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How to Create a Greener, Cleaner, Healthier Home

Making a few changes to your routine can improve your breathing, sleep, and overall health.
By
WebMD Magazine - Feature

These days, green is the new black when it comes to the way we live. And we've all heard the message: Recycle waste, buy locally grown food, and drive more fuel-efficient cars to make our lives and homes "greener." But what does going green mean for your health? Can even a small shift in your life help minimize allergic reactions, reduce asthma attacks, and improve your sleep and breathing, along with other healthy benefits? The answer is yes. Here's what you need to know -- and what to do. (Looking for quick ways to keep your house cleaner and healthier? See the 5 Ways to Green Your Home section.

Indoor Air Pollution

You hear a lot about pollution outside, but have you ever wondered what you're breathing in your own home? Surprisingly, the air inside your home is dirtier than the air outside. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates about a dozen common pollutants found in items such as paint and many cleaning and cosmetic products have levels two to five times higher inside homes than outside. And since most of us spend about 90% of our time inside, the health impact can be significant.

Indoor air can be loaded with dust mites, bacteria, and mold as a result of the way we live, says Jordan Josephson, MD. Josephson is a sinus and allergy expert and director of the New York Nasal and Sinus Center in Manhattan. The more stuff you have, he says, the worse it is. A cluttered home leads to a buildup of indoor dust -- and pet dander, if you have a pet. Studies show that the dust and dander contain high concentrations of hazardous materials like heavy metals, lead, pesticides, and other chemicals.

In addition, the everyday products you use to clean your kitchen, disinfect your bathroom, paint your home, and rid it of pests can pollute your breathing space with toxic fumes and vapors. For example, disinfectants, laundry detergents, aerosol sprays, and air fresheners emit gases called VOCs -- volatile organic compounds -- that can cause allergic skin reactions, headaches, and dizziness.

Household Products and Your Health

Consider the effect on health of products with chlorine that you use to get rid of the grime on bathroom and kitchen surfaces. Sure, chlorine is effective at killing germs and mold. But as Toni Bark, MD, points out, it can also cause eye and respiratory irritation. Bark has a family practice and is a medical consultant in Evanston, Illinois. She is also one of the few physicians in the United States certified as a LEED AP, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design accredited professional. LEED is a rating system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council to provide standards for environmentally sustainable construction. Bark says that the use of products with chlorine can cause allergies, asthma, and even bronchitis.

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