Climate Corner: Detoxing your home

Mar 9, 2024

Randi Pokladnik

Spring is usually the time homeowners decide to take inventory of unnecessary “junk” and clean out closets, garages, and other areas of their homes. It is also a good time to detox your home. We all have items that have outlived their usefulness, but detoxing a home involves looking at the ingredients in items that could be toxic.

Look around in your garage, do you have lawn and garden poisons like glyphosate (Roundup), which was declared a probable carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), or Sevin, which is highly toxic to bees and aquatic species? Contrary to what the pesticide industry tries to tell us, if it kills a weed or a bug, it’s toxic. Rachel Carson warned us in her book “Silent Spring” that we are killing ourselves by using poisons on our foods. Sadly, the take-over of our food by corporations killed family farms and ushered in the cultivation of monocultured crops, which are genetically modified and use more and more toxic chemicals.

It is better for us and the environment to go green and chemical free when it comes to our lawns and gardens. When you go shopping, buy organic produce when possible, paying attention to the dirty dozen; the list of foods that should always be purchased from organic selections. These include strawberries, which can have up to 22 different pesticides and fungicides on them. “Non-organic spinach has more pesticide residues by weight than all other produce tested.” Three-fourths of the spinach samples tested were contaminated with a neurotoxic bug killer banned for use on food crops in Europe.

Our next stop on the detox tour is the bathroom. This might be where you store your house cleaning products. The petrochemical companies tell us we need an arsenal of chemical cleaning products, however, most of your household cleaning can be accomplished with baking soda, vinegar, powdered cleanser, isopropyl alcohol, and Murphy’s Oil Soap. My mom was a red-head with very sensitive skin. She never bought anything with harsh chemicals, and used the above products with great success.

The bathroom can be very toxic. If a personal care product lists multiple ingredients on the label, especially chemical names, this would be a good product to avoid. Phthalates and parabens, which are endocrine disruptors, are often found in hair shampoo, hair conditioners, liquid soaps, nail polish, cosmetics, and lotions. Another catch-all category of ingredients is “parfum.” Many chemicals can be thrown into this category without exposing their real identities. “The word “fragrance” has been protected in the industry for many years as a “trade secret,” meaning that companies do not have to disclose all of the raw materials that make up a fragrance. Better to choose unscented or fragrance-free products. Also avoid PVC shower curtains which out-gas toxic vapors. The EPA Safer Chemical List is a good online site to visit for information.

The kitchen is another place where toxic substances can be eliminated. As I said earlier, try buying organic produce whenever possible and don’t use toxic compounds to clean counters and appliances. Do not use Teflon pots and pans or pure aluminum pans, instead use stainless steel, glass, cast iron, anodized aluminum alloy, or real ceramic pots and pans. Use stainless steel or wooden utensils. Do not use plastic cutting boards, which release tiny particles of plastics with each cut. Store foods in glass. I use my canning jars for leftovers and these can go directly into the microwave, unlike plastic containers which can leach out plasticizers when heated.

Now we come to the last two stops of the toxic home tour, the bedroom and living room. For both areas, avoid carpeting, as many carpets have been sprayed with PFAS containing chemicals to make them stain resistant. “Over four billion pounds of old carpets are annually dumped in American landfills or burned in incinerators, releasing deadly pollutants into the air, soil, and water. Many mattresses, drapes, and upholstery have also been treated to resist stains. Do not buy polyurethane mattresses, instead choose natural fibers for mattresses and pillows. “The polyurethane foam can emit volatile organic compounds, or VOCs; harmful chemicals that can cause respiratory irritation or other health problems. The flame-retardant chemicals used on upholstery are linked to cancer, hormone disruption, and adverse effects on the immune system.” Skip the plug-in air fresheners too, which basically spray toxic chemicals into your air.

Finally, many of us are still unaware that our home basements can be exposing us to deadly Radon gas. “Radon is responsible for 3,000 non-smoker lung-cancer deaths each year.” A smoker who is also exposed to radon gas runs a higher risk of lung cancer. Radon contributes to 21,000 lung-cancer deaths annually. Studies show that Radon gas emissions increase in areas where fracking is taking place. “The closer the distance from homes to shale wells, the higher the radon concentrations.” The fracturing of underlying bedrock releases Radon as well as methane. Consumers can purchase a Radon test kit for around $20 at a hardware store. After the kit is exposed to your basement air for a set number of hours, you will mail it to a certified lab and get the results. The EPA recommends installing a system if your radon level is at or above 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) of air.

We, along with many of our neighbors, believe our Radon levels increased after fracking started in our area. Luckily, we had thought about radon 20 years prior when we were building our log home and we were ready to install the fan and start pulling a vacuum under our basement floor. Our Radon levels immediately dropped once the system was in operation. You can also purchase a digital Radon detector to monitor Radon levels in your home.

There are other places where toxic products might be hiding in your home. You can search the many reliable online sources to help guide you through detoxing your home.


Randi Pokladnik, Ph.D., of Uhrichsville, is a retired research chemist who volunteers with Mid Ohio Valley Climate Action. She has a doctorate degree in environmental studies and is certified in hazardous materials regulations.