Did you know that, on average, people spend about 90% of their time indoors? On top of that, the level of air pollutants indoors can be 2-5 times (and sometimes over 1,000 times!) that of outdoor air, according to the EPA. Now is a really good time to consider the answer to the question: Is your house making you sick? This is especially true since so many of us are spending even more time at home due to recent circumstances.
From cleaning products to flooring to medications to personal care products; you are surrounded by toxins every single day. While a low level of toxins in the short term isn’t likely to be terribly harmful to the body, too much exposure can cause serious health issues. In this post, you’ll discover 7 ways environmental toxins in your house could be making you sick.
This is the first post in a series on Detoxing Your Home. In upcoming posts, I will share information on how to ditch and switch to reduce common household toxins, invisible threats you might not think about, and safer alternatives to harmful chemicals. I’ll also share with you some easy tips to further improve the health of your home.
A Piece of My Story
First, let me tell you a little bit about why this even showed up on my radar. And why it’s something I honestly believe everyone needs to be doing.
Several years ago my husband and I sat, shell-shocked, in the office of my new oncologist. I had just been diagnosed with a frightening, precancerous condition. One that spreads relatively quickly.
We had also just learned that the only course of action was a total hysterectomy. And that time was of the essence. So, in a bit of a numb daze, we scheduled my imminent surgery.
I shared my fear and shock with my doctor. He confided that he was also quite surprised I had this condition. First, he pointed out that I didn’t have any of the typical risk factors normally associated with this condition. He spoke at length about this piece. Secondly, there was also no family history of this condition. The only explanation, he explained, was that it was caused by environmental factors.
Environmental Toxins in Our Homes Are Making Us Sick
It didn’t make any sense to me. I honestly believed I was living a really clean and healthy lifestyle. My diet was clean. I made sure I got at least the recommended 10,000 steps most days. There was no smoking or pesticide use in my immediate environment. All the household cleaners and personal care products I used were labeled clean, natural, organic, and green.
I mean, how could any of that be bad? My mind kept coming back to the words environmental factors. What did that really even mean? It must be really rare, right?
How could I have a precancerous condition caused by environmental factors when I was SO careful about my diet and the products I used? I was on a mission to find out! Spoiler alert: What I found out will probably shock you–just like it shocked me.
Greenwashing is Real
A friend suggested I start by looking at what I was using daily in my house. I told her I was sure that the products I was using were safe. C’mon, they had all those great labels on them: Green! Clean! Safe! Natural! Organic! Wholesome! Nothing to worry about there, I said. She urged me to dig deeper. So I did.
That’s when I found out that I had been fooled into feeling safe because I believed all those buzzwords. Meanwhile, I was actually polluting myself, my family, and my home.
It turns out, those fancy terms aren’t actually regulated. And they don’t necessarily mean that the products are any safer to use! It’s called greenwashing, and it’s a real thing.
Many of the ingredients in these products are known to be harmful. Some of these ingredients are known endocrine disruptors, neurotoxins, allergens, asthma triggers, and/or eye, lung, and skin irritants. Some are even known carcinogens.
Talk about being overwhelmed! I was disappointed to realize that I had been making some ignorant choices. Choices that were doing quite the opposite of welcoming wellness. I was shocked to realize that what I was allowing into my house was part of what was making me sick.
It became clear that I had to find a way to remove the harmful, chemical-filled products. I knew that in order to do that, I had to find safer toxin-free solutions to use in my home.
So I continued investigating. A lot. Reading everything I could find on the subject. I learned things that initially scared me but ultimately empowered me. I was finally learning how to welcome wellness by creating a more toxic-free lifestyle!
Small Steps Can Make a Big Difference
I’m not sharing this blog post series to scare you. Or to make you feel bad if you realize that your home environment is making you sick. I was in the same situation. There is NO judgment here.
Yes, I’ve come a long way in cleaning up the toxins in my home. But please hear me when I tell you that my home isn’t perfect–there is no way to do this perfectly.
And let’s be realistic here. There really is no way to completely remove every toxin from your home. You just need to take the first steps and then keep moving forward. Knowledge can be powerful because when you know better you can choose to do better.
In my opinion, the best way to look at this is through the lens of small steps toward improvement each day. Not by freaking out and attempting to eliminate everything all at once. Stressing out over it isn’t going to be helpful. But taking small steps in the right direction each day can make a significant difference.
The First Step Is Awareness
The first step really is becoming aware of the harmful chemicals in your home. Once you’re aware, you can take steps to reduce and remove them. Please don’t put your head in the sand and ignore the issue. If you don’t begin removing these toxins from your home, they’ll continue to build up with the potential to wreak havoc on your health.
I’m sharing this information because I know I’m NOT the only one who was in the dark about this. It took me a lot of digging to uncover the truth. I feel compelled to share what I’ve learned in the hopes that my knowledge and experience can help YOU.
I invite and encourage YOU to join me in welcoming wellness. The first step is to honestly answer the question “Is your house making you sick.”
7 Ways Environmental Toxins in Your House Are Making You Sick
OK, let’s get on with my top reasons to start removing harmful chemicals from your home! And as you’re reading ask yourself: Could my house be making me sick?
Environmental Toxins Are Known Carcinogens
The first thing I learned was that the American Cancer Society says that only about 5% to 10% of all cancer cases are from inherited gene defects. That means that around 90% of cases are caused by other factors, including environmental factors!
And many of these are things that we can control…tobacco use, being around second-hand smoke, excess alcohol use, lack of exercise, excess weight, exposure to toxic chemicals in our homes, and indoor air quality, to name a few.
Yeah…so clearly I was wrong in thinking that cancer caused by environmental factors was rare.
Compromised Indoor Air Quality
As I mentioned earlier, the air quality inside our homes can be 2-5 times more polluted than outdoor air. That’s a shocking statistic, isn’t it? It was surprising to me, too. Obviously, polluted indoor air is one way your house might be making you sick.
Polluted indoor air can be due to many factors including the off-gassing of furniture and carpeting and inadequate ventilation. It’s also due to all the chemicals that are in traditional cleaning and personal care products, air fresheners, and candles. Even those “green” cleaners (like I was using) can add to the toxic load and air pollution inside our homes.
Especially Harmful to Kids and Fur-babies
While harmful chemicals certainly have an impact on everyone in the household, our kids and pets are particularly susceptible to exposure. This is because they’re exposed to a higher concentration of chemicals than adults.
Think about it. Kids and pets crawl, play, and lay down on the floors. They tend to put things into their mouths and engage in hand-to-mouth (or paw-to-mouth) behavior. And let’s not forget that many pets (yep, and kids!) eat right off the floor. Am I right? “Waaaaaiiit, where did you get that? What IS that? Eww, spit that out!”
An additional concern is that young children’s bodies are still developing. Their immune system isn’t yet as strong as an adult’s immune system. So they’re at an even greater risk of developing harmful effects from the chemicals around them. Also, keep in mind that young children breathe more rapidly than adults. That means they are breathing in more of whatever pollutants are in the air.
The World Health Organization explains that they “live closer to the ground, where some pollutants reach peak concentrations – at a time when their brains and bodies are still developing.”
Increased Risk of Lung Disease
Harmful chemicals can have many negative effects on the respiratory system. The most common respiratory issues caused by high levels of chemical exposure include asthma and lung disease.
Studies have shown a link between exposure to chemicals from common cleaning products and damage to the lungs including higher rates of asthma and respiratory illnesses, chronic respiratory problems. 1 Svanes Ø, Bertelsen RJ, Lygre SHL, Carsin AE, Antó JM, Forsberg B, García-García JM, Gullón JA, Heinrich J, Holm M, Kogevinas M, Urrutia I, Leynaert B, Moratalla JM, Le Moual N, Lytras T, Norbäck D, Nowak D, Olivieri M, Pin I, Probst-Hensch N, Schlünssen V, Sigsgaard T, Skorge TD, Villani S, Jarvis D, Zock JP, Svanes C. Cleaning at Home and at Work in Relation to Lung Function Decline and Airway Obstruction. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2018 May 1;197(9):1157-1163. doi: 10.1164/rccm.201706-1311OC. PMID: 29451393. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29451393/ Another recent study has also shown a link between an increased risk of childhood asthma or wheeze and the use of common household cleaning products.
Can Be Endocrine Disruptors
Many of these harmful chemicals can disrupt your endocrine system, too. The endocrine system includes the adrenal glands, thyroid gland, parathyroid gland, pituitary gland, pineal gland, pancreas, and testes or ovaries (and the placenta, during pregnancy).
The endocrine system makes and releases hormones into your blood so they can travel to tissues and organs all over the body. These hormones control several important functions in the body, including growth and development, metabolism, and reproduction.
According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG): “There is no end to the tricks that endocrine disruptors can play on our bodies: increasing production of certain hormones; decreasing production of others; imitating hormones; turning one hormone into another; interfering with hormone signaling; telling cells to die prematurely; competing with essential nutrients; binding to essential hormones; accumulating in organs that produce hormones.”
Pose a Danger to Cardiovascular Health
Exposure to some of these common chemicals can negatively impact the cardiovascular system. The cardiovascular system is, obviously, crucial to your health. It moves oxygen, carbon dioxide, nutrients, and waste to and from the cells in the body, provides nourishment, helps to fight disease, and helps to stabilize your temperature, among other things.
Exposure to environmental toxins can stress the heart and can cause unhealthy cholesterol levels. Additional studies have shown that exposure to these “toxins may cause structural damage to the cardiovascular system and/or functional disturbances such as decreased cardiac output, electrical conduction system abnormalities, and disruption of systemic arterial pressure autoregulation.”2Sahand Rahnama-Moghadam, L. David Hillis, Richard A. Lange, Chapter 3 -Environmental Toxins and the Heart, Editor(s): Meenakshisundaram Ramachandran, Heart and Toxins, Academic Press, 2015, Pages 75-132, ISBN 9780124165953, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780124165953000037
Can Cause Autoimmune Diseases
The immune system is a complex network that includes cells, tissues, and organs. The components of the immune system work together to help your body fight off invaders such as viruses, infections, diseases, and anything else it considers foreign or harmful.
In very basic terms, the immune system’s job is to mount an attack, called an immune response, whenever it recognizes any of these invaders. This is how the immune system is supposed to work.
In people with autoimmune diseases, the immune system mounts that same type of attack when there is no actual threat. So instead of fighting off an invader, the immune system actually begins attacking the healthy cells in the body.
There is increasing evidence to suggest that environmental toxins can increase the likelihood of ending up with an autoimmune illness. According to Dr. Joseph Pizzorno, “The research is very clear—huge, huge, strong correlations between toxin load and most of your autoimmune diseases.”
And it’s important to realize that once you have one autoimmune disease, you are at a much higher risk of developing other autoimmune diseases. In fact, around 25% of people who have developed an autoimmune disease will have a tendency to develop additional autoimmune diseases.3Cojocaru M, Cojocaru IM, Silosi I. Multiple autoimmune syndrome. Maedica (Bucur). 2010 Apr;5(2):132-4. PMID: 21977137; PMCID: PMC315001https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3150011/ This has been my personal experience as someone who suffered from three autoimmune diseases at once.
There is Hope, Even if Your House IS Making You Sick Right Now
So tell me. How do you answer the question: “Is your house making you sick?”
If your answer was a resounding YES, as mine was when I first started out, please don’t despair! There is hope!
In my next posts, we will discuss some of the most common household toxins, and ditch and switch ideas to reduce them. This is not to scare you, but to EMPOWER you to take action. I’ll give you info on where they are most likely hiding, too. I’ll share the deets on how I was able to ditch many of my toxic products and fill you in on the safe & effective alternatives I now use. And I’ll offer you easy tips to do the same! Don’t worry; it’s not nearly as difficult as you might think. Pinky promise.
I’ve gone from feeling overwhelmed to having peace of mind knowing that I have significantly reduced many of these toxic chemicals from my home. You can have this peace of mind, too! I truly hope you’ll join me on this journey to welcoming wellness. It’s so worth the effort!
I’d love for you to comment and let me know if you think your house could be making you sick. And if so, are you ready to start to take action?
It’s unreal the chemicals that are allowed to be in body lotions – always surprises me! And, unfortunately, sometimes the safer products are more expensive and that prevents some people from detoxing.
It really is shocking when you think about what is allowed in our personal care and cleaning products! I agree that safer products are sometimes more expensive, although it makes sense to me that products with higher-quality ingredients might cost more. There are alternatives that aren’t very expensive, too, which is a very good thing. Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
I have a conflicting passion for saving my health and saving my money. It’s hard enough to make smart choices, but then these “greenwashed” product labels don’t make it any easier!
Thanks for the great info, and the push to do better. 🙂
You are so right that greenwashing makes it more difficult to choose safe products than it needs to be! Thanks for taking the time to read and comment!
This is valuable information! I am studying public health, and in one of my classes we did a paper on environmental disruptors and contributing products. I switched shampoo/conditioner to more environmental friendly ones without a lot of the major ingredients known to be harmful. I also got an air purifier. I’ve noticed just with these two changes, my hair is healthier and my house has less dust. I’m looking forward to reading more in your series.
I’m so happy to hear that you’ve added an air purifier and started switching to products with fewer harmful ingredients. Each small swap makes a difference. You’re off to a great start! I’m glad you found the post valuable. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.
I feel so much safer cleaning my kitchen counters with an all-natural cleaner instead of the store-bought chemical cleaners. Not only does it clean just as well (if not better), but it smells great too. I am looking forward to reading more of your ideas and tips on non-toxic living!
Knowing the products you are using are safe and effective brings such peace of mind. Smelling great is an added bonus! Thanks for taking the time to comment!
We just installed a whole house air purifier because my allergies are getting worst. I am mainly allergic to dust and dust mites. Thanks for sharing this very informative post. I cannot wait to read more.
This is exactly why I started switching out store bought products and began making many of these household items. You just never know what is really in these products
You’re so right! I’m glad you’ve started switching out some of the more questionable products. DIYing is a great way to know exactly what you’re using. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.
Wow! First, thanks for sharing your story. Secondly, This really has me thinking. I had no idea the extent of the toxic chemicals that we have in our homes could do that much damage to the body. Thank you for such an informative post.
I was surprised by the information when I first started researching, too. Thankfully, making small changes consistently over time can add up. I’m glad you found the information helpful! Thank you so much for reading and taking the time to comment.
This is scary! I cannot wait to read the next article! Thanks for the info!
I agree, it scared me too! The good thing is that by being aware we can also be empowered to make better choices. Thank you so much for reading and taking the time to comment.