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A built-in bench keeps backpacks and accessories organized. Custom pieces are pricey but they can be created to exclude toxic compounds like formaldehyde, a known carcinogen that’s often used as an adhesive in composite products. Mom of three Sophia Ruan Gushée, author of A to Z of D-Toxing: The Ultimate Guide to Reducing Our Toxic Exposures and founder of the business Practical Nontoxic Living, recommends researching glues and varnishes used in any pressed wood or veneered products before buying. Choose natural finishes like linseed oil or beeswax or water-based stains and urethanes.
Stop dirt at the door by laying out a mat for shoes. Eco-decorating expert Robin Wilson, author of Clean Design: Wellness for Your Lifestyle, suggests easy-to-clean tile or stone for high-traffic areas like mudrooms and foyers.
Good to Know: Get Certified!
Third-party testing provides extra peace of mind for asthma and allergy sufferers or families with other sensitivities. Gushée looks for the Greenguard Gold Certification mark—it means something has met stringent chemical emission standards based on criteria set by public health agencies. If you’re concerned about the ethical sourcing of woods, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) has you covered. FSC-certified options are sourced from responsibly managed forests.
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Brush with Greatness
Paint can emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs)—chemicals associated with eye and respiratory irritations, headaches and more. Zero- or low-VOC formulas are widely available and well worth the extra cost, especially for living areas and bedrooms. Best to tackle this job when windows can be left open and the room(s) left vacant for a few days after completion.
Vintage furniture and upcycled items like these tree stump side tables have had longer to off-gas, posing less of a safety threat than brand-new furnishings. But be wary of old painted items, since the paint can be lead-based. What’s inside your upholstered pieces can be very hazardous too. Gushée advises against anything treated with flame retardants and polyurethane foam cushioning, which is highly flammable and can off-gas. Instead choose wool, cotton or a low-VOC latex. Cisco Home’s Inside Green pieces are healthy through and through, from filling to frame, fabric to finish.
Many family rooms feature hardwood floors, but styles run the gamut. As with furnishings, solid woods produce fewer chemical emissions compared to conventional engineered particleboards, fiberboards and laminates. If budget’s an issue, seek out low-VOC composites.
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Vinyl curtains and liners can release contaminants, so organic cotton and hemp are generally healthier options, even though they’re mold-prone. Regular washing should prevent any growth, especially if you add half a cup of hydrogen peroxide to your detergent. If remodeling is an option, Sophia Ruan Gushée recommends a glass shower door.
Look for dye-free or eco-dyed towels made from fibers grown without chemicals. Bamboo options hold up well in damp bathrooms. Always launder linens before using.
Pattern with Purpose
Ceramic tile is made of clay, so it’s free of formaldehyde, VOCs and PVC (polyvinyl chloride), all chemicals associated with breathing problems and other health issues. Smaller tiles, like the penny rounds here, offer greater slip resistance when wet because there are more grout lines to provide traction. Check that glazes are lead-free and grout is non-toxic.
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Shop for an upholstered headboard in a natural fiber like linen from a vendor that doesn’t treat its fabrics with fire retardants, which have been linked to cognitive issues and even cancers. Similarly, “the cheaper the mattress, the more chemicals inside,” says Robin Wilson. Less toxic options include ones made with organic cotton and natural latex. Buying an organic cotton or wool mattress barrier pad can help cut toxins if a new mattress isn’t in your budget. Pillows and comforters are dust mite magnets, so Wilson suggests regular laundering of chemical-free, hypoallergenic inserts and covers. Her own line of bedding basics, Robin Wilson Home, is available at cleandesignshop.com. Avoid down if you have asthma and allergies, and seek out USDA-certified organic cotton sheeting.
Control the Chaos
A nightstand with closed storage keeps visual clutter to a minimum. Limit yourself to a lamp and a decorative object or two on the tabletop. “The less clutter you have in a bedroom, the less opportunity for dust to accumulate,” says Wilson.
Good to Know: Wall-to-Wall Wisdom
According to Wilson, floors are the dirtiest surface in any room. Carpets hold on to a layer of filth like no other material, so try to avoid them. A low-profile area rug that covers part of the floor is a good compromise as long as you vacuum frequently. FLOR carpet tiles can be washed and replaced, making them one of the healthiest carpeting solutions available.
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Proper ventilation eliminates odors and potentially harmful fumes created while cooking.
For super-hygienic countertops, non-porous materials are your best bet. Consider quartz from Silestone. Many of their colors come with a bacteriostatic formula that uses silver ion technology to prevent cross-contamination.
A little kitchen garden naturally improves indoor air quality, since plants can absorb pollutants.