I spend a lot of time thinking about how best to detox homes for babies and kids. I wrote about the topic extensively in my first book, The Complete Organic Pregnancy. Since co-writing the book, which just so happened to coincide with my own organic pregnancy, I continued to write on the topic, but also began to give talks about it. Soon I found myself greenproofing people's homes, especially those belonging to families with young children. It's basically one on one eco-consulting, my version of babyproofing. It's a total trip and I love doing it, especially when I've been "given" to someone as a baby shower present.
Over the years, I've come up with a solid top ten list on how to detox your home for babies and kids that goes well beyond buying safe toys and not allowing children to chew on plastic (all good advice). It works to drastically reduce indoor air pollution which, even in big cities like New York (my hometown), is worse than outdoor air. The overall goal with kids and babies is to reduce and minimize exposure to hazardous and potentially hazardous everyday chemicals that live and lurk in our homes, in everything from couches to shower curtains to fruit to cleaning products to toys.
The list can be a bit daunting read as a whole. But there is wiggle room in each category. Doing any amount of this that works for you and your family is a step in the right direction. Start where you can, and work your way towards more.
1. Start at the front door.
Whatever you bring into your home gets into the air you and yours breathe. Make sure what you're bringing in -- from dry cleaning, which can offgas a chemical the EPA says causes cancer in lab animals, to the pesticide and car exhaust residue on the bottom of your shoes -- is safe. Take off your shoes at the entryway so you don't track anything undesirable onto floors babes might be crawling on, or older kids playing on. Taking off shoes is the public health equivalent of washing hands. Wet or CO2 clean instead of dry cleaning.
2. Switch all conventional cleaning products to green versions.
Now. This will drastically reduce your indoor air pollution and couldn't be easier. And/or make some of your own cleaners with various mixtures of eco-dish soap, water, vinegar, and baking soda. This switch should include laundry detergent. All of those hand-me-downs, second hand finds, cloth diapers, plus new organic cotton baby presents need to be washed in gentle-to-baby-and-the-earth suds. (Bonus if you can line dry....)
3. Serve the kids some combination of local/organic/sustainably grown food.
Shop farmers' markets or join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm. If organic isn't an option, make sure whatever conventional items you're serving do not fall on The Environmental Working Group's Dirty Dozen list. Serve ecologically raised meat, and not very much of it. Be careful when it comes to fish and contaminants like PCBs and mercury. Program FishPhone into your cell so you can always make wise choices at the fish counter.
4. Drink tap water. Test it and filter accordingly if you have reason to. Bottled water is an expensive and earth ruining farce. But you already knew that, right? 5. Cook, eat off of, and store your family's lovingly sourced food in and on safe, durable cookware, plates and containers that won't be toxic landfill fodder in a few years. Look for cast iron, glass, stainless steel, enamel coated cast iron, and lead-free ceramic. The same materials are safe for drinking your tap water out of. Avoid non-stick surfaces and anything plastic. If you're using plastic, even something that claims to be BPA-free or microwave-safe, do not ever put it in a microwave. These are not regulated terms. Newsflash: there is no reason all children need to eat off of plastic, especially given its potential health issues. Teach them not to break things at an early age by giving them ceramic. If it breaks, oh well. Or if they're really into tossing dishware, put their meals in indestructible stainless steel prep bowls. 6. Children should not wear cosmetics. They're loaded with synthetic hormone disruptors and potential carcinogens that pound for pound present more of a health concern for small people than for adults. (Not that they're great for adults, either.). Kiddie skin is perfect unless it isn't. Do not put cream on skin that is soft and gorgeous! It doesn't need anything. If it is dry, or if there is an issue, put some organic olive oil on it. If you prefer a cosmetic, only use ones that are made with very few organically or biodynamically grown ingredients. You should be able to read the ingredient list and generally understand what it means. If you can't, don't put it on your baby. Look for trustworthy third party certification labels. Avoid facepainting and nail painting; they're not good ideas for growing hormone systems. 7. Use organic and/or natural pest control like integrated pest management for lawns and inside for things like ants and roaches. Safer exterminators and products do exist. 8. A positive pregnancy test sends most parents rushing to Home Depot for paint, plywood, and caulk. Resist the urge to renovate, and certainly do not do demolition when pregnant or when small children are around. If you must, do it as green as possible. Low VOC isn't as good as no VOC. And vacate the premises before, during, and after any renovations. 9. If in the market for new furniture -- couches, mattresses, toddler table-and-chairs sets -- shop green. Upholstered furniture should contain minimal toxic flame retardants, formaldehyde and the like. Natural materials and fabrics are key -- bare wood floors, cotton or wool rugs without glued synethetic backings, hard woods over particleboards, and so on. This less is more approach tends to save cash in the long run, though the individual items might be pricier than your average version. Do not skimp on the crib, crib mattress, toddler or twin bed or twin mattress. Children spend half of their days in bed -- babies up to 18 hours a day -- breathing in what their beds are offgassing while their lungs are developing. Organic crib mattresses are a must -- you don't want your babe sleeping on plastic covered, flame retardant soaked mattresses. So are well ventilated rooms. 10. Eco-interested parents often spend so much time thinking about organic local apples and diaper creams that they forget about their medicine cabinet. Teething, fevers, and stuffy noses will no doubt have you searching for remedies throughout childhood. Before you reach for over the counter meds or even holistic cures, don't forget about tried and true, simple non-toxic measures we all already have at home, like steam for congestion (especially if you have a water filter on that shower head), or even propping up a mattress to mitigate post-nasal issues. Honey (for babies over one) works well to calm coughs. Frozen celery can help with teething molars. Dried fruit or stewed prunes are good for constipation. DIY fruit juice popsicles combat dehydration. Ginger and peppermint tea work for tummy aches. And so on. It's nearly impossible for me to limit myself to ten ways to detox your home for babies and kids, and I have so much more to say. But I'll stop myself there. All You Ever Wanted to Know about Green Materials For more tips on greening your nursery