Wellness Wednesday: Find out what toxins actually are and how to avoid them

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If you're anything like us, you've no doubt been warned to beware of foods, home goods and other things that allegedly introduce 'toxins' into your body. Juice cleanses and smoothie mixes are advertised as ways to 'detox,' and while detoxing seems to be all the rage these days, not a lot of people can actually identify what, in fact, a toxin really is.

We're here to clear up the confusion. Technically, the word 'toxin' refers to naturally occurring poisons like arsenic, lead and mercury, while the word 'toxicant' actually refers to manmade poison, and is often the kind of 'toxin' we're supposed to be wary of.

Sophia Ruan Gushee toxin bookSo how do we differentiate and make sense of all this? Thankfully, we got to chat with Sophia Ruan Gushée, the author of A-Z of D-Toxing: The Ultimate Guide to Reducing Our Toxic Exposures.

Toxicants, she told us, "exist in our environment more than intended as a result of human activity." According to her, there have been over 84,000 chemicals introduced into American commerce since World War II. "The EPA has only been able to test the safety for just over 200 of them," Ruan Gushée said, "and they only regulate five." As a result, these toxic chemicals show up in our homes in televisions, computers and the materials that make up our furniture like carpeting, sofas and mattresses.

While that was certainly enough to freak us out, the wellness expert ensured us that there are lots of ways to reduce unnecessary exposure to toxicants. We may not be able to change the materials our homes are made of, but she does provide a few ideas for more doable changes to make in her new book.

Click through the slideshow below for 10 ways to detox your home:
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10 essential ways to detox your home
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Wellness Wednesday: Find out what toxins actually are and how to avoid them

1. Avoid teflon and plastics when cooking and storing food

Like harsh cleaning supplies, non-stick compounds like Teflon, as well as plastic containers, can leach harmful endocrine disruptors into food—especially when heated. Cook with glass baking dishes, and cast iron or stainless steel pans. Keep leftovers in glass or ceramic containers in the fridge whenever possible to avoid harmful BPA, and never heat up food in a plastic container!

(Photo: Hello Natural)

2. Deep clean your mattress and bedding

It is where you sleep 8 hours a night, right? Mattresses and bedding can be a breeding ground for dust mites, moisture and allergens. Start your home detox by deep cleaning your mattress with a simple baking soda-essential oil mixture, and wash sheets, blankets, duvet covers and pillows regularly in hot water (and invest in a pillow case cover!). Consider buying sheets that are 100% organic cotton—i.e. not treated with pesticides or formaldehyde. 

(Photo: Hello Natural)

3. Green your cleaning supplies

Think getting your house clean means using harsh chemicals? Think again. Those super-strength cleaners actually do more harm than good (to your surfaces and yourself), and many have even been proven as endocrine disruptors. Tried-and-true natural cleansers like baking soda, lemon juice and vinegar are just as effective (with a little elbow grease, of course) and safer for children, pets and the environment. Bonus: they’re way cheaper, too! Get our room-by-room green cleaning guide, complete with shopping list and DIY recipes, to get you started.

(Photo: Hello Natural)

4. Clean the air with plants

Plants are the best way to clean the air inside your home. (NASA even uses them in space stations!) If your thumb isn’t exactly green, try one of these 10 fuss-free plants that clean the air. And make sure to double-check that any plants you buy are safe for pets.

(Photo: Hello Natural)

5. Make your home smell good -- the natural way

No need for fake-smelling sprays and air fresheners that clog the air with cloying, perfume-y scents and who knows what else. Simply make a homemade room spray using essential oils, try a DIY natural candle, fire up a pot simmer or an aromatic firestarter made with all-natural ingredients!

(Photo: Hello Natural)

6. Avoid dry cleaning and harsh laundry products

When you drop things off at the dry cleaner or use a super-strength stain remover on the kids’ clothes, it’s easy to forget that those chemicals are going to be sitting on your bodies (even if in a diluted form) when you wear the clothes again. Of course there are some garments that need special care, but try to use dry cleaning sparingly. For everyday laundry and stains, consult our guide to natural DIY laundry products, including homemade detergent, stain remover and dryer sheets.

(Photo: Hello Natural)

7. Don't forget floors

Not wearing shoes in the house is the best way to keep outdoor toxins and chemicals off your floors. If you have kids and pets crawling and playing on your floors (and let’s be honest, probably eating off of them), make sure to not only keep them clean, but chemical-free. Orange oil and vinegar is great for disinfecting hard surfaces, and hydrogen peroxide works wonders on carpet stains.

(Photo: Hello Natural)

8. Ditch Dust

Dusting isn’t just for when company is coming over! Keeping the ceiling fan and other “out of sight, out of mind” surfaces free of dust prevents it from circulating in the air, which can aggravate allergies. Try using orphaned socks!

(Photo: Hello Natural)

9. Make your own substitutes for overrated commercial antibacterial products 

Commercial chemical-based antibacterial products are quickly falling out of favor (even with the FDA) for being ineffective, increasing bacteria’s resistance to them, and disrupting hormones. They can even be harmful to nursing babies. There are plenty of products in nature—including tea tree, hydrogen peroxide, oregano, honey and lemon oil, peppermint oil and vinegar—that provide antibacterial benefits without the unsafe side effects. Try making some naturally antibacterial bathroom cleaners (including hand soap) and disinfectant surface wipes.

(Photo: Hello Natural)

10. Reduce pesticides

Use vinegar as a natural weed killer for plants and gardens. Try to buy organic fruits and veggies whenever possible (or at least these ones, which rank highest in pesticide levels) and use an all-natural fruit and veggie wash for fresh produce when you prep meals.

(Photo: Hello Natural)


The first and best way to start ridding yourself and your home of unnecessary exposure is to declutter, Ruan Gushée advised. "So many things in our home can release toxicants into our air and dust," she said, so by "editing our possessions" we can minimize harmful effects.

The second way to reduce toxicants in your home is as simple as owning a doormat. The EPA estimates that having a large doormat at your front door or at the bottom of the stairs where people can remove their shoes reduces lead dust by 60%, Ruan Gushée said.

The craziest thing about the dust that gets brought into our homes is that it's made up of toxicants that were banned decades ago! "Some of these chemicals are really pervasive and travel the world through the grasshopper effect," the detoxing expert told us. "They don't break down for years, decades, and for some, centuries."

Another way to cut down on toxic exposure in your house is to open the windows. We were shocked to learn that indoor air tends to be two to five times more polluted than outdoor air, even in urban areas like New York City. All the things that make up our homes like mattresses, carpets and paints contribute to the toxicity of indoor air, so opening your windows allows an escape route and a fresh air exchange.

"But be thoughtful about it," Ruan Gushée said, "Opening your windows on a cool night can help your indoor air quality, but keep them closed if there's a garbage truck on the street, for example."

A-Z of D-Toxing bookLastly, paying attention to diet can also help keep you and your family away from toxicants. Some of the most persistent chemicals are fat soluble, according to Ruan Gushée, which means they're attracted to fat and will settle in fat. So animals and animal bi-products with fat (like meat, poultry and dairy) also have higher concentrations of fat soluble toxicants. "When you're prioritizing your budget, you'll want to choose organic as much as possible and reduce your consumption of those things," Ruan Gushée advised.

Thinking about food packaging, too, is important. Cooking tools with non-stick surfaces and grab-and-go food items like nutrition bars with non-stick coating have harmful chemicals that can reach the food, so you'll consume it that way.

Don't worry, though! The toxicant specialist doesn't think you need to take all the fun out of your life. "You can still have potato chips and ice cream, just have less," she said. "It's all about having information to make healthy choices."

To learn more about how you can lessen your intake of toxic substances, check out Sophia Ruan Gushée's book here.

By Molly Winding

For more tips on how to detox your home, watch the video below!

4 Simple Tips to Detox Your Home

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