11 Ways To Cut Down On Toxic Chemicals In Your Home

After my recent porch chair makeover, it occurred to me that as a frequent DIYers, John and I probably expose ourselves to a fair amount of chemicals. And the fact that I actually felt woozy and nauseous after ten minutes of spray painting made me wonder just how bad these toxic chemicals really could be. Were the effects only temporary or were we setting ourselves up for some serious health issues down the line? A few moments of picturing us in our perfectly painted & stained home on ventilators was all it took to iron out my priorities: health before home improvement.

So I thought to myself: self, there’s gotta be a way to keep unnecessary chemicals out of our house (and our lungs). So I did a little digging to uncover a few easy switcheroos that could make our house a little safer for us, our beloved poochkins, and the future bambinos. Here’s what I learned:

Nail polish and nail polish remover are one of the most toxic, carcinogenic products in the house (assuming you keep all your paint, varnish and stain in a detached garage or shed like we do- or use low VOC or no-VOC paints). If giving up the ol’ mani-pedi just isn’t an option, Zoya nailpolish is a water-based organic substitute that’s thankfully carcinogen free (OPI is the world’s worst kind- dripping with formaldehyde, a known cancer causer). And when it comes to nailpoish remover, choosing something that’s acetone free is the way to go (and removing your polish outside keeps other chemicals from hanging around the house for days).

-Topical flea and tick products for your pets (like Advantage or Advantix) are extremely dangerous for children, people in general and even pets (!) – they’re loaded with carcinogenic pesticides and each box has serious warnings about washing your hands thoroughly if you come in contact with the product. We don’t know about you, but each month that we put Burger’s medication on the back of his neck we would accidentally pet him while it was still wet, he’d sit on our couch with it, it would get on our clothes, etc. In essence that dangerous chemical was getting all over our house each month… and we were putting it on our beloved dog! Not anymore. It’s in the trash and our pup (who has never had a flea problem and spends most of his time indoors) is going chemical free. And if he should have an issue, flea and tick shampoos are much less harsh than pesticides (they’re actually called that on the box) like Advantage and Advantix.

– Bleach and ammonia riddled cleaning products are another completely toxic component, which not only pollute your home when you use them but also off-gas (ie: leak into the air) even when they’re stored under the sink. Thankfully, we gave up bleaching our whites a while ago so we didn’t have a big bottle of bleach to get rid of. But we did use some pretty smelly shower spray (Tilex mildew stuff) so we happily made the switch to Mrs. Meyers Shower Cleaner, which is about a million times better for our lungs and still beats any mildew that rears its ugly head. We also grabbed another all purpose cleaning product from Mrs. Meyers for wiping down glass and other surfaces without harsh chemicals of any kind. Easy peasy (and we love that it’s non-toxic just in case Burger gets a lick here or there).

– I also read numerous reports of people switching to a less chemically enhanced laundry detergent and immediately noticing that going back to Tide or Cheer gave them rashes. Sounds like switching to something milder and sticking to it would be good for us and our babies down the line. So we grabbed some über gentle Seventh Generation Concentrated Laundry Detergent. And we ditched fabric softener altogether (which is also another great way to cut down on chemicals that you wear and breathe every day). The result is still fresh, clean and soft clothes (which makes me wonder if fabric softener really does anything anyway). Really, we didn’t even notice the change (but we’re sure our unborn children will thank us).

– Just to be overachievers, while at Target we also grabbed Tom’s Of Maine Natural Whole Care toothpaste (with fluoride), made with all natural ingredients like peppermint oil. We figured that making that switch now would make it easier for us to pass our healthy habit to our children (who swallow gobs of toothpaste in their younger years). Honestly, this change was something we noticed. The first few days we thought it seemed a little gritty compared to our old toothpaste. But we’ve totally adapted and love the stuff now. And we’ve both noticed that the peppermint oil keeps our mouths feeling clean and smelling fresh longer than the fake flavoring of other brands. Oh and we’ve also switched to natural deodorant without aluminum or phosphates (Tom’s of Maine). Now we’re so fresh and so green.

And now for a few other tips:

-Completely eliminate pesticides (bug bombs in your home, flea and tick pet treatments, lawn pesticides and herbicides, etc)- according to CancerIQ.org the risk of leukemia increases by four to seven times for children ten or under who use home or garden pesticides, and they can also be linked to childhood brain cancer. Yikes!

-Remove the plastic from dry cleaning garments and let them air out outside, in your sunroom, or on your porch for 24 hours before bringing them into your home.

-Choose floss and natural toothpaste over mouthwash (which has a whole buncha chemicals- why do you think you’re not supposed to swallow it?).

-There are a slew of non-toxic, natural, and chemical free products available thanks to Seventh Generation (from dish detergent and hand soap to diapers and even tampons!).

– Limit radiation exposure by avoiding x-rays unless necessary (broken bone= necessary, annual dentist appointment= not necessary).

– Never ever ever heat plastics (packaging that comes with tv dinners, plastic wrap, or tupperware) in the microwave and only use ceramic or glass containers that are microwave safe (carcinogens can leak from the plastic products into you food).

Of course you don’t have to follow all of our above suggestions, and we might have lost you at ditching OPI nail polish, but we love to share what goes on in this young house, and this proved to be a pretty interesting learning experience for us. We’re regularly buying all of these products anyway (from deodorant to dish detergent) so selecting the healthiest options seem like a worthwhile pursuit since we use ’em every day on the only body we get. We also found an extremely helpful website called greenyour.com, which offers actual products to snag (as opposed to a list of what not to buy) when you click the “product” tab in each category. Oh and remember to dispose of any chemicals that you’re removing from your home (paint, bleach, etc) in a safe way, like dropping them off at your local recycling center in the designated toxic chemical area.

And so we (finally) conclude our super long post. Long live longer living!


  1. says

    Those are very wise changes you’ve made. I grew up with parents who did home improvements, and I too was a DIY-er. Now at age 46 I’m suffering the effects of all those chemicals….they’ve pretty much destroyed my immune system. A great web site for finding out how toxic or safe products are, is the Enviromental Working Group. http://www.ewg.org/

  2. says

    These are AMAZING tips. Thanks for helping me realize how easy it would be to make a few small changes. I’ve started cleaning with more natural products but never gave a second thought to nail polish, laundry detergent, or heating plastics.

    Thanks for the tips!

  3. says

    Good tips! We are doing most of them already, but there’s some good ones I haven’t thought of before.

    On fleas and dogs… you can kill fleas with food grade diatomectious earth scattered around your yard and on your pup. You can also feed your pup 1/2 clove of garlic once a week (just mix it into the food or into a little cheese); this is a great natural repellent. Don’t feed too much garlic, though, because it’s toxic in large quantities.

  4. MaryB in Richmond says

    Somebody (I can’t even think who) told me that I shouldn’t store paint in an unheated space, such as in my attached (but unheated) garden shed. So all the paint and primer I’ve been buying is stored in my mudroom — taking up valuable space, and maybe now also killing me. Is it really ok to store paint/primer in an unheated room in Richmond, Virginia?

  5. Sara says

    No, not OPI! Uh, my favorite nail polish is weeping with me! I also can not think of all the times I have heated up tv dinners and let’s not get started on the tons o’ tupperware sitting on my shelves. Nice to know some of my favorite things could be harming me! Thanks for the great tips! Now I must search for some cute glass bowls to replace some tupperware. And to think they said they are microwave safe!

  6. YoungHouseLove says

    As for the bambino references…. surprise! Just kidding. But I had you there for a second, right? Especially you honey. Nope, babies are definitely in our future, but on hold for now. We have to clean up our act (and our house) first. Maybe in 2009 we’ll talk.

    Anyway, so happy you guys are finding our little non-toxic “homework assignment” helpful. Oh and Tracey, OPI may have eliminated some of their nastier ingredients, but they’re still one of the more toxic brands (and still aren’t recommended for use by pregnant women) so you might want to give Zoya (or another favorite: Honeybee Gardens WaterColors) a try since they’re actually water-based organic polish (that looks just as saturated and glossy as the more potent versions you know and love). Just an idea! I found the best color by Honeybee Gardens WaterColors called Burlesque. Swoon. I adore it. Hope that helps!

    And everyone: please share any and all of your non-toxic/eco-friendly/greenification tips with us! We love this new arena of information, and are already poking around the http://www.ewg.org link that Tricia supplied. Thanks a million Trish!

    As for Jill’s comment about acetone- she’s certainly more of an expert that we are (we’re just jumping on this bandwagon now, and admittedly have a lot to learn along the way). Thanks for the acetone clarification Jill! It’s still pretty stinky stuff, so removing polish outside or just opting for acetone free remover might be helpful to avoid that “chemical fog” feeling that sensitive chicas like me sometimes experience.

    Oh and Mary B, we have heard for the safety of the paint that it’s probably not supposed to be in an area where it can freeze, but we figure that Richmond winters are mild enough (and our garage & shed are insulated enough) to keep our big gallons of paint from ever getting even close to freezing so we’re ok. Whew. And even if it could ruin the paint, I’d rather have to get more paint down the line than get sick from keeping my paint safe & sound in the house (at our expense). Hope that helps!


  7. Tracey says

    Great article! OPI is one of my favorites and beginning in 2006-2007, they eliminated DBP (dibutyl phthalate), toluene, and formaldehyde. yay!

  8. YoungHouseLove says

    Yeah, Sherry, I’m with MaryB – are you hinting at something with all those baby references?

    -Your husband :)

  9. Jill says

    This is something that we should all be more conscientious of. (I wish I had looked for a low/no VOC paint for the whole house that I just painted yesterday! DOH!) But I do want to point out that while inhaling acetone could possibly make you dizzy, it is not a carcinogen. My husband is a chemist and uses it all the time to clean his glassware. (If you don’t believe me, you can google msds acetone.)

    By the way, LOVE the blog, you two are so cute and remind me of my husband and I a few years ago.

  10. says

    Have you ever tried making your own cleaning supplies? It’s easier than it sounds, and the recipes I’ve used to make counter cleaner and floor cleaners work better than what you find in stores.

  11. says

    Great article! We are trying to greenify our life and this has totally given me the push to go out and get new cleaning supplies and laundry detergent. Thanks! :)

  12. Abha says

    I think the easiest way to keep your home clean and green is to do away with all the chemical-based household cleaners you can buy at stores, and use a combination of the old classics – warm water and baking soda, or warm water with a dash of vinegar (the ratios don’t really matter, but the water must remain clear and not smell too much of the additions). And baking soda and vinegar are super cheap too (around 99c at most stores). These can clean out toilet bowls, kitchen counters, ovens, floors, sinks, tubs, windows, glassware, etc. A little waiting and scrubbing can get out the harshest stains or gunk. You can even clean and deodorize carpets by sprinkling baking soda on the area to be cleaned, wait 15 minutes, and vaccuum. Voila! In other words, you can clean your WHOLE house in a completely non-toxic manner, and for cheap too.

  13. says

    way to go on making some green changes. if everyone did just a few things, it would make a difference. we love the seventh generation products. i love avalon organics: deodorant, lotion, wash stuff. the lavender is heavenly. we both love anything toms of maine and our local costco carries the toothpaste and trader joes has the best prices on the wash and lotion.

    don’t know how much fruit/veggies ya’ll eat, but you should try washing them with veggie wash; it’s amazing how much gunk it removes (and we buy all local and orangic veggies).

    opi is the one thing i’ve had a hard time giving up. at least i don’t keep it in the fridge and only use it about once per month.

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