How’s Your Indoor Air Quality?
When it comes to indoor air quality, impossible-to-see pollutants can prove harmful to human health—and our behavior may be making matters worse. Candles, pets, gas stoves, fireplaces are just a handful of the countless hazards that make home air pollution a major health concern—a threat exacerbated by the fact that average Americans spend 90 percent of their lives indoors.
Often things we do to make our homes more hospitable can lead to respiratory issues and allergic reactions—things like artificially scented candles, a new sofa treated with stain resisters and flame retardants, a brand new carpet, or one recently cleaned with solvents.
Most indoor air pollutants are colorless, odorless, or too tiny to be seen by the naked eye, so it’s important to pay attention to symptoms and smells. Symptoms range from chronic colds to dizziness, confusion, skin rashes, shortness of breath. More serious illnesses include pneumonia, asthma, respiratory infections, and cancer.
Always distrust “new car smell”—a soup of synthetic chemicals made by humans in a laboratory, not found in nature. Pay attention to how you feel. Do you get dizzy, headachy, develop brain fog or shortness of breath?
Best Solution: If you live in an unpolluted neighborhood, open up the house and bathe the indoors with fresh air.
Best Advice: Pay attention to what you bring into the house. Eliminate anything with artificial fragrance.
Don't Wear Shoes Indoors
Shoes are great. They protect our feet from snow and cold and thistles and brambles, but do we need to wear them inside? Many cultures think not.
Here are five reasons to leave your kicks at the door.
1. Bacteria: Shoes pick up sneaky bacteria which are then spread about your home when you wear shoes inside. This is no small thing. A study from the University of Arizona found 421,000 units of bacteria on the outside of a shoe, including E. coli, meningitis, diarrheal disease, and pneumonia.
2. Toxins: An EPA study provided proof that unhealthy herbicides can be tracked into residences on shoes, often for up to a week after application. The “track-in” exposures may exceed those from residues on non-organic fresh fruits and vegetables.
3. Dirt: Shoes bring in a lot of dirt and grime, which means more cleaning.
4. Wear and tear: More dirt and grit on hard floors means more wear on their surface; more dirt and muck on carpets means more cleaning and scrubbing.
5. Comfort and health: Unless you have a health issue in which the support of shoes alleviates pain, your feet are likely happier outside of shoes. The opportunity to be barefoot is good for your feet. Allowing your foot muscles to do their thing helps them stay strong and flexible.
So, adopt a new house rule today. Leave shoes at the door.
Mattress Shopping: What You Should Know Before You Buy
By Linda Mason Hunter
Recently, when shopping for a new mattress, I found myself knee-deep in hours of research. It’s that complicated. Mattresses these days can be sprayed with all kinds of industrial chemicals that outgas into the air making you sick, so I’m very careful. If I’m spending eight hours a night in bed, I want the most restorative sleep I can get.
There are three basic types of mattress fill—latex, foam, and fiber.
The most eco mattress you can get, in my estimation, is made of latex from a rubber tree, a very sustainable product. Rubber comes off the trunk of the tree in sheets, and grows right back. I had a latex rubber mattress once, but it was too firm and my partner hated it.
Foam mattresses can be entirely synthetic and retain body heat. If you’re thinking of buying a foam mattress, look for one made without synthetic chemicals, like solvents, flame-retardants, lead, mercury, formaldehyde, and ozone-depleting CFCs. I got an all-foam mattress once, one of those expensive ones that imprints your body and is advertised everywhere, but I couldn’t wait to get it out of my house, and sent it back the next day. The outgassing took my breath away, an awful chemical smell that filled the air, nothing plant-based about it.
The kind of mattress I prefer is made with a mix of non-toxic fibers, like wool and cotton, and low-tox foam that does not contain polyurethane or toxic chemicals, yet still provides pressure point support.
Several eco-mattresses exist that get their fill from plant-based sources, such as avocados and buckwheat.
Be sure to try the mattress out before purchasing, so you'll know what you're getting.
When shopping for a mattress, beware of words claiming “eco-friendly” and “natural.” No law or governing body currently regulates these terms, so you can’t be sure which benefits you’re getting.
Look for the words “certified organic.” Compared to conventional mattresses, certified organic mattresses contain fewer pesticide residues, fewer harmful chemicals and fewer fumes to inhale – benefits many shoppers feel justify a higher price tag.
The Global Organic Textile Standard, or GOTS, requires that at least 70 percent of cotton or wool fibers are organically grown. In the remaining 30 percent, it bans the use of polyurethane foam and hazardous chemicals, including fire retardants and formaldehyde based-glues.
In addition, look for third party certification, so you can be confident of what you’re getting. USDA-certified mattresses don’t go far enough, in my estimation. They can still contain toxic chemicals. Among the more stringent certifications are the Global Organic Textile Standard (or GOTS) and Oeko-Tex Standard 100.
Lastly, look for a guarantee, so you can return the mattress if you don’t like it. Most have a 90 to 120 day return policy.
My New Mattress
I have an all-wood platform bed frame that doesn’t require box springs or foundation. I don’t like box springs anyway because you feel the movement of your partner, and they raise the height of the bed.
I rejected innerspring mattresses because they amplify every movement of my partner, waking me up several times a night.
I settled on a medium soft mattress filled with individually encased coils cushioned with eco-certified fibers and foam. The mattress provides good body conformity, pressure relief and heat dissipation, which I need. Mattresses that retain heat make me exceedingly uncomfortable.
My new mattress provides a buoyant, yet cradled feel—firm, but not too firm—while reducing partner disturbance. It comes from Room and Board, a Minnesota retail store that partners with a local company to create exclusive, private-label, low-profile mattresses that fit my eco-specifications. They make each mattress individually, so it takes a month of so before delivery. The Room and Board delivery guys are clean, helpful, and well-groomed. They set up my new mattress and hauled away the old one. All in all, a good experience.
Other companies also provide private label eco mattresses. One that looks interesting to me is Avocado, handmade in California.
For more info:
Change Bedsheets Weekly
I’ve always wondered about how often bedsheets should be changed. Ipractice the rule of not making the bed until at least a half hour after I’m out of it, to allow sweat and body odors to dissipate into the air. But changing the sheets weekly usually seemed like more work than necessary. I was wrong. Turns out you should wash your sheets weekly. Here’s why.
You spend more than one-third of your life in bed. It’s important to keep it clean. Sheets, if left unchecked can become a botanical park of bacteria and fungus, according to scientists. If left for too long, microscopic life produced by sweat within the wrinkles and folds of bed sheets can lead to sniffing, sneezing, and allergic reactions, especially if you’re already prone to allergies and asthma.
Studies show we produce up to 26 gallons of sweat in bed every year—sweat that is responsible for at least 16 different species of fungus. The same is true for feather pillows. In addition, foreign microbes from animal dander, pollen, soil, lint, dust mite debris and feces, and finishing agents from whatever your sheets are made of can trigger sniffing and sneezing.
Microbial buildup reaches “significant” levels in as little as a week. So wash your sheets weekly. One to two weeks of this buildup is enough to leave anyone with a scratchy throat. One scientist likened dirty sheets to coming in contact with animal waste. If you touched dog poo in the street, you’d want to wash your hands. Consider that analogous to your bedding. If you saw what was there, you’d ask yourself “Do I want to sleep in that?”
Turn down the thermostat, crack a window, and ditch the blankets for some science-backed health benefits. That’s the advice from treehugger.com, one of my main go-to places for reputable green advice. This month the site posted an article about the health benefits of sleeping cool, something of particular interest to me because I always sleep best when the room temperature is cool to cold and I hunker down under a down-filled duvet—oh so cozy.
If research turns out to be accurate, then my preference is the healthier one. Scientists are now surmising that humans’ lack of cold exposure could actually be harming us. We spend our lives in climate-controlled spaces, where the temperature doesn’t fluctuate much year-round. If it does get cool, we rush to turn up the heat or put on a sweater, so as not to experience any physical discomfort.
How to Choose Kitchen Flooring
It’s not easy picking material for a kitchen floor. It has to do so many things. You want it to be:
· Water-resistent, to handle spills and regular washing.
· Durable, to stand up to a lot of traffic in a small area.
· Resilient and shock absorbing; so things don’t break easily when dropped.
· You want it to be attractive, particularly for open kitchens.
What is a savvy eco shopper to do? Here’s the skinny:
Vinyl passes the above test, but it’s made from fossil fuels and chlorine, and softened with phthalates—not healthy at all.
Wood is easy on the feet but fails the durability and water tests. If your kitchen doesn’t get seriously heavy traffic, wood may not be a bad choice. Just make sure it is not engineered wood, and is sustainably harvested and local, like maple, oak, or salvaged wood.
Ceramic Tile is durable, water resistant, and easy to clean, but really hard underfoot, leading to shin splints if you stand on it for a sustained period of time. If you drop anything hard and heavy, it will probably break either the object or the floor tile.
Concrete and Terrazzo are durable and easy to maintain, but as with ceramic tile they are hard underfoot and fallen objects are prone to break.
Natural Rubber is a great kitchen flooring material. It’s used in hospitals because it’s easy to maintain and soft underfoot. Many are free of toxic chemicals, but they’re expensive.
Linoleum/Marmoleum is among the greenest of floors, made from natural materials—a mix of linseed oil, pine rosin, wood flour, and cork dust, with jute backing.
Cork is affordable, sound absorbing, installs quickly and easily, and looks good. It’s soft underfoot, durable, resilient, and a renewable resource, made from bark of the cork tree. It’s even anti-microbial, which fends off mold and rot. Best to buy cork in sheets, rather than engineered planks, which tend to come unglued.
In my kitchen I have Marmoleum with cork underlayment, and it works great.
Source: “6 Different Kitchen Floors That Are Healthy and Green,” by Lloyd Alter, treehugger.com. November 7, 2018. https://www.treehugger.com/kitchen-design/x-different-kitchen-floors.html?utm_source=TreeHugger+Newsletters&utm_campaign=32696f5d36
Eliminate Synthetic Fragrance
Synthetic fragrance is the new second-hand smoke. Here's a good article to tell you why: https://branchbasics.com/blog/2015/01/fragrance-is-the-new-secondhand-smoke/
Clean with Salt
There are several ways to put ordinary table salt to work in cleaning your home.
1. Use it to scrub a sink: If baking soda doesn't have quite enough scrubbing power for your needs, mix it with table salt in a 1:1 ratio. That will get your sink sparkling clean in no time. Dip half a lemon in salt and use it to rid faucets of lime buildup and leave them shiny.
2. Use salt to clean a cutting board: Some vegetables like beets, carrots, and strawberries leave stains on a cutting board, while others, like onions and garlic, leave powerful odors that don't go away entirely with soap and water. Simply sprinkle salt over the cutting board, then rub it in a circular motion using a half lemon. Rinse and set upright to dry. You'll have a stain free, odorless cutting board.
3. Salt is an effective stain remover. If you spill red wine, blot the extra liquid and cover liberally in table salt. Let it dry, then launder as usual. If you have stained ceramic mugs, sprinkle salt inside, rub it around with a half lemon, and rinse. This same technique works for stained stainless steel.
4. Use salt to clean cast iron. You're never supposed to use a metal scrub pad on cast iron because it will destroy the seasoning. Salt, however, can give abrasive cleaning power without ruining anything. Sprinkle salt into a dirty pan, and either (1) fill with water, heat over stove, and stir with a wooden spatula to loosen food bits, or (2) rub it into the dry pan until all food bits have been lifted. Dump out the now-dirty salt and wipe it with a cloth.
More tips for cleaning with salt can be found on treehugger.com, one of my favorite websites for green tips.
Twenty more cleaning hacks to rid your house of harsh industrial chemicals in commercial cleaning products.
Get Rid of that Yucky Sponge
You know what I’m talking about – that grayish, sad-looking thing that inhabits the edge of the sink. It’s always wet, a bit slimy, and leaves a nasty smell on your hands that takes a few scrubbings to get rid of. This is the notorious kitchen sponge, which many of us have been brought up to believe does a good job of cleaning. The fact is, it appears to clean well because it instantly absorbs messes; but, in reality, it’s sucking up all that nastiness and holding it inside.
Studies have found an appalling number of bacteria dwelling in kitchen sponges – an estimated 82 billion per cubic inch. If that’s not disgusting enough, let’s put that quantity into perspective. That’s the same density of bacteria you can find in human stool samples. There are probably no other places on earth with such high bacterial densities.
Even the recommended methods for cleaning sponges, such as putting in the dishwasher or microwave, are not as effective as you may think. Zapping a sponge in the microwave kills off weaker bacteria, but it does nothing to the stronger species. Presumably, resistant bacteria survive the sanitation process and rapidly re–colonize. Of course, you could always throw away your sponges and get new ones on a weekly basis, but that is expensive and wasteful, especially if it's made of non-biodegradable polyurethane.
There's a better alternative, one that is embraced by restaurants worldwide:
That is the humble washcloth. By switching to a washcloth, you’ll be using abiodegradable natural fiber. They dry out better between uses than sponges do, inhibiting bacterial growth, and they're easy to launder and sterilize. You can soak it in a vinegar solution to kill the odor or boil in water to sterilize. Washcloths last for years, which cuts down significantly on waste. The fewer disposable items in our kitchens and lives, the better off we'll all be.
Source: Permission pending to excerpt from treehugger.com.
13 Items to Always Buy in Bulk
A good way to reduce household expenses by buying in bulk. Unit prices drop as quantity increases, which, over time, has the benefit of reducing household expenses. But you have to know what to buy, as not all items are suitable for bulk purchase. There are four main rules for buying in bulk:
(1) non-perishable is a must, (2) don’t buy items that tempt you to use more of them by buying more (like sweets), (3) you must have the space to store it, and (4) buy quality items you know you like, or you’ll end up not using it or throwing it away.
Here’s a list of items ideal for bulk purchase:
Clutter creates a very real psychological burden on people. There are many reasons why one should fight clutter every step of the way, even before it gets bad.
First of all, clutter compromises your perception of home.
Your home should be a retreat from the world, a place in which to take pride and to relax. Having too many things in too small a place will lead you to feel that your home environment is your enemy, not your friend.