Is Your Home Making You Sick?


Our homes are supposed to be a place of refuge but did you know that they could also be making us sick?  Asthma, headaches, coughing, and allergies are just a few of the signs that you may need to make some changes to your home.  Lucky for you, we've outlined some of the problem areas and what you can do to create a healthier environment for you and your family!


Air Quality

Do you struggle with asthma, allergies, and regular headaches?  Your homes' heating and cooling systems could be the culprit.  In fact, the EPA has noted indoor air quality as one of the top five environmental risks to public health!  Even if you clean your home on a regular basis, air pollutants are circulated in and out of the air by multiple sources within the home such as: chemicals in cleaning products, synthetic fragrances, paints, carpet, and furniture; as well as mold, bacteria, and mites. 

  • Solution:

    • Replace your air filters regularly and have your air ducts professionally cleaned every couple of years, and have your heating system serviced.

    • Encase your mattresses with impermeable covers; avoid feather comforters and pillows where mites love to live; wash and dry your bedding at high heat temperatures.

    • Limit the amount of carpet, rugs and curtains that you own as they are difficult to clean and hold a lot of dust. If you can't get rid of your carpet, make sure to use a vacuum with a HEPA filter; dust and vacuum often.

    • Open your windows at least 5 minutes (the more the better) every day to let fresh air breeze through.

    • A study conducted by NASA identified several houseplants such as these as reducing the concentration of common air contaminants.

    • Stay away from perfumes and air fresheners - baking soda will do the trick. Simply, place some baking soda in a small dish and place it in your room where the smell seems to be the issue. After about 15 minutes, compost the baking soda.

    • Burn clean candles - those made from organic soy or beeswax, and that use essential oils. You really have to do your research on this as "fragrance free" generally means "no scent".


Home Decor

We wouldn't think of furniture as being an issue when it comes to contributing to poor indoor air quality but did you know that most conventionally-made furniture contains VOCs?  The good news for you is that greening your home is easier than you think! 

  • Solution:

    • When considering purchasing a new piece of furniture, look to buy pieces that are either second-hand or sustainably-made. When you buy second-hand you are reducing the amount of toxic chemical content coming into your home because the piece has already had time to off-gas.

    • Wood furniture is a great route to go when it comes to healthy, sustainable home decor. When looking to purchase a new piece of furniture or decor, look for pieces that are made from either reclaimed wood and/or are unfinished. Avoid pieces that are made from plywood and particle boards as these are laden with hazardous glues.

    • Looking to reupholster? Shoot to use natural foam rubber, organic cotton, and wool fill for the core. As for the fabric, look for material that is made from organic cotton and silk and is untreated.

If at all possible, lose the carpet.  Conventional carpets give off fumes from things such as stainproofing and glues, and are a haven for dust and allergenic bites (i.e. pet dander, mites, fungal spores, bacteria, mildew, etc.) as well as pesticides tracked in from outdoors.  Hard-surfaced floors (i.e. those made of wood, bamboo, cork, and natural linoleum) are much easier to clean and are safer alternatives.

  • Solution:

    • If at all possible, lose the carpet. If you can't get rid of your carpet, make sure to use a vacuum with a HEPA filter; and vacuum often.

    • Take off all shoes at the front door.

    • Select rugs that are made from natural fibers (i.e. sisal, jute, wool, and cotton) and are pesticide-free.

Traditional household paints release solvents known as VOCs.  These paints are used to prevent mold however they off-gas dangerous fumes.  

  • Solution:

    • Use VOC paint. Several well-known paint companies now offer low and even VOC-free paint!

    • Looking to change-up the look of an old piece of furniture? Chalk Paint® by Annie Sloan is a non-toxic paint that can be used to paint anything from furniture to table linens.


Cleaning Products

Have you ever thought how ironic it is that we keep so many of our cleaning products locked away under the sink and then proceed to spray and wipe and spill contents all over our home??  While the manufacturers are not required to list the ingredients in these "cleaners", if you do some research you'll find that some of what is inside are known respiratory irritants, carcinogens, hormone disruptors, and neurotoxins.  Not only do we pollute our homes and our bodies when we use these but we also pollute the planet.  

  • Solution:

    • White vinegar, baking soda, castile soap, water, rags, microfiber cloths, sponges, a broom and dustpan, bucket, and a spray bottle are all you really need when it comes to cleaning products. Instead of bleach and other harsh chemicals, some baking soda mixed with some water goes a long way. White vinegar diluted with water is an excellent solution to Lysol and other sprays. Castile soap diluted with water is a great soap in general. If you unable to get rid of your carpet, make sure to use a vacuum with a HEPA filter; and vacuum often.


Children's Toys

The soft plastic used in so many inexpensive, colorful toys can release unhealthy fumes into the air (known as"off-gassing"), exposing children to inhalation.  Soft plastic toys can be "particularly troublesome," notes Christopher Gavin, author of Healthy Child Healthy World, "rubber ducks, bath books, plastic cars, inflatable figurines, dolls, and learning toys can also contain phthalates, softening agents used to make PVC [polyvinyl chloride] pliable."  Studies have shown that phthalates can be hormonally disruptive in animals, and can easily leach out when kids suck on or chew on a toy (Gavin).  

  • Solution:

    • Look for "phthalate free" on packaging; if a toy smells like a new shower curtain, it most likely contains phthalates.

    • Opt for silicone free pacifiers and teethers.

Along with avoiding select plastic toys, its important to avoid toys made with lead.  Lead can be toxic if inhaled or ingested.  Its been found that when exposed to lead, children under 6 have developed learning problems, memory loss and even ADD.  Unfortunately the effects of lead poisoning are irreversible (Gavin).

  • Solution:

    • Toys made from natural materials such as wood, silk, cotton, metal, etc. are great alternatives to cheap, plastic toys.

    • Don't give children antique toys. Regulations on lead were only put into effect in 1978 so toys made prior to then, most likely contain lead.

    • If a toy was manufactured in China or India, you might want to reconsider having it in your home.

    • Call the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) web site. The CPSC lists updates on recalled toys.



Atkins, Andrea.  7 Ways Your House Is Making You Sick.  The Huffington Post, 2014.

Gavigan, Christopher.  Healthy Child Healthy World - Creating a Cleaner, Greener, Safer, Home.  Plume, 2009.