7 ways to detox your home (and keep it clean) year ‘round

If you’ve ever thought about making changes in your household routine to lower your exposure to toxic chemicals, you may be put off by how daunting it seems. 

But changes are important, since Americans spend about 90 percent of their time indoors.

And you don’t need to make them all overnight. 

To help you detox your home in a manageable way, here are EWG’s top recommendations for lowering your exposure to harmful chemicals in your home. 

Attack the dust 

You may not be able to see the dust in your home except in a shaft of sunlight, but it’s there. This toxic stew of substances has many sources, including chemicals shed by home products, as well as clothing and other fibers, paint, hair, mold, pollen, bacteria, viruses, insects, smoke and ash, soot, animal fur and dander, dead skin and cooking residues, among others. 

To reduce dust coming into your home:

  • Leave your shoes at the door. We can track outdoor contaminants indoors on the soles of our shoes. It’s a good idea to change into slippers or house shoes when you get home. 
  • Vacuum. Run your vacuum cleaner on your floors and upholstery regularly, using a machine with a HEPA – high efficiency particulate air – filter. 
  • Clean floors. A traditional broom often just redistributes dust particles. Instead, use a wet mop on your floors and wet microfiber cloths to clean other surfaces.
  • Use an air purifier. Check the California Air Resources Board list of certified air cleaners to find the best ones. A machine with a HEPA filter can remove nearly all particles as small as 0.3 microns, the size of many dust mites and allergens. 

Avoid undisclosed 'fragrance'

Cleaning and personal care products often contain a toxic blend of chemicals known as “fragrance” – as many as thousands of them. Manufacturers aren’t required to list them on ingredient labels, but exposure may cause a range of health problems, including allergic reactions, hormone disruption and cancer.

To avoid fragrance:

  • Study labels. Steer clear of products, including traditional air fresheners, that contain “fragrance.”
  • Explore alternatives. Consult our Skin Deep® database and Guide to Healthy Cleaning. Look for products with low scores, indicating fewer toxic chemicals. And look for cleaners and personal care products, as well as diapers, bearing the EWG VERIFIED® mark, meaning they were made according to our strictest standards for your health. 

Banish 'forever chemicals'

PFAS can be found nearly everywhere, including the blood of 99 percent of Americans – which can make this class of chemicals the most overwhelming for many consumers to address. Since these “forever chemicals” are often not included on product labels, lowering our exposure can be especially challenging. 

Here are a few ways to shop smarter that can make a difference:

  • Be wary of any products labeled stain-resistant or water-resistant – they likely contain PFAS. Or shop from companies that have made commitments not to use PFAS in any of their products. Do your homework before buying new clothing and textiles, like furniture, to make sure they’re free from these harmful chemicals.
  • Carefully select your cookware. Anything billed “nonstick” likely contains PFAS or a just-as-bad replacement. Use cast iron, glass or stainless steel whenever possible. 
  • Cull PFAS-contaminated clothing. Clothing and textiles that are stain-, grease- and water-resistant have likely been coated or treated with some sort of PFAS. But most people can’t overhaul their wardrobe or redecorate their home in one fell swoop. Instead, over time, do what you can to remove the items you use most frequently or that come into contact with your kids.

It’s not necessarily possible to shop your way out of the PFAS contamination crisis, but every good choice can make a difference. 

Analyze and filter your water 

We use water constantly, and not just for drinking. We brush our teeth with it and cook with it. That’s a lot of exposure to chemicals that may lurk in your drinking water. They vary from water system to water system but may include PFAS, lead and pesticides, among others. 

To find out what contaminants might be in the drinking water in your area, look up your ZIP code in our Tap Water Database. You can then consult EWG’s water filter guide to find out which filter works most effectively to tackle those specific chemicals.

Air out

The air inside your home is two to five times more contaminated than the air outdoors. Here are some straightforward and low-cost or free ways to reduce indoor air pollution:

  • Open the windows. Let fresh air in and improve circulation.
  • Ventilate. Get the air moving in your bathroom and other areas where you may clean or use cleaning or personal care products. And turn on the fan or range hood in your kitchen. Cooking releases a variety of chemicals, including fine and ultrafine particles, from electric appliances, and nitrogen dioxide and formaldehyde, among others, from gas appliances. 

Reduce plastic 

Plastic often contains harmful chemicals like BPA and phthalates

Take stock of how much plastic you have in your home – you may own more than you can get rid of at once. To lower your exposure, focus on reducing the amount of plastic you use to heat and store food. You can:

  • Find safer substitutes. Replace plastic you use for food with safer materials, like glass and stainless steel.  
  • Order takeout less often. Food to go is often packed in plastic containers. The chemicals these containers are contaminated with can leach into food, especially if the packaging is reheated. If you do get takeout, make sure to put it in a ceramic or glass container for reheating.
  • Skip bottled water. The chemicals in plastic water bottles can leach into the water. Use a reusable stainless steel or glass container instead of plastic for drinking water on the go.

Upgrade your mattress 

A host of toxic chemicals may be embedded in a mattressvolatile organic compounds, or VOCs, fragrance, flame retardants, including fiberglass, and PVC or vinyl. Given the amount of time we – and especially our children – spend on a mattress, it’s important to try to lower our exposure to those chemicals as much as possible.

Your best bet is to look for a mattress made from better materials, or one certified organic. Better mattress materials include plant-based latex, cotton, wool and steel. They will have much lower VOCs compared to polyurethane foam. 

You can also:

  • Air it out. Get rid of some of the harmful VOCs in new mattresses before bringing them indoors.
  • Do your research. If using a hand-me-down, find out as much as you can about the manufacturer and the specific product. It could contain problematic chemicals. And make sure it’s free of mold, which can bring its own set of health concerns.
  • Avoid some of the worst chemicals. Do your research about imports – some imported mattresses may contain fiberglass. 

EWG has just begun taking applications for EWG VERIFIED for mattresses, so keep an eye out for options that our scientists have reviewed for safety and transparency.

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