January 23, 2012

A Breath of Fresh Air

The concern for the inundation of chemicals over-used in the home is growing, and for good reason.  With the average household reportedly containing an average of 62 toxic chemicals, many found in cleaning and deodorizing products, if you haven't given a thought to how much junk you're spritzing around your home, you should.

Not only do these chemicals linger around the home, but they hang out in your body as well.  Individuals have seen marked reduction in autoimmune-related disorders and symptoms by substantially reducing exposure to common household chemicals, thought to store up insidiously in the body and trigger inflammatory responses (see Sholl, 2011 for case studies).

Although small amounts of any given household chemical is not usually dangerous, most of the problematic ingredients are not regulated, have been identified as potential carcinogens, and are understudied.  Even current studies on individual additives fail to examine the effect of cumulative unintentional mixtures of these various chemicals and long term exposure.  Worse, these chemicals fall under a variety of names for the same components, making even diligent label-reading an ineffective prevention.

Commercial home fragrances can be particularly harmful because they are aerosol or at least sprayed in some form into the air, and their very purpose is to be breathed in, en route directly into our bodies via our largest and most susceptible mucous membranes--nose, mouth, lungs.

Educate yourself (see references for further reading below) and consider eliminating or at least seriously reducing your intake of these toxins.  Sure, you might feel OK now, but decades down the road? More importantly, you can't tell how they are affecting your body (or your childrens') in terms of inflammatory responses and allergies if you've always used them.

Consider trying an experimental detox of your home:  eschew commercial cleaners and air fresheners for a period of time, say at least a month, and evaluate for yourself if you experience a reduction in even mild symptoms you consider "normal" (mild but regular headaches, sinus congestion or pressure, etc).  You'll definitely save money, and you might discover you could be feeling a lot better than you are presently.

I can tell you from my experience, about six months into my near total elimination of commercial cleaners and fragrances, I have enjoyed significant reduction in upper respiratory symptoms.  I have been a life-long allergy sufferer--allergy shots in my youth, recurrent sinus and ear infections typically 3-4 times a year, and general daily sinus pain and pressure.  I consider "normal" to include anytime I can physically breathe through my nose, because a "flare up" results in complete obstruction.  I have a litany of "they're everywhere!" allergens: almost all kinds of common grasses, trees, dust mites, pollens, molds, and more.  Not much I can do here in Ohio to avoid those.  But I do know that I have NOT had a sinus infection since a month or so into my de-chemical experiment, and my overall daily symptoms have been reduced.  Sure there are confounding variables and correlation does not necessarily imply causation, but I plan to continue.

Besides, I save a boatload of money that we can spend on stuff a lot cooler than carpet or counter cleaners or  "that doesn't smell at all like 'fresh air'" home sprays.

Things you can do in a jif to spruce up your sniffer:

Open the windows, let some air circulate.  You can do this for a little bit many days even in the winter, even if it's just for 15 minutes or so.  It's 49-degrees in Ohio today, a perfect opportunity to get some fresh air in the house, because two days from now it's going to be in the 20's.

Find the source of the odor. Maybe you just need to take the trash out more often, wash the dishes or wash some blankets.

Simmer some aromatics.  Throw the peels from citrus fruit you use in a pot on the stove and toss in some complementary herbs, simmer on low for awhile.  Try clove-cinnamon-anise or lemongrass-bayleaf-basil, for example.  When I eat oranges, for instance, I put the peel in a pot on the stove and boil then simmer in plain water which both smells wonderful and serves a second purpose.   Doing so extracts the orange oil from the peel into the water, which I will then mix with vinegar.  Orange-oil infused vinegar makes an excellent all-purpose cleaner and de-greaser. I just strain and pour the orange-vinegar-water mix  into an empty gallon-sized jug and add to it every time I make a batch.  Never waste an orange peel = never run out of all-purpose cleaner.

Make your own sprays.  If you need the occasional quick-fix, make your own home fragrance.  All you need is a clear alcohol (grab a $4 bottle of cheap vodka, for example, which I greatly prefer to using isopropyl), some essential oils (which have 101 uses in the home, look 'em up), some dried herbs (optional) and cool, clean water.  See the recipe below for an example.

References and Further Reading:

Sholl, Jessie (2011) Eight hidden toxins: What's lurking in your cleaning products.  Experience Living. October, 2011.  http://experiencelife.com/article/8-hidden-toxins-whats-lurking-in-your-cleaning-products/

 Weil, Andrew (2008) Air fresheners: Are they bad for my Heath? by Andrew Weil, M.D, Prevention,October 2008.  

Also stop by http://www.silentmenace.com/-Air_Fresheners_.html for an editorial, with additional sources.

A Breath of Fresh Air: Home Spray Recipe:

To a spray bottle, add:

Equal parts vodka and water
Cedar essential oil
Rosemary essential oil, or dried rosemary if large enough not to get sucked up spray hose, which will obstruct it.  If using dried, you probably won't be able to smell it right away, until the herbs "cure" in the vodka for a few days.
Clear vanilla extract

Add essential oils in whatever concentration pleases you.  Add a little, shake, smell: you can always add more, but if you over-power you will have to dilute with more vodka/water.  

Shake before use, and spray into the air; avoid spraying directly onto delicate fabrics such as silk, or directly onto surfaces such as unfinished wood or wallpaper.  Use your common sense, don't drink it, obviously.  

Image Credits: aluminum spray bottle, Eco Nuts $3.99; Cedar tree identification photo, BorealForest.org; Vanilla beans,The Epicenter Encyclopedia of Spices; Smirnoff vodka, Smirnoff brand; Rosemary, Wikipedia entry.

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