17 Easy Upgrades for a Healthier Kitchen + Living Room
Life is risky. But while you can't avoid every hazard thrown in your path, you can try to create a wholesome nest for yourself and your family—pets included. It starts by blocking certain nasties at the front door, including pollen, pesticides, noxious solvents, and disease-carrying creepie crawlies. Indoors, you want to prevent mold, bacteria, and viruses from taking hold, and minimize allergy-provoking animal dander and dust mites. Making your home healthier can involve simple remedies, such as opening a window to let in a blast of fresh air, and more lasting solutions, like moving away from paints, furnishings, and cleaning products that throw off chemical vapors.
To get the lowdown on the best actions for you to take right now—and some to consider down the road—we canvassed health and environmental experts across the country. Here, our best advice for cleaning up your household.
1. Keep pollen out. During hay fever season, shake or brush off outerwear, and keep a brush and wet wipes handy to clean pets' fur and feet. Don't hang laundry on outdoor clothes lines, at least for now.
2. Add mats on both sides of the door. Up to 80 percent of the dirt that gets tracked inside—along with countless allergens, bacteria, and lawn chemicals—can be caught with a double length of washable matting before it makes itself at home. Shown at left: Waterhog mats, which can be hosed down (from $40; plowandhearth.com).
3. Air out dry cleaning. Take off plastic bags before you come inside so that any residual perchloroethylene, a common dry-cleaning solvent and suspected carcinogen, can evaporate. If your dry cleaning has a strong chemical odor when you pick it up, give it back and ask that it be properly dried. Or Google "organic dry cleaning" to find a perc-free service near you.
4. Establish a no-shoes-indoors policy. Keep a basket of slippers at the door for family and guests alike.
5. Install vent fans in crawl spaces. Keeping humidity levels in these areas below 50 percent prevents condensation and the spread of musty odors and mold and mildew, which can trigger allergies and asthma. Find fan models that work for crawl-space ventilation at tjernlund.com.
6. Create a pet checkpoint. Treat cats and dogs with a monthly tick-and-flea medication, and use a fine-tooth comb (from $4; petco.com) to catch fleas before they come inside. Flea shampoos and collars contain pesticides, which can rub off on kids and furnishings.
7. Caulk holes and crevices so that disease-carrying mice and insects won't come looking for a free lunch.
8. Filter your drinking water. Activated carbon filters—whether a pitcher, tap-mounted, or under-sink model—can cut levels of lead, chlorine, and other contaminants. Request a copy of your municipality's annual water quality test or use an at-home test kit, such as Watersafe's City Water Test Kit ($20; discovertesting.com), to check it yourself. Shown at left: Pur's 2 Stage pitcher, whose maker says it even filters out atrazine, a weed killer (from $15; purwater.com).
9. Change fridge filters before their expiration date. If your refrigerator comes with a water dispenser, change the filter every six months, before sediment buildup starts to overwhelm it.
10. Eliminate BPA-containing plastic containers that could leach the chemical—a suspected health hazard, especially for kids—into food or drink. Toss containers that have the number 3, 6, or 7 on the bottom; go to rubbermaid.com or tupperware.com for info on their products.
11. Toss cracked cutting boards. Opt for ones made of maple or a hard plastic so that germs don't have a place to hide.
12. Clean prep surfaces regularly. Scrub those cutting boards with hot, soapy water after each use.
13. Use your range-hood fan when you cook. It'll reduce cooking-related air pollutants, including carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide, and will lower humidity, which can encourage bacteria and mold. Before the gunk builds up on the filter, clean or replace it.
14. Let plates and silverware dry thoroughly to discourage bacteria—and wash your hands before putting them away.
15. Swap out a recirculating vent fan for one that vents outdoors so that pollutants and odors can make a clean exit.
16. Opt for a copper sink or counter. The metal is naturally antimicrobial.
17. Seal stone counters with a product low in VOCs.
Reposted from This Old Home