5 Easy Steps to a Healthier Home

As promised in the very first post, I'd like to share with you the helpful information I'm getting along this journey. This is the first of many posts from Sarah Scherr, our Sustainable Wellness Coach. These steps are the first on our journey to a greener and healthier home. -SK

Without doing much, you can do a lot to protect your health.

Ever wonder about the air you breathe? I’m not just referring to the air outside; I’m talking about your home, the environment you control. We spend about 90% of our time indoors, breathing air that is toxic to our children, our pets, and ourselves. This leads to allergies, sick building syndrome, bacterial infections, viruses and chronic health conditions.

The EPA states that indoor air is 2-to-5x more polluted than the air outdoors, and that children breathe in 50% more air than adults! That’s a risk no one should take with their children, let alone themselves.

So what can be done about this? Well, we can start by taking control of our own environment.


1.  Establish a ‘NO SHOE’ policy.

Residuals from pesticides and other toxic chemicals may last for years in carpet and rugs.

2.  Ventilate your home.

Every day or as weather permits, even if for only a few minutes, open windows in your home. Opening two windows on opposite sides will create a cross draft. Fresh air will dilute the build-up of toxins and stale air in your home.

Be aware of outside air pollutants, such as living close to a highway (avoid rush hour times as smog can be more dense); areas where chemicals are sprayed, such as farming areas (typically the months of April and May include the highest concentrations of pesticide, herbicide and fungicide spraying); and days when the neighbors are spraying pesticides in their yards are keen examples.

If you are painting, the EPA suggests leaving windows open for 2-3 days, as weather permits. Visit AirNow.gov to get your daily air quality forecast and consider avoiding opening your windows when air quality is below moderate.

3.  Remove all artificial air fragrances.

This includes dryer sheets, fabric softeners and other synthetic fragrances, such as candles and incense. But, what is bad and what is good? There are too many chemicals used in everyday products to list them all. In order to best protect yourself, visit the Environmental Working Group’s website, www.EWG.org, where you can search for individual products and receive a breakdown of every ingredient and its health risks, thus becoming a more conscious consumer.

Tips for safely introducing smell-good scents into your home:

  • Avoid buying products listing “artificial fragrance,” “fragrance,” “perfume,” or “fragrance oil” on the label or list of ingredients. Thousands of chemicals are used to make various synthetic scents. Just one scent may consist of over 100 different chemicals. 95% of artificial fragrances are made from petroleum-based chemicals such as benzene, toluene, xylenes, and methanol. Most also contain phthalates. More information will be provided on these individual toxins, such as studies which link them to health concerns, etc.

  • Look for products that say “no artificial fragrance” and “phthalate free”.

  • Make your own air fresheners. A few low maintenance ways to do this include: adding essential oils (EOs) to water in a room diffuser, spray bottle mixed with water, or to an essential oil plug-in diffuser. You can obtain these from most natural foods stores or online.

  • Buy beeswax candles. They are the safest and cleanest to burn.

4.  Clear the clutter.

This is not intended to be accomplished in one day, but you can start today. By clearing the clutter, you reduce harder to clean surface areas, which love to accumulate dust. Dust mites are certainly an issue, but many of the products indoors, and the materials used to make the building itself, are slowly degrading and breaking down into small, microscopic particles. Over time, what’s in them becomes a part of your household (or office) dust. This dust can be contaminated with toxic flame-retardants, in addition to heavy metals, pesticides, and countless other chemicals that make up our everyday surroundings.

So, wipe surfaces regularly with a damp cloth. Wipe hard floors with a damp mop. (You only need to use water for these tasks – save cleansers for deeper cleaning). And vacuum with a HEPA filter regularly. Also, wipe down your screens. Some of the most contaminated dust is found on TV and computer screens.

5.  Reduce toxins with plants.

Indoor plants clean air naturally and return oxygen to the air. They regulate air humidity, eliminate toxins, and filter chemicals.

These ten plants are most widely accepted as options for effectively counteracting off-gassed chemicals and contributing to balanced internal humidity:

Areca Palm - rids benzene, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene & xylene
Lady Palm - targets ammonia
Boston Fern - aids in removing formaldehyde
Red-Edged Dracaena - targets xylene, trichloroethylene, and formaldehyde
English Ivy - absorbs formaldehyde
Peace Lily - rids the air of the VOC benzene and sucks up acetone
Spider Plant - Absorbs formaldehyde and benzene molecules
Snake Plant - lowers carbon dioxide and rids air of formaldehyde and benzene
Golden Pothos - tackles formaldehyde, carbon monoxide and benzene
Wax Begonia - a heavy hitter in filtering out benzene and chemicals produced by toluene

Nature's ability to rid our environments of toxins doesn't stop with these ten plants. Research the plants you currently have indoors to find out their toxic eliminating powers!

These tips are just the first of many you can do to create a healthier home environment. Come back often (or subscribe for updates) for more advice and information to help keep you and your family healthy! 



Sarah Scherr

"I am passionate about creating a more just, safe and sustainable world. I believe thinking globally, but acting locally is the key to living this life, contributing to this cause, and spreading environmental and health conscious awareness. My environmental moral code dictates my actions--in my private life and in my work." Sarah has Bachelor of Arts in Journalism, is a licensed air sampling technician and asbestos & lead inspector in KS, MO, WI and all EPA States, is a yoga teacher in training, and nurtures an ongoing education in herbal studies. She is also is and has been an environmental advocate, organizer & presenter for NFP organizations such as 350KC, Food Circle, Sierra Club, TransitionKC, MOTUV (Movement of the Unied Voice), and on the board of HAAL (Heart of America Action League, a 501(c)(3) serving environmental action groups in Kansas City area).