Your Roadmap to a Healthy Home
Often when I go to my clients' homes and find issues like lack of subfloor ventilation, breakdown of waterproof membranes in wet areas, insufficient storm and surface water drainage around the site and inadequate insulation, all of which can contribute to mould growth inside the home, the solutions are mostly medium-to-long term and often go into ‘too hard to fix’ basket unless one of the family members is suffering from adverse health effects like asthma, recurring infections, Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS) or Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS). Many get discouraged by the amount of commitment, perseverance and financial outlay required to get their home 'up to scratch' so to speak.
So, I always say to my clients that healing your home is very much akin to healing yourself. Your home, much like yourself, is a living and breathing organism, and bringing it back to health will require time and patience. It is a journey, because some solutions are long-term and might take a while to implement (like improving drainage around the home) and some are easy swaps (like using microfibre cloths and non-toxic products) which will take very little time and effort. Everyone’s journey, timeframe and resources are different so don’t get discouraged if it takes you a couple of months or a couple of years to get there! It’s well worth it! We are all trying to do our best and that is more than enough!
And like your own healing journey, healing journey of your home will be different to the one next door, that of your cousin's home or a good friend's. Nevertheless, I found that there are some staples, both product and housekeeping wise that come up every single time. I have laid them out below in 5 most important areas that need to be addressed in every home. They are also listed from order of least to most commitment in money and time. While this list is not all inclusive document showing everything you could possibly need or do to clean up your living environment, it is compiled from the questions I most often get asked by my clients. You can use it as a rough roadmap on your home's healing journey and know that we are all somewhere along on that map/journey, albeit in different locations.
1. Reduce chemical load
Avoid plastic containers (especially for storing left-over foods) and non-stick cookware. Avoid aluminium and copper pots and pans as well as leaded crystal, lead and aluminuim glazed ceramics. Ideally, cookware used to heat food should be made of stainless steel, porcelain, glass, enamel coated iron or cast iron (avoid cooking acidic foods such as tomatoes in cast iron). You can find a great range of eco-friendly and healthy cookware and packaging products in stores like ecoatHOME, biome and Naturally home.
Avoid plastic baby bottles (glass is the best option), plastic and aluminium sippy cups (stainless steel is the best option), rubber or latex dummies & teats (silicone are a better option). Avoid soft plastic toys made from PVC. They contain plasticisers which can disrupt the hormones. Bath toys are especially notorious! Avoid antique and imported painted toys. They may can contain lead. Avoid soft toys filled with foam. Check out No Nasties, Happy Little Turtle and Hello Charlie for all your non-toxic baby products, accessories and toys.
Go green when you clean. Choose cleaning products with food grade ingredients, environmentally friendly and grey water safe such as Abode, OurEco Clean and Kin Kin Naturals. Use separate microfibre cloths specifically designed for bathroom, kitchen and glass surfaces, rinse them thoroughly immediately after use and allow them to dry in the sun between uses.
Don’t use conventional weed killers on lawns around your home. Avoid conventional fly and cockroach sprays (like Mortein) inside the home. Instead, use a fly swatter or a shoe and implement Integrative Pest Management (IPM) to address pests. IPM involves carefully assessing the presence and location of pests; removing their food sources through proper food storage and cleaning; repairing structural defects that allow them to gain access; using gel baits, sticky traps, boric acid as needed; installing fly screens on doors/windows; having good air flow in the house so that they are less attracted by the smells in the first place and monitoring and continuing intervention until pests are eliminated. If you need help pest-proofing your home, check out Easy on Earth Pest Control if you are in Sydney.
2. Healthy air
Take off shoes at the door. This can reduce the amount of dust by more than 50%. If this is not practical, place a thick pile mat at the front door and get people to thoroughly bush their shoes prior to entry.
Avoid air fresheners, perfume, incense, scented candles, household cleaning wipes, hand sanitisers and reed diffusers. A clean home should smell like nothing at all!
Get rid of clutter. It accumulates dust, which can become a food source for mould.
Open windows as much as possible (unless you live on a busy road). Install flyscreens to prevent pollen and other dust from entering the house.
Introduce house plants. You can’t beat plants in helping you to naturally filter indoor air. Not only do they reduce carbon dioxide and increase oxygen levels, but they also reduce chemical emissions from carpets, floorboard treatments, kitchen cabinets (MDF) and furnishings. In addition, plants help to filter some airborne moulds and bacteria. They also help to maintain an ideal level of indoor relative humidity through a process called transpiration. Peace Lily, Bamboo Palm, Areca Palm, Rubber Plant, English Ivy and Boston Fern to name a few have all been found to be beneficial for indoor air quality.
Clean your home with a damp microfibre cloth followed by a dry, clean tea towel and an allergy friendly vacuum cleaner fitted with a HEPA filter. Without a quality HEPA filter, up to 80% of contaminants will recirculate back into the indoor air. Here you will find a list of of vacuum cleaners recommended by building biologists. If you’ve got a budget, go for one of Miele C3 models with an Active HEPA filter. If you have an unlimited budget, go for the Sauber Intelligence or Excellence Models.
TIP: The focus of a healthy home is not to kill bacteria with chemicals, but rather to reduce their numbers by physically removing them. In that way, you are not affecting the diversity of microbes in the home environment, which is essential for a healthy innate immune response (Bijlsma 2018).
Monitor humidity levels. High humidity levels (above 60%) may be a sign of water vapour accumulating inside the house, which will encourage house dust mites and mould to thrive and can exacerbate asthma; whereas average humidity below 40% may contribute to exacerbation of eczema. Ideally, they should be within 45% to 55% to prevent allergies. You can monitor relative humidity levels with a simple Hygrometer available from your local hardware store. If relative humidity levels exceed 60% on a regular basis, use a dehumidifier. Make sure to change filters regularly. Alternatively, install a refrigerated air conditioning system (split system).
NWT all-seasons 35L dehumidifier from Ausclimate.
If you live near a busy road, airport or another pollutant-emitting source, or you are trying to temporarily manage levels of airborne mould in the home, then get an air purifier. There are so many of them on the market, that an average consumer can spend months looking for the most suitable option. While your choice should be guided by what you are trying to filter out and how big your space is, 90% of the time I recommend INOVAAIR Home Air Purifiers. They feature the largest high efficiency medical-grade HEPA and high capacity carbon filters which filter down to .003 micron size particles and remove volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Most dust particles (98.5%) are between 0 to 1 micron in size. Human hair is 70 - 100 microns in diameter, dust mites are in the 30 - 40 micron range, fungal spores are 5 - 30 microns and pollen and plant spores around 10 - 80 microns. So, this air purifier will filter out of all of these.
AirClean E8 Air Purifier from Inovaair.
3. Healthy water
Whatever is the source of your drinking water: tap, tank or bore and well, water filter is a necessity these days. Choose one that fits your budget and circumstances (rental or own home; couple or family with 3 kids). Here are some good options for different households:
Triple stage UltraCeram Triple Countertop from Watershop. Ideal for renters, students, holiday homes and if you want to take the filter with you while you travel.
Undersink Reverse Osmosis System from Watershop. Suited for larger families and home owners.
4. Healthy sleep
Avoid all electrical equipment in the bedroom. This includes TVs, VCRs, digital radios, electric blankets, cordless phones, CD players, routers and computers and. Keep other electrical appliances (such as bedside lamps and power boards) at least 1.5 m away from the bed or unplug them at the wall before you go to sleep.
Make sure you are not sleeping on the other side of the wall to the refrigerator, oven, meter panel or smart meter.
No wireless devices in the bedroom!
Elevate the bed so that it is at least 40 cm from the floor to allow the mattress to breathe.
Change and wash bedlinen weekly in hot water (at least 60 degrees Celsius).
Avoid fabric softeners and use 'healthy' laundry detergents to wash bedlinen. Opt for brands that do not contain any nasty chemicals, like the ones listed in 'Reduce chemical load' section above.
Use the sun to regularly air out doonas, mattresses, pillows, rugs and other fabric furnishings, soft toys, pet bedding and even chopping boards.
Air the mattress when you strip the bed weekly (i.e. leave it unmade for a day) to allow it to dry.
Store linen, cushions, blankets and clothes that will not be used for a season or longer in a vacuum bag (i.e. one in which the air has been sucked out of). This will kill dust mites. Before you use them, wash and air dry them in the sun.
Cover mattresses, doonas and pillows with mite-resistant cases (a full encasement will be better than a cover). Wash these twice a month. Opt for natural materials such as organic hemp, cotton, bamboo or silk (the best). Blessed Earth and Mitey Fresh have a good range of dust mite covers.
Buy bed linen made from natural fibres such as hemp, organic wool, organic unbleached cotton, linen and silk. Silk is naturally dust mite resistant, and is ideal for those with sensitivities. Blessed Earth and Organature have great quality certified organic cotton bed linen. Also check out Hemp Gallery for beautiful unbleached hemp/certified organic cotton sheets.
When you get to buying a new mattress (ideally every 7-10 years), opt for one made from natural fibres, such as hemp, bamboo, coir and natural latex (not tally). Buy Australian made, as imported mattresses may contain formaldehyde and fumigants. The Natural Bedding Company makes the best natural, non-toxic mattresses you can find. They also have the best independent third party certifications to prove it (GOLS, GOTS, Oeko-Tex Standard 100 and Eco Institut).
5. Reduce exposure to electro-pollution
TIP: Electromagnetic fields from wireless technologies provoke major effects in the brain, the most important of these is opening of the blood brain barrier. This allows mercury, pesticides and other pollutants to enter the brain, where they cause serious neurodegenerative diseases (Belpomme, Campagnac & Irigaray 2015).
Evaluate all appliances (anything that's plugged in) in each room of the house, in particular bedrooms. Unplug and remove those you do not use. Remember to keep all electrical appliances at least 1 meter away from bed, favourite couch and any other areas where you spend time.
Use an Ethernet cable to connect your modem to the computer and other devices that require connectivity. You will then need to disable the modem's wireless function. To do this, you will need to switch it off in two places: the wireless ‘Off/On’ button on the router itself and, in some models, you will also be required to get on the internet and access the modem’s software (use gate number specifically assigned to that modem) to shut down the internal base transceiving function. Also check if there is a Bluetooth option through the modem's software and disable that as well.
For smaller devices without an Ethernet port (iPad, iPhone) you will need a purpose-designed ethernet to device cable/adaptor (an ethernet-to-Lightning for Apple devices and ethernet-to-microUSB for android devices). The best place to find these cables is through sites such as eBay and Amazon. Be cautious of non-original Apple cables as they may not work.
Keep the modem/router away from where people spend time. Power it down to 5 - 20% of its capacity through modem's software. Turn it off at night at the wall.
Laptops and iPads should never be placed on the lap as the built-in antenna may expose reproductive organs to microwave emissions. Put them on the table in front of you.
Charge your laptop to its full capacity prior to use so that it can run on battery instead of power from the mains. In addition, use an external corded keyboard and a corded mouse (not wireless) that can be plugged into your laptop via USB ports.
Do not carry your mobile phone up against your body. When using your mobile phone, try to keep the calls short and put it on the loud-speaker or text instead so your head is at least 50 cm away from the phone. Alternatively use an air tube ear piece (not Bluetooth).
Pro Tubes Air Tube Headset from EMR Australia
Children under the age of 15 should avoid using mobile phones (or other wireless technology) except for emergency situations. Do not use mobile phones or iPADs to watch films, play games, browse the internet or listen to music which requires Wi-Fi connectivity. If you need to download an application using wireless connection, do so and then put the device in flight mode.
Avoid reading on iPads and mobile phones at night because they emit blue light which interferes with melatonin production. Install f.lux to reduce blue light on your devices.
Request from your electricity provider that your smart meter’s power be turned down to 20% of its capacity.
Avoid energy saving lamps (CFLs). Opt for incandescent bulbs (being phased out). The next best option are LED lights with lower portion of blue light (Light Colour: Warm White 2700-3000K and CRI above 95). Here you can read more about healthy lighting choices.
TIP: Remember, exposure to electromagnetic fields decreases with DISTANCE from transmitting devices! If you double the distance - your exposure decreases by 75%.
So, there you have it! Your roadmap to a healthy home. Choose what you can tackle first and then slowly make your way down or across the map. If you get stuck or have any questions, don't hesitate to give me a buzz and I'll be happy to help out. All product recommendations listed in this article I either own myself or personally trust and recommend to my clients.
A healthy home one step at a time!
Belpomme, D., Campagnac, C. & Irigaray, P. 2015, ‘Reliable disease biomarkers characterizing and identifying electro-hypersensitivity and multiple chemical sensitivity as two etiopathogenic aspects of a unique pathological disorder’, Rev Environ Health, vol. 30, no. 4, pp. 251-271.
Bijlsma, N. 2018, Healthy Home, Healthy Family, 3rd ed., Australian College of Environmental Studies, Melbourne, Australia.