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10 Steps to a Healthy Home

Body+Soul, October 2006

Kimberly Rider, an eco-designer based in the San Francisco Bay Area and author of "The Healthy Home Workbook: Easy Steps to Eco-Friendly Living," shares her simple 10-step program to a healthier and more Earth-friendly living space.

Inspect Your Beauty Products
Look at the ingredients of your personal-care products. Educate yourself, research the chemicals, and read what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has to say about them. Be aware that there is a healthy, petrochemical-free alternative to nearly every product you use, from shampoo to deodorant.

Assess Your Clothing
Ask yourself: Is the fabric natural? Has it been chemically treated? Was it mass-produced? Consider buying from companies with small production lines so you're not contributing to the waste generated by factories. And buy vintage! That's the best way to recycle clothes.

Look at the Food You Buy
Read the ingredients on packaged foods and research unfamiliar additives. Food stamped "organic" was grown without pesticides (among other benefits), but it still may originate from a big, out-of-state producer. Fresh, seasonal, and locally grown foods make the best options.

Assess Your Home
The biggest surfaces in your home, such as the floors and walls, affect air quality the most. Consider installing hardwood floors (especially a sustainably harvested wood, like bamboo) instead of synthetic carpets, which use petrochemicals. If repainting, consider using paints low in volatile organic compounds (VOCs) or, even better, a natural plaster finish.

Inspect Soft Goods
"Green" your bedroom first, since that's where you spend one-third of your life. If possible, invest in a quality mattress of latex foam, cotton, or wool batting. Replace synthetic pillows with wool or cotton filling, and look for unbleached, untreated linens.

Evaluate Your Car
Be sure an adequate barrier exists between your garage and living quarters to reduce exposure to toxic fumes. If you can't buy an electric car or a hybrid, try making a commitment to walking, biking, or using public transportation.

Be Aware
With so many chemicals in so many products -- furniture finishes, electronics, art supplies -- it's imperative that we pay attention to where we're encountering chemicals and how to minimize the problem. To read more, log on to some of Kimberly's favorite Web sites: nrdc.org; inspiredprotagonist.com; dld123.com; idealbite.com; coopamerica.org; and greenlivingnow.com.

Evaluate How You Cook and Store Food
Choose cookware made of stainless steel, clay, ceramic, glass, or cast iron instead of nonstick pans, which at high heat can release harmful PFCs (perfluorochemicals). Also consider how you store food. Dioxins and phthalates can leach from soft plastics. Store food in stainless steel or glass jars with rubber seals instead of using plastic wrap and containers.

Inventory Household Cleaning Products
Many chemicals in these products -- especially drain cleaners, oven cleaners, and cleaners made with ammonia or chlorine bleach -- have come under scrutiny for possibly contributing to health problems. Consider nontoxic alternatives, like baking-soda-based cleansers or products from green companies like Seventh Generation.

Look at Your Pets, Garden, and Outdoor Spaces
Are you using pesticides or herbicides in your garden or on your lawn? If so, consider safer alternatives such as soap-based or garlic sprays. Check the ingredients in the flea powder, shampoos, and collars you put on your pets, and exchange them for nontoxic alternatives if necessary.

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