When you have children, work and tons of responsibilities to manage, the last thing you need is a runny nose or itchy eyes to slow you down. But those common-cold symptoms may not just be from the sniffles. Debra Lynn Dadd, author of “Home Safe Home” (Tarcher), suggests that what you believe to be the flu or a cold may actually be an indicator of poisoning in your own home. 

Dadd, hailed by The New York Times as the “Queen of Green,” has easy tips to safeguard your house from toxins that may have you feeling under the weather.   

1. Minimize your exposure to ammonia by washing your windows with vinegar and water. Ammonia is often used as a household cleaner but can cause irritation of the eyes and respiratory tract and even burn your skin. Instead, mix distilled white or apple cider vinegar with an equal amount of water in a spray bottle. Squirt on windows and wipe with recycled newspapers for a cheaper, streak-free shine.

2. Sleep on untreated cotton sheets. Bypass formaldehyde-coated polyester or cotton sheets (it’s how they get those no-iron sheets to stay so unwrinkled) and choose cozy cotton flannel sheets or untreated cotton percale sheets instead. Either can be found at major department stores and online. Formaldehyde exposure can cause runny nose, itchy eyes and other cold and flu symptoms.

3. Protect your family from carbon monoxide exposure. Carbon monoxide starves the body and brain of oxygen and can be fatal. Those first few symptoms can include sleepiness, headache, dizziness, flushed skin, and disorientation which all sounds like having the flu. All homes with gas appliances or heaters should install carbon monoxide detectors, available in most hardware and home-improvement stores or online.

4. Replace toxic mothballs with sweet sachets. Grandma may have thrown mothballs around the house to keep things fresh and clean. But what we didn’t realize back then is that mothballs are made from 100 percent paradichlorobenzene, a volatile toxic chemical that can cause headaches and severe irritation to the nose, throat and lungs. Over time it can cause liver and kidney damage. Also, because the balls look like candy, they can be an attractive item for small children to try to taste and put in their mouths. Protect your woolens from moths by making sachets from dried lavender, rosemary and mint, or whole peppercorns. Cedar products are also effective moth repellants.

5. Use soap-based cleaning products instead of poisonous detergent. While most detergents seem safe, they can include a petrochemical-based product that is responsible for more household poisonings than any other substance. Soap, on the other hand, is made from natural oils and minerals and has been safely used for centuries. Natural and organic soap-based products can be found in most natural food stores and online.

6. Refill your personal, non-plastic water bottle. While it’s good for you to carry your own water and drink it throughout the day, it might be doing more harm than good if you’re reusing the bottle. Clear polycarbonate plastic bottles can leak a toxic substance into your water, even if the bottle is sitting on a table at room temperature. Bisphenol-A or BPA is a potent hormone disruptor that can impair the reproductive organs and have adverse effects on breast tissue and prostate development. Drink from a glass bottle or carry an aluminum or steel bottle instead.

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7. Incorporate fresh, organically-grown produce in your meals. Most “fresh” fruits and vegetables sold in supermarkets are sprayed heavily with pesticides, many of which have been linked to several kinds of cancer. Find out where to buy pesticide-free, organically-grown food in your neighborhood through community gardens or farmer’s markets, and consider what’s in season. One taste and youll be back for more.

8. Take a botanical bath. Many commercial bath products contain detergents and artificial fragrances that can be irritating to sensitive areas on your body. You can have a luxurious, relaxing bath just by adding natural substances to a tub full of warm water. Try dried or fresh lavender, rosemary, or peppermint, a quart of buttermilk, or 1 cup Epsom salts. For bubbles, use a natural or organic soap, available in natural food stores.

9. Color your life without toxic solvents. Check through your supply of pens and markers (including what your kids might be using) and throw away any labeled “permanent” ink. They contain very toxic, volatile solvents such as Toluene and Xylene, which can cause dizziness, confusion and a change in balance. Many office discount warehouse and art supply stores carry water-based pens and markers in every size and color.

10. Clear the air with a green thumb. In addition to adding beauty to your home, houseplants can freshen the air by absorbing the carbon dioxide we exhale and releasing oxygen in return. Some plants, such as the popular spider plant, have also been known to remove various air pollutants.

To learn more the about toxic products in your home and how to eliminate them, read Debra Lynn Dadd’s book Home Safe Home: Protecting Yourself and Your Family from Everyday Toxics and Harmful Household Products.


Additional reporting by Porsche S. Slocum