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One of the best things about the holidays is gathering together with family and friends for special meals and gift-giving. Unfortunately, all of that cooking and decorating can add to indoor air pollution and toxic exposures. Here are some easy tips to keep your gathering safe and healthy.
Avoid Candles and Scented Décor
Candles made of paraffin wax can emit benzene, toluene and other dangerous chemicals. They also emit particulate matter that can get deep into your lungs. Fragrance from scented candles and scented décor usually contain phthalates which are released into the air and can be inhaled or absorbed by the skin.
Ventilate While Cooking
Cooking is a major source of poor indoor air quality. Proper ventilation is critical, particularly if you are cooking with gas. If you don’t have a range hood that vents to the outside, open your windows while cooking. If your range hood doesn’t extend over your front burners, make sure to cook on your back burners. Also, clean up any food particles on the burners because as they burn, they can release toxic by-products into the air.
Skip the Fire
Wood smoke can emit particulate matter as well as harmful chemicals including formaldehyde, and benzene. Studies show that up to 70% of the smoke released from the chimney re-enters your home. If you just can’t do without a fire, engineered logs, such as Duraflame, have been shown in third-party studies to burn cleaner than natural wood.
Skip the Gift Wrap
Some papers can be treated with inks, dyes and other chemicals. Additionally, some foil and colored gift wraps can contain lead. If you really want to wrap your gifts, IKEA has strict limits for lead and offers several unbleached wrapping paper styles. You could also try reusable fabric gift bags, which are better for the environment.
Choose Untreated Tablecloths
Wrinkle-free tablecloths can release formaldehyde and water-repellent cloths can contain perfluorinated chemicals, like Teflon. Choose an untreated, natural material like cotton or linen.
Ask Guests to Leave Their Shoes at the Door
Shoes can track in toxins from the outdoors including coal-tar from driveway sealers, pesticides, and bacteria. Keep a basket of slippers or socks at the door for guests to use.
Use Lead-Free Holiday Plates and Serving Pieces
Look for lead-free labels on holiday plates and serving pieces and don’t eat off of products labelled “Not for food use” or “For decorative use only”.
Be safe and enjoy the holidays!
Question from Mimi
I was gifted the Poang Ikea Chair for nursing. It is very comfortable, but there is a distinct chemical smell. A quick google search has sent me down the rabbit hole of polyurethane foam and its potentially toxic qualities. I found your website through this search.
Instead of getting rid of the chair, I’d like to find an alternative foam/ cusion to replace the existing polyurethane foam. Can you recommend a vendor that can provide custom sized, non-toxic alternative cushions? I’d like to replace just the foam part and stuff a new non-toxic alternative in the existing upholestry.
Here is a source. It is not GOTS certified but they claim not to use any chemical additives to the natural latex. You might also call mattress manufacturers who use GOTS certified latex foam and ask if they will sell you custom cut foam.
Question from Petra
I have MCS and I am looking for a new computer / laptop, which is working for people with MCS. Do you know something?
Do you know hemp fleece for making filling for a futon by my self?
Which are the best shoes and sandals for MCS?
I can point you to products that are free of harmful chemicals but I can’t say what anyone will or will not react to because everyone is different.
Here is a post I wrote on the least toxic computers. You can read through the comments and see what others have said about their reactions.
You can look at Debra’s List for non-toxic shoes. Again, I can’t tell you what you will or will not react too.
You can try White Lotus for fills to be used for a futon. They sell buckwheat, kapok, wool, natural latex, and cotton. I am not familiar with hemp being used as a fill.
Question from Judy
I’ve been looking for a nice looking indoor mat to place inside the apartment front door now that the weather is getting sloppy. I’m not finding anything I like. Either the bottom is smelly rubber or there is Microban. Do you have any information on what would be appropriate for a healthy home
You could use a metal boot tray like this. Hook and Loom has a good selection of 100% wool rugs with no backing or dyes. They also offer natural latex grippers to use under the rug. Wool is naturally water resistant but not water proof so it will get wet. Hook and Loom also has natural cotton rugs but those won’t handle dampness from shoes as well as the wool.
Question from Beth
Can you tell me what you suggest and where to purchase cookie sheets that are not aluminum or coated? The best, safest one out there?
I use one by All Clad. It is uncoated stainless steel. It is expensive but great quality. You can read this post I wrote recently on what to use to replace silicone bakeware and it lists some additional choices.
Question from Maryna
Hi Debra and Lisa! Thank you SO MUCH for your priceless work!
I’m going to buy a snowsuit for my one year old son. I’ve already chosen the one from Deux Par Deux,but then read it’s made from Teflon coated polyurethane fabric! Isn’t it safe? I know Teflon is dangerous in cookware, but clothes… I worry a lot as I don’t want to harm my baby. Please, let me know if it’s safe and if not, what can you recommend as a baby snowsuit for winter. We live in Canada. Thank you very much in advance!
Unfortunately, most snow-wear is coated with a DWR (durable water repellant) and most of those coatings use PFC chemicals. The good news is that the outdoor industry has been working on finding safer alternatives and there are more products coming on the market. While the new alternatives are safer than PFC-containing products there is not a lot of information about just how safe they are. You can read probably more detail than you want here.
There are some PFC-free baby snowsuits available. Here are some options:
Jack Wolfson in 100% PFC-free. They have kids jackets and snow pants but they don’t have baby snowsuits.
Question from Jane
We just had regular new carpet installed in our Master bedroom 2 weeks ago and the Smell is terrible!!! It’s still giving us headaches and congestion even with running our air purifier And whole house fans! Is there anything else we can do to get rid of it?
Unfortunately, carpet can be a significant source of indoor air pollution. Ventilation will help with some of the off-gassing but not all. Unless your air purifier is specifically designed to remove VOCs and other gases (most are not), it will not help. You can read more here about air purifiers that remove both VOCS and particles.
If your carpet is synthetic, AFM Safecoat makes a carpet-sealing system designed to seal in the chemicals but it does not work on natural fiber rugs.
Question from Mir
I was looking at a simple sweatshirt that says it has ‘Moisture-wicking technology’. Does this always refer to a chemical treatment of some kind?
There is no specific standard for the term “moisture wicking” so it could vary. Wool can be considering a natural moisture-wicking material. Synthetic fibers such as polyester do not retain moisture like natural fibers do so they push excess moisture through the weave and away from your body. Even without a chemical treatment they could be considered “moisture-wicking”. Some fabrics do have a chemical treatment on the fabric to improve the performance.
Question from Alex
I was wondering if you could go through the melaleuca ingredient glossary and let us know what you think of this list? It still bugs me that the individual product labels don’t clearly list the names of each ingredient instead saying “fragrance” or “plant-derived surfactants”.
I agree that the information provided is not sufficient to determine just how safe these products are. They have a list of 9 ingredients that they avoid but that leaves many other potentially harmful ingredients. They have over 400 products so I can’t go through all of them to give a more specific answers but I can say that just avoiding those 9 ingredients is not enough for me to say that all of the their products are safe. I also agree that listing fragrance on the label is enough to cause me concern.
Question from Becca
I purchased this “brushed” stainless steel dish rack. It appears painted silver. Is this safe?
I submitted a question to Lifetime Brands which licenses the Kitchenaid brand name to product this. I will update this when I hear back. I don’t know what it is coated with. I assume it is some kind of epoxy. An uncoated stainless steel would be better, but overall this is a small exposure.