying to connect, as this is when the signal is strongest.
How to Still Relax
After hearing all this, you might go, “Eek, now I need to throw out half the stuff I own!”, but relax, don’t panic. You don’t need to switch over everything, and the things you do choose to rethink, you can do so overtime. These are long-term health effects after all.
Also remember, the body is amazing at dealing with what we throw at it. Take a drug too long and your body will learn to counter the effect. Take a poison in small doses, and your body will often build an immunity. I once heard of an experiment they did where they made a guy where glasses that turned everything he saw upside-down for an extended period of time. At the end of the trial period, he actually saw things right side-up, but when taking off the glasses everything was then upside down again. These are the wonders of the human body.
That said, there’s something to be said for not swamping your body with toxins and radiation either. A lot of the products I’ve listed have been shown to cause health problems, and the more of these your body is fighting at once, the more likely your immune system will be weakened and not be able to handle additional load.
The point is to keep everything in moderation. Minimize what you can, remove risks that don’t gain you anything, and you’re giving your body an extra step up. By knowing what’s out there, you can give your body an occasional break while still enjoying modern life, because at the end of the day, if you’re making the right decisions for the right reasons, then your life will be at its best.