One of the biggest saboteurs of your health is your indoor air quality.
People spend 90% of their time indoors, oftentimes inhaling stagnant air.
Due to chemical cleaning agents, off-gassing of construction materials and home furnishings, the EPA states that indoor air pollutants may be up to 100x higher than levels of outdoor pollutants.
Indoor air pollutants, are in fact ranked among the top 5 environmental threats to public health by the EPA.
While changing your diet and lifestyle are paramount in healing, you can only get so far with your health goals when you are continuing to add to your toxic burden.
Detoxifying your home can feel overwhelming, but once you understand just how deleterious commonplace exposures are--you can begin gradually transitioning to a healthier approach and substituting your chemical-laden products for nontoxic ones.
If you aren't sure where to start, I recommend taking a hard look at your cleaning products and investing in an air purification system. Here's why...
Make the Switch--Your Conventional Cleaning Products Have to Go
Unbeknownst to much of the public is that the chemical cleaning agents millions use to “clean” our homes have not been properly evaluated for safety.
Much of the “safety” testing is industry funded and inadequate in scope, since it neglects to test for synergistic toxicity—the cumulative effect of encountering many toxicants in tandem. After all, we never encounter an isolated chemical in a vacuum.
These products are so ubiquitous that we fail to question the risks we are taking with every spray.
However, research published in the American Thoracic Society's American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine sheds some light on just how dangerous these chemicals may be.
Conventional Cleaning Products May Be as Harmful As Smoking Cigarettes
Data from the European Community Respiratory Health Survey (ECRHS) tracked over 6,000 adults over 20 years.
Adults were administered a questionnaire by the European Community Respiratory Health Survey (ECRHS) three times during the study about their cleaning habits.
Researchers also used spirometry to assess measures of baseline lung function.
Oddly, the results were gender-specific, and revealed significant declines in overall lung function across all biomarkers in women who cleaned at least once per week. After adjustment for confounding variables, it was found that women who engaged in cleaning had accelerated declines in FEV1 and FVC (maximum Forced Expired Volume in one second (FEV1 and Maximum Forced Vital Capacity (FVC)--pulmonary function tests. The study authors concluded,
"Women cleaning at home or working as occupational cleaners had accelerated decline in lung function, suggesting that exposures related to cleaning activities may constitute a risk to long-term respiratory health" (Svanes et al., 2017).
Existing studies suggest that specific immunological mechanisms as well as nonspecific inflammatory reponses are implicated in the potential harmful effects of cleaning agents on the respiratory system. The authors note that cleaning agents elicit an irritative effect on the mucous membranes of the respiratory passages, leading to persistent changes and remodeling in the airways. Ammonia and bleach in particular may cause fibrotic or interstitial changes to lung tissue.
"This study suggests that long-term respiratory health is also impaired 10 to 20 years after cleaning activities. We found accelerated lung function decline in women after both occupational cleaning and cleaning at home. The effect size was comparable to the effect size related to 10 to 20 pack-years of tobacco smoking" (Svanes et al., 2017).
Oddly, researchers observed no correlation between lung function and cleaning for men. They offer several explanations for this phenomenon, including that the low number of male occupational cleaners included did not allow for the discovery of accelerated declines in lung function in this cohort. As an alternative, the entrance questions may not have been sufficient to pick up industrial cleaners. Or, there may be differential vulnerability to exposures according to sex.
Cleaning Products May Increase Risk of Childhood Asthma
These results echo those of another study, which suggested that frequent use of chemical cleaning products may increase risk of developing asthma.
This research used data from the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development (CHILD) Cohort Study, which tracks infants from conception to 3 years of age.
Researchers examined the frequency with which over 2022 households used 26 different cleaning products, including glass cleaners, multi-surface cleaners, dish detergents, and laundry detergents when infants were 3 to 4 months of age.
Per their findings, published in Canadian Medical Association Journal, they found that children in homes with a higher frequency of use of cleaning products during infancy exhibited the following:
35% increased risk of recurrent wheeze
49% increased risk of recurrent wheeze with atopy
37% increased risk of asthma diagnosis
Atopy encompasses allergic diseases including asthma, allergic rhinitis, and atopic dermatitis (eczema).
Researchers conclude, "Our findings add to the understanding of how early life exposures to cleaning products may be associated with the development of allergic airway disease and help to identify household behaviours as a potential area for intervention" (Parks et al., 2020).
In lieu of these findings, it's important to realize that hazardous chemicals are especially detrimental to children, as early life is quintessential for the development of the immune and respiratory systems.
"Young children, who spend 80%–90% of their time indoors in early life, are especially vulnerable because of their increased respiration rate and proximity to the ground, which increases gaseous and dermal exposures."
Beware of Green Washing
It is important to use nontoxic cleaning agents as many commercial cleaners, disinfectants and detergents contain health-damaging volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which contribute to poor indoor air quality.
Many companies, however, use greenwashing to capitalize upon consumer demand for cleaner products.
For example, Seventh Generation is widely perceived as a healthy option but its detergent contains isothiazolinones, preservatives used in personal care products and consumer household care products that are strongly linked to the following:
- contact dermatitis
- skin irritation
- skin sensitization
One publication remarks, “Products marketed as “gentle,” “sensitive,” “organic,” or “hypoallergenic” often contained [methylisothiazolinone] MI, thus emphasizing the importance of consumer scrutiny of product choices” (Schlichte & Katte, 2014).
My Recommended Nontoxic Cleaning Agents
Branch Basics is my go-to nontoxic cleaning agent.
Their fragrance-free multi-purpose Concentrate makes cleaning simple, affordable and sustainable. It is unique in that it is ONE formula, diluted with different amounts of water, that can replace ALL your cleaning needs, including laundry detergent
Because their phthalate-free and BPA-free bottles are refillable, they are significantly less expensive than similar single-use products.
Not only that, but Branch Basics is versatile, enabling you to replace all toxic cleaning products with just one product, saving time, energy and money.
They are a hypoallergenic, fragrance-free, gluten-free, tree nut- and peanut-free plant- and mineral-based cleaning product that is even unscented, as they wanted to keep the formula safe even for extremely chemically-sensitive and immune-compromised individuals.
Branch Basics omits the following ingredients:
✅ harmful preservatives
✅ harmful surfactants
They are likewise biodegradable, eco-friendly, and their ingredients are from the earth and are all welcomed back there, and they are even Made Safe certified.
You can get a 15% discount on their starter kits with my affiliate code "EA15".
Their concentrated formula can be diluted for virtually any cleaning use, to remove heavy dirt, grease, grime, and stains without leaving behind any residue. There are no harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs), so there is no need for ventilation, and when used as directed, Branch Basics is human and pet safe.
It comes with BPA-Free recyclable plastic bottles that can be reused many times over (just replace the Concentrate) packaged in a reusable cloth bag.
For a comprehensive user guide, click the link here.
They also offer a printable toolkit, "Educating Schools on Safer Cleaning," which provides printable infographics like the one above to educate schools on safer cleaning. After all, school-age children are especially susceptible to the effects of toxicant-containing commercial cleaning agents.
In the age of COVID-19, many schools are employing the use of sanitizers and disinfectants that often contain EPA-registered pesticides that can elicit neurotoxic, immunotoxic, and carcinogenic effects as well as breed antibiotic-resistant superbugs. The toolkit provides safer alternatives for sanitizing surfaces.
Invest in a Professional Grade Air Purifier
One of the nuggets that stuck with me from one class in my Master's program, Detoxification and Biotransformation, taught by the late renowned environmental medicine expert Dr. Walter Crinnion, was that one of the first and most important steps to undertake when healing from chronic illness is investing in a professional-grade air and water purifier--clean air and water and prerequisites for life and foundational for health.
People, after all, spend 90% of their time indoors--oftentimes in so-called "tight buildings" or "energy efficient" buildings with poor air circulation and ventilation.
As a result, indoor air quality plays a significant role in human health—a reality acknowledged as far back as Hippocrates.
According to the EPA, indoor air pollutants are one of the primary threats, in fact, to human health.
Poor indoor air quality is particularly detrimental to vulnerable cohorts including infants, children, young adults, the elderly, and those with chronic illnesses.
Outdoor pollutants that are byproducts of industry and vehicular exhaust permeate indoor environments through natural and mechanical ventilation systems.
However, equally detrimental are indoor contaminants, which include the following:
✔️ Construction materials
✔️ Off-gassing from carpets, curtains, bedding, wardrobe, furnishings, textiles
✔️Fumes emitted by electrical equipment
✔️Household cleaning agents
✔️Paints, varnishes, sealants, lacquers
✔️Combustion byproducts from fuels, coal, wood, candles, tobacco products
✔️Emissions from central heating and cooling systems
✔️Mycotoxins in carpeting, drywall, ceiling tiles, plywood
✔️Allergens including animal dander + dust mites
The volatile organic compounds (VOCs), formaldehyde, and particulate matter including molds and allergens from indoor air pollutants are known to cause respiratory and flu-like symptoms, gastrointestinal distress, neurological symptoms, and irritation of the eye, throat, and nose.
The following are a few tips to promote improved air quality:
Switch to a brand of nontoxic cleaning products like Branch Basics (my 15% off discount code on starter kits is EA15)
Keep your windows open as much as possible for adequate air circulation
Ensure you have a carbon monoxide detector and have your house checked for radon
Invest in an air purifier like the AirDoctor Pro which has an UltraHepa Filter that is 100x more effective than an ordinary HEPA and captures 99.99% of the most dangerous diameter particulate matter, PM-2.5 (Save $300 with my affiliate link)
HEPA is widely recommended, but HEPA systems only claim to remove particles down to .3 microns. AirDoctor UltraHEPA™ is certified to filter 99.99% of all particles down to 0.003 microns, 100 times smaller.
AirDoctor is 100x more effective than ordinary HEPA filters—considered the gold standard.
It also has the following features:
The first affordable air purifier that not only removes almost all of the most dangerous form of particulate matter, PM-2.5, but also the vast majority of toxic ozone, volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) and gases
Also effective for other dangerous airborne contaminates including microbes, smoke, toxic ozone, pollen, pet dander, and volatile organic compounds like formaldehyde
Combines UltraHEPA filter with dual action Carbon/Gas Trap/VOC Filter
Auto-Mode uses a professional-grade sensor to adjust filtration speed to ambient air quality
30% quieter fans than ordinary air purifiers
Powerful enough to filter all of the air in a 2400 sq. ft. room once every hour
AirDoctor has offered my audience a 50% savings ($300 off discount), automatically applied with my affiliate link here.
I recommend at least one per floor, with preferential placement in bedrooms (where we spend the majority of our lives) and kitchens (to neutralize detrimental byproducts of cooking).
My AirDoctor was especially a lifesaver during fire season in California, given its ability to remove PM-2.5, one of the most detrimental forms of particulate matter liberated from forest fires and other industrial activities. It is particularly harmful given its deep penetrance of respiratory passages and its ability to translocate into systemic circulation.
Toss the Toxins
Lastly, ensure that you safely dispose of commercial cleaning products--and yes, it is necessary to remove them from your home entirely--hence the Toss the Toxins campaign championed by Branch Basics.
Not only are you exposed to the listed toxicants via dermal route (via skin contact), but you are also inhaling them into your respiratory system.
Even having these toxic commercial cleaning products in your house is problematic—as their mere presence exposures you to toxicants at parts per million (ppm) levels, such that they pose a threat as endocrine disruptors.
That's why you still smell the noxious fumes when you walk down the cleaning supplies aisle at the supermarket or drug store despite their closed container.'
In addition to cleaning supplies, here are some additional sources of toxicity and potential solutions.
Replace conventional candles, often made of the petroleum byproduct paraffin which releases carcinogenic soot when burned (alongside artificial fragrances), with with soy candles or essential oil diffusers
Use resources like EWG Skin Deep Database and Organic Bunny to find safer cosmetics and personal care products
Replace Tupperware with glass to reduce exposure to hormone-disrupting biphenols like BPA, BPS, and BPF
Use stainless steel, cast iron, or PFOA- and PTFE-free ceramic cookware
Go organic or at least use the Dirty Dozen list as a guide to avoid the most pesticide-laden food
Invest in a high quality water purifier like AquaTru which uses a 4-Stage Reverse Osmosis Technology NSF certified to remove 83 contaminants, including lead, chlorine, fluoride, nitrates, PFAs, and more (my affiliate link here saves you $150 or offers payment plans as low as $26/month)
If any of these topics pique your interest and you me to dive deeper in a future blog post, let me know in the comments!
Green Up Your Space
Another benign solution to improve air quality is the use of houseplants, which not only metabolize toxic chemicals into harmless byproducts, but they also sequester toxicants such as heavy metals in the plant material itself.
Data on the ability of plants to remediate air quality was initially derived from NASA experiments.
NASA scientists discovered that long-term space habitation in the capsule interior would expose astronauts to volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in a way not unlike modern energy-efficient or “tight” buildings.
Check out the infographic below for plants described in the scientific literature to remove chemical vapors (some of these are toxic to pets so do your due diligence and research thoroughly before having them around dogs, cats, or small children).
Japanese royal fern, or zen mai, was demonstrated to have the highest formaldehyde-removal efficiency of all the plants tested.
Now I want to hear from you in the comments - what was your journey like in detoxifying your home? What are some of your go-to nontoxic products?
Parks, J. et al. (2020). Association of use of cleaning products with respiratory health in a Canadian birth cohort. CMAJ, 192(7), E154-E161.
Schlichte, M.J., & Katta, R. (2014). Methylisothiazolinone: An Emergent Allergen in Common Pediatric Skin Care Products. Dermatology Research & Practice, doi: 10.1155/2014/132564
Svanes, O. et al. (2017). Cleaning at Home and at Work in Relation to Lung Function Decline and Airway Obstruction. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care, 197(9).
Claudio, L. (2011). Planting healthier indoor air. Environmental Health Perspectives, 119(10), a426–a427.
Cincinelli, A., &. Martellini, T. (2017). Indoor air quality and health. International Journal of Environmental Research & Public Health, 14(11), 1286.
Seguel, J.M. et al. (2017). Indoor air quality. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 11(4), 284-295.
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