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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.

Healthy Laundry Detergents continued...

Laundry detergents also contain chemicals called surfactants to penetrate clothing and carry away dirt in the wash cycle. But while they may be great at removing stains from your son's soccer shirt, studies show they are easily absorbed through the skin and can disrupt the body's hormone signals that regulate reproduction.

For healthier laundry options, look for products that leave the harsh chemicals behind. Bark suggests a few alternatives:

  • Trader Joe's Liquid Laundry Detergent with lavender oil and optical brightener -- the stuff that keeps your whites white -- cleans clothes just as well as your average detergent, Bark says. But it does it without phosphates -- which pollute the water -- or formaldehyde.
  • Oxi-Brite Laundry Detergent uses oxygen instead of chlorine to effectively remove stains and brighten clothes. According to Bark, oxygen-based cleaners lift dirt and stains from material without the toxicity of chlorine bleach.
  • Earth Friendly Ecos All Natural Laundry Detergent is made entirely from plants and cleans without the use of harsh chemicals or synthetic aromas. You can choose scents like lavender or lemongrass, which come from essential oils.

Creating a Healthy Bedroom

Here's an unsettling thought: "Anything labeled as kids' sleepwear or pajamas, by law, has to be treated with fire retardants, which are carcinogenic," Bark says. Mattresses, it turns out, get the same chemical treatment. These chemicals can protect people from burning in case of a fire. But they are also toxic and environmentally harmful, Schettler says.

When shopping for your child's winter sleepwear, instead of choosing clothing officially labeled "pajamas," look for tight-fitting, organic, all-cotton, merino wool or bamboo long underwear. And, bamboo, says Bark, is naturally flame-retardant. "That's what parents in the know buy for their kids."

In addition to fire retardants, new mattresses are packed with formaldehyde. Bark says that for anywhere from seven months to a year and a half after the purchase of a new mattress, formaldehyde is released into the air and into the skin in the form of gas. And memory foam beds are even worse than standard coil mattresses.

"They are made of synthetic foam rubber and latex, which do mold to your body, but are made of toxic gases," says Bark. These gases are given off for the life of the bed, she adds, and can cause headaches, muscle aches, and a general ill and fatigued feeling.

What should you buy instead? Bark recommends mattresses made of natural (not synthetic) rubber and covered with natural wool or organic cotton. True, they will cost you more (about the same as a memory foam bed). But, according to Bark, they last forever. Dust mites and other living organisms that routinely collect in regular mattresses can't live in the natural wool and rubber. "So, these beds are also naturally hypoallergenic," Bark says.

Finally, Bark notes that cotton is the most heavily pesticide-sprayed crop in the world. That's why it's worth investing in sheets made of organic cotton grown without pesticides. Bamboo sheets are toxin-free as well.

For a greener night's sleep, Bark recommends trying the following:

  • Lifekind natural rubber mattresses contain no fire retardants, formaldehyde, or other harmful chemicals.
  • Coyuchi organic cotton sheets are made with organic cotton that has been grown without harmful pesticides.
  • Bambooclothes.com offers comfortable organic bamboo sleepwear for young children without the pesticides or chemicals used in most kids' PJs.

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