40 ways to cut out chemicals

The Guardian | November 2005 issue

1. Be aware of the chemicals in paints, solvents and cleaning products you buy. If possible, buy low-emission paints and avoid using synthetic chemicals when there is a feasible natural alternative.

2. Cut the use of natural gas in your home. Leaks are a common cause of chemical exposure.

3. Use natural alternatives to pesticides in your garden.

4. Replace your synthetic bed sheets with organically-grown cotton, and wash them regularly in baking soda instead of commercial washing powders. You could also use linen or silk.

5. Store all your nastiest chemicals outside or out of contact with you and your food. Gasoline, paints, solvents and adhesives should be kept away from the house. Kitchen cleaning products should not be kept in a cabinet next to your vegetables.

6. Buy baking soda (bicarbonate of soda), which is a wonder powder when it comes to dissolving dirt and grease, removing stains from carpets and neutralizing strong odours. It can do the work of many chemical products.

7. Attach a carbon/ceramic filter to your water tap.

8. If you are a DIY fanatic, always wear a mask when dealing with chemicals or cutting up wood to reduce the dust and fumes that can get into your lungs.

9. Wash your curtains as often as you can. Or, even better, take them down and replace with blinds, which are less likely to have been treated with flame retardants and other synthetic chemicals.

10. Don’t smoke indoors. The particles of smoke will stay lodged on furniture and soft furnishings inside your house and deteriorate the air quality.

11. If you’re building new shelves or renovating your house, don’t use chipboard. The glue used to keep the chips of wood together contains formaldehyde and will eventually find its way into your indoor environment.

12. Don’t use bleach with any product containing ammonia. The two can react to form a noxious, debilitating gas called chloramine.

13. Take off your shoes at home, or at least buy a door mat so that you don’t tread chemicals (including pesticides banned decades ago) all over the house.

14. Clear out your bathroom cabinet and dump everything but the essentials product. Try replacing everything with non-toxic alternatives. 22. Avoid baby wipes, which can contain parabens and propylene glycol—a common ingredient in anti-freeze. A damp flannel will do the job just as well.

15. Washing your hair with chemically-based shampoos and conditioners strips it of natural oils. If you usually shampoo daily, skip a day or two and see if it makes any difference.

16. Cut down on bubble baths which can contain skin-irritating detergents. All your baby needs to keep clean is a tub full of warm water.

17. Splash your face with witch hazel or cold water instead of using over-the-counter toners.

18. Become label savvy. Everyone reads food labels—get in the habit of doing the same with your toiletries. They won’t tell you everything, but it will help.

19. If you want to be sure a product is organic, look out for a certification. Words like organic, natural and hypoallergenic generally mean little in the beauty industry.

20. Switch to organic tampons and sanitary towels. They’re non-chlorine bleached, 100% pure cotton and GM-free.

21. Rediscover henna which is natural and less toxic than heavy-duty hair dyes.

22. If you’re going swimming, ozone pools have fewer chemicals. But when visiting chlorine pools, make sure you (and your children) shower first. If everyone washed before getting in, there’d be less need for so many chemicals in the water. And then thoroughly shower afterwards.

23. If you can’t give up nail varnish, protect the cuticles with [what kind of?]oil. Although the part of the nail you see is dead, it is still porous and can absorb the chemicals used in varnish and remover, such as toluene, acetone and formaldehyde.

24. A thick coating of aloe vera gel is a good alternative to shaving foams and gels. It has natural anti-inflammatory and skin-softening properties, without all the chemicals.

25. The average woman who wears lipstick will eat two pounds of it in her life-time. Most lipsticks contain petroleum derivatives. Try brands based on beeswax, plant oils or vitamin E instead.

26. If you ‘re worried about deodorants, there are healthier natural products on the market. Be prepared to try a few before you find one that suits you best—but beware, seemingly green products can have hidden ingredients such as parabens.

27. Ask your granny for tips. Lemon juice, for example, has always been used as a beauty aid—to make fair hair shine, to soften hard skin, and get rid of blackheads. Cosmetics existed long before the chemical industry.

28. Eat organic food. It is the single best way to reduce exposure to pesticides.

29. Avoid foods made with additives, especially for children. Lizzie Vann, the children’s food campaigner and founder of Organix baby food, says children should develop a taste for real, natural foods in their early years and parents should particularly avoid the following: monosodium glutamate (E621); disodium 5’-ribonucleotide (E635); artificial sweeteners; sodium benzoate (E211); sulphur dioxide (E220); the colourings Quinoline Yellow (E104), Brilliant Blue (E133), Sunset Yellow (E110), Carmoisine (E122), Ponceau 4R (E124), and Indigo Carmine (E132).

30. Eat as much seasonal produce as you can. It will reduce your exposure to anti-fungal and anti-bacterial chemicals commonly used to extend shelf-life of fruits and vegetables.

31. When organic produce isn’t available, remember that some produce has lower levels of pesticide residues than others. Good candidates include eggplants (aubergines), peppers, cabbages, frozen peas, garlic, leeks, radishes, sweet corn and turnips. Conversely, the UK government has recently found high levels of pesticide residues in spinach, apples and celery.

32. Be picky about your fish. All fish and shellfish contain traces of mercury, but for expectant mothers and young children, certain fish are best avoided—shark, marlin and swordfish. Tuna consumption should also be limited to no more than four medium-size tins, or two tuna steaks a week for kids and pregnant mothers. If the fish is farmed, only buy organic.

33. Wash all fresh fruit and veggies in running water to reduce exposure to pesticides—even if it claims to be “ready-washed”.

34. Peel fruit and veggies. Also, discard outer leaves of leafy veg.

35. Trim fat from meat and skin from poultry and fish—pesticides residues can collect in fat.

36. Vary your diet and buy food from a variety of sources. It will reduce your exposure to chemicals that accumulate in certain foodstuffs.

37. Use less cling wrap when storing foods. It contains plasticizers that can leach into food. Avoid wrapping high-fat foods such as cheeses in cling wrap, and not to use it in contact with food that is microwaved.

38. Be wary of products boasting they’re “low-sugar” or “sugar-free”. They probably contain questionable artificial sweetners.

>39. Suspect the worst when ingredients listings mention loose terms such as ‘flavourings’ or ‘colourings’.

40. Look and learn. Study food labels. And learn what those terms, chemical names and numbers mean.

Taken with kind permission from British newspaper The Guardian (8, 15 and 22 May 2004) which featured an excellent series on the chemical world we live in. More information: www.guardian.co.uk.

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