Tips for a healthy home this winter

Little can beat a glorious summer’s day, but there is something equally wonderful about an evening spent snugly indoors, cossetted from the battering wind and driving rain: long baths, log fires and bowls of warming stew. Winter is the yin to summer’s yang, a familiar rhythm of the months and years that makes me appreciate both all the better.

With more time spent indoors, the dial on the central heating up and the windows and doors firmly shut, I find that I am increasingly conscious of the environment in which I spend the vast majority of my time. I want it to be warm, comfortable and inviting, certainly, but I also want it to be supportive of my health, energy and sleep too. Whilst countless magazines and websites will try to tempt us with the pleasing textures of woollen throws or extra scatter cushions to help create a cosier home over the coming months (hygge has the been the latest marketing , I want to focus my efforts this year on a few simply ways to support a slightly healthier home instead.

Healthy Homes, Amelia Freer

Here are a few ideas I shall embrace:

1. Ventilate more

This is the single best thing to do to improve indoor air quality, even if you live in a city. Try to fling open your windows at least twice a day, especially in humid areas, bedrooms and your main living space. Just 5-10 minutes is enough, without resulting in an enormous loss of heat.

2. Swapping my cleaners to non-toxic formulas

A study examining a variety of cleaning and personal care products, including those labelled as ‘green’, ‘eco-friendly’, or ‘natural’, found they contained over 156 volatile organic compounds (VOCs); of which 42 were classified as toxic or hazardous, and 19 were known to be carcinogenic (Steinemann, 2015). VOCs are chemicals: both natural (such as those released when cutting onions), and synthetic (released by paints, glues, solvents, manufactured wood, and cleaning and home fragrance products). The synthetic ones can be an irritant (for example, potentially triggering asthma) and contribute significantly to indoor air pollution (Nurmatov et al., 2015).

Whilst there is not enough data yet on the potential impact that exposure to VOCs may have on our health, I prefer to err on the side of caution and have therefore switched to cheap and cheerful homemade cleaning products, or fully non-toxic ranges in my own home.

Products I use are Method, Ecover or Dr Bronners soaps for an all-round hero cleaning product (one large bottle lasts for ages), or have a read of this blog post, courtesy of Apartment Therapy, for some easy DIY ideas for cleaning with everyday ingredients: apartmenttherapy.com/20-diy-green-cleaning-recipes. It’s a great source for money-saver tips, too.

3. Minimising synthetic home fragrances

Synthetic fragrances are one of the leading causes of VOCs found in home air, and come from things like scented candles, air fresheners, plug-in devices and deodorising sprays. I use fresh flowers, plants and essential oils instead – or simply open my windows a little more. I sometimes use an aromatherapy diffuser (Aromatherapy Essential Oil Diffuser) and this oil is currently one of my favourites to burn – Neal’s Yard Remedies Aromatherapy Blend “CALMING” Oil.

4. Bring a bit of nature inside

House plants can help to purify the air inside our homes. They are best positioned in places where we spend most of our time, such as the office, sitting room and bedroom. Although not cheap, there are even some NASA designed plant pots amzn.to/2kTGIQE (yes, really! they were developed to help keep the air cleaned inside sealed space capsules), which allow one plant to do the air-cleaning job of 8 plants, by aerating the roots as well as the leaves – I’ve got one in my bedroom and another next to my computer.

5. Consider room layouts to maximise daylight

Daylight is essential for regulating our circadian rhythm, and the release of the hormone melatonin at appropriate times (helping us to feel awake during the day, and sleepy at nighttime). This can be particularly important during the shorter daylight hours of winter.

Moving the furniture you spend lots of time on or at during daytime hours (your desk, kitchen table, favourite chair etc.) closest to the windows, and the furniture you spend more time on in the evenings to the back of the room is a quick way to help achieve this. But getting outside everyday, even if just for a few minutes, is equally as important.

6. Switch to more natural personal care products too

Each time I run out of a cosmetic product; shampoo, shower gel, face cream etc., I try to replace it with a more natural range. Do see my post on ‘Lotions and Potions’ for more information on this. Thankfully, the quality of natural cosmetics has improved considerably over the last couple of years, and certainly give the ‘standard’ products a run for their money. Here are some of my personal favourites that I am currently using:

Hand wash: Neal’s Yard Remedies Geranium & Orange Hand Wash
Moisturizer: Neal’s Yard Remedies Rehydrating Rose Daily Moisture
Deodorant: Soapwalla – Organic / Vegan Deodorant Cream
Toothpaste: Jason Natural Cosmetics Toothpaste
Showergel: Jason Natural Cosmetics Rose Water Body Wash
Body oil: Aurelia Probiotic Skincare Dry Body Oil
Night oil: Aurelia Probiotic Skincare Cell Repair Night Oil
Day oil: trilogy Certified Organic Rosehip Oil Antioxidant+
Cleanser: trilogy Make-up Be Gone Cleansing Balm
Bronzer: RMS Beauty SHIMMER FINISH
Sanitary towels: Natracare Natural Pads & totm.com
Tampons: Natracare Organic Cotton Tampons
Eye make up remover: Neal’s Yard Remedies Organic Eye Make-up Remover

The soil association has a useful list of all its organically-certified health and beauty brands: soilassociation.org/organic-living/beauty-wellbeing/

7. Find environmentally friendly baby products, too

 As some of you may already know, I recently gave birth to my first baby. There is nothing quite like welcoming a new life into the world to bring the fragility and importance of protecting and preserving her environment into sharp focus – both at home and in the wider context.

Although I am by no means an expert, there are a couple of places I find myself returning to time and again: Little Green Home (littlegreenhome.co.uk) is a treasure-trove of non-toxic and green baby products, while chemical-free Beaming Baby nappies can be brought wholesale  (beamingbabywholesale.co.uk), and many fellow mummies swear by the cheery, reusable baby wipes from cheekywipes.com. I am sure I will learn a lot more as time goes on and do feel free to let me know which products you have grown to rely on and love.

8. Check your water source

Whilst we are extremely lucky here in the UK to have constant access to clean and safe water (a privilege denied to many around the world), for some people who are particularly sensitive (including to the taste of chlorine – which I find can put people off drinking adequate water throughout the day), you may wish to consider a water filtration system. There is plenty more information on this in my post ‘All about water’.

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Further resources:

Websites

Green Home Guide greenhomeguide.com

UK Green Building Council ukgbc.org

The Healthy House healthy-house.co.uk

Little Green Home littlegreenhome.co.uk

Video

International Institute for Building Biology® & Ecology hbelc.org/

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References & Bibliography:

NHS Choices (2016) Sick building syndrome. Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Sick-building-syndrome/Pages/Introduction.aspx (Accessed: 8 September 2016).

Nurmatov, U., Tagiyeva, N., Semple, S., Devereux, G. and Sheikh, A. (2015). Volatile organic compounds and risk of asthma and allergy: a systematic review. European Respiratory Review, 24(135), pp.92-101.

Steinemann, A. (2015) ‘Volatile emissions from common consumer products’, Air Quality, Atmosphere & Health, 8(3), pp. 273–281. doi: 10.1007/s11869-015-0327-6.

Thompson, A. (2005) Homes that heal (and those that don’t): How your home could be harming your health. Canada: New Society Publishers.