In our increasingly wellness-conscious society, it can feel like everyone everywhere is telling you how you should get healthy: what to eat, what not to eat, how to exercise, how to avoid illness. One area of wellness that’s sadly overlooked? Your home.
Sure, you might buy that fancy, expensive, all-natural laundry detergent and avoid BPA plastic water bottles, but have you considered other ways you can make your home healthy? Paula Baker-Laporte, FAIA, a certified building biologist and lead author of the book Prescriptions for a Healthy House, puts it bluntly: “Most homes are not healthy because of the way we build in this country. After all, it doesn’t help to use non-toxic insect spray if you’re living in a house with mold!”
But don’t start thinking your house is full of unavoidable toxic fumes just yet — there are quite a few things you can do to make your home better for your health, whether you’re renting, owning, or planning a big remodel. Read on for tips on how to health hack your home.
1. Control the temperature
Mites, mold, pet dander, cockroach saliva and feces, cigarette smoke, and pollen. Yuck, right? Dr. Maeve E. O’Connor, MD FACAAI, FAAAAI, FACP, the founder and medical director of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Relief in Charlotte, NC, says these are the most common allergens found in American homes. And whether or not you suffer from noticeable allergies, chances are one or more of these substances are affecting you.
One big way you can combat all of these? Temperature. Dr. O’Connor suggests keeping your home’s humidity below 40% and temperatures below 70 degrees. You should also wear a mask when dusting or vacuuming and wash stuffed toys and pillows regularly (or freeze them for a few hours to kill the dust mites).
2. Choose safer products
Other chemicals are easily introduced into our homes via the products we buy, from furniture to cleaning products. Baker-Laporte says to look for products that are odorless before you bring them in the house, particularly furniture: “Most furniture is filled with foam and foam has fire retardants. If you’re buying new furniture, if you can’t buy foam-free furniture, you can look for foam without fire retardants. Solid wood (like in older furniture) is usually better than particle board.” Remember, too, that not all toxic substances have an odor (like carbon monoxide, for example).
If you’re wanting to renovate, Baker-LaPorte says that for anything you might use in your home, from paint to insulation, know that “for any toxic product out there, there is a safer one.” Do your research, ask questions, and learn to decipher product packaging, including “green” claims, she urges: “Just because it’s earth friendly doesn’t mean it’s healthy to humans.”
Other easy ways to stay safe? Store food in glass containers (rather than plastic) and use non-toxic cleaning products.
3. Pay special attention to your bedroom
Both Dr. O’Connor and Baker-Laporte stress how incredibly important it is to make sure your bedroom is optimized to lessen toxins and allergens, including your bedding. Choose organic, non-toxic bedding, including mattresses, sheets and pillows, and make sure your pillows, box spring, and mattress all have hypoallergenic covers on them. After all, says Dr. O’Connor, “Most people spend at least 6-8 hours daily in this room with constant exposure during sleep.”
4. It’s all about filters
Most filters in typical HVAC systems don’t actually filter out much at all, says Baker-LaPorte. Invest in a hypoallergenic filter for your heating and cooling system and change it often, at least every few months.
A standalone air filter isn’t a bad idea, either, as a HEPA air purifier will help with allergens and other substances. Dr. O’Connor advises: “When choosing, it is important to consider cost and upkeep. Disposable HEPA filters are very important, especially in the bedroom. Mechanical and electric air filters remove air particles by trapping them in filters, but systems with UV light can be used to destroy allergens, viruses, and bacteria, too.” Another easy way to filter the air is to consider adding house plants that can help clean indoor air (NASA has a great guide to air-filtering house plants).
A water filter is a good idea, as well, says Baker-Laporte: “It’s important to drink pure water, as pure as we can make. If you’re on city water, you need to have a whole house carbon filter. You can can also get a countertop reverse osmosis system.”
5. Go minimalist
It seems a little like a no-brainer, but overall, embracing a more minimal lifestyle can help you be healthier at home. Dr. Connor suggests, “Minimalism is key — avoid carpeting and draperies, avoid homes with basements if possible, keep clutter to a minimum and have a predetermined ‘pet zone; that is cleaned regularly.”
Avoiding wall-to-wall carpet is another important way you can lessen both allergens and toxins — choose area rugs if you can, which are easier to clean and less likely to be made with toxic flame retardants, which are often in carpet padding.