Recently I was asked what advice I had for parents or soon-to-be parents who want to limit their family's exposure to toxic chemicals.
In putting together this post, I've thought long and hard about my response. I've been in those shoes and when you first try to learn more about toxic chemicals in everyday products it can be extremely time-consuming and overwhelming. And at a time in your life where you are already probably quite overwhelmed and short of time! This post is my advice for busy overwhelmed parents who want doable, affordable steps that will significantly limit their family's exposure to toxic chemicals.
Go green gradually.
For parents in general my advice is to go green gradually. Unless you have tons of time and money, small steps are probably best. The gradual approach is more affordable, more sustainable over a long period of time, and easier for your less enthusiastic spouse to go along with. If you try to change everything at once, you risk burning out. You also risk stressing yourself out, which isn’t good for you or your kids either. One of the best ways I know to go green gradually is this: when you run out of something, replace it with something greener (or do without).
Buy fewer and better baby products.
For those expecting or hoping to expect soon, remember that babies actually need very little. The more babies I've had, the less baby stuff I've wanted. Better to invest in the often more-expensive non-toxic versions of the essential items (such as the crib mattress) and skip all the bells and whistles. Even without switching to greener products, you can expose your baby to fewer toxic chemicals just by buying and using less.
Create a healthy nursery.
When shopping for baby's nursery, avoid when possible: products that use undisclosed "proprietary" ingredients; flame retardant chemicals; polyurethane foam; Vinyl/PVC (most waterproof covers and other soft, pliable plastics); manufactured wood; stain-resistant treatments; any product with a strong synthetic smell. Instead, look for: all materials disclosed (including any chemical treatments); safer flame retardant materials (wool, hydrated silica, boric acid, fiberglass); natural fabrics and filling (cotton, latex, wool, buckwheat hulls); solid wood; low-VOC or no VOC (paints, finishes, carpets, plastics); Greenguard or other 3rd party eco-certification.
Make your home shoeless.
Removing your shoes (and encouraging your guests to do likewise) reduces the amount of toxic pollutants in your home, decreases the time and money you spend on cleaning, and promotes the development of healthier stronger feet. In one study, using a doormat plus removing shoes reduced lead dust and other toxic chemicals in the home by 60 percent. Removing your shoes is especially important if your home has wall-to-wall carpet, because carpet acts like a sink for contaminated household dust. Bonus: when you need to leave the house in a flash, you actually know where your kids' shoes are.
Switch to eco-friendly household cleaners.
I first thought about the contents of my household cleaners when I watched my baby suck on the laminate floor I had just cleaned with my Swiffer. When you use green cleaners, you leave no toxic residue on surfaces, keep pollutants out of indoor air (household cleaners are a source of indoor air pollution and respiratory irritants), and avoid accidental poisonings! There are now tons of wonderful, effective green cleaners on the market, so I consider this a pretty easy switch. If you don't feel like doing a full-scale investigation whenever you need to purchase a cleaner, it can be nice to find a few brands (or stores) you trust and stick with those. I have been happy with the ingredients and effectiveness of Seventh Generation and Biokleen products, for example. I've also posted about my favorite kitchen, bathroom, and laundry cleaners.
Use fewer and less-toxic personal products.
Although most consumers believe the U.S. government regulates the safety of personal care products, the sad truth is, personal products (a.k.a. cosmetics) are among the least-regulated products on the market. Personal care products sold in the United States contain ingredients banned for use in cosmetics in the EU and other countries, and contain known carcinogens such as lead and formaldehyde. You can help choose safer products for your family just by skipping any product that contains "fragrance" in order to avoid undisclosed chemicals. Another option: use fewer products.
Consider cloth diapers.
I switched from disposable to cloth diapers when my first child was one, and I'm here to tell you that cloth diapers are better! Not only will you keep undisclosed ingredients away from your baby's private parts, but you will save oodles of money, avoid blowouts/ pooplosions, get less poop on your hands (because cloth wipes are way better!), and possibly suffer fewer diaper rashes and leaks. If you are expecting, know that the first six month's of your baby's life are in many ways the ideal time to give cloth a try. If you use disposables, try to choose a brand that is free of chlorine, fragrance, dye, or lotion, such as Seventh Generation.
- Everything Eco-novice Knows About Cloth Diapers (all the posts I've ever written about cloth diapering in one handy place)
- Quiz: Are Cloth Diapers Right for You?
- Favorite Daytime Cloth Diapers
- Favorite Nighttime Cloth Diapers
Shop at your local farmers market.
If you are trying to switch from food-like substances to real foods, the farmers market is a great place to start! When I shop with my 3 little ones at the farmers market, instead of my kids nagging me for Doritos or Fruit Loops, they beg me for blueberries, dried persimmons, and grapes. Find your local farmers markets here.
Eat less plastic.
When you have little ones, the amount of plastic in your life seems to skyrocket to a whole new level. Everything seems to be made out of plastic! So I understand that this is a tough one, but I would make it a priority to keep plastic chemicals out of your children's bodies. Try to replace your nonstick cookware and bakeware as your budget and patience allow (I personally found it super easy to replace all my nonstick bakeware and pots; my nonstick skillets -- those were tougher to replace). Opt for stainless steel or glass food containers and dishes whenever possible, We LOVE our stainless steel kids' cups and plates. They were an investment initially, but we have found them to be far more durable and useful than plastic dishes! Since babies and small children mouth toys, opt for toys made of wood and natural fabrics (100% cotton, wool) whenever possible and practical.
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