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My Nontoxic Home

Updated: Dec 23, 2019

I recently embarked on a new chapter in my life. In doing so, I purchased a new home for my son and I. I knew I didn't want to live amongst a bunch of nasty chemicals, but how can one avoid that when furnishing a home? Figuring this out was important to me since I have something called Multiple Chemical Sensitivities. That means that I react badly to certain chemicals (scented anything is my nemesis). So here's what I did.

I started with the big items. Couch, bed, dining table. I knew I didn't have the luxury of shopping around second hand shops, which would be the best option for someone with chemical sensitivities. Shopping second hand ensures that the chemicals used in the manufacturing process have already had the time to off-gas. It takes a few weeks for most of the chemicals to off-gas so I knew I needed to order furniture quickly so it could sit in the house for a few weeks before I moved in. I started by shopping online, as companies have to disclose a Prop 65 warning if their product contains harmful chemicals known to the state of California. I passed on a lot of cute furniture because of this warning!

I got my dining tables from Pottery Barn, and I actually smelled the furniture in the store. LOL. Yes, I did that! My nose is my best friend when it comes to sniffing out nasty chemicals! In fact, I have one dresser that months later still smells very much like wood and so I have yet to move any of my clothes into it. I wiped each inch with a nontoxic wipe, I inserted these little charcoal bags to place into each drawer, and liberally sprinkled a bunch of baking soda inside. These will absorb some of the odor, but I think time is the only other option here.

Back to sniffing out chemicals. Now, I knew I wanted a nontoxic home but I also wanted to love what I saw each day. So for my couch and bed, I went to Bassett where you can customize furniture and they do not finish it with chemicals or fire retardant. For those unaware, fire retardant is super toxic, and usually a carcinogen (meaning can cause cancer). As a general rule in my life, I avoid anything that I know can cause cancer. I mean, there are so many things in this world that are toxic to us and yet are outlawed in other countries. That's a topic for another day, though. So I custom made both my couch and bed, and neither of them smell! Woohoo!

Mattresses were another story. I require a high level of comfort. My previous mattress was super cushy and nicely broken in after years of use. I ordered a Saatva mattress for myself and my son, because that's the mattress my son has at his dad's house and it's all organic. I remember when we first got that mattress, my son complained it was not comfortable. But he eventually got used to it and didn't complain this time around. When I slept on it, though, I realized the kid was right! It was super firm, which is great for some people, but not for me! I tried to salvage it by ordering an organic latex topper, which I also let air out a while before using. It helped a bit and I knew eventually I'd adjust to this new level of comfort but I decided that was not good enough. So I ordered a Sleep on Latex mattress, which is more reminiscent of the memory foam I used to love before I found out how toxic it was. That is what I'm sleeping on now and intend to keep, the only thing I don't love about it is the size. I'm 5'8"-5'9" and this mattress is kind of skinny so when I get off my bed, I feel pretty close to the floor. Again, it's an adjustment that eventually I won't even notice but it is worth mentioning. I should mention I have another Sleep on Latex mattress in my guest room and my cousin, who is HIGHLY allergic to latex, slept there with zero issues. When people are allergic to latex, it is the unnatural, chemicalized crap they make in a lab somewhere, rather than natural latex which grows on trees.

When searching for my living room rug, I discovered that wool was the best nontoxic option. So I purchased my rug from Hook and Loom, who base their company on being eco-friendly and without the use chemicals or dyes. I ordered a sample to ensure I liked the feel of it and once I was able to confirm its softness (a big factor in my book), I placed the order. I will admit that it does have that WOOL smell, which I don't love. And it sheds. But shedding is normal and should stop in a few months. The smell also went away after a few weeks.

Now for my son's room, I obviously wanted nontoxic but had to keep his requests in mind. He wanted his room to look like a rainbow vomited in there. Seriously. The brighter, the better. So the first thing I ordered was a rug, knowing these typically have lots of chemicals and especially since there are more colors involved, that would mean there are more dyes and chemicals involved as well. So I wanted to let this air out well in advance of him sleeping in the room. Most of the rest of his furniture was sourced from Pottery Barn Kids or Teen. I really like Pottery Barn for kids furniture because most of it is "Greenguard Gold Certified" which means they must prove that their furniture is low-emitting, or in layman's terms, doesn't have a shitshow of chemicals. I did buy one item from Ikea that is definitely not low toxin but at least their website lists all the ingredients so you can make an informed decision. My process here was to get everything I reasonably could low or non toxic so the things I was unable to find a cleaner version of, I wouldn't worry about as much. You know, the 80/20 rule. Though I aim for 90/10.

For the remainder of my furniture, I shopped online. Again, I avoided anything with a prop 65 warning. I read reviews when available and specifically searched terms like: smell, chemical(s), toxic, etc. And lastly, I went ahead and ordered furniture, and was not shy about returning within the allotted time frame. There's one piece of furniture that I stuck it out even though it smelled like chemicals for weeks. It was a white, slip-covered chaise lounge and it was literally the only one I could find. What can I say? I was looking for a vibe. So I actually delayed my move in to give it the full 3 weeks to off-gas, as it was the very last piece of furniture delivered. I put my IQ Air (like the best stand alone air filter there is, but also crazy expensive) in that room on full blast. Daily, I would diffuse essential oils right next to the chair. Finally after 3 weeks, it still smelled horrible so I dragged my biggest plant (literally taller than me) into that room. The next day, the smell was nearly gone! Hooray for plants! I threw a big comforter over it when I finally moved in just to mitigate any remaining chemical smell. Now, after having lived here for 1 month, the smell is entirely gone.

Admittedly, there was one set of dining chairs that had the prop 65 warning that I just sucked it up for. I knew I needed a chair with synthetic fabric that I could just wipe off because I have a 7 year old son and boys are messy little things! Pottery Barn had the perfect look I was going for in a chair, but only in fabric or leather. While I don't connect fully to the term "vegan" (I am whole foods plant based), I still would never want any animal to suffer due to my purchase. The wool rug was different because no animals died to make that rug. And fabric was certainly not going to work because it would get ruined in two seconds. So I ordered these chairs from Target that had the prop 65 warning, and let them off-gas in the garage before I moved in. They didn't have any noticeable smell, so I was not too bothered by it.

That covers most the furniture but what about air and water quality? Most of the toxins we are exposed to are through these avenues so I had a whole house reverse osmosis system installed as my water purification system. While this was a big ticket item, it was very important to me. I'm even considering getting a tabletop Berkey filter to further filter our drinking and cooking water, though the RO system is entirely sufficient for removing VOCs, chemicals, fluoride, and the like. Yes, I avoid fluoride which is recommended by dentists because it is actually a neurotoxic agent and a carcinogen. The things you don't learn from your doctor, amiright?! For my air quality, I actually ended up replacing the entire system. It was undersized for my home and as someone who lives in South Florida is VERY temperature dependent for comfort, I had to upgrade. I had a UV filter installed in the ducts to handle any airborne contaminants that may try to sneak their way in. And I have that IQ Air, which has wheels and can be moved around as needed.

Regarding eating ware, everything I eat off is either ceramic, glass or wood. Wood is tricky because wood dust is a carcinogen and can often be bound with yucky glues or chemicals. So I actually don't buy too many wood things, even though I prefer the look, because I've just not put the time in to research quality brands. For me, ceramic and glass are easiest because you can just throw them into the dishwasher instead of having to hand wash. For silverware, I bought from a brand called Liberty Tabletop recommended by a friend that does her research. It's a high quality stainless steel. Since our silverware is one of the ways we can ingest toxic heavy metals, investing in a high quality set was super important to me. I'm not drinking a heavy metal detox smoothie every day just to be careless and eat off aluminum, nah mean?? (If you don't know, aluminum is the worst. Throw out your foil or anything in your kitchen that is aluminum. These deposits head straight for your brain and contribute to dementia and other neurodegenerative disorders.)

Linens were yet another consideration! Ideally, everything would have been organic but since these are washable, it was less important. With that said, I did buy mostly organic linens, though I can't say I've ever had any issues with buying non organic linens. One thing I absolutely recommend is to wash EVERYTHING you own before you use it. Any kind of clothing or linen product is sprayed with a pesticide before it goes to market. Take a whiff, it'll smell perfumey (pesticides actually smell like perfume!) or better yet, don't and spare yourself the ingestion of chemicals.

Lastly, it was important to clean my entire house from top to bottom because I could still smell the previous homeowners. They had those sticks in a base of some scented liquid that smelled up the entire house and wouldn't go away even after weeks of it being removed. In case you are not aware, ANY scented product is harmful, unless it is an essential oil based product. In my opinion, scented products are the new cigarette of our day. No one realizes how toxic these products are but if you download the EWG app, you can scan your personal products and see how toxic they are. And they happen to give me headache like nobody's business. I actually tend to feel hungover if I'm exposed to these chemical scents for too long. Not fun. The cleaning products I use are Seventh Generation. I was using Mrs. Meyers until I got the great idea to look up its' toxicity score and it was not so great after all. Not as bad as some other products, but still higher than I'd choose to use in my day to day life. For my floors, I use just a little bit of Dr. Bronners all purpose liquid soap and water. Another option I've been looking into are Norwex cloths. Apparently you don't even need to use a cleaning agent as the cloths are lined with silver and are anti-bacterial on their own.

This is how I furnished my home in a nontoxic way to avoid sending my sensitive system into a flare. I hope it can be helpful to anyone in a similar situation.

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