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Currently, the US Center for Disease Control monitors nearly 300 environmental chemicals found in the human body. The majority of these come from products we invite into our homes.
Over the years, we’ve become dependent on convenience, being led to believe if it’s on a shelf at the grocery store then it must be safe.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case.
When I first started my journey toward toxin-free living, I’d grab my store-bought window cleaner or dish soap and think, “I wonder if there’s a better way?”
Maybe you’ve thought the same thing?
If so, I have good news! There IS a better way. You might have to do a little research and digging, but safer, more natural alternatives are out there.
I know we’re all super busy, so I went ahead and did some digging for you and put together this list of 17 toxic items and their healthier alternatives. Hope it makes your journey to a toxin-free home quicker & easier!
1- Air Fresheners/Candles
Most scented air fresheners are jam-packed with artificial fragrances and chemicals known as phthalates – toxic substances linked to cancer and infertility.
Instead, you can buy or make candles that are made with essential oils. Essential oils are natural compounds found in plants and are considered safe and effective. I’ve also seen candles that were made with bees wax and flowers!
Another alternative? Try some DIY odor absorbers made with baking soda and distilled white vinegar.
You can also make your own natural air freshener. All you need is a glass spray bottle and essential oils. Fill the bottle with water (filtered preferably) and add a few drops of your favorite essential oil. Bonus points if the oil is a natural antifungal and/or antibacterial.
Some popular scents for DIY air fresheners include orange, lemon, lavender and blue spruce. But you can experiment with what you have available and find a scent that works for you or even one that complements the season (spiced pumpkin, anyone?
Did you know most perfumes contain as many as 300 different chemical compounds? It’s impossible to know which ones they are because companies are more concerned with keeping their recipes secret than they are about consumer safety.
I could go off on a rant here, but I’ll spare you 🙂
Make the switch to products that are scented with natural oils and other items that are naturally occurring.
Treehugger has a list of companies that make all-natural perfumes. Check it out and see if there’s one that speaks to you!
3. Fabric & Upholstery Sprays
Almost anything that prevents stains does so by creating a barrier – almost as if you had one of those plastic coverings you see when people are painting.
Unfortunately, they achieve this through the use of some pretty dangerous chemicals. Not only do such chemicals get released into the air you breathe, but they also absorb into the skin upon contact.
For a safer solution, try this Fabric Deodorizer & Disinfectant. It’s made with organic ingredients and essential oils like tea tree oil. It’s non-toxic and hypoallergenic without sacrificing its efficacy.
Did you know most antiperspirants contain aluminum-based compounds? Aluminum is considered a heavy metal that easily accumulates to toxic levels.
If that was the only problem, that’d be bad enough, but there’s one other issue with mainstream antiperspirants that no one really talks about.
Sweating is our body’s way of cooling down and removing toxins. Stopping our body’s ability to do this isn’t the best idea we’ve ever had.
Buuut we still don’t want to walk around with all that stank, so here are a few options that are extremely effective but formulated with non-toxic ingredients:
Native is one such brand. It’s aluminum & paraben-free, which is hard to find in mainstream deodorant. I like it because it’s the typical stick that we’re all accustomed to, whereas most other natural deodorants are cream-based.
Use Promo Code “HEALTH10” for 10% off!
I’ve also heard great things about:
Many sunscreens contain oxybenzone. According to a recent study by the CDC, this toxic ingredient was found in 96% of the population.
Why is that a big deal?
Because oxybenzone is a known endocrine disruptor aka it has the ability to throw off hormone production in your body. It’s even been proven to reduce sperm count in men and may be a contributing factor to endometriosis in women.
The EWG strongly warns against using this substance in children and pregnant or nursing women.
Oh, and –
(Not So) Fun Fact: The EWG tested over 1400 sunscreens and only 5% met their safety standards. More alarming than that, 40% were listed as potential contributors to skin cancer!
Isn’t that why we use sunscreen to begin with – to prevent skin cancer?!
For a safer alternative, try a zinc-oxide or mineral-based sunscreen like this one by Burt’s Bees. But even some of the sunscreens marketed as natural have some ingredients I wouldn’t necessarily use. That’s why a homemade version is often your best bet.
Katie at Wellness Mama has a great DIY recipe for sunscreen if want to try it!
6- Plastic Bottles
Everybody knows by now that plastic bottles contain BPA – another endocrine disruptor. It’s also been linked to different types of cancers, neurological problems, the early onset of puberty in young girls, reduced fertility and several different birth defects.
But there’s also its lesser known cousin, BPS – the star of every “BPA-free” plastic product. It has a laundry list of side effects as well, some even worse than BPA itself.
In our modern society, it’s practically impossible to get away from plastic entirely, but you can take steps to limit your exposure.
You can start by not drinking bottled water and filter your own water at home. You should also drink from a glass water bottle. They’re much safer and reasonably priced. You can find them at Wal-Mart or on Amazon. Look for one with a non-plastic sleeve like this one by Life Factory to protect against shatters when dropped.
They also make glass cleaning supply bottles to help you de-plastic (is that a word?!) your cleaning regimen.
I’m all about making one simple change at a time to avoid overwhelm, so if you’re just starting to transition away from plastic, it’s more important to focus on finding a good water bottle first.
Tip: If you’re using essential oils in your cleaning products, use the dark-colored glass containers like these or the cobalt blue ones. Doing so will help preserve the constituents of the oils…plus they’re prettier.
Chemical pesticides get stored in the colon and slowly poison you from the inside out. They have been linked to various cancers, Alzheimer’s, ADHD and birth defects. They can also damage your nervous system, endocrine system, and reproductive system.
If your home is plagued by ants and roaches, you can rid yourself of them naturally without all the chemicals
Simply mix up 3 tablespoons of Castile soap (organic liquid is best) along with 1 ounce of orange essential oil (30 mL) and 1 gallon of water.
If using essential oils, store in a dark, glass bottle for the reasons previously mentioned. Shake well before each use.
This is also extremely effective on slugs and can be sprayed directly on ants and roaches!
8- Flea and Tick Products
We all want to do what we can to protect our furry friends from bug bites, but we also don’t want to smear chemicals on our hands every time we pet them.
Most flea and tick products contain nervous system-damaging chemicals such as organophosphates (OPs) and carbamates. Children are especially sensitive to these because their nervous system is still developing.
And cats are more vulnerable to these products than dogs because they lack the enzyme needed to metabolize this type of chemical.
So what’s a pet owner to do?
Coconut oil naturally repels and even kills fleas because it contains lauric acid. You can use it topically or put it in their food every day. If giving orally, use one teaspoon per 20 pounds twice daily. If using topically, rub it in your hands to melt it then work into their coat.
We all know what mothballs are right? They’re those smelly balls you pack with stored clothing to keep pests from chewing through them. Grandma’s house always smelled like them, remember?
Unfortunately, they’re terribly toxic.
The chemicals contained in mothballs – mostly naphthalene – can cause vomiting, diarrhea, respiratory distress and more if inhaled. If ingested, it can really mess up your nervous system. In extreme cases, instances of a coma and even death have occurred.
Try this simple alternative recipe instead:
You don’t need exact measurements. Just grab a handful of bay leaves, cedar chips, cinnamon stick, clove, lavender, eucalyptus, peppercorn, rosemary and wormwood. Place them in a cheesecloth bag and pack with your clothing or anything else you don’t want ruined while in storage.
By the way, you don’t have to use all of those ingredients at once. Though a potent mixture when used together, if you only have 2-4 of the above items on hand, they’ll do just fine.
10- Oven Cleaners
Oven cleaners are one of the most toxic substances on the market, and nearly everyone uses them. They contain numerous toxins, including petroleum gases that are liquified and sweetened to make them seem a little more pleasant, but these “pleasant” additions are known carcinogens.
Other ingredients in oven cleaners have been proven to aggravate allergies and induce skin irritation. One will even burn your skin immediately upon contact.
Here are a few simple steps to clean your oven. These methods are much safer and take no more time than store-bought cleaners.
- Sprinkle baking soda on the bottom of your oven and add a bit of vinegar on top
- Heat the oven to 150 degrees for 5 minutes then let cool for 15
- Once cool, scrub away!
- Repeat as necessary
11- Toilet Bowl Cleaner
Did you know that corrosive ingredients in toilet bowl cleaners are severe eye, skin and respiratory irritants? Some toilet bowl cleaners contain sulfates, which is known to trigger asthma attacks.
Even worse – mixing acid-containing toilet bowl cleaners with cleaners that contain chlorine or bleach forms lung-damaging chlorine gas. If possible, it’s best to avoid both ingredients altogether.
I know it seems simple, but some good ‘ole soap and water or baking soda for scrubbing does the job just fine when done routinely.
For tougher toilet cleaning jobs (like after the stomach bug-ageddon that hit our family last year), pour one cup of borax and 1/4 cup of lemon juice into the toilet. Let that sit for a few hours then scrub it clean with a toilet brush and flush. Easy peasy!
12- Dryer Sheets
Dryer sheets are seriously bad news. Most contain at least 7 hazardous chemicals, including alpha-terpineol and benzyl alcohol – both of which are known to disrupt the central nervous system and cause headaches, nausea, vomiting, dizziness and more.
They even contain some items on the US EPA’s Hazardous Waste List, including camphor, chloroform and ethyl acetate.
Be safe and make your own felted wool dryer balls:
- Get some wool yarn and make a 2-4 small balls with it
- Place the finished balls in a sock or some pantyhose, and tie the end closed
- Run it through the washer 3 to 4 times to felt the wool
- You’ll know they’re done when the surface looks smoother and not like strings of yarn
Miss the fresh scent of your conventional dryer sheets? Add a few drops of your favorite essential oil to the balls! I get mine from Rocky Mountain Oils. They have some great blends that not only smell good but have targeted, medicinal properties as well.
13- Hair Spray
Did you know some hairsprays contain propane?
Yes, you read that right – PROPANE. The same chemical gas that fires up the grill in your backyard.
If that wasn’t bad enough, propellants in aerosol cans have been linked to liver cancer. Fortunately, you don’t have to settle for that stuff.
DIY Natural has a great recipe for homemade hairspray that will keep your hair in place without any toxic chemicals!
14- Spot Removers
Why are spot removers bad? Check out some of their most common ingredients:
- Linear alkylbenzene sulfonates (C10-16)
- Disodium distyrylbiphenyl disulfonate
- Sodium hypochlorite (chlorine bleach)
- Methylisothiazolinone (MIT)
- Sodium borate
- Ammonium Hydroxide
And those chemicals will trash your skin, eyes and respiratory system.
Puracy makes a safe, effective spot and stain remover. It uses all 6 plant-based enzymes to effectively remove stains using natural, non-toxic ingredients.
15- Dishwashing Detergents
Most dishwashing detergents these days are petroleum based. They’re also infamous for their artificial dyes and fragrances that can be contaminated with heavy metals.
These can leave an unseen, toxic residue on your dishes, which eventually comes in contact with the food you eat.
And the “extra powerful” dish detergents made with chlorine? They release chlorinated chemicals when you open your dishwasher at the end of its cycle, which of course you breathe in.
As a safer alternative, search Thrive Market for natural dish detergents that actually clean. If you haven’t heard of them, they’re like an online Costco except their products have to meet strict health & eco-friendly requirements.
P.S. Try Thrive Market today and get a free bottle of tea tree oil (great for your DIY cleaning supplies!)
Ecover automatic dishwasher tablets and felt they cleaned better than Seventh Generation.
16- Multipurpose Cleaners
Some all-purpose cleaners contain diethanolamine (an agent used for suds) and triethanolamine, which reacts with nitrites to form carcinogens. That’s not even mentioning the ethylene glycol monobutyl ether or the ammonia commonly found in multipurpose cleaners.
Most household cleaning needs can be met safely and inexpensively with a sturdy scrubber sponge and simple ingredients like water, vinegar, baking soda, lemon juice and liquid castile soap.
17- Glass Cleaner
Glass cleaners contain chemicals that damage the nervous system and many contain ammonia, which is hard on respiratory function.
As an alternative, fill a spray bottle with water and ¼ cup white vinegar or 1 tablespoon of lemon juice. This simple mix wipes away hard-to-remove greasy fingerprints and tough spots in no time.
Sweet story – I took the kids to their Nana’s house one day, and one of them was apparently fascinated with the backdoor glass because it was covered in handprints and smudges. I went to clean them before we left, and Nana stopped me, saying “It’s been a long time since I’ve had tiny prints in my home. Just leave ‘em.”
Sometimes little fingerprints really don’t need cleaning 🙂
In fact, I have a spot in my dining room of my then 3-yr old’s sticky handprint. It’s a perfect mold of his tiny hand, and when the time comes to paint, I’m going to put a frame around it and leave it untouched.
Well, there you have it!
17 of the most toxic household products and some natural alternatives to help you create a toxin-free home.
How about you? Do you have a favorite DIY cleaning recipe or natural product you use? Let me know. I’d love to hear about it!