Category Archives: Chemical

Two Months in Review

It’s been two months since I first visited EWG.org and read about the different chemicals and carcinogens that are added to almost everything in our lives. Today I’d like to take a look at what changes we’ve made so far and how they’ve affected us.

My main motivations for changing to a more healthy, all-natural lifestyle are to try and reduce asthma and allergies suffered by my youngest son and me. I’ve been learning about how much disease in America is preventable with good diet and exercise. Cancer struck very close to home a few months ago too.

warning labelHow many times have we read a label that states that the product we are using in “known to cause cancer” and yet we go ahead and purchase and use it in our homes? How many products do we apply to our skin, our face, our clothes, our dishes, that are absorbed into our bodies that are harmful to us? I’m taking a more thorough look at the ingredient labels. I’m educating myself on what I’m purchasing. I hope to drastically reduce the amount of harmful toxins, chemicals and carcinogens that leech into our bodies.

This journey began two months ago, not long after I returned from the funeral of a dear friend and college volleyball teammate who died of breast cancer. She left behind a two year old daughter, a loving husband and many family and friends who just couldn’t believe that this vibrant, healthy, athletic young woman lost her life so early.

First, I made a list of every product I had in my bathroom. There were about 16 different things I’d put on before I even had my first cup of coffee in the morning between face soap, moisturizers, shampoo, make-up and the cleaners I had in there. I did this for each room in my home and came up with an extensive list of personal care and cleaning products.

Then, I looked up each product on the Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning, and Skin Deep Cosmetics Database. I wrote down the grades of each product from A to F, just like in school. Almost everything was an F, even the baby laundry detergent that I once bought for my newborns. I was shocked.  There is extensive information on what ingredients cause what harm and I focused closely on which things caused asthma.

After I learned what to avoid, I wrote down next to each of my old products a newer, healthier alternative to use. This has been an ongoing project. I’m still working my way through the list. I’m interested in making a healthier home. I’m also interested in being as frugal as possible. I didn’t just want to throw everything out. I returned unopened products to the store. This gave me about $85 to buy newer, healthier products. There are a great deal of household products that are simply and easily made out of cheap ingredients already in your pantry, namely baking soda, vinegar and honey.

So far, I’ve been using 7th Generation for my laundry and dishwasher and that’s working out nicely. I briefly returned to soap nuts for laundry, but was a little disappointed. I had one load that didn’t smell too fresh. I’ll give them another go down the road. I’m a little concerned about smelling okay since I’ve also changed my deodorant and gotten rid of most fragrance in our cleaners. I’ve asked a friend to let me know if I start smelling “crunchy”. Haha. But so far I’m okay.

I clean my sink with baking soda and vinegar now instead of my old abrasive cleaner and it works like a charm.  I made a solution of all-purpose cleaner and put it in the “GreenWorks” spray bottle. I was shocked to learn that “GreenWorks” got an “F” too! My new disinfecting spray is made of :

1/2 tsp castile soap
3 Tbs white vinegar
1/2 tsp baking soda ( I haven’t found washing soda yet)
2 cups hot water

I use this to clean my counters, table, walls, bathrooms, etc. It works great. I’m not a huge fan of cleaning though and pretty much think of it as a complete waste of my time. However, I don’t like to live in filth, so I’m always reaching for that perfect balance: having a clean home and not spending time cleaning it. This is impossible of course, because I have three little boys. It’s like living with little tornados of grime & Legos. Cleaning is a losing battle, but at least it’s more healthy now.

I changed my make-up, moisturizer, face wash and deodorant. It’s working okay. I still have about the same amount of acne, but that might be caused by the change in my diet. I’m eating less processed foods and meat and much more veggies. I’m wondering if all the nuts and avocados I’ve recently been devouring is adding to my youthful looking skin. By “youthful” I mean acne like I’m still in high school. It’s never gone away. I’m getting by without prescription medication for it now. I was on that for the past few years. So it’s improved. I’d just like it to be gone completely. Same thing with allergies in the spring. They’re still there. We’ll see if they’re less severe this year. I just started my sneezing and itchy eye routine this week.

The houseplants I purchased weeks ago are (all but one) still alive. This is a miracle and I’m very pleased with this. I don’t have any way to measure how clean our air is. But supposedly the plants are cleaning it. Asthma does seem to be a little better around here, although both my son and I still need inhalers occasionally.

We’ve been eating much healthier. Unfortunately my sons are not quite as excited as I am about all the new vegetable recipes I’ve been finding. I keep hoping their taste will adjust and they’ll start loving cilantro, avocados, quinoa and sweet potatoes. I’ll just keep trying new things. I hate to admit how poorly I was cooking for them this past year. It was a difficult year personally and dinners suffered. There were plenty of nights when we ate pizza or chili mac and there was no veggie on the plate. Now there are mostly veggies on the plate with a little pasta or fish.

How about you dear reader? Have you made any new healthy choices recently. I’d love to hear about it.

Houseplants for clean air

Golden PothosIn an effort to breathe cleaner air and rid our lives of asthma and allergies, I recently put little houseplants in each room of my house. After two weeks, they are all still alive. Well, almost all. There is one in my office not looking too good, but I think it might pull through.

Did you know that NASA has done studies on which plants clean indoor air the best? How else are you going to keep a nice space station living space? These plants take carcinogens and other harmful toxins out of the air you’re breathing at home. I think that’s spectacular. Over the years, I’ve tried having a couple flowering plants inside. They don’t last long. Apparently they need sunlight and fresh air. There is a good list of plants that will survive inside, even in some low light situations with only occasional watering. This is great for me.

 I paid attention to how much light each plant would need and planned which room to put it in accordingly. The living room is my darkest room, so it got the snake plant, which also needs the least amount of attention in regards to regular watering. So I have high hopes for that.

Ivy

 There are plenty of websites that list various plants and their benefits. Here is a short list of what I found and have managed to keep alive so far:

Aloe Vera– It cleans formaldehyde from the air in addition to being a great natural remedy for burns and scrapes.

Baby Rubber Plant– It purifies & cleans formaldehyde and other toxins from the air by giving off high oxygen content.

English Ivy– “It’s known for removing the chemical benzene, a known carcinogen found in cigarette smoke, detergents, pesticides, and the off-gassing of other synthetic materials, is said to be fantastic for asthma and allergies and also removes formaldehyde” According to sustainablebabysteps.com. The allergies and asthma are my main reasons for making these changes. I’m still looking for this one. Until I find it, I got a different kind of ivy for the bedrooms.

Gerbera DaisyGerbera Daisy– According to NASA, this beautiful flower removes benzene which is a known carcinogen (causes cancer). In addition, it absorbs carbon dioxide and gives off oxygen. This beauty sits on my kitchen window sill and makes me happy. It needs bright light.

Golden Pothos– This is one of the top 3 types of houseplants that effectively remove formaldehyde according to NASA. It also increases general indoor air quality and removes carbon monoxide.

Snake Plant– NASA found this hearty plant to absorb toxins like nitrogen oxides and formaldehyde. It tolerates low light levels and irregular watering which is just perfect for my living room.

Please see the more comprehensive list with photos found on sustainablebabysteps.com for more info on each plant.

Three of the main household chemicals causing trouble for us are benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene. These chemicals are carcinogens and they’re off-gassed from synthetic materials in your home. So having these plants clean up to 90% of these chemicals from your air in just 24 hours could decrease your risk of cancers, asthma, allergies, auto-immune disorders etc. That’s what I’m hoping for. Every little thing helps. Plus they look nice.

Soap Nuts for Laundry

Soap nuts
Photo courtesy of Victoria @ greenideareviews.com

Apparently the laundry detergent that I’ve been using has some problems. Some of the chemicals in it are known to cause asthma and respiratory problems. Like this:

SODIUM BORATE
High Concern: developmental/endocrine/reproductive effects; Some Concern: skin irritation/allergies/damage, respiratory effects

And this:

ETHANOLAMINE
Moderate Concern: respiratory effects, general systemic/organ effects; Some Concern: chronic aquatic toxicity, nervous system effects, skin irritation/allergies/damage

…and a long list of others.

It got an “F” on the EWG’s healthy cleaning guide. So I’m going back to my soap nuts. These fantastic little round nuts clean my laundry just fine. There are no added perfumes or hazardous, cancerous, toxic chemicals added to them. They grow on trees, contain Saponin, and clean my clothes. Saponin is “an effective, hypoallergenic, biodegradable organic cleaning agent that ends our reliance on sulfates, synthetic chemicals and other toxins” according to Naturoli.com, which is where I bought mine.

I first tried these about 6 years ago when I still had two kids in diapers. I started using regular detergent again because they were not getting the smell out of my little guy’s urine soaked footie pajamas. That was a tough smell to get out. We don’t have that problem anymore. I’ve started using the soap nuts again for the past two weeks and the laundry all looks and smells nice and fresh, but not perfumed. Thank goodness for potty training!

Soap nuts are super easy to use. If you buy them from Naturoli, they come with a little canvas drawstring bag. You put 5 soap nut berries in there, pull the strings tight and place them in the washing machine. They need to be replaced after 4-5 loads. That’s it.
There is a good review and more info on Soap nuts here.

Home Made All Purpose Cleaner

I made my own cleaner the other day. When my bottle of Green Works all-purpose cleaner ran out, I put in vinegar, water, baking soda and Castile soap.

It works great. It cost about 2 cents. It cleaned my table and counters great and I’m healthier.
I had looked up most of my household cleaners on EWG.org to find out how safe they are since I’ve been suffering from a recent onset of Asthma at the ripe old age of 37. I was dismayed to find products like Dreft and Green Works “environmentally friendly” cleaners and detergents scored an “F”. It was eye opening.

Here are a couple things I learned:

“EWG’s key scientific findings:

  • Some 53 percent of cleaning products assessed by EWG contain ingredients known to harm the lungs. About 22 percent contain chemicals reported to cause asthma to develop in otherwise healthy individuals.

  • Formaldehyde, a known human carcinogen, is sometimes used as a preservative or may be released by other preservatives in cleaning products. It may form when terpenes, found in citrus and pine oil cleaners and in some essential oils used as scents, react with ozone in the air.

  • The chemical 1,4-dioxane, a suspected human carcinogen, is a common contaminant of widely-used detergent chemicals.”

So as I finish bottles of things. I’ll make the home-made, cheap, healthy version. We’re old school. We’re going crunchy. We’re gonna kick the Asthma. We’re gonna breathe easy in our home.