There are lots of things to worry about over the holidays – don’t make your indoor air quality one of them. With more people and more seasonal decorations in our homes, there can be more chemicals in the air we breathe. Luckily, there are easy ways to keep your house fresh, naturally. Follow these simple tips so you and your family can breathe easy this holiday.
Let’s start with an easy one: insist that guests take their shoes off to prevent dirt, debris, and road salt from being tracked into your home. Set up an area to make it easy for them to do-so, and tell them ahead of time so they can bring indoor shoes, or provide slippers to keep their feet toasty while they visit.
Candles and Air Fresheners
I love the smells of the season – fresh baked cookies, cedar boughs, mulled apple cider… yum! There are many candles and air freshener products that come out this time of year with tempting names that sound so good but are not so good for you.
Instead of toxic synthetic fragrances, boil cinnamon, citrus peels, or spices in a pot of water on the stove (while running your exhaust fan, please!); bake cookies; or choose all-natural beeswax candles.
Skip artificial candles and air fresheners, since many chemicals used in chemical fragrances are known or suspected carcinogens, hormone disruptors, allergens, and can induce asthma. (Check out more information on fragrances in my blog post here.)
Cooking holiday feasts can do a number on your oven, but avoid the temptation of using the self-cleaning feature on your oven.
Many ovens are lined with the same chemical as Teflon non-stick pans. The extremely high temperature of the self-cleaning function causes the chemicals to off gas (there’s a reason instruction manuals recommend venting the space and removing any pet birds from the space).
Instead, use a non-toxic cleaner or a baking soda paste and a scrub brush. To keep the mess to a minimum, put a baking pan on the rack below dishes that are likely to overflow, like pies.
Real trees are your best bet for indoor air quality, and the environment. They smell amazing (naturally), and you don’t have to worry about off-gassing chemicals like the PVC in artificial trees. Most Christmas tree farms do use pesticides, but as they are applied in the spring and summer there is likely little to no residue left at harvest time. Call your local farms if you want to avoid pesticides altogether.
Most artificial trees are made with PVC – containing not-so-nice chemicals like lead, phthalates, and BPA. There are PVC alternatives made from polyethylene (PE), which is less toxic, but also more expensive and difficult to find 100% PE trees (try Sears).
If you’re allergic to real trees or have to go artificial for another reason, there are ways to reduce their impact on your indoor air quality.
If you have a new artificial tree, set it up outside for a few weeks before Christmas, if possible, to let it off-gas before setting it up in your house. Products labeled as fire-retardant likely also contain PBDE (polybrominated diphenyl ethers), which is released as products age and settles in household dust. Exposure to PBDEs can damage neurological, reproductive, immune, and hormone systems. We are exposed to these chemicals with all the electronics in our homes too, so housekeeping is important year-round – damp mopping and vacuuming with a HEPA filter are your best options.