Air Fresheners – the good, the bad, and the ugly

Let’s start with the bad and ugly, as that is what is on the market in great abundance.  I have yet to find anything that is natural, organic, and not harmful to our health.

The EPA has identified several ingredients that are in commercially produced air fresheners.  These include petroleum distillates, formaldehyde, p-dichlorobenzene, and aerosol propellants for canned air fresheners.  Other possible additives include ethanol, phenol, and benzyl alcohol.  Added to these are the fragrances, which for the most part are a combination of synthetic chemicals.

I’ve been using them for years.  I thought they were fine!

No, they really aren’t.  The toxic mix can cause ailments such as asthma, cancer, liver damage, anemia, and hormonal disruptions.  Furthermore, the scents that are put in air fresheners don’t really freshen the air.  What they do instead is fool our nervous system by masking the odor, thus altering our perception of smell.  These chemicals can also work by laying down a film in our noses that keeps us from smelling the offending substance.

That’s not good.  What do I use instead?

Good question.  There isn’t really anything on the market that I can really recommend.  An internet search does suggest some home remedies, which I’ll pass on here.  These are the best options right now, in no particular order, and all could be used in a bathroom or in any other part of the house.

1.  Make a pomander.  Poke holes in an orange with a small skewer and stick cloves in the holes.  Then cure in the oven at a low temperature (200 – 220 degrees) for about an hour, before setting out.

2.  Put out a potpourri of dried herbs in a nice bowl, using such things as lavender, rosebuds, sage, bay leaves, lemon verbena, citrus peel, cinnamon sticks, vanilla beans, and cloves.

3.  Get creative with baking soda.  By itself, baking soda is an excellent odor absorber.  If you mix in a few drops of an essential oil, it becomes a nice air freshener as well.  Maggie, who has a blog called Smashed Peas and Carrots, suggest that you can put this mixture in a mason jar with a ring lid closer, and instead of capping it with a solid lid, poke some holes in a piece of wax paper and screw that onto the top of the mason jar.  Try lavender or lemon essential oils, or just mix some vanilla into the baking soda.  If you have issues with a glass container, especially around children, or in the bathroom, you could use a plastic cup and hold the wax paper on with a rubber band.

4.  Another suggestion specifically for the bathroom comes from Crunchy Betty – keep a bottle of eucalyptus oil by the commode, and add a few drops to the toilet bowl before going “number two.”

5.  Why not make your toilet paper roll a vehicle for essential oils or perhaps some vanilla?  Just add a drop or two to the inside of the roll.

I hope one of these alternatives works well for you.  If you come up with another workable idea, feel free to write to me about it, and I’ll post it here on the blog, with kudos going to you!

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What’s in your perfume?

I’ve been talking about air fresheners lately, which leads me to this:  What’s in your perfume?  It smells nice, but what, exactly, is that scent made of?  According to the National Academy of Sciences, 95% of fragrances are derived from petroleum, and there is no government agency to regulate what goes into making scents.  Scientific analyses, however, have identified the following compounds in many fragrances.

1.  Ethyl alcohol – colorless and odorless, it is a carrier for other ingredients, as it evaporates quickly.  It can cause respiratory tract and skin irritation in susceptible people.

2.  Coumarin – naturally occurring in tonka beans, coumarin is in the majority of fragrances, but is usually synthetically derived from coal tar.

3.  Benzyl Benzoate – a synthetic chemical that is used in fragrances.  It can also be in artificial flavors, preservatives, and solvents.  For some, benzyl benzoate can cause both eye and skin irritation, and the chemical may have some culpability in the development of breast cancer cells.

4.  Phthalates – a particular type of chemical compound that I’ll talk about in depth in a later blog, but the long and the short of it is that phthalates are known endocrine disruptors.  You really don’t want them in your life anywhere, and willfully slathering on phthalates is a questionable activity at best.

5.  Essential Oils – or not.  Many perfumes use synthetically produced essential oils instead of the real McCoy.

6.  Aldehyde – typically derived from petroleum.

There are typically between 50 and 100 fragrance chemicals in one particular scent so the list above is definitely on the short side, but I just wanted to give you a taste of what you are smearing on yourself when you apply perfume or any scented product, for that matter.  Taken as a whole, they are capable of causing central nervous system disorders, cancer, birth defects, allergies and asthma.

No, we don’t need to go live in a bubble, but we can make smarter choices.  Won’t you join me in doing so?

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Pajama Talk – How to shop for chemically safe pajamas

Clothes have changed.  They’ve gone from being made exclusively from cotton, wool, and silk to being made from fancy blends, synthetics, and even recycled materials.  With this has come an infusion of chemicals into our clothing.  I’ll cover more of this in general in a later post, but for now I want to focus only on sleepwear, as a good night’s sleep is the best way for us to rejuvenate, and the sleepwear we choose is part of that equation.

Two words will do it here:  Buy organic.  PJ’s, nightgowns, footies – whatever your preference, make sure it’s organic.  Cotton is your best bet.  Organic cotton has no chemical flame retardants or other nasties in it, and is the top pic.

It’s ugly!  My choices are limited!  Help!!!!

Yes, all of the above can be an issue.  But really, which would you rather have?  A lovely negligee embedded with toxic chemicals close to your skin, or soft organic cotton that helps promote your long-term health?

How about clothes with bamboo?  That’s natural!

They sound good, but on further exploration, the bamboo – even organically grown bamboo – is processed in a chemical soup to make it soft.  Until they can come up with a non-toxic way to process bamboo, I don’t recommend using it.  (Not for bedding, either!)

What about silk?

It is important to look nice for you loved one from time to time.  We all benefit from a little passion in our lives.  Enter silk.  Silk, ramie, or other natural fabrics can be just fine.  So splurge on these if you want to look ravishing from time to time and get a healthy night sleep.  Non-dyed silk is a better choice, but mental health can be just as important as physical health, so this splurge I’m on board with. Just don’t wear them all the time.

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How to Choose Healthy Bedding for your home

We’ve covered mattresses and sleepwear, so let’s talk about pillows and linens.  By now you know I’m all about organic, and that’s the case today as well.

Pillows and Comforters

How old is your pillow?  If it is over 2 years old, it’s time for a change!  Pillows collect things – like dust, dust mites, dust mite poop, bedbugs, and fungal spores. This collection of goodies can lead to such things as itchiness, sneezing, coughing, and complexion issues.

Feather pillows sound great.  They’re natural, right?  But wait – did you know they are chemically treated to help prevent allergies to them?  Not so great.  Polyester pillows are just that – made of non-natural materials, and treated with flame retardants.  Molded pillows are made of foams and chemical adhesives, including fire retardants.  Check the tag on the pillow – if it states that the pillow meets the California flammability standards, you can be sure that it has been treated with flame retardants!  Organic pillows and comforters sound a bit better, don’t they?  Fortunately they are sold on the health goods website – organic, wool-filled, safe, and naturally flame-resistant.NA-WOOLPILLOW-2

Another wise move is to cover your pillows with a pillow cover that can be washed whenever you wash your sheets. Some of the options aren’t great, as they are plastic or plastic-lined.  The best covering is a cotton cloth typically called barrier cloth, and the next best thing is a cotton covering with an impermeable barrier underneath.  In addition, plump your pillows up on a regular basis to get fresh air in them, and wash pillows at least 4 times a year.  In the dryer, toss them with a few tennis balls to fluff them up.

Comforters

Comforters also need to be healthy for you, and the same recommendations apply – organic, washable, and functional.  Organic comforters shouldn’t have flame retardants in them.  So in a nutshell, if you don’t want chemicals leaching into your body, look towards organic pillows and comforters to provide a sound healthy night sleep.

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Keeping it healthy in 2014

As we start 2014, let’s look at how to clean up part of our lives.  Sometimes it helps to put it all in perspective.

We do live in a toxic world.  There are so many pollutants we are exposed to on a daily basis that if we thought about it too hard, we wouldn’t dare breathe, eat, or sleep!  Although we can’t do a lot about most chemicals, we can do something about creating a safer home environment to live in, so that we can allow our bodies to rejuvenate and refresh.

It’s also important to remember how special our loved ones are to us, and how precious our lives are.  We are all truly unique, and have many gifts to give to those around us – friends, family, neighbors, and to community members in the global sense – those who live near us, and those that live farther away, many of whom are far needier than we are.

Remember to take time to take care for your physical well-being, your mental and emotional well-being, and to refresh yourself physically and mentally on a daily basis.  Turn off the TV, put down the cell phone, read a book, laugh, play.  All these things help create a healthy lifestyle for you and your family.

I wish you all a very healthy and happy 2014!

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The Pros and Cons of Dry-cleaning

Taking your clothes to the dry-cleaner has one major advantage. Clothes that are really difficult to wash come back cleaned, pressed, and ready to wear. Our ancestors didn’t have that luxury, but we do! Hooray!

The Hitch

While convenient, the majority of dry-cleaning is done using perchloroethylene (or “perc”) which can cause both mental and physical symptoms such as depression, headaches, fatigue, and lymphomas. Working in a dry-cleaning facility is much worse, but even for the average person, precautions are recommended:

1. If your only choice is to use a traditional dry-cleaner, take off the plastic bag it is returned in and air it out for several days away from your living space – outside on a covered porch, or in an attic, garage, basement, or unused room.

2. Wear a cotton undergarment to decrease the skin surface contact area, and to decrease the number of times you need to get an item dry-cleaned.

3. Consider hand washing some of the garments (probably not suits!) in cold water and unscented mild soap, then laying them flat to dry.

4. Ideally, see if you can find a “wet cleaning” cleaner, or a “green cleaner” in your area. If you’re at a loss for finding one, you can check out this EPA website: http://www.epa.gov/dfe/pubs/garment/gcrg/cleanguide.pdf

Although it is dated, it will give you a place to start.

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Electricity in the bedroom

In a previous post about how to clean up your bedroom, I suggested keeping electronics at a minimum in the room that you sleep.  Here, I hope to explain why.

Why should I be concerned?

Our bodies are “electric” because we contains both water and salt.  As a result, we conduct electromagnetic energy, and can be affected by all sorts of electronic signals, from TV’s, cell phones, cell towers, fans, electric blankets and heating pads, and wireless signals.

How can they affect me?

Poor sleep,  headaches, memory problems, heart irregularities, asthma, and muscle and joint pain are just a few of the myriad complaints that can affect you.  We as a nation are now constantly bombarded with these signals.  Taking a break from them each day is an opportunity for us to rejuvenate, and the best place to do that is in the bedroom when we sleep.

How do I go about lessening the electromagnetic fields (EMF’s) in my bedroom?

If you are very ill, you can actually measure the EMF’s in your bedroom.  Although this process is beyond the scope of this blog, let me know if you need these services, and I’ll steer you in the right direction.  Whether you are sick or not, the easiest way is to start removing electronics from the room.

1.  Your electric blanket or heating pad should be the first to go, as constantly living in or on an electronic field is a really bad idea.
2.  Turn off your cellphone, or if you can’t or won’t do that, please turn off the Wi-Fi connection, and keep it on the other side of the room.
3. If you use an electronic alarm clock or clock radio, go back to an old-fashioned clock, or put it far away from you.
4.  Remove the TV.  A bedroom is best used for sleeping, not stimulating your brain.  You’ll sleep better.  Trust me.
5.  Find where your electrical box is located, and keep your bed away from that location.
6.  If you want to really keep your bedroom electrically quiet, it is also possible to install an “off switch”  for your bedroom, so that no electricity flows into it while you sleep.  A good electrician can wire it so it doesn’t shut off anything else in the house.

A rejuvenated body is worth the effort to address the electrical issue in your bedroom.  Isn’t a refreshing sleep worth it?  I think so!

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