Earlier, we explored steps you can take to create a healthier, more sustainable home, limiting environmental hazards by using organic, eco-friendly, and non-toxic options. We started with the most significant culprits responsible for indoor air pollution: off-gassing paint (Part One), synthetic carpeting, and chemically treated polyurethane bedding (Part Two) are at the top of the list. Other important choices are your furniture, accessories and appliances – even your daily cleansers.
Cisco Brothers’ Inside Green Line is on a mission to completely eliminate the popular fire-retardant chemical, chlorinated tris (TDCPP), from cushioned furniture. Their website cites recent studies by Duke University linking TDCPP to health concerns in toddlers, ranging from antisocial behavior and memory loss to lower levels of male hormones and hyperthyroidism, as well as hazards to pregnant mothers. One study found flame retardant in the blood of every single child they tested. (A Scientific American article also links the chemical to cancer.) The manufacturers state, “Cisco’s Inside Green technology is our smart, healthy, responsible, alternative method of building furniture made entirely from Natural Latex, organic wool, organic goose feathers and down.” Their wool is sourced from family farms in Oregon and California, and their goose down is cruelty-free.
Ekla Home is a member of the Rodale 100, the Sustainable Furnishings Council, EWG, and the Organic Trade Association. They specialize in eco-friendly, flame retardant-free organic furniture handmade in the U.S. With GOTS-certified fabrics, recycled steel springs, natural latex cushioning, and zero-VOC finishes, certified by OEKO-TEX and Greenguard standards among others, they produce sofas and chairs that would be the centerpiece of any room!
Eco Balanza is committed to working with local artisans, minimizing environmental pollution and knowing the source of all materials, and using only organic, certified, and natural materials in their creations – avoiding all chemicals. Environment Furniture focuses on recycled, reclaimed, and sustainably harvested woods, water-based stains awarded the EU’s Ecolabel certification, and recyclable shipping materials. Committed to reducing their carbon footprint, they also use vintage military canvas and recycled denim for material.
More designers than ever before are jumping on the eco-friendly bandwagon. Just be a savvy customer and don’t let a salesperson put you at ease by simply using the word “natural.” When you’re in the market for furniture, it’s imperative to do your research first.
DIY and Upcycling
Another popular alternative is finding old, well-made wooden pieces – bureaus, desks, tables, and chairs – and updating them with water-based stains or natural paints. Look for dovetail jointing, a sign of skilled carpentry and no contemporary synthetic glues.
I have seen old ladders refashioned as corner curio stands, barn cabinets turned into attractive bookshelves, and other imaginative and unique upcycling projects. Check out Pinterest and DIY sites such as Apartment Therapy. Be careful you’re not bringing pesticide-infused fruit crates into your home, however! With a good imagination and non-toxic paints and polishes, you can remove all plastic pieces from your collection.
Speaking of Plastic
Another dangerous source of chemicals is the lightweight plastic used to manufacture food and beverage containers. Many plastic containers once were made with BPA, bisphenol-A, which proved so detrimental to human health that the EPA issued an action plan to try to curb the damage. While BPA is no longer widely used, it’s always worth checking. Better yet, avoid plastic whenever possible. I prefer to think old-fashioned and traditional when it comes to my kitchen. I use glass jars for storage and wax paper to wrap sandwiches. Old porcelain, no-lead ceramics, and even stainless steel are much safer dishware options.
And Then, the Washing Up …
Some people tell me they actually like to wash dishes. This I find mysterious and incomprehensible. To my endless satisfaction, energy studies have shown that dishwashers actually save water and energy over hand-washing, which requires turning the hot water on and off repeatedly, using more fossil fuels to heat the water, and ultimately depletes that water table faster than the simple cycles of Energy-Star rated appliances. Impressive progress is underway in reducing the energy requirements of household appliances, especially refrigerators. Try to get the highest Energy-Star rating available – you’ll see the savings on your electric bill and you’ll be doing your part for the environment.
Clean your drains and garbage disposal simply and effectively with baking soda and white vinegar: this tried-and-true combination fizzes all the way down your pipes, naturally and effectively swishing away greasy grunge and eliminating odor. You can also try tossing a slice of lime or lemon into the blades of your disposal for extra freshness.
One of the most practical ways to minimize environmental harm when it comes to washing up is your choice of soap. Most popular commercial soaps – here it comes again – break down into hazardous chemical byproducts which linger as pollution in the water table. Look for brands like Seventh Generation and Method, both Certified B Corporations, meaning they work to be a positive influence on both people and the environment at every stage of production and product use. Zum Clean aromatherapy laundry soap and cleansers, available through Amazon.com, contain no sulfates or phosphates – in fact, the only ingredients are saponified 100% coconut oil, sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), essential oils, fragrance, and vegetable glycerin. And they are as powerful as promised – don’t let dark colors soak too long. To check out other brands, use the Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning.
If you want whiter whites, avoid chlorinated bleach, which is consistently destructive all the way from human skin to water runoff. Instead, use products containing hydrogen peroxide, or good old-fashioned 20 Mule Team Borax, which breaks down into inert, non-toxic components.
Fragrance Hazards–Go Natural
Unfortunately as indoor air becomes more contaminated, people who don’t suspect the actual sources of the stuffy, particle-contaminated air tend to compound the problem using chemical fragrance sprays and chemical plug-ins that release puffs of artificial fragrance into the air. Cleaner, more natural solutions include soy- or food-grade paraffin wax candles with lead-free wicks, scented with essential oils. Try Shortie’s Candle Company tealights, available on their website, at some Whole Foods Stores, or on Amazon.com. Another simple and natural solution is to boil a pot of water with cinnamon and cloves, or whatever herbs you like. (Just don’t forget and burn the pot.) Pure essential oils can also be used mixed with water in a diffuser, such as Nature’s Truth Essential Oil Mini-Diffuser, available at many local grocery stores – and you can plug it into any USB port.
Start with one or two of the suggestions in this series, keep our advice in mind and do your own research for future redecorating, and enjoy your newly fresh and vibrant home!
– Lisa Davidson
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