Now more than ever we need our homes to be a sanctuary, a place where we can feel safe and find joy. My 4-week series, How to Create a Happy and Healthy Home Inside and Out, will help you do just that! And most importantly, you will learn what steps you can take to improve your home’s health, functionality, and freshness. You’ll find some easy and simple ideas that don’t cost much but could have a big impact.
First up, let’s take a look at improving the health of your home.
Are you someone who takes the time to eat well and exercise regularly to stay healthy? For most of us, these two are at the top of our list when it comes to improving our health.
But have you ever thought of making sure your home is healthy?
We spend a chunk of our days inside, and that’s why it’s important to know that your home has the potential to cause some health issues, including asthma, allergic reactions, headaches, fatigue, and developmental problems. And in some cases, chronic exposure to some substances in your home could increase the risk of cancer.
Every homeowner can do a better job of making their home more healthy when it comes to indoor air quality, water quality, toxins from everyday products, and other potential health hazards.
It doesn’t have to take much effort, and many of the solutions can be simple, easy and not expensive. But the first step is to be aware of what could be lurking inside your home, and then what you can do about it.
Here are tips to make your home more healthy:
Banish Dust Bunnies
Dust has a big impact on your home’s air quality since it can contain contaminants that can trigger allergies and impact respiratory issues such as asthma and COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease).
Dust particles can contain a mixture of dead skin cells that have been shedded, pet dander, soil, fibers, and pollen. And dust can attract mold spores and dust mites — those nasty insect-like pests that feed off of those skin cells. You might think a lot differently now about those dust bunnies under your bed!
What to do:
- Vacuum regularly with with a HEPA filter. Focus on carpets, drapery, blinds, upholstery, and even your air vents. Many vacuums now clean with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter to combat dust. Plus it’s a good idea to use those attachments you might have been ignoring to reach and clean certain places.
- Dust with damp cloths or electrostatic dust mops. The key here is to not make the dust swirl around in the air and to contain it better. Microfibre cloths also work. Wash these cloths and mops in hot water.
- Up your bedroom cleanliness. Consider encasing your mattress and box spring with a protective allergen-proof cover; and wash sheets, pillowcases, and pillows once a week in hot water (at least 130 degrees F). Memory foam mattresses resist dust mites since the material is too dense.
- Regulate the humidity in your home. You can reduce static and more dust by keeping the humidity closer to 40-50%. Consider a getting a dehumidifier. Dust mites thrive in humid conditions so reducing humidity is key.
- Declutter. Declutter. Declutter. It’s as simple as getting rid of piles of stuff that attract dust, insects, mold, mildew, rodents, etc.
- Sanitize or clean children’s toys regularly. Toddlers and young children tend to put things in their mouths after being on the ground. For plush stuffed animals, you can stick them in the freezer for 24 hours to kill dust mites.
- Replace carpets with hardwood floor or other flooring. Hard surfaces don’t attract dust mites and can be easier to keep clean.
- To clean or not to clean air ducts — that is the question. There is a debate about whether having your air ducts professionally cleaned is worth it. Some research says that cleaning ducts can actually stir up dust. But if you have mold, insects or rodents in your air ducts, then hire a professional to clean them.
- Leave your shoes at the front door to cut down on indoor pollutants. Research shows that your shoes harbor dirt, pollen, feces, and chemical residues from walking around outside. Yuck!
Let the Fresh Air In
Many newer homes are more tightly sealed to save energy. That’s a good thing, but it also means that indoor air and any pollutants — allergens, chemicals, smoke, mold spores — can’t go anywhere and accumulate. That’s why indoor air quality could be worse than outdoor air pollution.
What to do:
- Ventilate your home by opening windows more often. This can improve the air flow and force outside air inside and vice versa, lowering the air pollution levels inside your home. (Just make sure outside air pollution levels aren’t high on those days.)
- Change air filters regularly, including furnace/AC filters. This is especially important in homes with forced-air HVAC systems. Filters can get clogged with dirt and spread allergens throughout your home. Set a reminder on your phone or calendar to replace filters every 2-3 months.
- Purchase a portable air purifier with HEPA filters to reduce indoor allergens. You’ll find a range of prices but look for one that is powerful enough for larger spaces and also is quiet for bedrooms. And there are some small effective ones perfect for an office, bedroom, or even for a college dorm room.
- Consider a whole-house purifier that is built into your heating and cooling system. If you have a forced-air furnace, you’ve already got an air-filtration system, but it’s more for protecting your furnace than the air you breath. There are other professional filtration systems that can be incorporated into your home’s ductwork that are more effective but a bit costly to install, such as electronic filters or extended media filters.
- Place houseplants around your home to help purify the air and release oxygen. It won’t hurt to bring some green into your home and select certain plants known to improve air quality, such as peace lilies, Boston ferns, snake plants, dracaenas, and Madagascar dragon trees.
Check Product Labels for Toxins
Did you know that some products you use every day could contain toxins or chemicals that could harm your health over time? Chemicals released from products can end up in the air and in the dust around the home, and eventually in your body.
That’s why it’s important to understand what your are purchasing and what it is made of before you bring an item into your home — such as sofas, shower curtains, cleaning products, cookware, carpeting, interior paints, and even scented candles. And it’s especially important to limit exposure to certain chemicals when pregnant or if you have young children who are still developing.
The good thing is that many harmful chemicals have been phased out or reduced in products, and there’s a wider selection of healthy, non-toxic and organic products to choose from now.
What to do:
- Decorate with solid natural wood furniture rather than engineered wood, which emits more formaldehyde. Scope out a local antique or consignment store for wood furniture, and hopefully bargains too!
- Focus on furnishings made of natural materials such as cotton, linen or wool. Stay away from polyurethane foam.
- Check labels on sofas to avoid ones with flame retardant chemicals. As of January 2015, sofa manufacturers started to provide labels on the bottom or under the cushions if flame retardants were used. You can now find sofas without these chemicals; but also think twice about stain guards and wrinkle guards applied to fabrics, especially if you have young children.
- Ventilate and allow new products to “off-gas” first to reduce exposure. Let a new sofa sit in the garage first for a couple of days before bringing into your home, or open windows after having new carpeting or flooring installed.
- Buy soy-based candles, diffusers, and essential oils to freshen the air. Avoid scented candles containing petroleum-based paraffin wax, which can emit potentially harmful chemicals. Also avoid artificial air fresheners that have high VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) levels. VOCs are a group of chemicals that vaporize easily.
- Purchase cleaning products that are not chemical-based. Look for the EPA’s “Safer Choice” label.Also consider making your own natural cleaning products with vinegar, baking soda, and lemon. Lots of “recipe” options online!
- Ditch the old Teflon pans, which can emit toxic fumes. Consider cast iron or stainless steel cookware. With the PFCs to make Teflon being phased out, look for safer options if you want to have nonstick cookware.
- Shop for more “fragrance-free” products. Try to avoid the scented option for products.An added fragrance most likely contains phthalates, which are considered endocrine disruptors. Many chemicals are labeled as “fragrance” on products, so it can be confusing.
- Double check for lead paint and consider eco-friendly paints. If you live in an older home, you might have lead paint on the walls so stay on top of any peeling, chipping, and lead dust if remodeling. And look for paints with lower levels of VOCs, or find paints made from natural materials.
Dilute Any Moisture or Water Issues
Water can be a lifeline in a home or a hazard … depending on the circumstances. You need to be on top of your home’s water quality and any moisture issues since both could be impacting you and your family’s health.
Remember that extensive mold caused by moisture in your home can cause allergic reactions and serious health issues. And having fresh, clean tap water is essential to your overall health — you don’t want to depend on bottled water.
What you can do:
- Reduce dampness and moisture since that promotes mold growth. It’s important to ventilate and reduce humidity in places like bathrooms, attics, and basements. Have bathroom exhaust fans vent to the outside; use a dehumidifier in the basement; vent your attic and double check for any leaks in the roof causing water damage; turn on your air conditioning when humid.
- Clean up areas with any mold or mildew immediately. Hire a professional if extensive.
- Fix leaky pipes and don’t let water problems fester. If your toilet is leaking or you see water damage on the ceiling or wall, get it fixed before more damage is done and mold and mildew start to grow.
- Know what’s coming out of your water tap. Water quality tests are published so get your home’s results by contacting your local agency. Understand where your water comes from, how it is treated, and if you have lead pipes if your home is older than 1970.
- Remove contaminants with an installed water infiltration system or a simple water filter pitcher. Both can helpensure that your home has safe drinking water. Carbon filters can remove lead, chlorine, and other contaminants.
I hope you have found this article helpful in making your home more healthy, and essentially happy for you and your family. There are some simple and easy tips that you can start with today!
I'm Elsa and I love freeing people from their old home and helping them move on to a new home. Let's talk about how I can help you!
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