I realized at some point that what I didn’t put onto my body was as important as what I put into it. The skin is the largest organ of the body and can absorb up to 60% of what is rubbed on it. Your lungs can inhale a raft of chemicals that may migrate into your blood stream. After the diagnosis, I began reading about cleaners, detergents, bleaches, air fresheners, soaps, deodorants, perfumes. And more. In 1991, research by Dr. David Sterling found that women who work at home have a 55% higher risk of developing cancer than their at-work sisters because of all the household cleaning products they use. I always knew there was a reason I hated housework.
Unfortunately, we live in a sea of chemicals. I was born in 1945 days after the first atom bomb was dropped. X-rays were still considered wonders – our shoe stores used to have x-ray machines in them so you could see how your toes fit into your shoes. It’s amazing I don’t have foot cancer, I was so fascinated by this. We used to spray DDT in a pump can all around the house baseboards. And even with all that, I suspect that I had less exposure to harmful agents than I do now. It is estimated that over 80,000 new chemicals have been released into the environment since WWII.
It took me awhile to figure this all out, but little by little I got rid of the stuff I had and replaced it with either less harmful products or with everyday stuff like baking soda & vinegar for flushing drains, diluted white vinegar for wiping down counters, mopping floors or washing produce (the University of Minnesota did a study on vinegar and found a solution of ½ cup vinegar to 1½ cups water in a spray bottle, when sprayed on produce, would reduce bacteria by 99%). I thought I was going to be very disappointed in performance, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised. I actually enjoy using them and find that they match pretty well their more toxic cousins. Of course, you’re not always going to get the same results; sometimes it’s a tradeoff between clean and spotless. Nevertheless, I’m happy so far with what the greener products do.
I know that what follows can be pretty overwhelming. I started small, getting rid of the worst. I immediately changed what I put on my skin and what I cleaned with. Changing the rest happened over a period of time. This is what I’ve sussed out for myself, reading books, visiting websites, talking with others. I’m no expert – don’t take this as expert advice; there are lots of good books on this. Lots. After I read a bunch of them, this is what I decided would work for me to avoid burdening my system more than I needed to.
These are the products I stopped using or swapped out for their less toxic cousins:
Soaps: dish soap/hand soap/dishwasher soap/laundry detergent/fabric softener.
What a revelation to use a green dishwasher soap. The old stuff smelled like a perm solution at the beauty salon. Now it doesn’t smell when I run the dishwasher and the dishes are just as clean. I just don’t use fabric softener, found I didn’t need it. In the winter I get static so I bought those rubbery dryer balls to use.
Counter/toilet cleaners/floor cleaners/window cleaners
Using a lot of white vinegar now, diluted or not. Works just fine. Why was I spending all that money?
Uh, harder to find good stuff. I’m just dusting at the moment.
Carpet cleaners/spot removers
Maybe there’s good subsitutues out there. I haven’t found them, but truthfully haven’t been looking that hard either.
Toilet paper/paper towels/coffee filters
Dioxin is present in products that have been bleached. So it was recommended to me that I use paper products free of this. Dioxins are bad actors. Even, or perhaps especially, in coffee filters. David Steinman reports on an FDA study that found a person’s daily intake of dioxin is increased by about 10% using bleached coffee filters. Brown is the way to go.
Phalates can really cause problems. When it says “fragrance”, that’s usually what it means – phalates (they are also what makes plastics soft). They are in everything – clothes softeners, detergents, cosmetics, perfumes. If you can smell it, it’s probably phalates. I find it hard to even walk down the detergent aisle anymore. I will only buy a product using essential oils for fragrance.
Sigh. This is a hard one. I bought a hand steamer and steel wool pads. I make a slurry of baking soda and water, paint it on the surface of the oven and let it sit for a few hours. Then mop it up, use the steamer and it gets it clean. Maybe not spotless, but clean. Of course, each oven is different; I’m sure if I had a self cleaning oven this wouldn’t work. Read your warranty and don’t void it!
Hand sanitizers with Triclosan
Is nothing sacred? Most commercial candles are full of petroleum products and phalates. The majority of candles are made from paraffin (made from petroleum) which produces harmful byproducts when burned. And usually we burn them in the winter with the windows closed, so we get a double dose. Also the wicks often have zinc and lead in them and off-gas when burned. I choose natural candles made from beeswax, or a combination of soy oil and beeswax or other natural oils. I check the label to make sure the wicks are lead free – I was told that cotton wicks are generally safe.
Body products and cosmetics have an enormous number of substances in them that can add to your chemical load but for the specifics, Dr. Servan-Schreiber’s book has some good information. There are also many websites and books that you give you substitutes or recipes for DIY. I have been flat amazed at the stuff I’ve whipped up in the kitchen. The list below is for products commonly found on store shelves. I often hear women say “I’d rather be dead than go out without makeup.” Really? I found substitutes for:
shower gels/hand soaps
mascara – no I haven’t found a good substitute anywhere and I’ve tried a bunch.
For body products and cleaners, I have thrown in the towel and only buy organic/green products. I haven’t been able to find any regular products that were free of suspect agents.
OTHER THINGS TO GIVE CONSIDERATION TO
I’m sure you’ve already heard about this. Teflon™ coated pans should not be heated to smoking. The fumes and particles released can be inhaled and are not considered healthy. There are other coatings out there that don’t say Teflon™, but in fact are coated with the same substance. I’m careful with this one. There are ceramic finishes that seem to me to have almost the same ease of use as Teflon™. I only use stainless steel and cast iron/ceramic at this point.
Bisphenol A (BPA)
This is a hormone disrupter; it is linked to a protein found in 30% of breast cancer patients. Most of the cans currently on the market are lined with this material to prevent spoilage and contamination from the tin into the food, even a lot of organic canned food. Anything acidic will leach BPA into the food. I found this hard to deal with as I used a lot of canned tomatoes. I now buy only food either in glass or aseptic containers and anything else has to be fresh or frozen. To save money, I canned my own tomatoes this summer with gratitude that I had room for a garden.
BPA is also found on receipts like those you get from the ATM and the grocery store. I wash my hands as soon as I can after touching these. Also, they shouldn’t be recycled, as the BPA then gets into the paper stream and even items that wouldn’t usually have it, like paper napkins, are contaminated with it.
Traditional dry cleaning uses perchloroethylene (PERC). This is a neurotoxin and possible carcinogen. There are alternatives – some cleaners now offer “wet cleaning” with carbon dioxide (CO2). I don’t dry clean very often anymore except for my winter wool coat, but when I do have it cleaned, I make sure to hang it outside for several hours to air before bringing it into the house or before wearing it.
I have gone back and forth on this one. One minute this kind is ok, next minute it isn’t. At the time I’m writing this, the numbers on plastic containers 1, 2, 4 and 5 are considered safe for food. I only use plastic wrap or sandwich/freezer bags made by Ziploc, Glad or Saran; all are advertised to be BPA and PVC free. I continue to use freezer bags because I haven’t found a good substitute, but for everything else I save my glass containers and just reuse them. I don’t heat food in plastic in the microwave. I don’t use old plastic tubs for storing food; the older they are evidently, the worse they leach. Since this is so fluid and seems to change so often, I just google “safe plastic for food” every once in awhile to make sure there hasn’t been a change. No plastic water bottles. I know this one can be a hard change. I use old glass kombucha bottles for my water. I have seen water bottles lately that are glass surrounded by some kind of covering that will keep it from breaking if dropped. There are also very good stainless steel bottles.