5 Places In Your Home Where Toxins Love To Hang Out

Written by Becky Rapinchuk

Becky Rapinchuk is the founder of the website Clean Mama, which includes a membership-only monthly subscription, and has given rise to a natural cleaning line, a paper goods company, and an online community. Rapinchuk is an online columnist for Better Homes & Gardens, the housekeeping expert on Answers.com, and a regular home expert for Real Simple, the New York Times, Bon Appétit, HGTV Magazine, InStyle, Shape, Oprah.com, Houzz, Refinery29, and other media outlets. She lives with her family in a suburban area west of Chicago, Illinois.

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Spring cleaning season is upon us! In the coming weeks, mbg will be sharing some of the easiest, most effective tips and tricks we've heard for nixing germs at home. (Check out what we've run so far here.) Today, we're sharing how to keep them out of your space in the first place, with this excerpt from Clean Mama's Guide to a Healthy Home: The Simple, Room-by-Room Plan for a Natural Home.

Let's talk about the most effective way to keep toxins out of your home. This one is common sense: Don't bring them in!

Here are a few very simple changes you can make in just five minutes to radically improve the safety and health of your home. Five minutes sounds too simple, doesn't it? That's the thing: By looking at your habits and rituals, you'll see that it doesn't take long to make a change. Start here, and once you see how easy it is to make these changes and you see the difference it makes in your life, I hope you'll continue.

1. Take your shoes off at the door.

Did you know that your shoes track in more than just dirt? Numerous studies have proved this point, but there's one study by Dr. Charles Gerba, microbiologist and professor at the University of Arizona, and the Rockport Company that found on average more than 400,000 units of bacteria on the bottoms of shoes and almost 3,000 units on the insides. The researchers found E. coli; meningitis; diarrheal disease; Klebsiella pneumonia, a common source for wound and bloodstream infections as well as pneumonia; and Serratia ficaria. (Yikes!) When I tell you that the soles of shoes are said to be dirtier than a toilet seat, that alone should encourage you to drop your shoes at the door. The good news is that this dirt is easy to remove—a simple vacuum and/or floor washing will remove the germs from your floors, and you can rest assured that you're no longer walking on a toilet seat.

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2. Wipe pets' paws when they come inside.

We all love our pets, but pets that go outside and come back in potentially track into your home all sorts of dirt, fecal matter, pesticides from parks, and anything else you hope to leave at the door when you remove your shoes. The simplest way to eliminate this isn't to get your pets to wear shoes; simply wipe their feet off at the door. In the winter and spring, when there's a constant stream of mud and muck coming in, this might be a necessity where you live, but keeping the outside stuff outside isn't that difficult and will pay off for you and for your pets. (You don't really want them to lick off that dirt, do you?)

I know this sounds like an annoying change to make, but here's a quick and easy way to make this just a little thing you do when the pup comes back inside. Keep a microfiber cloth at the door, dampen it, and wipe off the pet's feet with that. Change the cloth daily or as needed. If you don't want to deal with paw-cleaning cloths, use natural baby wipes or paper towels.

3. Wash your hands frequently.

Hopefully this is something you already do, but it's a good reminder to teach kids to wash their hands frequently throughout the day. This is something I instilled in our kids from a young age. Any time they walk through the back door, they know to take off their shoes and wash their hands. This can be done after playing outside, coming in from the bus, and coming home from shopping, a friend's house, or work. Get your hands wet with warm water, add a little soap, and scrub the palms and backs of your hands and up the wrists. Not only is this the best thing you can do to prevent yourself from getting sick; it's also the best way to keep germs and toxins out of the home by washing them down the drain.

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4. Bring in some plants.

Did you know that houseplants are natural air purifiers? This is such a simple way to add a little life to a corner of a room and clean the air at the same time. Start with a plant or two in a living area, and as you find a plant that thrives in your home environment, add another one, continuing until you're officially one of those "plant people." NASA scientists have found that plants can actually absorb toxic chemicals, such as formaldehyde, pesticides, biological pollutants, and radon, to name a few. In the 1960s, Dr. B.C. Wolverton conducted plant studies with NASA and found and rated more than 50 plants that absorb and purify the air.

Here are a few favorites for ease of growing and efficacy:

  • Areca palm
  • Lady palm
  • Rubber plant
  • Rhododendron

Pick up a plant the next time you're at your home improvement store. Give it a little love, and it will take care of you!

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5. Use an air purifier.

This isn't necessarily a five-minute change, but it's one that can be plugged in in five minutes, and it's such an important aspect of making sure the air in your home is clean. Effective air purifiers clear the air of allergens and dust particles as well as more dangerous substances, like mold, asbestos, off-gassing furniture and paints (VOCs), and other harmful toxins. There are many different types of air purifiers that range in price from less than a hundred dollars to thousands of dollars. We have a whole-house air purifier, and I can tell you that it makes a huge difference in the air quality in our home. One of my favorite features is that I can change how it filters the air. Ours is controlled through the furnace thermostat, and I can adjust it to run 24/7, once every three hours, or once every hour. If someone is sick, I bump it up to 24/7, or if I've dusted or vacuumed, I'll run it continuously for a couple of hours and then put it back to every three hours. It has a HEPA filter, so it snags microscopic particles, dust, pet dander, and airborne toxins that make indoor air more polluted than outdoor air. Since we spend up to 90 percent of our time indoors, this can pose a problem.

If you aren't ready to invest in a whole-house system, or maybe you're renting, there are a variety of small and effective air purifiers available. My suggestion is to put one in your bedroom first since we spend so much of our lives sleeping.

If you or someone in your house has asthma, allergies, or other sensitivities, I highly recommend at least a small air purifier for the bedroom. If you aren't ready to get an air purifier quite yet, make sure you change the air filters for your furnace regularly; you'll find that cuts down on household dust along with snagging those minuscule toxic particles.

From Clean Mama's Guide to a Healthy Home: The Simple Room-by-Room Plan for a Natural Home. Copyright © 2019 by Becky Rapinchuk. Reprinted with permission from HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers.

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