Tina Wellman, Ph.D.
The most famous book in the world states “my people perish for lack of knowledge.” We are the recipients of chemical intoxication through our careless use of chemicals at home and at work. We are often deluded into thinking we are gaining ground on eradicating germ warfare and bug infestation through our excessive use of antibacterial soaps, germicides and chemicals. But do we really consider the impact our excessive exposure is wreaking on our health and longevity? Do we know how our actions contribute to the onset of diseases, and predispose our cells to mutate through our own unhealthy “health” practices? Everything we use, everything we eat, everything we subject our bodies to in our immediate environment affects our total state of health.
We can begin cleaning up our immediate environment by checking our own backyard first. When a child spills something, they are taught to clean up their mess. Neglecting to clean up messes manifests in bigger spills and bigger messes. These bigger “spills” have gone through a pseudo metamorphosis in our adult years, gaining new ground as oil spills, toxic dump sites, and waterways polluted by products from detergents, chemicals, and sewage from our negligent habits. Do we ever seriously consider the effect of our individual health habits, their effect on the greater environment and the resulting effects this will have on the health of future generations? We often forget our daily practices have long-term effects that ripple through the years leaving positive or negative effects or others to battle.
The most practical place to begin external detoxification is “naturally” in the home, a place of refuge, a site for recharging, relaxing, and resting. You may also consider the home to be a place of safety for your health and healing until you find your level of home health hazards to be an unexpected surprise. Yet, statistics suggest the proportion of indoor to outdoor pollutants is increasing, a fact worth considering since our greatest exposures may be found within the confines of our own home. Symptoms ranging from a common headache to the flu can be associated with day-to-day products used to clean our furniture, bathrooms, detergents used to wash clothing, air fresheners to keep those lavatories smelling “sweet”.
The simplest way to identify household toxins is to categorize your house. That is, take each room separately and analyse its contents for potential “toxicity”. This process allows one to conduct your own home study, learn the offending substances, and replace them with safer products to minimize your health risk. You can also learn to distinguish just how safe you are in your own home, or whether you are ingredients that are a recipe for disaster, according to consumer advocate Debra Lynn Dadd (1) who notes that your “houses or apartment could be full of everyday products made from materials and substances that cause cancer, birth defects, and changes in genetic structure, and that weaken the immune system, leaving your body vulnerable to many kinds of diseases and infections.”
For example, take a bathroom which houses multiple toiletries including shaving cream, perfume, toothpaste and mouthwash (commonly fluoridated), aerosol hair spray, shampoos, cosmetics and hair care products, bubble bath, toilet bowl and glass cleaners, deodorants, fluoridated dental products, feminine hygiene douches and bleached sanitary pads – note the number of chemicals in this room alone. You could fill a shopping list with them. Detoxifying a bathroom would include replacing toiletries with simple items that may not require your medicine cabinet be filled to the brim but stocked with simple natural products that often have multiple uses.
Here is a potential plan: Toothpaste is a homemade recipe combining redmond salt and clay put in an old glass spice jar. For flavour you can add a few drops of clove or sage or mint oil (such as you find in toothpaste). Additionally, a “natural” mouthwash is available at health stores, or you might consider using a “cleanser” made with grapefruit seed extract due to its anti-microbial effect. One to two drops along with your toothpaste and your mouth feels quite refreshed and sparkling clean. Rinsing with an anti-microbial such as tea tree oil is another option. Tea tree flavoured dental floss and toothpicks are readily available at health stores.
Aluminium free deodorants using herbs or grapefruit seed extract makes a delightful deodorant or antiseptic spray for scratches, rashes, and bites. As a deodorant grapefruit seed extract works quite well – it kills the source of the odour, namely the bacteria.
Unbleached dioxin free toilet tissue is widely available as are organic cotton ear swabs, balls and make up pads. Natural shampoos and conditioners are available in a wide variety of scents (calendula, rosemary, etc.) or you can buy a plain Castille soap and mix in your own favourite essential oils. Natural hair care products that address all hair types are now widely distributed.
How about enjoying a luxurious natural bath with chlorine free water using a shower filter? Fill the tub and add your favourite organic essential oil (i.e., lavender, rose, bergamot, etc.), some redmond bath salts, light a few beeswax (as opposed to paraffin) candles, turn on the nebulizer with your favourite aromatherapy oil combination, and drift off into a relaxing healthy rejuvenating hydrotherapy session. Depending on one’s odour sensitivity health stores stock a variety of incense aromas that can also be added for ambiance and fragrance.
There you have in a nutshell – the natural bathroom. Who needs air freshens with all these wonderful scents available? It is worth noting with the increased incidence of MCS (Multiple Chemical Sensitivity) one should always consider individual tolerance and sensitivity to fragrances of any kind.
No need to work like a mule to clean the bathroom – 20 “mule” team borax to the rescue, an ole stand by for deodorizing and disinfecting the commode – pour in a half cup, swish a few times, leave in the bowl overnight, and flush in the morning. White vinegar and water diluted 50/50 is a great overall countertop and floor cleaner. Try Bon-Ami (the old kind made with feldspar is available directly from the company) for tough jobs when scrubbing the tub and sink.
Another cleaning alternative is a low-odour degreaser (AFM) diluted with water according to directions. A mister composed of purified water and essential oil (i.e., lavender, tea tree, etc.) is a superb air freshener. A few drops of lavender or eucalyptus directly into the toilet bowl, a drop or two on the inside of the toilet tissue, and a few muslin filled bags of lavender or rose petals from your organic garden or herb shop should accommodate the most discriminating fragrance connoisseur. While you’re at it put a few drops of an essential oil on an organic makeup pad or ball and slip it into your bathroom drawers – you’ll be pleasantly surprised next time you open the drawer and find a pleasant aroma.
You may also wish to keep a book on aromatherapy handy to read in the bathtub or in the famous “lavatory” room to browse for your favourite essential oils. Specifically look for antiseptic, germicidal, fungicidal, and virucidal properties of oils that keep these “toxins” from proliferating. A combination of several oils can go a long way to “detoxify” and clean your bathroom and keep you safe.
The laundry room is yet another toxic time bomb loaded to the gills with phosphate detergents, caustic chemicals including bleach, spot removers, and fabric softeners. One German based natural laundry care manufacturer notes that all cleaners are surfactant-based cleaners including most environmental cleaners (as opposed to soap based), the consequences of which manifest by way of polluting the environment some 50 times more than soap-based products. Additionally, the use of the word “biodegradable” has been “misused” since by definition, it only means the detergent will cease to foam at some point and has little to do with environmental impact. Equally as concerning are the suspected carcinogenic compounds (byproducts) yielded by surfactant-based detergents.
As we race for the “cure” (pardon the pun) to clean up the environment, keep in mind water treatment plants are unable to break down many of the toxic chemicals that find their ultimate home in our oceans and lakes – so much for sparkling spring water! Aside from polluting our waterways, environmental consequences include decimating fish, vegetation, and microorganisms.
Detoxifying the laundry room minimizes the waste and destruction incurred by unhealthy practices employing the excessive use of chemicals for “cleaning”. Therefore, your laundry room shopping list should include laundry “soap”, a safer bleaching agent such as sodium percarbonate, a water softening agent such as zeolite (a mineral rock which deserves a page of its own to describe its many uses), and a chemical free spot remover.
Another alternative to consider are laundry “discs” which operate by releasing electrons that reduce the water’s surface tension when agitated during the wash cycle. Many users of these discs note their clothes seem brighter and last longer. For those with chemical sensitivities this method offers a viable alternative to the fragrances and potential allergens found in soaps and detergents. An average disc lasts 500-700 washings! Some advocates of the discs combine it with a papaya enzyme-based spot remover for added cleansing.
When using soap-based laundry products one can also “supplement” with such disinfectants as grapefruit seed extract (20 drops per load), eucalyptus oil (especially helpful for mites), and tea tree oil. Instead of fabric softener try a few drops of your favourite essential oil (i.e., lavender) on a hanky or sock and toss it in the dryer – you’ll be delighted with the aroma emitted when you open the door.
Other helpful spot removers and cleaners to stock up on include white vinegar, baking soda, club soda, fresh lemons (the juice works wonders on many types of stains), salt, and corn-starch (if you want to make homemade spray starch). Salt and vinegar often work effectively for removing perspiration stains. The type of stain (grease, wine, blood, chewing gum, meat broth, tea, etc.) dictates which natural cleaner works best.
Lastly a common question relates to alternatives to dry cleaning. At minimum consider hanging your clothes in the air for an hour or two to at least “vent” the fumes from the perchloroethylene used in conventional dry cleaners. Additionally, consider looking for a “wet cleaners” in your area that provides professional solvent-free cleaning. This system uses cleaning methods that claim to generate “no” hazardous waste. Garments are pre-sorted by fabric type since the washer/dryer cycles are pre-programmed and controlled by microprocessors. Wascomat, the world’s largest professional laundry equipment manufacturer produces one of these systems which they note has been developed in cooperation with the EPA, the EPA in Canada, and with the Hohenstein and Krefield Textile Research Institute in Germany. Authorized dealers offer these “green cleaners” as an alternative to dry cleaning. Toxic overload directly affects the results and “maintenance” of any health restoration program by creating more burdens than our bodies can tolerate.
By saturating ourselves with chemical burdens we sabotage the mechanism by which healing takes place. For any health regimen to succeed, we must limit our exposure to chemicals in our immediate environment. In our endeavours for health and longevity, let us remember we are individually and collectively responsible for the quality controls that tip the scales in either direction.
To your good health!