Eight Ways to Make Your Home Healthier Now

Completely You: Care & Connecting: Kids & Family
Your kids may unknowingly be facing dangerous health risks -- and right in your own home! Here, eight easy steps to make your abode instantly healthier.
By Elizabeth Hurchalla for Completely You

Safe as houses, goes the saying -- but how safe is yours for your kids? Because their bodies are still developing, children are especially susceptible to environmental hazards. Luckily, there are easy steps you can take to reduce the risks right under your own roof. Here's how:

Clean smarter and more often "The greatest exposure to toxins children face may be from household dust," says Timonie Hood, the Green Building Coordinator at the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Children get dust on their hands from crawling on the floor and touching dust-covered surfaces, exposing them to dust mites, mold and pet dander, all of which can trigger allergies and asthma attacks. "Get a vacuum with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter, and use it twice a week," says Hood. "You should also dust every few days with a slightly damp cloth so you don't just return dust to the air." To further reduce the risks of dust, reduce the items in your home that trap it, such as drapes, carpeting, throw pillows, and stuffed animals.

Quit smoking "Stop smoking, even if you only smoke outside," says Dennis Woo, MD, assistant clinical professor of pediatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California Los Angeles. "Kids in households with any smoking have been shown to suffer higher rates of respiratory disease." When you smoke, particulates and nicotine get on your clothes and hands, and when you come indoors, so do the toxins, that put your kids at risk. Likewise, don't let others smoke in or around your home or car.

Take off your shoes indoors Since your shoes come in contact with all kinds of toxins (pesticides, lead, mold and more) on a daily basis, leave them at the door. Otherwise, those chemicals will just get trapped in your carpet.

Switch to natural cleansers Commercial cleansers may make cleaning easier, but they may also contain carcinogenic ingredients, respiratory irritants, and even pesticides. Try safer cleansers such as a mixture of baking soda and vinegar to clean tubs and toilets, salt to scrub kitchen sinks and borax (available at supermarkets) for laundry.

Stop using pesticides According to the Children's Health Environmental Coalition, children in households that use pesticides are 6.5 times more likely to get childhood leukemia. But you don't need to spray to keep the household pests away. Repair screens, keep trash in closed containers and sprinkle environmentally friendly boric acid (available at hardware stores) in gaps between walls and floors before you seal them. And don't use pesticides on your lawn either; they not only present risks to kids playing in the grass, but will also be inevitably tracked inside.

Buy organic produce and wash it thoroughly There's much less residue from cancer-causing pesticides on organic fruits and veggies than on conventionally grown produce. But since organic produce may have been fertilized with animal manure and could carry pesticides from nearby crops, you should still scrub it with a brush under a strong stream of running water. If produce is conventionally grown, peeling it is even better.

Give away toxic houseplants Since the leading cause of poisoning in children is houseplants, according to the University of Utah Health Sciences Center, make sure all of yours are nontoxic and get rid of any that aren't (including oleander, hyacinth, and daffodils, to name a few). For a list of poisonous houseplants compiled by researchers at Texas A&M University, go to: plantanswers.com (and do a search for "poisonous plants").

Call for help before you renovate If your home was built before 1978, chances are it contains lead paint. At this point, it's probably covered with layers of lead-free paint and isn't much of a health risk as long as it's not peeling or chipping. However, if you're renovating, remember that sanding or scraping any walls once covered with lead paint will release lead dust throughout your home, which could cause brain and nervous system damage in your children. So before you start your project, get your paint tested, and if it does contain lead, contact a lead abatement specialist or EPA-certified lead professional. For more information, call the National Lead Information Center at 1-800-424-LEAD.

Elizabeth Hurchalla is a freelance writer in Venice, California.

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Trisha's picture

We have recently started the process to adopt, so I figure I need to start making our home a better place for a kid to live in.

That 'cleaning more often' thing scares me! I know I should clean more often - but its hard to find the time to do it now. And it will be even harder once we have a baby.

But our house is the most dustiest house I have ever seen. And I have no idea why or where it comes from, but it piles up from somewhere. So, I will have to start cleaning more often, or at least better.

I would like to have a cleaner house, its just that getting it that way is where the difficulty lies!


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