A guide to detoxing your home for better health and wellbeing
Toxic air pollutants lurking indoors can cause headaches, lethargy, and aggravate asthma symptoms and, according to the NSW Environmental Trust, that’s just the beginning. Fumes resulting from toxic products inside the home have been linked to hyperactivity in children, chronic fatigue syndrome and cancer. Toxic air in the home is a serious issue and one that bears a hefty price tag, according to the CSIRO. It estimates poor indoor air quality costs Australians around $11 billion a year.
A bug’s life
Bugs do have a place in this world and most adults would agree: it’s outside! Unfortunately, however, creepy crawlies such as ants and cockroaches do manage to find their way indoors. They can be anywhere: carpets, curtains, your cupboards, even under your kitchen sink. To rid your home of these critters, instead of reaching for potentially toxic bug sprays or using harsh chemical treatments that can leave dangerous residues, try natural alternatives.
One of the easiest ways to deter creepy crawlies like cockroaches and ants is to be vigilant about cleaning up food scraps and always make sure jars and containers in your pantry have their lids screwed on tight. It also pays to remove clutter from bench tops and other areas where cockroaches can hide.
So give your home a thorough clean with natural pest deterrents. Clear your cupboards and wipe out the inside of all your drawers with eucalyptus oil. You can also put eucalyptus oil on cotton buds and place them in your clothes drawers to repel silverfish.
To stop ants invading your home, cut off their water supply by fixing dripping taps. Use soapy water to obliterate their trails and rub a cut lemon over their tracks as a further deterrent, suggests naturopath and nutritionist Fiona Keogh.
“You can also try blending together orange essential oil, a pinch of cinnamon powder, add water and pour the mix into an atomiser bottle,” she says. Squirt it into the gaps where the ants gain entry.
To stop cockroaches dead in their tracks, use 100mL of water to 10 drops of eucalyptus oil, wiping over areas they hide in. Also try greasing the rim of a margarine container or bottle with butter and pop in a couple of tasty scraps such as bacon or beer: the cockroaches can get in, but they can’t get out.
“For a longer-lasting cockroach deterrent, mix together baking soda and powdered sugar in equal quantities and place in small containers in those hard-to-get-to places,” says Keogh.
Clear your cupboards and wipe out the inside of all your drawers with eucalyptus oil. You can also put eucalyptus oil on cotton buds and place them in your clothes drawers to repel silverfish.
As rainwater tanks become more commonplace, so do mosquitoes — unless steps are taken to disrupt their breeding cycle. Mosquitoes are most active at dawn and dusk and they just love stagnant water. Make your house mosquito proof by covering windows and doors with screens. Regularly change the water in birdbaths and pet bowls and remove any sources of stagnant water in your yard.
For a natural mosquito repellent, burn eucalyptus oil (2—5 drops) or try growing basil or lavender in pots. Keogh says, “You can also rub crushed-up lavender leaves on your skin to repel mosquitoes, or blend 10 drops of lavender oil with a massage oil such as olive oil or almond oil and rub on your skin for a fragrant, natural alternative to harsh chemical mosquito repellents.”
Ditch artificial chemical room fresheners in favour of fragrant fresh cut flowers. Plant herb pots on your windowsill for another aromatic, healthy alternative to toxic air fresheners. Some people opt for chemical air fresheners to remove cooking smells — but there’s no need, says naturopath Fiona Keogh. “To remove food odours and cooking smells from your home, place small containers of vinegar in your fridge and oven,” she says.
Shooting the breeze
To reduce your reliance on the Earth’s cache of depleting resources and lower your carbon footprint, make sure your home is well insulated. Insulation keeps the heat out in summer and helps you stay warm and snug in winter.
Despite the benefits, Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) statistics show only 61 per cent of Australian homes are insulated. Roof and ceiling insulation can cut up to 45 per cent from your heating and cooling energy bill, according to EnergyWise Queensland. If you add wall insulation you’ll slash a further 20 per cent.
The energy in your home is a vital life force. If the chi in your home cannot flow easily it can become stagnant and toxic, trapping negative energies.
One of the simplest ways to ventilate your home to allow any chemical residues out is to open a door or window — anything that allows free-flowing air to circulate. A well-ventilated bathroom reduces the buildup of mould; ditto in laundries. Towels that aren’t hung out properly can also trap mould. Ensure your kids aren’t bunching up towels and then tucking them over the rack. Opt for a heated towel rack or hang towels out in the sunshine.
Detox your home with feng shui
The energy in your home is a vital life force. If the chi in your home cannot flow easily it can become stagnant and toxic, trapping negative energies.
This can lead to a host of issues, says feng shui consultant Jeannette May. “There may be issues such as ill health, financial loss, a breakup or tension between family members, and depression,” she says.
One of the key elements in the home that can stop the chi energy flow is electromagnetic energy, found in appliances such as televisions, computers and stereos. To absorb the harmful magnetic waves, May recommends placing raw amethyst crystal on each electrical appliance in your home. Grains of rock salt sprinkled in the corner of each room also help absorb negative energy. “Replace it every 28 days,” May suggests.
Visitors to your home may also inadvertently bring negative energy with them. You can put a protective shield around your body to prevent taking on board this negative energy by using lavender oil. Place a small drop on your finger and rub in gently at the top of your spine at the back of your neck.
There are simple steps you can take to detoxify your home and clear away negative and stale energy. This is particularly important if you have recently bought a home or are moving into rented premises, says May.
“If it’s been a house of turmoil, then your body will absorb the negative energy,” she says. You need to remove anything from the home that the previous owners or tenants left behind.
You need a smudge stick (made from pure sage) and a positive affirmation that you recite as you enter each room. The affirmation may go something like this: “I enlighten this house with positive enforcement of positive thoughts of love and prosperity, as I banish all negative energy from this home.”
To begin the process, put on your favourite music and dust and vacuum your home.
Open all the windows and doors to let the air flow through freely. Begin at the back of your home and smudge yourself from top to toe, reciting the affirmation as you enter each room. Include curtains and soft furnishings in the process, as they can also trap negative energy.
Lighting sandalwood incense can also help the cleansing process. “It’s also very good for cleansing and repairing any tears in your aura,” says May. “If you are unwell, you’ll be quite amazed at how much better you feel and how your energy levels improve.”
To keep the energy flowing in your home, move your furniture around from time to time; this prevents energy from becoming stale. Remove any clutter and anything that is broken from the home as this also stores negative energy.
A lick of paint
There’s nothing like a fresh lick of paint to revamp your home’s interior. Unfortunately, many conventional paints contain dangerous vapours from a plethora of chemicals including benzene, kerosene, ammonia, formaldehyde, toluene and xylene, all of which are neurotoxins and known carcinogens, according to Good Environmental Choice —Australia.
There are eco-friendly green alternatives that are safe to use. Plant-based paints are made with natural ingredients including plant-derived solvents and binders. Many are also made from renewable resources such as citrus and linseed.
“Eco-friendly paints are the way of the future for home decorating,” says Daniel Wurm, managing director of GreenPainters, a not-for-profit organisation that advocates the use of eco-friendly paints and painting practices.
Some paints, particularly solvent-based ones, can be a hazard to your health, according to Wurm. “You are breathing in high levels of volatile organic compounds [VOCs]. A lot of people have allergic reactions to them and children in particular are more susceptible,” he says.
Unfortunately, the fumes from the paints don’t dissipate for quite some time. “They continue to off-gas for at least three years after they have been applied,” he says.
According to Wurm, a better alternative is to choose natural paints: “Any VOCs they may contain are usually natural, not harmful petrochemicals.”
As for what colours are less toxic, Mr Wurm says consumers aren’t restricted by colour choices in low-VOC paints. “In the past, the tints used to colour the paints contained VOCs so you were always advised to choose paints that were lighter colours, as they had less tints — and less VOCs,” he says. “These days, tints are low-VOC so you have a limitless colour palette to choose from.”
You can buy natural paints from specialist paint stores, on line or through GreenPainters. Look for paint that’s been given the low-VOC tick of approval by Good Environmental Choice — Australia.
Your home décor
To help reduce the toxin levels in your home, next time you decide to redecorate your living space, opt for eco-friendly alternatives: go preloved or choose timber or natural products such as bamboo, cotton, or hemp.
Some furniture contains formaldehyde, a toxic chemical that not only can make you sick but has been linked to cancer. In some cases it is the most vulnerable among us who are at greater risk. Researchers from Environment California Research & Policy Centre in 2006 purchased 21 baby nursery products to assess the levels of these dangerous carcinogens. They discovered six of the products produced high levels of formaldehyde vapour.
When you cook on a stove, tiny microscopic particles are sent into the atmosphere. When inhaled they can be deposited into the alveoli of your lungs. According to Dr Zoran Ristovski from the Queensland University of Technology International Laboratory for Air Quality and Health, “Inhaling these ultra-fine particles can cause inflammation in the lung tissue.”
During certain activities, indoor levels of VOCs may reach 1000 times that of the outside air. Prolonged or direct exposure to VOCs may cause headaches, drowsiness and vomiting.
To help detox your home, open the windows to increase ventilation when you cook. It’s also important always to use the cooking hood extraction filter on your stove. “They are reasonably effective, collecting between 50 to 80 per cent of the particles,” says Dr Ristovski. “The most efficient type is a high-efficiency particulate air [HEPA] filter to extract the air outside. These will collect more than 99 per cent.”
Air purifiers can remove a wide variety of contaminants, including dust, pollens, dander, odours and chemical vapours from inside the home. HEPA filters use a motorised fan to draw particles into the filter. Another type, ionic air cleaners, charge air particles in a room, causing them to cling together and fall to the ground so you don’t breathe them in.
Prices of air purifiers can start at around $70, depending on the size of the room and the quality of the filter. So are they a good idea?
“If someone in your home suffers from allergies or respiratory problems, it is recommended,” says Dr Ristovski.
Up in smoke
What do hydrogen cyanide, arsenic, sulphur dioxide, acetone and insecticide have in common? They’re among the 400-plus dangerous chemicals found in tobacco smoke. According to the Cancer Council of NSW, it is not always the smoker who is at greatest risk from tobacco pollutants. Side stream or passive cigarette smoke can be inhaled more deeply in the lungs than mainstream smoke because the smoke particles are smaller. For the ultimate clean air solution — quit. You’ll be doing yourself and your family a favour. Don’t let others smoke inside your home.
Rub, scrub and sparkle
There are hundreds of cleaning products on the market that manufacturers guarantee will make your home sparkling clean. Take a peek under most household sinks and you’ll discover a staggering array of cleaners, bleaches, disinfectants and more. Sprays to buff your shiny stainless-steel fridge, creamy cleansers to strip shower mould — there’s even stuff to make your toilet look as blue as the Mediterranean.
Have you ever wondered just how safe these products are? Many contain a dangerous cocktail of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) containing carbon that evaporate into the atmosphere at room temperature. The US Environmental Protection Agency has found concentrations of VOCs in indoor air to be two to five times greater than in outdoor air and, during certain activities, indoor levels of VOCs may reach 1000 times that of the outside air. Prolonged or direct exposure to VOCs may cause headaches, drowsiness, and vomiting.
A CSIRO study of VOCs in household cleaning products showed fumes do dissipate fairly quickly if you have good ventilation. However, here’s the catch: clean regularly and you are continually topping up the levels of toxins.
In response to consumer demand for more eco-friendly products, manufacturers have introduced a range of orange cleaners based on limonene (also called d-limonene), a degreaser sourced from orange oil, which is obtained from orange peel.
According to Choice, these products, while marketed as environmentally friendly alternatives to harsh petroleum-based cleaners, are not entirely risk free. The substance limonene is in fact a volatile organic compound. Choice is quick to reassure consumers that there is only a low risk, as the products normally only contain very minute amounts.
Arguably, one of the best ways to keep your home clean, fresh and toxin free is to use good old-fashioned cleaning methods. Perhaps our grandmothers really did know best. Some do require a little more elbow grease to get the same result as chemical-laden solvent cleaners, but ultimately it’s a small price to pay for a greener, cleaner planet.
Gathering your green cleaning kit is easy and very economical. All of these items can be found in supermarkets.
You’ll need bicarbonate of soda, white vinegar, lemons, a microfibre cloth which cleans effectively with just water, eucalyptus oil and tea tree oil.
- Bicarbonate of soda is a good all-round cleaner that also acts as a deodoriser. Just mix it into a paste with a little water.
- White vinegar has disinfectant properties due to its acidity. It cuts grease and is a mild deodoriser.
- Eucalyptus oil is distilled from eucalyptus leaves. It makes a great spot cleaner.
- Lemon juice is a deodoriser and serves as a mild bleach.
- Tea tree oil cleans, disinfects and it is anti-fungal.
In the shed
The garage is one of the places in the home that tends to accumulate most of the hazardous materials. From paints and car oils to kerosene and chlorine, the home garage can be a toxic hazardous wasteland.
To ensure your garage doesn’t become a risk to your family’s health, spring-clean your garage and dispose of any dangerous toxic substances. Ensure that those that remain are stored safely.
Some things such as used motor oil can be recycled. You can drop it off at selected collection points. For more information on where your nearest collection point is, call 1800 803 772. Contact your local council to find out where you can drop off other hazardous materials.
Allergy and asthma at home
Did you know allergy is very common in Australia and New Zealand, affecting around one in six children and one in 10 adults? Although some allergies are seasonal, there are other things that can affect some asthma and allergy sufferers all year round. One of these is dust mites, says Dr Janet Rimmer, National Asthma Council director: “For asthma sufferers that are dust-mite sensitive, the key is to minimise exposure.
“Dust mites live in soft furnishings. Use allergy covers on mattresses and pillows and ensure the rest of the bedding is washed regularly. Get rid of carpets and replace with flooring and remove soft toys and soft furnishings in the room — these can all harbour dust mites.”
To neutralise allergens from dust mites, you can also try tannic acid. Sprinkle it liberally over couches, mattresses and other places you’ll find dust mites.
Heating and cooling your home
To keep those winter chills at bay, use a flued gas heater: it’s an environmentally friendly way to heat your home. If your heater doesn’t have a flue, make sure there’s adequate ventilation with lots of free-flowing air. Unflued heaters can expel nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide, a dangerous and sometimes deadly combination, particularly if the heater is faulty or not serviced regularly, according to the Victorian Government Environmental Health Unit.
When the mercury starts to soar, air conditioning is a popular way to keep your cool. Air conditioning is a healthy way to keep your home environment cleaner, by filtering tiny particles out of the air.
However, you do need to treat your air conditioning unit with care. Dust and dirt build up on filters and potentially harbour micro-organisms, which can be a health hazard. To keep your air conditioner clean and green, clean the filter regularly.
Your home can be a toxic wasteland but with a little thought and effort you can keep it fresh and toxin free, making it a life-affirming place in which to lead your life.
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