How to Redecorate Responsibly

eco decorChanging your décor can be a quick, cost effective way to make your home feel fresh and updated without extensive renovations. With some planning, you can reduce waste sent to landfill and reduce indoor air pollutants like VOCs (volatile organic compounds). Here are some eco decorating tips for your next remodeling project.

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What’s the Deal with DEET?

via flickr/Mike Mozart
via flickr/Mike Mozart






With our short summers, not even mosquitos, black flies, deer flies, and ticks can keep me from enjoying warm evenings by the campfire. I’ve been avoiding DEET, but only based on a general understanding that it’s toxic. How bad is it? Here’s my breakdown on DEET and some alternatives, looking at findings from regulators and environmental groups.

What is DEET?

DEET is a synthetic chemical pesticide that is believed to prevent bugs from smelling us (though it seems we haven’t quite figured out the details). It was developed in 1946 by the US army.

What the Regulators Say

The US EPA reviewed studies submitted by DEET producers and have not identified any risks to human health or the environment, when used as directed (2002, 2014). Health Canada’s last review in 2002 came to the same conclusion.

The EPA classifies DEET as “slightly toxic” – one step above “practically non-toxic”. Some studies have linked seizures in children to DEET, but the EPA maintains that there is insufficient evidence to substantiate the link.

The US Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry indicates studies of very small sample sizes which potentially connect DEET exposure to seizures, illnesses among Gulf War veterans, skin reactions, dizziness, headaches, and nausea. Studies on 3 women found birth defects linked to DEET, but another study of 900 women found no adverse effects.

Use recommendations from Health Canada include “wash treated skin with soap and water… when protection is no longer needed.” (My question: how often do you think this happens after a few drinks around the campfire, when protection is most likely needed?)

What the Environmental Groups Say

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) came to the surprising conclusion that DEET is among their top choices for insect repellant.

Canada’s Environmental Defence recommends DEET not be used on children, and nobody should use concentrations greater than 30%. (Note that increased concentrations don’t increase efficacy, but higher concentrations don’t have to be applied as frequently.) It cites a potential link to neurological damage at high doses.

What about alternatives?

Other than avoiding the outdoors, you can use preventative measures to reduce the amount of repellent you need to apply – wear light coloured clothing and remove standing water from your yard. Or go all-out and get an ever-so-stylish bug suit.

When you need repellent, it’s important to consider what insect you need protection from, as repellents may not be effective on all bugs. In EWG’s review, oil of lemon eucalyptus came out on top for botanical options, but can’t be used on children under 3. Environmental Defence also suggests soybean oil.

DEET-alternatives suggested by Health Canada are P-menthane 3,8-diol (related oil of lemon eucalyptus, not for children under 3), soybean oil, and citronella oil (not for infants or toddlers). Other chemicals (Icaridin and IR3535) are available but more widely in the US. Icaridin (aka Picaridin) is approved by Health Canada and seems to be less of an irritant than DEET, but as it has not been on the market as long there are fewer studies.

There are several products with combinations of oils that get good reviews (though not tested like those registered by Health Canada). Check your local or online health/wellness shop –  you may have to look for products labelled as “Outdoors Spray” or “Nature Spray” rather than the more obvious “insect repellent.”

I’m a little less scared of DEET now, but I still don’t have much interest in using it on me, let alone my kids (maybe unless we’re somewhere with more significant insect-borne disease concerns).

My current favourite alternative is Boo Bamboo Nature Spray. It works on mosquitos and blackflies, though you do have to reapply often. What’s yours? Come on over to the Green Product Forum Facebook Group and share it with us!

Budget-Friendly Nursery Tips

green baby room
flickr/Tabitha Blue
flickr/Tabitha Blue

As soon I found out I was pregnant I started planning what we needed for the baby. I love planning in general, but found it very easy to get carried away – retailers and manufacturers have done a very good job at making us feel like we need everything that’s on store shelves. Don’t stress. While there are lots of things that make life with baby a little easier, they need very little, especially in the early days.

Here are a few tips on how you can save money while setting up your perfect nursery (and as a bonus, they’re all better for the environment too!). Making conscious choices to save money in some areas will also mean you have enough left over to buy healthier mattresses, furniture, and baby care products.

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How to Choose a Sunscreen

how to choose a sunscreen

how to choose a sunscreenWhile looking down the sunscreen aisle at the drug store, I instantly became frozen with product overload. And yet most recommendations for selecting a “safe” sunscreen include “read the labels”. I would need a 24-hour store to get through them all! So how do you choose a sunscreen?

There are many good sources out there with tips on choosing a “safe” sunscreen, but also a lot of contradictory/confusing information between the environmental groups and the regulators. So I’ve done the research for you – considering both angles.

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7 Tips to Keep Your Home Cool


I broke down and started up our air conditioner today. I can handle the house being a bit warm, but as soon as it stays humid all night I need relief that open windows just won’t provide. For those with allergies or asthma, I get it – opening the windows isn’t always feasible. Whether or not you turn on your A/C, here are some tips to keeping your house cool and comfortable. I’ve given you a week’s worth – try adding one per day for the next week, and keep it up all summer!

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Are Green Cleaners Worth It?

Spray bottlesEnvironmental Defence Canada issued a report this month on their study of potentially hazardous volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in household cleaning products. With 22 pages of text it’s a bit of a read (and tends to have alarmist undertones), but it has some interesting findings so I am using it to start off my discussion on green cleaners.

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The Hard Truth About Fabric Softeners

flickr/Julie Falk

Do you use fabric softeners or dryer sheets? If so, maybe you use them because your mom did. Maybe it’s out of habit because commercials make us feel that we need something more than just detergent. But do we? Sure, they make clothes feel softer, reduce static cling, and add a spring-fresh scent. But have you thought about how they do this? A chemical layer is added to the fabrics. I decided to take a look at what these chemicals are.

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Is Organic Produce Worth the Price?

I didn’t do much research when I started to prioritize organic food several years ago, but with two kids to feed, I decided I should take a look at the facts to see if organic produce is worth the cost premium. The short answer to my question is yes, the investment in organic produce is worth it, but not for the reasons you might think. This researched helped me keep organic into my budget, and decreased the guilt I’d feel about giving my kids non-organic.

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Detoxing Personal Care Products with Think Dirty

I started my responsible consumption project with my toiletries. Partially because once I downloaded the Think Dirty App I was completely addicted (seriously, who can resist your own personal barcode scanner?!), and partially because I already try to buy “clean” and wanted to put my efforts to the test.

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