How to Prevent COVID-19 Naturally at Home

How to prevent covid-19 naturally at home

I’ll just say it straight: we are living in a crazy time right now. There is an unbelievable amount of information (and misinformation) floating around about the 2019 novel coronavirus (covid-19) and I’ve hesitated to add to the noise. But there’s something we’re not talking about that I think is important – for our health, and our sanity.  

Now, before I dive in I want to make it perfectly clear that despite what some are sharing online, nothing has been proven to cure or make you immune to covid-19 as of today.  However, there are definitely things you can and should be doing to boost your immune system – covid-19 or not. 

I’m not going to give you recommendations for supplements and herbs and immune boosting tonics, because that’s not my specialty. For that kind of information, I recommend following this page put together by Dr. Aviva Romm. She’s an MD, herbalist, and midwife and  focuses on practical, clinically relevant recommendations.

I’m going to stay in my lane here, and share tips that you can act on right now – whether you’re social distancing or in quarantine – to make your home less friendly to viruses like covid-19. 

In this article, I share:

  • The proper way to wash your hands, and what kind of soap to use.
  • The step you need to take before disinfecting, and what products actually work.
  • How fresh air plays a role in virus prevention.
  • The optimal humidity level in your home to make it less friendly to viruses.
  • The source I trust for advice on boosting your body’s immune response.

These things are not going to guarantee you don’t get sick. But they can go a long way to reducing your risk and supporting your body in the event you do.

 

Wash Your Hands (For Longer than You Think You Should)

The number one way to prevent germs from coming into your home, is to wash your hands before you touch anything. The good news is, viruses like covid-19 are easily combated with regular old soap and water (this article explains why). 

Yes, even the natural stuff – you don’t need special antibacterial soap. Just make sure you’re spending at least 20 seconds, using warm water, and rubbing your hands. There are a million videos out there on this now, but here’s the official guidance from the CDC.

Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are the second best option when you don’t have access to soap. Be careful using homemade versions, as the concentration needs to be at least 60% to be effective.

Clean then Disinfect

If you are appropriately distancing yourself – you are avoiding contact with other people by now, right? – and washing your hands as soon as you come home, you’re doing the most important steps to reducing your risk of exposure and the spread of the virus. 

As far as the research shows, transmission is mainly through inhaling droplets from coughs and sneezing. That being said, the virus has been shown to live on surfaces for hours to days. BEcause of this, Health Canada and the CDC recommend cleaning and sanitizing high-touch surfaces daily, especially if a member of your household is at risk or showing symptoms.

Short-term use of disinfectants like Lysol and bleach isn’t going to hurt. However, long-term use could be impacting especially our children’s immune systems for the long-term (stay tuned, more on this to come). 

If you are sanitizing your home, be aware that disinfectants only work on clean surfaces. So before you sanitize, be sure to clean with a soap first. 

My go-to all-purpose cleaner is liquid castile soap in water – this hasn’t changed with covid-19. 

I use Benefect for our normal disinfecting needs (which I really only use when we’ve got a serious illness or vomit going on). It’s Health Canada approved as a hospital-grade disinfectant and has been demonstrated effective on viruses similar to covid-19 (though hasn’t yet been tested on it specifically).

Hydrogen peroxide has been shown to be effective on viruses, including other coronaviruses. You can find a list of EPA-approved disinfectants here.

Oh, and a lot of people are worried about bringing in contaminated groceries. So far, the risk is incredibly low of contracting covid-19 from food and packaging. This article provides the best summary I’ve seen on the subject. The take-away? Worry about washing your hands, not so much about getting the virus from eating contaminated food.

Please for the love of all things, do not share false information about colloidal silver, essential oils, and other strategies being spread around the interwebs that have not been proven to be effective against covid-19.

 

Increase Fresh Air

Indoor air quality can impact your immune system’s ability to fight off infection. When our homes are all closed up, the chemicals that offgas from the building materials, furniture, cleaners and personal care products accumulate. 

The impact of poor indoor air quality is two-fold. First, it increases our exposure to toxins and therefore our overall toxic load. This is a form of stress on the body, which contributes to reduced immune system performance.

Second, there is emerging research linking hormone disrupting chemicals with immune system dysfunction. It’s impossible to avoid hormone disruptors entirely, but improving ventilation can help flush them out of your home to lower your exposure. 

Also, increasing fresh air inside has been studied with respect to the SARS outbreak in 2003, and the study authors found that “increasing building ventilation rates using methods such as natural ventilation in classrooms, offices, and homes is a relatively effective strategy for airborne diseases in a large city.”

You can increase fresh air by opening windows or running your furnace fan more often – ideally with an air exchanger (if you’re in a new home, you should have one of these and make sure you know how to use it!).

 

Check Your Humidity

The ability of viruses to survive is linked by many different studies with both temperature and humidity. However, there are inconsistencies in the findings to confirm the impact on a specific virus. Not all viruses are impacted the same. And they aren’t always linear – meaning some will survive longer in low and high humidities, but not in the middle.

For influenza, research suggests higher humidity is more effective at reducing virus transmission than low. Because covid-19 is still relatively new, there isn’t much data on it. As a result, it’s been suggested to use other known viruses to predict the impact of covid-19. 

My recommendation to help reduce the spread of cold and flu, while balancing mold growth, is to maintain 40 – 50% relative humidity in your home. Based on the literature around similar viruses, covid-19 appears to have lower survivability at higher humidities. 

Given the lack of research around covid-19 specifically, maintaining an RH of 40 – 50% will at least help prevent other illness, without contributing to harmful mold growth in your home (though always watch out for condensation if you are actively increasing humidity).

 

In Summary

  1. Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. All the time.
  2. Clean surfaces before disinfecting them.
  3. Increase fresh air throughout your home.
  4. Maintain a relative humidity of 40 – 50% inside.

I hope this helps you take a step back and focus on what you can do to help prevent your family from getting sick during this pandemic. Stressing about the situation is inevitable, but that also puts your body at increased risk of infection. So let’s acknowledge those feelings (I cry them out, personally), but not dwell on them. We’re all in this together.

Let me know if you’ve got any other questions related to covid-19 or otherwise. I’m planning out my next series of blog posts and would love to help answer your burning questions! Comment below or contact me with your ideas.

And for ongoing training and information about creating a healthier home – during and after this pandemic – join the over 3000 members in my free Facebook Group the Green Product Forum.

How to Choose Green Cleaners on a Budget (That Work!)

It’s no secret that off-the-shelf green cleaning products are often more expensive than their conventional counterparts. Sometimes, many times more expensive. Some think it’s all a big conspiracy – that there’s no reason these products have to cost so much and that companies are just profiting off naïve shoppers.

I agree that there’s a conspiracy, but it’s not by green brands.

Well-made, truly healthy cleaners (or any product for that matter) cost more for good reason. For starters, healthier, more natural ingredients cost more upfront than synthetic chemicals. The problem is, we don’t actually know what’s in many cleaning products because labelling laws in Canada and the US don’t require ingredients be disclosed.

Manufacturers recognize that consumers are wanting better ingredients so they make products sound great – “natural”, “organic”, “safe”, “non-toxic”… the problem is these terms don’t have any legal definition. They could mean nothing, or everything.

Because of this lack of clarity, many of us end up getting suckered into spending money on products because we think we’re doing the right thing but really we aren’t. And it’s not our fault that we keep getting greenwashed. Companies want to sell, and they know what gets us to buy.

So, what’s a conscious consumer to do? Here are 2 ways to start you off:

1. Grab my Cheatsheet

If you’ve been buying products you think are healthy or green, but aren’t so sure, be sure to download my “How Healthy Are Your Cleaners” list. I’ve included 12 brands of popular “green” cleaners and let you know whether they’re actually green, or just greenwashing.

2. Try Homemade

If you’re sick of staying on top of which products are good vs not, and want to save some money, then homemade cleaners may be for you… if you’re sceptical just hear me out. I’m a mom of two kids, I run two businesses, and try to make time for fun. I know what busy schedules look like. And I don’t tend to DIY much. But I do make my own cleaners. Here’s why:

I know what goes into them. Baking soda, washing soda, castile soap, soap flakes, vinegar, and water. That’s it.

They’re super easy. With all the ingredients in-hand, I can make 5 products in 5 minutes. Now that’s something even I can fit in.

They work better than a lot of store bought green cleaners. Sure, you may have to adapt if you’re used to Vim and Scrubbing Bubbles, but these cleaners really do work. My favourite is the tub and tile scrub which I also used to clean the grout in my kitchen that is dirtier than I like to admit.

They’re cheap. The cost of the 5 cleaners I make is a fraction of store bought. You can put the money you save towards other healthy products that come at a cost premium but that you can’t (or don’t want to) make yourself.

 

So there you have it. Two strategies to help you spend your money more wisely on green cleaning products that are truly healthier: 1. Choose the right brands (download my cheatsheet here) or 2. Make your own (grab my recipes here). Which option will you, or do you already, choose? Let me know in the comments!

Detox Your Household Cleaners in 5 Steps

detox household cleaners

One of my recent clients suffers from respiratory issues and multiple chemical sensitivity. She was advised by a naturopathic doctor to detox her home to help alleviate her symptoms, and called me for support. When we started going through her cupboards, she was shocked at how many household cleaners there were – some of which she couldn’t even remember buying. I’ve found that the household cleaners we buy often comes down to what our families used when we were growing up. We grab something off the store shelves that looks familiar, without really thinking about it.

I get it. We’re lucky to find time just to get to the store, let alone figure out what new products to try. But if you start looking into what’s in your products, you’ll soon realize there is good reason to set some time aside for switching to healthier products.

What’s Wrong with Conventional Cleaning Products?

Common ingredients in household cleaners are known or suspected carcinogens, hormone disruptors, allergens, and asthmagens.

Marketing departments are clever, and they do their job well. Remember: their job is to sell products. Our job is to decide if we like what they’re selling. And unfortunately, regulations aren’t strong enough to rely on for product safety.

How to Switch to Healthy Cleaners Simply

If you’re ready to clean your home naturally, ditch the toxic chemicals, and start breathing easier, here are 5 steps to detox your household cleaners, without breaking the bank.

1. Simplify

Go through your home and pull out all your cleaning products (don’t forget under sinks, laundry room, and the garage!). Put them all in one place, like on the kitchen table, and sort them by use. Do you actually need all the products you have? If you realize you’re over-stocked, decide whether you want to: use them up; give them away; or (last resort) put the contents in the garbage and recycle or toss the container. Check with your local municipality as certain cleaning products are actually considered household hazardous waste.

2. Avoid Fragrance

Look for terms like “scent” or “fragrance” on the package. These are typically a combination of any number of hundreds of chemicals that don’t have to be listed on the label. Synthetic fragrance typically includes phthalates (known endocrine disruptors), allergens and asthmagens.

3. Skip the Disinfectants

Unless you have an immune deficiency (in which case, consult your doctor), consider eliminating anything that has disinfecting claims. This is especially important for hand soaps – the US FDA has banned 17 chemicals, including triclosan, from body washes due to lack of evidence of safety and efficacy.

Soap and water has been shown to be just as effective (and if you need something more powerful, I’ve got you covered with non-toxic disinfecting options here).

4. Research Ingredients

You can skip this step if you want to do a complete overhaul of all your products. But if you hate the thought of giving up something that works without checking it out first, you can research ingredients to help you focus your detox efforts.

However, this is a little tricky for 2 main reasons: cleaners don’t have to list ingredients on the label, and there are no rules that govern terms like “natural” and “green”. Some companies will include ingredient lists on their website or will respond if you contact them directly.

To help navigate this, the Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning can help, BUT a word of caution: this database is a great tool, but it isn’t perfect. The ingredients aren’t necessarily up-to-date or applicable to products in Canada (it’s an American-based organization). There are also some ingredients that are rated well, but have been identified by some studies to be respiratory irritants or pose a cancer risk.

5. Make the Switch

To get a list of my favourite brands plus learn how to use apps and tools like EWG properly so you don’t waste your time or get more stressed out, grab my free label-reading training here.

You can also make your own products, using a few ingredients you may already have – these recipes work surprisingly well and take very little time to prepare.

Is Borax Toxic?

Homemade natural cleaners

Borax has been lining DIYer’s shelves for decades. It’s been a green cleaner staple and is even used to make kids’ crafts. But that is about to change. This month, Health Canada released its “Draft Screening Assessment for Boric Acid, its Salts and its Precursers”. It includes recommendations to avoid products like homemade slime and household pesticides that contain borax (a salt of boric acid). What interested me most was how this news impacted my homemade cleaning recipes, which include borax. And so, because diving into the details is what I do, I read (OK, some parts I skimmed) the Health Canada Assessment to get to the bottom of it. And I am happy to share what I learned with you can spend your time doing what you do!

What is Borax

Borax is a naturally-occurring mineral, a boron compound, and a salt of boric acid. Most of the borax used in Canada comes from mines in the US. It is a white powder that is used in a variety of products including cleaners, cosmetics, food packaging, insulation, ceramics, pesticides, adhesives, fertilizers, flame retardants, and swimming pool chemicals. Boron in its various forms is also found in effluent from oil sands, pulp and paper manufacturing, and coal plants.

Borax vs Boric Acid

In 2010, boric acid was added to the EU’s Substance of Very High Concern list as a reproductive toxin. In 2011, the Environmental Working Group advised against using borax in household cleaners due to its potential health impacts, specifically with respect to reproductive concerns. The internet is ripe with confusion around whether borax has the same toxicity as boric acid.

According to the Health Canada report, borax is considered to be equivalent to boric acid in terms of toxicity. It wasn’t very well explained, but from what I can tell it’s because there are a bunch of different boron-containing compounds that have the potential to convert to boric acid given the right conditions.

In summary: Borax is not boric acid. Borax may turn into boric acid in certain conditions.

The Bottom Line

While not conclusive, enough study results suggest that boric acid adversely affects fertility, reproduction and development.

The people most impacted by the health effects of borax are employees in manufacture/processing – they are exposed to significantly higher concentrations than consumers. This was enough for me to take pause: should my “green” laundry detergent cause someone else to get sick?

Health Canada’s recommendation to avoid crafts and pesticides is based on the idea that direct exposure (i.e. potential to eat it) is high, especially for children. And while the amount of boric acid that may enter your body from household use is low, since boric acid is found in our food, water, and air, Health Canada advises that we reduce our exposure wherever possible.

My Next Steps

In my homemade cleaners workshops to-date, I made it clear that the jury was out on borax. It’s important to avoid inhaling the dust and always keep out of reach of children. Given the information provided by Health Canada, I believe the advice to minimize household use is conservative and precautionary – I wish they would take this approach with more harmful ingredients in everyday products.

While Health Canada mostly advises against crafts and pesticides with borax, I am going to try borax-free cleaner recipes to take further steps to create a healthy home. I’ve already started testing a borax-free laundry detergent recipe and will remove it from my all-purpose cleaner. If I find borax really is the magic ingredient, then I will continue to use it with caution until I can find something less toxic yet still effective.

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.

Read moreAre Green Cleaners Worth It?