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It's easy to get overwhelmed when it comes to reducing toxins in your home. Before you pull up stakes and start searching for a sterile bubble to live in, realize that taking small steps to cleaning up the most prevalent toxins can make a big impact.
When you think of pollutants, the image of a cozy living room probably doesn't spring to mind. But stain repellents on couches and adhesives in carpet, not to mention fire retardants on mattresses and pillows, can contain noxious chemicals that release into the air. Fortunately, there are easy ways to cut down on such toxins — without breaking your budget. To learn more, check out the Environmental Working Group's (EWG) list of toxic furniture at ewg.org/node/21836; for information on mattresses, visit ewg.org/pbdefree.
- Sleep well
If you own a conventional mattress, you may be resting on chemicals known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE), used to make mattresses fire resistant. Studies have linked PBDEs to developmental problems in children, memory impairment, thyroid disorders, decreased sperm count, and delayed puberty onset. While some states forbid the use of PBDEs (Washington, Hawaii, California, Maine, and others have introduced bans), the Consumer Products Safety Commission recently adopted even stricter federal guidelines for open-flame fire resistance (read: more chemicals). Novacovici recommends choosing a mattress made from organic wool or cotton, or natural rubber latex, though you may need a doctor's note to obtain a fire-retardant-free mattress in some states. Organic mattresses are best, but if the price is a bit high for you, try using a mattress cover made of organic wool or organic cotton, or natural latex to reduce the amount of chemicals you are exposed to, recommends Novacovici.
- Rethink the wall-to-wall
When considering a new carpet, know this: Carpets can release toxins for their entire life, but especially for the first six months to a year. “A lot of the chemicals in carpets aren't necessarily in the carpets themselves but in the adhesives they are installed with,” says Novacovici. “Ask for adhesives that aren't formaldehyde based.” Also, look for those without chemical flame retardants or stain-resistant chemicals, because these also can contain PBDEs. When shopping, look for the Carpet and Rug Institute's Green Label and Green Label Plus; these indicate that a product has tested low for unhealthy volatile organic compounds (VOC), which release into the air throughout the life of the carpet. It's important to ventilate rooms well within the first few months of installing carpets, says Novacovici. What's more, once you have carpet, “it can act as a sink for household chemicals, which then release into the air,” she says. If you have carpeting, use a vacuum with a HEPA filter, which is designed to trap 99.97 percent of particles, including many health-hampering chemicals, says Novacovici.
- Buy untreated
For couches, carpets, and rugs, look for ones that aren't manufactured with stain-preventing chemicals that contain perfluorinated chemicals (PFC). These release into the air over the lifetime of the product, says Sass. If you do have some pretreated furniture, you're not doomed: Remember, it's all about getting fresh air into your home so you're not constantly breathing in the chemicals, says Sass.
Because kids' smaller systems are more susceptible to chemicals, the recent reports on lead and other toxins in toys are even more troublesome. But plastic and painted toys aren't the only issue. Go to healthytoys.org to see how your tot's toys fare, and follow these do's and don'ts when choosing new ones.