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Baby emerges from the safe, controlled environment of the womb into a world that, as far as parents are concerned, seems fraught with dangers at every turn. We try to feed them organic, wholesome meals, only use non-toxic skincare, and put them to sleep on Greenguard-certified mattresses. What we often overlook is the importance of making sure that the air they breathe is safe as well.
Most of us are well aware of outdoor pollutants, such as fuel exhaust and smoke. But we are less vigilant about indoor pollutants, which are the result of accumulated fumes or chemicals in unventilated environments.
“According to the EPA, exposure to indoor air pollutants such as radon, environmental tobacco smoke, lead and other contaminants result in a wide array of health issues, ranging from asthma to cancer,” says neuroscientist Dr. Claudia Aguirre. “Indoor air quality affects our cardiovascular system, our vision, hearing, growth, and even our intelligence and learning.”
Adults, older children and even pets can benefit from an in-home detox, but your baby practically requires one. And detoxifying your home isn’t as challenging as it sounds. Here are 7 simple ways to cut down on indoor air pollution:
1. Switch to natural cleaners. Many household cleaners can contain dozens or even hundreds of potentially harmful chemical cleansers. Some of the more common ones to watch out for are 2-butoxyethanol (a toxic solvent notorious for damaging red blood cells and irritating eyes), DEGBE (which irritates and inflames the lungs), formaldehyde and ethanolamine (which can trigger asthma attacks). So look at ingredient lists closely. Alternatively, you can create a whole range of gentle and effective DIY cleaners using simple ingredients like baking soda, lemon juice, vinegar, olive oil, essential oils and castile soap. No chemical smell, natural disinfectants and generally much cheaper than store-bought cleaning agents anyway.
2. Buy a HEPA vacuum.
HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) vacuums are designed to retain the tiniest possible allergens with maximum efficiency, helping to keep your home free of the things you can’t even see. While air purifiers tend to “draw in” the particles that are already airborne, HEPA vacuums
are handy for getting rid of dust and other particulates that may have settled on furniture, carpets and clothing. Also, allergens derived from house dust mites are known triggers for allergic disease. “Keeping the air clean may help prevent asthma attacks,” Dr. Claudia says. “Pets often sniff around a lot, so keeping carpets and upholstery clean may help prevent them from developing allergies and keep their airways clean.”
3. Advocate for your child. Ever heard of “thirdhand smoke,” that unmistakable scent that tells you right away that someone is a smoker? Even if you don’t smoke yourself, visitors to your home may be bringing more than their bad habits with them. That smell is the result of toxic gases and particles clinging to their hair and clothing. Don’t allow people to smoke in your home or near the entrances and windows. If they’re coming inside, ask them to remove their coat or jacket and wash their hands thoroughly.
4. Invest in an air purifier.
Indoor pollutants are rampant and mostly invisible, like mold, mildew, cooking fumes, chemical cleaners and pet dander. There’s a reason that air purifiers
have hit the top of everyone’s “nursery must-haves” list. Used in conjunction with other methods, air purifiers can significantly improve in-home air quality and can promote more restful, rejuvenating sleep for the entire family.
5. Bring plants into your home. Want a pretty and inexpensive way to improve the air quality in your home? Look no further than the nursery— the plant nursery, that is. Houseplants, and the microorganisms that live in them, can remove all kinds of chemicals, like trichloroethylene, benzene, formaldehyde, xylene and ammonia. Try mums, spider plants, aloe, ficus, bamboo or anything in the dracaena family. In addition to being pretty, these plants are also pretty tough, making it okay to skip a watering or two.
6. Opt for low-VOC paint. Nesting? A fresh coat of paint and newly finished floors will give your place that “new home smell,” which comes from a phenomenon known as “off-gassing.” Off-gassing is when chemicals, such as paint, polyurethane, and chemical flame retardants give off an odor long after they dry. The EPA says that paints with a high-VOC content can cause eye, nose and throat irritation, as well as headaches, loss of coordination, nausea, damage to the liver, kidneys and central nervous system. If you’re pregnant, paint well before your due date and give the room time to air out completely. If baby’s already here, splurge on the non-toxic, low-VOC variety for peace of mind.
7. Investigate what’s really coming out of your humidifier.
Many humidifiers can breed mold and bacteria within just minutes of you turning them on, and then circulate that mold and bacteria around the room. Be vigilant about cleaning your humidifier regularly, and invest in one that uses ultraviolet light technology
to kill bacteria before it’s misted out into your air.