We often reflect on what we are doing to our bodies, giving them a little housekeeping during Veganuary or whilst staying Sober in October, but tend to give very little thought to home detox.
Since the 1950s it has been reported that 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic have been produced, 6.3 billion tonnes of which has already become waste, some incinerated emitting worrying combinations of toxic gasses, some buried in landfill and much, as highlighted by David Attenborough, dumped into our oceans.
Not only are the microscopic plastic particles ingested by sea life, but the toxic chemicals released by these plastic are also being metabolised, ultimately ending up in the human food chain so ultimately inside of us. However we rarely give a thought to the harmful chemicals our bodies unwittingly absorb on a daily basis through our toiletries and homes.
While we have come a long way since the arsenic laced wallpapers of Victorian Britain, there are still any number of unwitting health hazards in our homes, which either contain or emit volatile organic compounds through off-gassing. So while we consider which month to hijack for a home detox (maybe Housekeepebruary), a round up of a few areas of your home where you might consider making changes for a healthier and more responsible lifestyle:
Air Quality in the Home
Poor ventilation can affect the quality of air in a home and may lead to ‘sick building syndrome’ caused by mould, mites and high levels of VOCs trapped in our indoor environments. Good ventilation will improve airflow but while we are not all lucky enough to live in homes with state of the art ventilation systems, there are more accessible measures we can take to improve indoor air quality. Introducing plants.
In addition to reducing stress levels and creating a calming ambience in our homes, well placed plants can help clean the air by absorbing toxins and reducing moisture levels. Some of these even have the NASA seal of approval. Some of the most efficient at improving air quality are Palms, the Peace Lily, Ferns, Fiscus and the Rubber Plants. Moss is also great, and there are a growing number of companies that specialise in installing green walls in your home.
Natural Home Insulation
Keeping our homes well insulated helps us to be more energy efficient and reduce our fuel bills. But did you know that some conventional insulation materials contain toxic chemicals such as formaldehyde? Natural insulation products, have many advantages over conventional materials – they are non-toxic, allergen free, low impact and allow our homes to breathe by regulating humidity. Natural thermal products such as hemp, wool and wood fibre are now widely available. While you may think the cost is prohibitive, consumer demand will drive down price and we will all be safer in the knowledge that our homes are being kept warm naturally.
A House of Commons Library research paper compiled in 1997 states that there are almost 8.7 million lead water pipes connecting the water main to stop valves supplying homes in England and Wales and almost 8.9 million lead supply pipes, which direct the water to our taps. In short, 34% of homes in England and Wales are estimated to have at least some lead pipework as part of their drinking water supply, mainly homes built prior to 1970.
If not lead, a proportion of the pipework that directs drinking water from the mains into our homes will travel through copper or polyvinyl chloride pipes. PVC pipes have around 30% chlorine content and the connections made between the pipes use solvent based cements that may contain VOCs. A safer, non-toxic alternative to PVC is polypropelene (PP) pipework, which has the benefit of being connected by heat rather than potentially toxic solvents.
If you are concerned about lead pipes carrying water to your tap, you can contact your local water authority and if carrying out plumbing work, you may choose to specify polypropelene piping for supply to your taps. Installing a water purification system will also help remove heavy metals from mains drinking water.
Thoughtful Space Planning
If you have the space, consider a dedicated area for taking off your shoes, somewhere close to entering the house. Kicking off your shoes helps reduce the number of pollutants you bring in off the street. Lead particles from soil and exhaust can be brought in on shoes and become trapped in dust particles that become part of your internal environment.
Natural walls, floors & surfaces
If planning a renovation, ask your contractors to specify VOC-free joint fillers, plaster, caulking and natural adhesives, all of which are becoming more readily available. Using natural materials for surfaces will also reduce the number of potential pollutants in your home:
- FSC solid hardwood flooring, stone, marble and ceramic floor tiles
- Carpets made from wool, sisal, jute or coir with natural latex backing
- Flooring made of linoleum, cork and sustainable bamboo
- Slate, granite and untreated wooden work surfaces finished in natural oils and waxes
Many conventional paints contain formaldehyde, heavy metals and other VOCs, many of which have been found be detrimental to health. These carbon-containing substances that easily become vapours are given out both whilst painting and for some months afterwards during an off-gassing period. Many of us will be familiar with the pungent smell of these products growing up.
Since 2004 there has been an amended EU Directive on the limitation of emissions of VOCs in solvents, paints and varnishes with the aim of preventing the negative environmental effects of such products. If you want to go VOC free, look for clay & water based paints from brands such as Ecos, Auro, Edward Bulmer and Earthborn.
More recently attention has been turned to wallpaper. Many products contain polyvinyl chloride to give them durability, most notably vinyl. PVC not only has high chlorine content, which causes toxic pollution in the form of dioxins, but it is very difficult to recycle, so also has environmental consequences. The inks used to print some wallpapers may also contain chemical solvents. When discussing your decorating requirements with your interior designer or decorator, ask them to source eco-friendly wallpapers made from FSC certified paper, containing non-toxic pigments and solvent free wallpaper adhesive. Little Greene is one such wallpaper supplier.
Toxin Free Furniture
New furniture may off gas toxins, particularly when first unwrapped, so it is a good idea to air it thoroughly for a few days prior to installing in your home. BREEAM* the construction industry’s longest standing method of assessing, rating and certifying sustainable buildings (both exterior and internal fit out) recognises the Greenguard label and increasingly, furniture makers along with floor suppliers are using this to help consumers source products with low VOC emissions which may originate from flame retardants, stain protection chemicals, varnishes, finishes, paints and adhesives. An alternative to buying new furniture is buying vintage or second hand, as most of the harmful off-gassing will have already taken place.
Natural Mattresses & Bedding
Many of the mattresses we sleep on been treated with flame retardants during manufacture in order that they pass fire safety test BS1177. It is however possible for bed manufacturers to pass this safety test without the use chemical pollutants by creating mattresses dense enough using natural fibres such as wool.
Organic mattresses made from any mixture of unbleached cotton, wool, coir, cashmere, silk and horsehair are widely available and can be dressed with organic, naturally dyed bedding, wool blankets and natural feather duvets for a peaceful night’s sleep.
For advice on specifying natural materials and low toxin ways of designing your home, holiday let or workplace, please get in touch here or you can call :
HOME DETOX CHECKLIST
Let your home breathe
- open the windows everyday (avoiding rush hour where possible)
- introduce plants that absorb pollutants into your home
- insulate using natural materials, organically produced
Keep your home clean
- swap chemical cleaners for natural alternative
- use essential oils to freshen the place up instead of
- take of your shoes when coming in
- use doormats (washable if possible)
- keep your home as dust free as possible with regular vacuuming
- air your rugs/bedding etc regularly
Research your materials
- Use PP pipework for plumbing and install a water filtration system
- Choose natural materials for walls, floors and surfaces
- Ask your designer to specify VOC free paint, varnishes, adhesives
- Use VOC free paint
- Specify PVC-free wallpaper printed with natural pigment
- Ask your decorator to use VOC free wallpaper paste
Consider your furniture choices
- Use vintage furniture to reduce the risk of off-gassing chemicals
- Buy solid wood items finished in VOC free paints or stains
- Look for the Greenguard Label
- Choose mattresses made only from natural materials
- Look for bedlinen made from organic cotton or linen and natural dyes
- Use soya candles with natural essential oils
- Open windows after burning candles
- Choose soft furnishings made from natural fillings & fibres
- Select accessories dyed with natural rather than synthetic dyes & fixatives
*BREEAM – Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method