Scary but true: Hidden health hazards lurk in almost every room in your house. Here’s how to mitigate them
By Gabriella Burman
The Hazard: Your mattress is cushy, comfy — and, like 90% of mattresses on the market, probably filled with flame-retardant chemicals that can withstand a blowtorch but expose you to gases called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) while you sleep.
The Fix: Consider upgrading to an organic mattress made of natural latex and breathable cotton, which may use materials such as wool or thistle as flame retardants. The industry is projected to be worth $1 billion by 2025, led by sales from upstart brands like Grand Rapids-based Joybeds, which makes mattresses out of cotton, wool and steel coils encased in jacquard cotton casing and plant-based fibers to meet fire protection standards.
The Pro Says: Kevin Giles, retail manager for US Mattress in Ferndale, which sells the Joybed, says customers have reported that their skin conditions have cleared up after sleeping on an all-natural mattress. “Everybody is learning towards healthier mattresses. We all want natural ingredients in all aspects of our lives.”
The Hazard: Nonstick cookware coated in Teflon makes pots and pans easy to clean, but it has a dark side: When it’s heated to over 350 degrees without food or oil in the pan, Teflon — a synthetic chemical made of carbon and fluoride atoms — can start to degrade and release vapors that can cause flu-like symptoms in anyone who inhales the fumes.
The Fix: Try another cookware, like high-grade stainless steel, which prevents leaching and has no known health risks. You can also cover regular sheet pans with unbleached parchment paper when baking cookies or roasting vegetables.
The Pro Says: Emily Cameiner, a registered dietitian in Bloomfield Township, recommends referring to safety information when purchasing cookware and avoiding products that may contain harmful contaminants and restricted substances like lead, mercury and cadmium. “It’s always a good rule of thumb to read the warning label,” she says.
The Hazard: Cleaning the bathroom can be an irritating chore — literally. The products you use to disinfect your toilets, shower and sink likely contain chlorine bleach and ammonia, which can bother your nose and throat, exacerbate respiratory issues such as asthma, or cause headaches.
The Fix: Switch to gentler products. Vinegar-based supplies, for instance, are superior substitutes for toxic cleaners, and essential oils such as those derived from thyme and lavender work well to fight some bacteria.
The Pro Says: Many natural products, such as toilet cleaners, contain live enzymes, which break down organic material, says Scott Sutton, the apothecary merchandiser at Plum Market in West Bloomfield. “As consumers increasingly prioritize health and wellness, these items are selling well,” he adds.
The Hazard: The furniture and design accents that give your home its unique style may also be attracting some unwanted “guests”: VOCs and formaldehyde (a colorless gas used in manufactured wood products, from furniture to laminate flooring). These gases are released into the air, where increased levels can cause breathing issues or irritation of the eyes, nose, throat or skin. Carpets with polyurethane padding can lead to lowered immunity, and fabric protectors may contain fluorocarbons that can cause hormonal imbalances, reduce fertility and increase the risk of cancer.
The Fix: Before you invest in new furniture, flooring or window treatments, read the Manufacturer Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) to look for any chemicals you want to avoid. (It should be available on the spec sheet for each product.) In general, interior decorators advise “off-gassing” all new items, including furniture, carpet and even natural stone, before bringing them into your home to release any VOCs that result from the manufacturing process. This can be done off site or in your garage before installation.
The Pro Says: When it comes to carpet, “wool is the best choice because it’s natural,” says Barrett Zeff, founder of Clean Green Carpet Cleaning in West Bloomfield, followed by jute, sisal and nylon, which are made with limited VOCs, are durable and withstand cleaning to maintain their appearance over many years.
The Hazard: Americans spend 90% of their time indoors, making clean air essential to a healthy environment. When your air filters are dirty or clogged, they trap contaminants including dust, nicotine and mold, and increase indoor pollution that can cause fatigue, congestion and difficulty breathing.
The Fix: Protect your air quality by ensuring proper ventilation. Check HVAC filters twice a year, and change them out as necessary. A good time to do so is in the spring and fall, when you have air conditioning units and furnaces serviced (an opportune time to check carbon monoxide levels, too).
The Pro Says: “Your A/C unit should be maintained annually as cotton seeds and leaves can get sucked up into it,” reducing efficiency, says Steve Bez, owner of Mastercraft Heating, Cooling, and Plumbing in Redford. He also recommends that pet owners and those who smoke should invest in a thorough duct cleaning every 5-7 years to ensure maximum efficiency of airflow.