Table of contents
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Most people spend over half of our time at home (and even more if you work from home!), so it’s one of the first places we can look to for supporting a healthy lifestyle.
This guide is designed to help you consider how your home impacts your health. We’ll cover hidden toxins in your home (uh-oh!) and ways to limit them; give you tips on using your home to support a healthy lifestyle; provide plenty of links if you’d like to learn more or purchase one of the recommended items; and we’ve included a Healthy Home Checklist to work off of for your own home.
As with all of our healthy living guides: This is intended as an informative and helpful resource to support a healthy lifestyle that promotes your overall health and well-being—it is not intended to prescribe a specific “right” way of living, to make you feel guilty about products you currently use or have previously used, nor to scare you about potential negative health impacts. It’s here for you to use, as you’d like, in creating a healthy lifestyle that works for you and your family.
No need to take all the recommendations in one day—just start where you are and take one step at a time to a healthier home!
Home is where the heart is. And the lungs, and the skin, and the liver. Stay well with a healthy home.
Here are our top recommendations for building a home environment that supports your overall health and wellbeing:
Breathe clean air
Did you know that the air inside your home is often more polluted than the air right outside of it? It’s true. Unfortunately, the contents of our homes—everything from flooring to paint to mattresses and furniture—contain chemicals that off-gas into the air we breathe. These harmful toxins (like formaldehyde, found in furniture, paper products and synthetic fabrics; benzene, in plastics, dyes and detergents; and VOCs—volatile organic compounds, in paints and varnishes) can cause symptoms such as allergies and inflammation, dizziness and drowsiness. Long-term exposure is linked to damage to the liver, kidney and brain, as well as certain types of cancer.
Be conscious of the materials you bring into your home
When possible, purchase furniture made from solid wood and natural materials without added chemical flame retardants. (If you need a simple/affordable place to start: IKEA is an industry leader in phasing out chemical toxins from their products.)
Avoiding chemical flame retardants is easier these days than it used to be—for furniture manufactured after 2015, look for the TB117-2013 label on cushions (or underneath the couch), which should read “The upholstery materials in this product contain NO added flame retardant chemicals.” Ashley Furniture, the largest manufacturer and retailer of furniture in the U.S. has removed flame retardant chemicals from their manufacturing (woohoo!).
Solid wood furniture is typically a safer bet than plywood, particle board or composite wood, all of which use glues that can emit formaldehyde fumes. Look for the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) seal denoting wood that is sustainably harvested.
Paints, laminates and veneers are typically high in VOCs, so a budget-friendly workaround is to purchase unfinished furniture and paint it yourself with a safe paint/sealant, such as AFM Safecoat, which seals in VOCs and prevents them from off-gassing into your home.
If you’re not able to purchase nontoxic furniture new, used furniture is a safer alternative, as the volatile compounds have already spent years off-gassing and should now exist in lower, less toxic amounts.
When choosing your new paint color, also be sure to choose your paint ingredients wisely: look for Green Seal-11 certified paint, which is low- or no-VOC and limits other harmful ingredients.
If your home was built before 1978, it likely contains lead paint (possibly under layers of new paint), and thus lead dust. Particularly if you have young children, get your home tested and, if needed, repainted—lead exposure in children has serious neurological and developmental effects.
When building or remodeling, consider the health impact of your building materials—everything from carpet and flooring to cabinetry, paint and ventilation systems impacts the air quality of your home. We suggest referring to EWG’s building supplies guides for more information.
Skip the chemical-fragranced air freshener and petroleum-based candles (which contain known carcinogens, allergens and respiratory irritants) and use nontoxic soy candles or an essential oil diffuser instead.
Avoid vinyl (PVC) shower curtains, which contain a known carcinogen that happens to be best released into the air under warm and moist conditions… like a shower! PEVA or EVA liners are a safer option, and nylon or hemp are even better (though, unfortunately, not as easy to find).
Use your nose as a guide. If a new product smells “funny” (i.e. like chemicals), leave it outside for a few days to air out before bringing it into your home.
Reduce dust, mold & other indoor allergens
Dust (a combination of dead skin cells, soil tracked in from outside, and chemicals from products) is a household allergen that can cause eye irritation, coughing, sneezing and even asthma attacks. Though often harmless, high levels of dust, dust from chemical sources, or very small particles can be unhealthy.
Keep your floors clean by using a HEPA filter vacuum regularly. HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filters trap smaller particles than “regular” vacuums, helping to keep them from ending up in your lungs and bloodstream.
Remember to vacuum upholstered furniture regularly too.
Dust exposed surfaces regularly with a microfiber or wet cotton cloth.
Be aware of excess moisture (for example, in bathrooms) that can lead to mold or mildew. If necessary, use a dehumidifier to keep indoor humidity at a healthy level.
On the other hand, if your indoor air is too dry, use a humidifier to add moisture to the air. You can check your relative humidity with this handy little tool. The ideal range for health and comfort is 35-50%.
To reduce tracking outdoor dirt/dust around your home, leave your shoes at the door after wiping them on a natural fiber doormat.
Purify your indoor air
Invest in air-purifying houseplants, aiming for one ten-inch plant per 100 square feet. Some of the best purifying plants include: rubber plant, snake plant, garden mum, ficus, peace lily, boston fern, bamboo palm, spider plant, dracaena and aloe vera.
Himalayan salt lamps, besides being pretty and calming, also work to cleanse your air of dust, pollen, smoke and other contaminants. How does a block of salt do this?! By attracting and absorbing water molecules from the air (as well as any contaminants they’re carrying); as the lamp heats, the water evaporates back into the air, leaving the other particles locked in the salt. Look for a 100% pure Himalayan salt lamp like the one linked above.
A portable HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter removes pollutants such as smoke, dust, mold spores, pollen, pet dander and chemical pollutants like VOCs. We like this ozone-free HEPA purifier, though this Dyson purifier has particularly great air quality monitoring and smart home features. These are effective for one room only—be sure to understand the square footage of your model. Clean and replace your filter regularly according to package instructions.
Opening your windows regularly helps to air out your home and release accumulating toxins.
If your home has a central air system, use the highest rated filter it can accommodate (the American Lung Association recommends MERV 10 or higher). Make sure your filter is installed correctly and changed regularly.
Have your home tested for radon (a natural radioactive gas that can build up indoors and cause lung cancer over time). About 1 in 15 U.S. homes have unhealthy radon levels. If levels are too high, have a certified professional install a radon ventilation system.
Interested in knowing more about the air quality inside your home? This combined dust, VOC, mold & formaldehyde test kit is available on Amazon (lab analysis included in the cost). If you’d like to continuously monitor your air quality, this Dyson HEPA air purifier does just that.
Filter your tap water
Depending on where you live, your tap water likely contains more than just pure water. 😥 A wide range of agricultural and industrial chemicals contaminates local drinking water across the U.S., and some of these contaminants are linked to cancer, neurological problems and endocrine disruption. While many are found at levels legal under federal and state regulations, that’s not necessarily good news, as the EPA’s contaminant list hasn’t been updated in 20 years, and the contaminants are present at levels scientific studies have found to cause health effects.
For optimum health, we recommend filtering both the water you drink and your bath/shower water—studies show that we actually absorb more chlorine through shower water than drinking water.
Filter your drinking water with a water-purifying carafe, faucet attachment, under-counter, or whole-home filtration system. Choose a water filter certified by NSF International or the Water Quality Association, which independently test and certify filter effectiveness. Carbon filters are some of the most affordable and accessible. This Brita pitcher removes chlorine, copper, mercury and cadmium.
Change water filters on schedule (old filters are less effective and can grow bacteria).
Use filtered water in cooking—like boiling water for pasta, filling ice cube trays, making coffee, etc.
Pets and houseplants like filtered water too!
A showerhead filter removes chlorine and other chemicals from your shower water, which prevents it from being absorbed through your skin or inhaled via steam.
If you like baths, you can either run your bath from a filtered showerhead, or use a bath dechlorinator.
Be informed: Check EWG’s Tap Water Database (or your local water utility’s website) for your local drinking water quality report.
Bye-bye, bottled water. Reports show it’s not necessarily safer than tap water (it typically contains contaminants too), and over time plastic leaches from the bottle into the water. Use a reusable stainless steel water bottle like our favorite Klean Kanteen.
If you’re able, a whole-home mixed media filtration system will remove a wide range of contaminants from all of your home’s water, including that used in showering and washing dishes (steamy vapor has contaminants too). It’s an investment, but lasts many years and doesn’t require much maintenance.
Fluoride and infants: if your tap water contains fluoride (three-quarters of municipal water sources do), use a reverse osmosis filter or fluoride-free bottled water for your baby’s formula, as fluoride can damage developing teeth.
Sweet dreams: mattress & bedding
We spend about a third of our lives in bed, which makes it an important place to invest in healthy materials! Conventional mattresses contain toxic materials (like polyurethane foam and chemical flame retardants) that are known neurotoxins and carcinogens. Bedding is typically made with chemical dyes and pesticide-laden cotton, and pillows become havens for dust mites and other allergens.
Tips for investing in healthier bedding:
Organic mattresses made from cotton, wool or natural latex (such as Brentwood Home) are affordable and available on Amazon to be shipped to your door! (Bonus: natural latex-based foam is more resistant to mold and dust mites than other synthetic materials.)
Organic cotton sheets don’t contain harmful pesticide residues like their conventional counterparts. Target carries a line of affordable organic sheets.
Rest your head on organic cotton pillows with hypoallergenic recycled polyester fill.
Dust mites love warm, moist places like mattresses and bedding—particularly if you suffer from allergies, protect your pillow and mattress from dust mites with an organic cotton pillowcase cover or bamboo waterproof mattress cover and launder your bedding frequently in hot water.
Avoid mattress covers made of PVC or vinyl, which are sources of phthalates—chemicals that affect the reproductive system. Instead, choose a waterproof mattress cover made of tightly woven organic cotton or bamboo.
Keep in mind the furniture tips above when choosing your bedframe and other bedroom furniture to reduce air quality contaminants in your bedroom.
Good health starts in the kitchen
Healthy kitchenware is so extensive that we have an entire guide on building a healthy kitchen. Check it out for more detail, but the gist is: cook and bake in kitchenware that does not add toxins to your air or food!
Tips for investing in healthy cookware:
Your best bet for healthy cookware is cast iron (bare or enamel), glass or stainless steel.
Aluminum baking sheets are safe to heat as long as you don’t scratch them (skip the metal spatula) or expose them to acidic foods.
Be careful to not overheat or scratch nonstick cookware, as that promotes the release of toxic fumes.
Don’t heat plastic (or Styrofoam!) in the microwave.
Store acidic food (e.g. tomato-based foods) in glass storage containers with BPA-free lids.
We also have a Healthy Grocery Guide with more detailed recommendations on stocking your fridge and pantry with healthy foods.
Nontoxic cleaning supplies
It’s no secret that conventional household cleaners contain toxic chemicals. But did you know that these chemicals are central nervous system disruptors, known carcinogens linked to cancer and birth defects, and many are toxic via inhalation? So, instead of “cleaning” your home with products that are toxic to touch and inhale, it’s best to use safer alternatives made from natural, plant-derived ingredients.
Switch to safer cleaning supplies:
An increasing number of brands carry a full line of human-, pet- and environmentally-friendly cleaning supplies, many with reputable production and social responsibility standards that are available at mainstream supermarkets and drugstores. Some of our easily accessible favorites are: Seventh Generation, Bona, Method and Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day.
You can also easily (and cheaply!) make your own homemade cleaners—visit our Healthy Home Pinterest board for recipes and inspiration.
Skip cleaning supplies you don’t need, like dryer sheets, fabric softener, dishwasher drying gel—anything your grandma wouldn’t have used or needed.
Check out our Healthy Cleaning Guide for more detailed information.
Consider your personal care products
Hair sprays, perfumes and other personal care products affect the indoor air quality and overall health of your home.
Use nontoxic personal care products, cosmetics and perfumes (see our Natural Beauty Guide for recommendations).
Be mindful of your aerosol usage. Though ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) were banned back in the ‘70s, modern aerosols still emit VOCs, which we don’t want to be adding to our indoor air.
Organization & inspiration
It’s totally normal and healthy to fall anywhere on the spectrum from “messy” to “neat freak,” but there are some benefits to keeping a clean, organized and clutter-free home: a regularly cleaned and well-ventilated home helps to reduce germs, indoor allergens and pollutants, and even dangerous mold and mildew. As a bonus, organized and clutter-free home environments are shown to help to keep your mind clear and focused—a helpful trait in living a healthy lifestyle!
Tips to keep your home clean, organized and an inspiring place to be:
Only keep what you use and love. The things in your home should bring you joy and/or functionality. (Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is a great resource for this!)
The golden rule of an organized home: everything has its place. (And if it doesn’t have one, find it one or get rid of it!)
Develop a cleaning schedule—whether it’s picking up clutter daily before bed, or thoroughly cleaning once a week, find a consistent routine that works for you.
For cleaning tips and tricks and a room-by-room guide to weekly, monthly and seasonal cleaning checklists, check out our Healthy Cleaning Guide.
Download your printable/fillable checklists:
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