36 Ways To Make Your Home Safer & Cleaner, According To New Harvard Report
"Your home = your health. It's that simple." So reads a new paper out of Harvard University's T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
With a combined 50 years of experience studying how homes influence the health of those who live in them, authors Joseph G. Allen and John D. Spengler created this definitive report. Every one of their top 36 actions has been scientifically proven to contribute to a cleaner, safer home.
These days, the nontoxic and health-promoting home is more in-demand than ever before. It's a topic we frequently cover on mbg, so we went through Harvard's recommendations adding resources to help you put them into practice. Happy cleaning!
Here's our commentary on their complete room-by-room guide:
Kick off your shoes at the door.
Adopting this habit keeps dirt and grime from getting into your space. (One cleaning expert even cautions against storing shoes in your closet for this reason).
Bring in fresh air.
Indoor air tends to be more polluted than outdoor air1, after all, so open those windows up when the weather allows.
Install detectors for smoke and "the silent killer."
"Every home must have smoke and carbon monoxide detectors on every floor," Allen and Spengler caution.
(Re) connect with nature and natural light indoors.
There's a growing body of evidence suggesting that bringing elements of the outdoors (think: plants, running water features, and natural materials) into your home can boost your physical and mental health. So go ahead and grab another succulent.
Get the lead out.
The Harvard team recommends that anyone living in a home built before 1980 should test the interior and exterior paint for lead. They can vouch for this University of Massachusetts test.
Train your brain and make this the sleep room.
Ditching distractions in the bedroom and making it a designated "sleep room" instead could help you catch more restorative rest. Here are some ideas for designing your sleep sanctuary.
Blackout the room (and "blue out" your lights).
Do your internal clock a favor by investing in shades that will block light out of your room at night, swapping your bulbs for ones that won't disrupt your circadian rhythm and banning blue-light-emitting devices (looking at you, iPhone) from the bedroom.
Treat the air (and yourself).
Chances are you spend more time in the bedroom than any other room of your house, so it's worth making sure that its air is healthy using an air purifier, humidifier, or both.
Keep your cool at night.
Sleep experts recommend keeping your room temperature between 60 and 67 degrees at night to promote deeper rest.
Block out the noise.
Live in a loud area? Try sleeping with a white noise machine to block out the distractions.
Vacuum. Regularly. With HEPA.
Vacuums with HEPA filters tend to be slightly pricier, but they do a better job of trapping dust and small particles. Be sure to clean yours out regularly!
Don't smoke indoors (better yet, don’t smoke at all).
This one's a no-brainer.
Stamp out the candles and incense.
"The evidence is clear—in homes with candles or incense burning, there is a sharp increase in airborne particles, sometimes reaching levels that are higher than what is typically measured outside in U.S. cities," the report reads. Yikes! If you are lighting candles, incense, or herbs, make sure they're fully done burning before walking away, and consider opening a window afterward.
Choose furniture and carpets without harmful chemicals.
This guide will help you spot 'em.
Properly vent fireplaces and wood stoves.
Allen and Spengler recommend making sure you have a strong draft sucking fire smoke up the chimney, and keeping the flue open for 12 hours after the fire has gone out.
Cook with the exhaust hood on (and vented outdoors).
According to the report, "exposure to air pollution during cooking can cause or worsen a wide range of health problems such as nose and throat irritation, headaches, fatigue and nausea." Always, always, always put on that exhaust fan when you're cooking!
Keep a fire extinguisher within easy reach.
Make sure everyone in the family knows where it is, too.
Filter your drinking water where necessary.
This one's a biggie. Here's your no-nonsense guide to choosing the right filter for your tap water.
Control pests using IPM, not more pesticides.
Examples of IPM (integrative pest management) include taking out the trash more often, putting your food away, and using physical traps.
Choose glassware and cast-iron or ceramic cookware.
Plastic-lined pans and food storage (even the BPA-free ones) could be leeching chemicals into your food. Opt for reusable glass or unlined stainless-steel containers instead.
Control moisture by exhausting air outdoors.
If your bathroom doesn't have an exhaust fan, bring in a free-standing fan to run after showers and baths.
Limit the use of air fresheners.
They might contain chemicals you don't want to be sniffing day in and day out. Opt for a homemade essential oil spray instead.
Detoxify cleaners and personal care products.
Skip the antimicrobials.
You heard them. Antimicrobial chemicals like triclosan and triclocarban can mess with your hormones (not to mention weaken your microbiome). Swap 'em out for plain old bar soap.
Prevent slips, trips, and falls with handrails and nonslip mats.
It gets slippery in there, so put mats near your shower—especially if you have older people or young kids living in your home.
Measure and control radon.
Radon is a leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S.—second only to cigarette smoke. Take precaution and look into your home's radon levels with an at-home test.
Do not disturb signs of asbestos.
If you live in an older home and suspect that there's asbestos in its building materials, hire a professional to test it before you do any major demolition. Asbestos is harmless when it's just sitting there, but when disturbed it can cause respiratory issues.
Dehumidify and inspect for signs of water issues.
Basements tend to be damp, so get a dehumidifier for yours to protect against mold.
Choose a hard floor.
Carpets trap moisture and could further contribute to mold.
Solve the solvent storage issue.
Stay on the safe side and leave half-empty cans of paint, paint thinner, gasoline, or any other flammable material out of the home altogether.
Ditch the pesticides and herbicides.
Opt for organic fertilizers and herbicides instead. Your health and the planet will thank you.
Beware of air from attached garages.
If you do have an attached garage, take caution to not let your car sit and idle since the exhaust could make its way into your home.
Secure the perimeter.
You can "install motion-activated perimeter lights to shed light on activities around your home, check your locks and ensure deadbolts are installed on doors, or install a home alarm system" to make sure your space is safe and secure.
Tighten up your envelope.
"Envelope," in this case, being the structure of your home. Make sure that there aren't any opportunities for leaks and drafts in your roof and foundation.
"Make sure you have a plan to withstand the local natural phenomena that affect your region, and be mindful that new risks might arise from climate change," the report reads. It's an ominous note to end on, but an important one.
And the most important step of all: Trust your senses.
"Our first and most important recommendation is this: No. 1 Trust Your Senses," say Allen and Spengler. "The world's most advanced scientific instruments can't match your own body's sensing ability. In our experience, when people report poor conditions indoors, they are often quickly dismissed as complainers. Our experience also tells us that these people are very often 100 percent correct about the nature, source and timing of the issue they are experiencing."
Emma Loewe is the Sustainability and Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.
Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.