Breast Toxins in Your Living Room
This section is adapted from my upcoming book, Home Detox (Storey, 2023)
Carefully consider your exposures in the rooms where you spend the most time.
Wall-to-wall synthetic carpets are made stain-resistant by being treated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)—the same stuff used to make Teflon pans. In addition, carpets also contain acetaldehyde, acetone, bromine, dyes, flame retardants, formaldehyde, glues, propanol, and VOCs.
When replacing the carpet, consider wool, cork, tile, natural linoleum, or wood with a low VOC finish. If the floor covering needs an underlayment or a pad, consider wool padding and avoid polyurethane foam. Also, avoid flooring that requires the use of synthetic glues to secure it; use nails or click-in flooring instead. Natural-fiber rugs made from wool, jute, sisal, and organic cotton are inherently clean and generally free of stain-resistant treatments. High-quality rugs are worth the price. Buy them only from companies that provide clear information about the materials.
Curtains retain airborne particles, such as dust, fireplace and candle smoke, and cleaning products. In homes where people smoke cigarettes, cadmium has been detected at high levels in the curtains. This heavy metal is linked to breast tumors. If you have curtains, make sure they can be machine washed so you can clean them regularly.
Use natural fabric and wash them regularly. Wood shutters and slats and pleated paper shades are other natural options. Check to be sure they are free of flame retardants, pesticides, PVC, glues, and foam.
Many metal objects contain lead, plastic, and toxic foam.
Reducing the number of objects in your home will reduce the amount of dust collected and make it easier to clean. Avoid synthetic objects, opt instead for natural nontoxic items such as organic cotton throw pillows, wood-framed art, a wool carpet, and real plant rather than fake plants.
The plastic casing on most electronics, like computer monitors and TVs are made with high levels of brominated flame retardants (BFRs). As electricity heats them up, the chemicals become active and are released into the air.
It is possible to find TVs that are BFR-free. Toxic-Free Future tested top brands of televisions for BFR levels and published a list (available online) of those with the lowest levels.
The smoke from wood burning is made up of a complex mixture of gases and fine particles. These microscopic particles release acrolein, benzene, formaldehyde, and PAHs. PAHs act as free radicals; they are particularly harmful to people with suppressed immune systems.
If you use a fireplace in your home, it’s important that it vents effectively. Make sure the chimney is clear of obstruction. Call a chimney sweep service to learn more about your fireplace’s maintenance needs.
When incense is burned, it releases dangerous pollutants into the house, including carbon monoxide, PAHs, and VOCs. Smoke from incense contains a multitude of well-studied carcinogens, and long-term exposure to the smoke is associated with an increased risk of squamous cell carcinoma of the respiratory tract. A recent study found that a particular compound released when incense is burned, auramine O (AuO), promotes the growth of lung tumor cells.
Deep cleaning to remove unpleasant smells and essential oils for fragrance if needed.
Many leather items are treated with a toxic slush of chromium salts and tanning materials that produce a supple and richly colored look but are also highly carcinogenic. Some of the glues used to process leather create VOCs from methylene chloride and ethyl acetate, as well as formaldehyde. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), the same compounds used in Teflon pans, are also used to process some leather. Fake leather is generally made of synthetic materials like plastic.
Opt instead for natural materials such as hemp or bamboo fabrics, cotton, wool, or silk.
The padding used for upholstered furniture—sofas, bench cushions, window cushions, decorative pillows, ottomans, and outdoor furniture cushions—is made of the same hazardous materials as mattresses. This polyurethane foam is treated with flame retardant chemicals that off-gas and shed toxic foam particles for many years, which creates toxic dust and fumes in the air we breathe. We end up with so much in our bodies that flame retardants even show up in blood tests. In addition, stain-guard-treated upholstery is coated in PFAS that emit into our homes for years.
Furniture stores are moving toward offering sustainable and nontoxic furniture, and material details are usually available online. If you already have upholstered furniture, clean your home often to remove dust and reduce your exposure. Avoid using after-market treatments like stain repellent sprays.
When you’re buying new furniture, ask that the seller to skip the application of stain repellent and antimicrobial treatments, as they are toxic. Stuffing made from wool, cotton, and natural latex are some of our best options.
Wood seems like a naturally sustainable and nontoxic choice, but much of the new and popular furniture sold through large chain stores uses quick and dirty methods of production involving wood particles mixed with plastics and surface treatments and glues that release VOCs, such as benzene, ethyl acetate, toluene, and xylene.
One sustainable method for obtaining wood furniture is to seek out vintage or second hand wood furniture. This avoids the harvest of trees (deforestation) and if you’re lucky enough to get true vintage furniture it will likely have been crafted before the era of toxic glues.
If you’re buying new wood furniture, avoid particleboard and other “pressed wood” products. Look for solid untreated wood that is free of synthetic chemicals.
Detox Your Living Room Summary Checklist
O Remove breast toxins from your living room
O Deep clean to remove dust and chemical residue.