18 Easy Ways to Create a Healthier Home
Maintaining a healthy home for your family always sounds like a good idea, but it's hard to know where to start and how to avoid spending a ton on expensive products. From using safer cleaning supplies and filtering your air and water, to reducing stress and improving sleep, there are plenty of ways to create a healthier home. Better yet, you can make most of the healthy improvements easily, quickly, and inexpensively.
One of the first -- and easiest -- steps towards a healthier home is to replace harsh cleaning products with safe, eco-friendly ones. Green cleaning supplies are an effective way to remove bacteria and grime, and also help to eliminate harmful and irritating chemical cleaners from your home. Plenty of effective green cleaners can be found at the store these days, or you can save money by making your own green supplies.
If you're thinking of painting a room in your home -- or even the whole house -- consider using low- or no-VOC paints for the project. VOCs (volatile organic compounds) are organic chemicals often used in household products such as paint and varnishes, which are emitted as gases and can have harmful effects both in the short and long term, including nausea, eye and skin irritation, and can possibly even damage to the central nervous system or lead to cancer. The concentration of VOCs can be even 10-times higher when used indoors, according to the EPA. Low- or no-VOC paints are widely available at most home improvement and hardware stores.
While we know it's a good idea to regularly wash our clothes, many of us forget to clean our towels and other bathroom linens often enough. Bath towels are ideal breeding grounds for bacteria and fungi thanks to moisture, warmth, and dead skin cells and other detritus. It's recommended that you wash your towel after three uses -- and that's assuming it dries completely between uses. And avoid sharing towels to cut down on exposure to microbes that your body isn't used to.
You're also probably not changing and washing your bed sheets as often as you should for a healthier home. It's estimated that around 70% of laundry soil is invisible, and when it comes to sheets, that includes dead skin cells, natural body oils, sweat, and more. All of that can irritate your skin and be a breeding ground for dust mites, which are especially bad for those with allergies. It's recommended that you change your sheets weekly -- more often if you've been sick -- and wash them in hot water.
Thanks to smartphones, tablets and laptops, we often bring a lot of electronic devices into the bedroom these days. Blue light wavelengths emitted by our devices are body's circadian rhythms -- or biological clock -- which can not only negatively affect our sleep, but may be linked to diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and cancer, according to a recent Harvard University study. It's recommended that we stop using our devices 2 to 3 hours before bed and charge them outside of the bedroom at night.
While many of us crank up the heat to get cozy at night, in reality it's actually healthier for our bodies to turn down the thermostat. A recent study suggests that keeping your bedroom at cooler temperatures, around 66 degrees, can help stimulate the body's brown fat -- considered the "good fat" -- which can, in turn, reduce the risk of diabetes and other metabolic problems. Plus, you'll save money on your energy bill at the same time.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), air inside of you home can sometimes be even more polluted than outdoor air. Everything from combustion pollutants (particles from stoves, dryers, and fireplaces), to VOCs from furniture and paint, to allergens such as mold, dust, mites, and pollen can get trapped inside the home without proper ventilation. Opening windows and doors, even for just a little while each day, can help reduce your family's exposure. You may also want to consider adding an air conditioning or heating system that includes an outdoor air intake.
Another easy -- and inexpensive -- way to improve the quality of air you and your family breathe is by adding houseplants to your house. Not only do they brighten and beautify your home, but they can also help filter harmful chemicals such as benzene and formaldehyde. English ivy, spider plants, and Boston ferns, are just a few of the household plants that NASA recommends to improve indoor air quality.
Adding an air filter to your home is another way to greatly reduce the amount of dust mites, pollen, mold spores, and pet dander in your home that can cause problems if your family has allergies or asthma. Look for an air purifier with a HEPA (or high efficiency air particulate absorbing) filter, many of which can be found for reasonable prices depending on how much of the house you're looking to cover.
Using a water filter is a great way to reduce the amount of contaminants such as lead, chlorine, and ammonia. While whole-house filters and reverse-osmosis ones (which filter arsenic and perchlorate) can be expensive, there are plenty of inexpensive and effective water filters. Use the Environmental Working Group's tap water guide to find out what pollutants could be in your local water. And skip using bottled water as it isn't necessarily safer than tap, plus it's more expensive both to your wallet and the planet.
Don't forget about making things healthier outside of your home. Consider switching over to organic lawn and garden care. By eliminating chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers, you can ensure that your lawn is a safe, non-toxic place for your family and pets to play, and that the fruits and vegetables you grow are safe to eat. Plants and trees around your house will also help filter the air of pollutants and help cut energy costs with shade.
Washing your hands doesn't sound like the most exciting way to create a healthier home, but it can make a huge difference. We know hand washing to be particularly important during cold and flu season to reduce the spread of germs, but it's good practice to get into all the time -- especially for young children. Little hands can easily pick up toxic contaminants from the ground, including fire retardants in house dust, that can then be ingested unless they're washed off first.
Noise might not be the first thing that comes to mind with a healthy home, but noise pollution can have a major impact on our health and well-being. Traffic sounds, passing aircraft, loud music, and other noise not only put as at risk of hearing loss, but can also disturb sleep and stress us out. Consider closing windows during noisy times, using a white noise machine at night, or wearing earplugs when you sleep. Fences and hedges are also a good way to block excess noise.
Our shoes can track dirt, pollen, lead dust, fungal spores, and more into the house -- and often times we don't always notice it. Cut down on those contaminants at home by using heavy-duty doormats and shoe scrapers, and use indoor mats in heavy traffic areas like doorways, hallways, the kitchen and bathroom. Don't forget to shake out the mats periodically to ensure that they're able to still trap dirt.
Further reduce the amount of contaminants tracked into your home by making your house a shoe-free zone. Kindly ask family members, friends, and guests to take their shoes off as they enter your home and provide a convenient shelf or basket where shoes can be stored. If you have pets, keep a towel in the same area to wipe off mud and dirt before they enter the home and keep a flea comb nearby to catch fleas before they get tracked inside.
Regularly using a vacuum cleaner can help cut down on dust, pet hair, and other contaminants that can trigger allergies and asthma. If your vacuum doesn't seem as powerful as it once was, try giving it a thorough cleaning, replace filters and eliminate obstructions. And if it's time for an upgrade, look for new vacuums that have HEPA filters, which trap 99.97% of pollen, dust, bacteria and other unwanted pollutants.
When you're dusting, it's easy to skip those difficult-to-reach spots on top of tall furniture or out-of-the-way corners. But for a healthier home, it's important to take the extra time to reach those spots to cut down on dust and pollutants. Ditch the feather duster -- which just moves dust around -- and get an inexpensive microfiber or electrostatic duster. Use a wet mop or duster to collect even more contaminants.
Carbon monoxide is known as a "silent killer" as the toxic gas is odorless and tasteless, and it be poisonous if inhaled in high concentrations or when levels build up over time. Inexpensive carbon monoxide detectors should be installed near home appliances such as water heaters, fireplaces, stoves and furnaces, at knee-level. Radon is a cancer-causing radioactive gas that is also odorless and tasteless, so it's also a good idea to install radon detectors.