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Are toxic chemicals lurking in your home?


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Photo: Stocksy/Kate Daigneault

By now you’re astute at vetting the beauty products you use and food you buy (thanks to some help from yours truly), but there’s another (major) area of your life that needs that same devotion: your home.

Today, the Environmental Working Group released its Healthy Home Guide to provide consumers the tools they need in order to be a savvy resident—because, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, the air indoors can be two to five times more polluted than the air outdoors (yeah, I was surprised too).

So where exactly do these pollutants come from? Seemingly from places, such as the insulation, that you’ll never even see (much less think about), says Nneka Leiba, EWG director of healthy living science. “We’ve found that some common culprits include formaldehyde, flame retardants, VOCs (volatile organic compounds), PVCs (polyvinyl chloride), and PFCs (perfluorinated chemicals).”

 The air indoors can be two to five times more polluted than the air outdoors.

She explains that formaldehyde is pretty common because it’s used in lots of glues and adhesives that keep building materials together; so many couches are doused in flame retardants—which are associated with endocrine disruption; VOCs are emitted from all sorts of home essentials and can be serious irritants; PVC is considered one of the most toxic forms of plastic, and can be found in window frames and flooring; and PFCs can weaken your immune system and have been shown to be carcinogenic. In other words—there are many culprits lingering around in the most common household items.

“We spend about 90 percent of our time indoors,” notes Leiba. “A lot of the time, we’re sitting inside with the windows closed and not getting fresh air—so we’re sitting in a lot of those chemicals. People need to do homework about these and think of products as the chemicals they’re releasing.”

By making some super simple swaps, you can actually make a big difference. Well+Good Council member Sophia Gushée has given us some easy tips to detox our households such as using stainless steel water bottles, ditching plastic containers, and cleaning with baking soda as opposed to pre-packaged cleaners.

Those cleaning products, of course, don’t disclose their ingredients—which is why Leiba insists on calling the manufacturer to get informed or checking EWG’s guide of safer items to buy. You can take easy steps to make a difference, including keeping your windows open and dusting (sigh). “Increasing ventilation is really important—many parts of the country don’t do that enough,” she says. “And dust is an interesting mix of a lot of the chemicals that come in from both the outdoors and indoors, so getting rid of that as soon as possible is key.”

So, who’s ready for fall cleaning?

Speaking of pollutants, is indoor air quality giving you acne? And, to stay safe, here’s how to DIY your own cleaning products from plants. 

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