/Home

Now that you've invested in some glass and stainless steel food storage containers, maybe you're wondering if you should Marie Kondo all the plastic ones you used to use? Instead adding them to the landfill, what if we told you that all those plastic containers can help you achieve a new level of organization zen? While we don't recommend storing food in them anymore (for those of you who haven't heard: these plastic food storage containers often have BPA or phthalates in them, which can leach into your food over time and cause all sorts of health problems), we also don't think you have to throw them away.

So, what can you do? We have 6 great suggestions for you to repurpose those containers throughout your home.



Keep Reading Show Less
Roundups

Plastic-Free (and Melamine-Free!) Outdoor Tableware

They won't break, look great, and are sure to be perfect for you outdoor gatherings

Updated for Summer 2022!

Getting ready for some outdoor parties and dining this summer? We sure are! If you're looking to spruce up your outdoor dining scene, you'll quickly see that most options are made of melamine. Even though melamine dishware doesn't look like plastic, melamine can leach into food after dishes are repeatedly microwaved or used to hold both hot and acidic foods (read this to learn why you might want to skip the melamine). So if melamine is out, and easy to break options like ceramic just don't work for you (children being children, slippery surfaces, clumsy grownups!), check out these stainless steel, enamelware, wood, and tempered glass options. Although we always recommend reusable, we included one disposable option too (without PFAS chemicals). These are our top picks for plastic-free outdoor dishware, serving bowls and platters, tumblers, and more. They are all light weight, hard to break, and will make your outdoor entertaining photos look on point. So pick up some of these plastic-free and melamine-free outdoor dishes and enjoy dining al fresco!

Keep Reading Show Less
Want an easy way to live healthier?
Sign up for our newsletter! Curated environmental health news delivered to your inbox every three weeks.
By submitting above, you agree to our privacy policy.
/ SOCIAL
Life

Why does your activewear stink and what can you do about it?

The scientific reason behind your bad smelling activewear and easy DIY solutions

Do you ever take your laundry out of the dryer and realize that your activewear still smells bad? Sometimes it feels like no amount of laundry detergent or scented fabric softener will get rid of that funky smell that lingers in all of your workout clothes. The reason this happens isn't because your washing machine isn't strong enough to get rid of the sweat from your run or all the burpees you did, but it's actually the fabric. Most workout clothes are made from synthetic fabrics or cotton, two materials that are great for working out in, but really bad at getting clean. Luckily there are a few ways to get rid of that smell that doesn't involve lots of harmful chemicals. So instead of throwing those smelly clothes away, check out some of our easy non-toxic cleaning methods and DIY solutions!

Why do workout clothes trap smell?

Most people think that the reason their workout clothes stink is because there is sweat trapped in them, but that is only partially true. Sweat by itself actually has no smell at all, but when it comes into contact with the bacteria on your skin, the sweat gets broken down and releases the typical body odor smell (1). So that means there isn't excess sweat trapped in your clothes, it's bacteria, along with dead skin cells and natural particles that are all contributing to the bad smell (2).

There is also a difference in how natural and synthetic workout clothes are affected by this bacteria. Natural fibers like cotton are more affected by sweat and bacteria compared to synthetic fibers because the bacteria that becomes trapped within the fabric can actually start to break down and degrade your clothes. The fibers of cotton are made completely of cellulose, a natural component of plants, and the bacteria can consume this substance and break down the clothes. Cotton is really good at absorbing sweat, so that means there is bacteria deep inside the cotton fibers and the bacteria can quickly multiply due to their massive food source i.e. your clothes. So not only will the bacteria in your sweat make your natural workout clothes smell bad, it will also degrade them over time until they fall apart (2).

Synthetic fabrics, on the other hand, are man-made fibers that are derived from petroleum products. Think plastic threads. Fabrics like spandex, polyester, and nylon are all made of synthetic materials and they are often marketed as sweat wicking or having a cooling effect. These types of fabrics collect bacteria in the space between the fibers, but does not absorb the sweat or bacteria in the fibers. These small spaces where the bacteria are trapped are really hard to access with standard cleaning products making the smell linger (2).

What makes it worse?

To get rid of the smell a lot of people use more detergent or heavily scented fabric softeners, but this only temporarily covers up the smell. These products coat the fibers and fill up the space between them, creating more and more build up the more you wash the clothes. Having build up on your clothes can trap the bacteria and every time you work out more bacteria will start to grow on your clothes.

Traditional detergents were made for traditional fibers like cotton, so when trying to get spandex or polyester fabrics clean, these detergents often aren't strong enough to penetrate deep into the synthetic fabric. Also sometimes your washing machine might be too big or too full and isn't able to clean the clothes effectively. The good news is that there are some non-toxic products and DIY methods that will really deep clean your clothes and make them smell brand new!

What can you do?

First things first, before you get into the products and DIY solutions, try some of these simple ways to avoid having stinky workout clothes in the first place. Sometimes all it takes is changing the temperature or washing your clothes a little sooner. But if none of these work, check out the special products and DIY solutions that are sure to get your clothes squeaky clean!

  1. Don't overfill your washing machine.
  2. Don't use extra laundry detergent.
  3. Stay away from fabric softener.
  4. Wash clothes as soon as possible after working out, don't let them sit wet.
  5. Always wash workout clothes in cold water.
  6. Use a powdered detergent to prevent buildup.

Products and DIY solutions


non toxic laundry products to eliminate odors

a) Biokleen Bac-Out Stain remover. Uses natural enzymes to get deep in fabrics and kills bacteria. Spray and let sit for 5 minutes and then wash as normal.

b) Molly Suds Activewear Laundry Detergents. Powdered laundry detergent that uses enzymes and baking soda that penetrates deep within fabrics.

c) Defunkify Liquid Laundry Detergent. Specifically designed to break down odor and get deep into fibers.

d) Branch Basics Oxygen Boost. Strips odors and brightens clothes. Add a scoop in addition to detergent.

e) White Vinegar- Add 1 cup of vinegar to your laundry drum in place of the normal detergent. This helps break down residues that make odors worse.

f) Baking Soda- Add half a cup to your laundry drum. Baking soda is a natural deodorizer!

If the smells are really not going away, you can try laundry stripping! Laundry stripping is a way to remove built up oil, dirt, bacteria, and other detergents. Check out our article on stripping and how to do it!



Sources

  1. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/symptoms/17865-sweating-and-body-odor
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4249026/
  3. https://hexperformance.com/pages/about-hex
Roundups

The Best Non-Toxic Dish Soaps

Healthy, safe, and effective grease-cutting dish soap power

Updated for 2021!

Get your dishes clean without worrying about the chemicals in your dish soap. We rounded up the top 6 dish soaps without toxic chemicals or preservatives that are well-reviewed and easily available. You're welcome! We've had some questions about whether parents need a separate soap specifically for bottles and dishes. With these 6 picks, you can be rest assured that they will work well on your dinner plates but are also safe enough for baby bottles and toddler dishes. Also, for all the dishes you choose not to hand wash, take a peek at our dishwasher detergent roundup.

a) Attitude Dishwashing Liquid

b) Aunt Fannie's Microcosmic Probiotic Power Dish Soap

c) Better Life Dish Soap

d) ECOS Dishmate Dish Liquid

e) Common Good dish soap

f) Cleancult liquid dish soap

g) Trader Joe's Dish Soap Lavender Tea Tree


We rely on EWG's consumer databases, the Think Dirty App, and GoodGuide in addition to consumer reviews and widespread availability of products to generate these recommendations. Learn more on our methodology page.

*Because Health is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program so that when you click through our Amazon links, a percentage of the proceeds from your purchases will go to Because Health. We encourage you to shop locally, but if you do buy online buying through our links will help us continue the critical environmental health education work we do. Our participation does not influence our product recommendations. To read more about how we recommend products, go to our methodology page.

Home

Non-Toxic, Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Swiffers

Or convert the Swiffer you already have into a non-toxic, planet-friendly option

Who hasn't had a Swiffer before? The promise of an easy-to-use and affordable sweeping, mopping and dusting solution is hard to say no to! While Swiffer products are quite convenient and user friendly, have you ever thought about how much trash those single-use pads generate and what toxic chemicals might be used in their cleaning solutions? Well we're here to give you the low down. If you already have a Swiffer, we have some tips on how to use your Swiffer in a more environmentally conscious way with non-toxic ingredients. And if you don't have one, but want some just as convenient recommendations on mopping and dusting we have you covered too.

Why Swiffers Are not Environmentally Friendly or Toxic Free

Ever take a big whiff when you bust open your new package of refillable Swiffer wet pads? Well, sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but those flowery and attractive smells contain fragrances and other harmful ingredients, which often carry phthalates, asthmagens (1) and other chemicals of concern. When these fragrance chemicals vaporize into your household, they can trigger asthma attacks, and aggravate sinus conditions; they can disrupt hormones, cause headaches, eyes, nose and throat irritation, and produce neurotoxic symptoms, like loss of coordination, and forgetfulness (2).

Other ingredients in Swiffer products have also been found to aid in developing resistance to antibiotics over time (3). This means that germs like bacteria and fungi start building the capacity to defeat the drugs that are designed to kill them. When this happens, this can require extended hospital stays, more follow-up visits to the doctor, and other costly and toxic treatment alternatives (4). It's not just humans that are impacted either, these products are also very toxic to aquatic animals (5,6). Makes us think twice about using them all around the house!

Not only is it a good idea to steer clear of these chemicals, but can we talk about the trash? Easy disposal of these toxic, non-biodegradable products, like the refill pads, has resulted in an exorbitant amount of unnecessary waste and has nearly destroyed our environment (7). Refillable Swiffer pads are made from polyester which is derived from fossil fuels (8), and are contributing to the degradation of our ecosystems and wildlife (9). These persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are harmful toxins that will continue to corrode our environment for centuries, as they occupy landfills and slowly leak toxins into soil and water over time (9). What a mess!

The good news is that there are simple alternative methods you can start using that are more protective of our health more environmentally friendly. Plus, since you don't have to purchase refill pads, they are great for your budget too. There are even easy hacks to turn the Swiffer product you already have into a non-toxic option.

How to Make Your Swiffer Non-Toxic and Environmentally Friendly

Get a reusable washable microfiber pad and ditch the single-use ones. Microfibers are extremely effective at capturing germs and small particles (10). These microfiber mop pads work for both the Swiffer sweepers and WetJet. Here are some we like:

Swiffer Sweeper Compatible Reusable Pads

Easily Greener Microfiber Mop Pads

Turbo Mops Reusable Microfiber Mop Pads

Swiffer Wet Jet Compatible Reusable Pads

Easily Greener Swiffer WetJet Compatible, Microfiber Mop Pads

TurboMops Reusable Microfiber Mop Pads Compatible with Swiffer WetJet

Just throw these reusable option into the washer after you're done using it and it's ready to be used the next time you need it. And if you want a completely free way to do this, you can even try using an old fuzzy sock and wrap that around the bottom of your WetJet and voila, you're all ready to start moppin'.

If you have an old washcloth you can also place that into the corners of the holes of your traditional Swiffer to secure the cloth. You'll want to make sure to dip the cloth into your cleaning solution before you attach it to the mop and/or you can add the cleaning solution to a spray bottle to spray the surface as well.

DIY Your Own Safe and Effective Cleaning Solution

If you've got the Swiffer WetJet, make sure the refill bottle is thoroughly cleaned out with soap and water, then go ahead and add your preferred non-toxic cleaning solution. Here are our recommended non-toxic floor cleaners that are available in stores. But you can also create your own safe and effective floor cleaner with a couple of ingredients you may already have! Here are three options:

  1. Add ½ tsp of liquid soap to each gallon of water
  2. Add ½ cup vinegar to every gallon of water
  3. Add 1 tsp Branch Basics concentrate to every 1 cup of water

When the floors are really dirty use the liquid soap solution to really mop up that grime and dirt. If things have been more chill around the house, use the vinegar solution. We've heard that using the vinegar on hardwood floors is not a problem, but you should check what type of finish your floors have, and do a test sample somewhere out of sight just to be sure.

Convenient, Non-toxic, and Budget Friendly Swiffer Alternatives

If you don't own a Swiffer, bless your heart. Here are our favorite Swiffer alternatives for getting your floor clean.

Spray Mops

Spray mops are super convenient and easy to use on all types of floors, including hardwood and laminate flooring. Plus, no need for any buckets or wringing! Just add your washable/reusable microfiber mop pad and pre-made non-toxic floor cleaning solution to the dispenser and you are ready to have at it! When you're done, throw the reusable mop pad in the laundry machine.

O-Cedar ProMist Microfiber Spray Mop

Steam Mops

Another green alternative you can use is a steam mop. Steam mops work by heating up the water to really high temperatures inside its chamber and dispensing it as steam, which is then dispersed through a cloth or pad. The steam helps to loosen up the dirt and grime from your floors, and the high temps help to kill germs and bacteria on hard surfaces. No harmful chemicals needed!

Steam mops are typically safe to use on vinyl, ceramic, and porcelain tile floors, but you may want to double check with your flooring brand to make sure using steam won't void your floor's warranty. You should also never use steam mops on any unsealed, peeling or unfinished floors, and although manufacturers claim it is safe to do so, use caution with any wood or laminate flooring.

PurSteam Steam Mop Cleaner

Spinning Mop

How about a mop that just simply does the work for you? There are now electric mops that are similar to a commercial orbiter floor machine, but made for residential homes. The reusable and washable rotating mop pads clean your floor for you and all you have to do is guide them along the floors. You control the amount of cleaning solution by spraying as you go. To make this a healthy option, ditch the cleaning product that comes with it and use your own pre-made non-toxic floor cleaning product (either DIY or store bought).

Bissell Spinwave Hard Floor Spin Mop

Microfiber Mop + Spray Bottle

Our last favorite mop is just a microfiber mop that is very similar to Swiffer, but that has a reusable microfiber mop pad. This mop can swivel in all directions and has an extendable sturdy handle. It can easily clean under furniture and clean baseboards. Pair this mop with a spray bottle that contains your favorite DIY or store bought non-toxic floor cleaner and you're good to go!

Turbo Microfiber Mop

References:
  1. https://zsds3.zepinc.com/ehswww/zep/result/direct_link.jsp?P_LANGU=E&P_SYS=2&P_SSN=11337&C001=DISC2&C002=ZCAL&C003=E&C013=AF7231E
  2. https://noharm-uscanada.org/issues/us-canada/fragrance-chemicals
  3. https://www.ajicjournal.org/article/S0196-6553(18)30424-3/pdf
  4. https://www.cdc.gov/drugresistance/about.html
  5. https://www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners/5288-SwifferSweeperWetMoppingClothsOpenWindowFresh/
  6. https://www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners/2819-SwifferWetJetMultiPurposeCleanerOpenWindowFresh/
  7. https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/realestate/2005/05/21/disposable-wipes-no-throw-away-issue/22e091b2-7bc9-4b01-a9c3-6ca1c00f9cfc/
  8. https://www.cmu.edu/gelfand/lgc-educational-media/polymers/natural-synthetic-polymers/index.html#:~:text=Synthetic%20polymers%20are%20derived%20from,polyester%2C%20Teflon%2C%20and%20epoxy.&text=Examples%20of%20naturally%20occurring%20polymers,%2C%20DNA%2C%20cellulose%20and%20proteins.
  9. https://sciencing.com/environmental-problems-caused-by-synthetic-polymers-12732046.html
  10. https://archive.epa.gov/region9/waste/archive/web/pdf/mops.pdf
Home

How to Keep Your Lawn Happy Without the Use of Harmful Chemicals

The grass will always be greener with these non-toxic alternatives!

Even though it's still spring, we are already dreaming about summer lawn games, BBQs, and playing catch with the kids outside. And for many Americans, a nice blanket of green grass in the backyard is just the perfect setting for all these summer memories. If your lawn is looking a little worse-for-wear after some cold winter months, then you may want to pay attention because spring is the time to start getting your lawn ready! Spring is the perfect time to reseed, add compost, fertilizer, water, and get all your equipment in order. But how about pesticides and herbicides? Should you be adding them to prevent weeds from ruining your lawn? Are they the only solution if you want the perfect backyard for summer fun? Let's take a deep dive into what pesticides are used in lawn care and how to get the lushest, greenest grass for all your summer backyard picnics without using harmful chemicals.

What are pesticides and why are they harmful?

Glad you asked! Let's dig into what's hiding underneath the lush green lawn. Did you know that an astonishing nearly 80 million pounds of pesticides are used on U.S. lawns annually!

Pesticides are toxic substances that are designed to kill any living organism perceived as a pest, which intrinsically make them harmful. (2) These pesticides can be found in grub control, weed killers (herbicides), fungus treatment (fungicides), and insect spray (insecticides). The most common pesticides found in lawn care are two herbicides, glyphosate and 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D for short). It's no surprise most gardening sheds will have products containing pesticides, as most people rely on these chemicals to treat their lawn and keep the weeds away.

Most weed killers contain 2,4-D and are oftentimes a part of "weed and feed" products. (2) "Weed and feed" products are a combination of herbicides and fertilizer (oftentimes synthetic fertilizer), that are designed to kill weeds and provide nutrients for the grass, all at once. These are one of the most toxic substances, as they are loaded with pesticides to accomplish both these tasks at the same time. Most synthetic fertilizers rely on pesticides to provide nutrients to the grass. (17) Studies have found 2, 4-D to be a carcinogen (cancer-causing), linking it to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, childhood brain tumors and soft tissue sarcomas. (15, 5) It's also been linked to Parkinson's disease, immunosuppressive effects, hormone disruption, and thyroid problems (hypothyroidism). (6) And it's also been found to affect reproductive functions, and cause neurotoxicity (nervous system damage).

Glyphosate, the most widely applied pesticide in the world, has also been found to be a carcinogen and is found in many lawn care products. These products are commonly known as RoundUp. (3, 4)

Yikes! That's a lot of RoundUp (a picture personally taken while at Home Depot).

As with 2,4-D, scientific studies have shown glyphosate to also be linked to immune and nervous system disorders, learning disabilities, and behavioral problems. Glyphosate has been shown to increase the risk of asthma, infertility, and birth defects. (15)

How do these pesticides harm our health?

Pesticides can harm adults, children, and pets, through the skin, inhalation and ingestion. The most common type of exposure is through the skin. For example, a person can be exposed to a splash or mist when applying product to the lawn. A person can also be exposed by inhaling airborne droplets. Pesticides can even get into our waterways by seeping into the soil and can be brought into the home through clothes. Children are particularly vulnerable due to their size (they take in more pesticides relative to their bodyweight), rapid development, and hand to mouth behaviors. Pregnant people are also a vulnerable population to pesticide exposure. (2, 7, 12) Pets are exposed the most as they spend more time outdoors and some pets tend to eat grass, directly ingesting the pesticides. For example, cats regularly lick their paws, which means they could easily ingest pesticides that way. (2)

So how can I maintain a nice looking yard, while avoiding pesticides?

There are safer ways to get a "perfect" lush lawn. Plus, did you know applying pesticides on your lawn just creates an unhealthy chemical-using cycle? (9) It's simply a band aid solution, as it's a fast approach but doesn't target the root of the problem, which is the lack of healthy and rich soil. Applying pesticides tricks your grass into thinking it needs to rely on synthetic fertilizer to look and feel fresh, instead of actually drawing nutrients from the soil. However, here are some safer alternatives that will grow the greenest and healthiest lawn on the block while keeping you, your family, your pets, and friends safe.

Try some DIY lawn care tips:

Follow a yearly schedule to prevent your grass from needing toxic chemicals. It's recommended to start your lawn care in March. But no matter the time of the year, it's not too late to apply organic fertilizer. Check out these simple homemade and store bought organic fertilizers. Or better yet, use grass clippings as fertilizer (recycling and non-toxic? That's our kind of thing!). Add corn gluten meal to prevent weeds from sprouting. Corn gluten dries out the emerging plant's initial root, preventing a new weed from growing. Keep in mind, this will also prevent grass from growing, so only apply where there are emerging weed seedlings. Then, after fertilization (through the months of April - October), be sure to dethatch (remove the dead layer of old grass) and overseed (spread grass seed over existing lawn to fill bare spots) in September. Weekly tasks throughout the year include watering only when the lawn starts to show signs of dryness, and mowing. Be sure to set the mower 3-4 inches high to get rid of any weeds and then don't forget to leave your clippings around for fertilizer (extra nitrogen)! Here are some organic tips for common lawn problems:

  • Have brown spots? This is likely due to too much nitrogen (usually from pet urine). Water the grass right after a pet urinates to dilute the nitrogen.
  • You see brown tips on your grass? This is probably due to dull mower blades, be sure to sharpen your blades each Spring!
  • Are their patches of dirt, where grass didn't grow? Be sure to add compost and grass seed, then water the area!
  • If you have yellow grass, this most likely means your grass is low in nitrogen or may be over-watered. Dethatch or aerate lawn before applying fertilizer.
  • If you start seeing dandelions or crabgrass (or other weeds for that matter), cut off the heads of the weeds to prevent the seeds from spreading and then spread corn gluten meal in the Springtime to prevent weeds from popping up.
That sounds too time consuming, what are my other options?

If you don't have the extra time for DIY care, but maybe have the extra money to invest in lawn services, try integrated pest management (IPM). IPM is an organic based lawn care management that provides for better and safer methods to control insects, weeds and diseases. Find more information here.

FYI - If you plan on looking into non-IPM lawn services, there's a chance they may claim their services (which may include the application of harmful pesticides) are safe to use. While this may seem like a good thing, it can actually be a red flag, as the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) prohibits manufacturers from making safety claims, even if the product is used as directed. Just because a chemical is used as directed, does not mean it is safe to use. If you're ever unfamiliar with a product used or recommended by lawn services, you can look up the toxicity of the product at www.pesticide.org.

I'll stick to products from my local home improvement store.

Or if you still prefer to stop by your local home improvement store for nutrients to use on your lawn, that's fine too. But please just be sure to read the label before purchasing. Avoid ingredients such as 2, 4-D (2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid), and glyphosate. This does not mean all other pesticides are safe to use, in fact, most (if not all) pesticides are harmful. As mentioned before, you can check the toxicity of a product here.

Please take note: many pesticides and other chemicals used in lawn care persist in lawns and soil long after the posted 24-72 hours. If treatment is absolutely necessary, make sure to wear proper personal protective equipment (PPE) and stay off the lawn for a few days after application. (19)

Although the use of harmful pesticides is widely used and this information can be overwhelming, we hope these safer alternatives will serve as a start to avoid these harmful chemicals. Suspending the production and use of these chemicals by manufacturers is a bigger problem that may take a while to resolve. However, the good news is, we can do our part by doing the following: taking the time to take lawn care into our own hands (DIY gardening and lawn care), placing it in the hands of a trustworthy IPM service, or by reading the label and avoiding toxic chemicals when purchasing products.

If you're interested in other pesticide related topics, such as pests in your home or why going organic is beneficial to your neighbors and planet as a whole, check out these other Because Health articles:

Struggling With Pests at Home? Here's What To Do

Going Organic: Why it's Worth it for Your Neighbors, Animals, and the Planet As a Whole.

References:

  1. https://www.ehhi.org/lawnpest_full.pdf
  2. https://www.ehhi.org/pestBroFINAL.pdf
  3. https://www.ehn.org/monsanto-papers-2650517822/hazardous-chemicals
  4. https://www.ehn.org/monsanto-papers-book-2650597124/i-dont-really-know-what-this-is
  5. https://www.ewg.org/news-insights/news-release/dow-crop-chemical-labeled-possibly-carcinogenic-humans
  6. https://factor.niehs.nih.gov/2019/12/science-highlights/parkinsons/index.htm
  7. https://www.jstor.org/stable/25662648?casa_token=IG4zGhg0l58AAAAA%3A1kvIzhF4Xblg9lpTu7zCPIPDCPADQoCqzwnSeQFrDHyoZY0KgghDDg0zjtgHG5eND42hjPbLcz6fRazmUGcb_sRkZhhFrQRLVZvGuNF5KMSQ-P8vWyX_&seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents
  8. https://learn.eartheasy.com/articles/6-reasons-to-...
  9. https://www.nanaimo.ca/culture-environment/environment-and-sustainability/pesticide-use
  10. https://naturalawn.com/meaningful-differences/why-is-ipm-important#:~:text=IPM%20is%20a%20complete%20lawn,Monitoring
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1128552/
  12. https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/pesticides/index.cfm
  13. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19752299/
  14. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24064777/
  15. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26339156/
  16. https://www.saferbrand.com/articles/do-it-yourself-organic-lawn-care
  17. https://www.schilllandscaping.com/blog/reasons-to-...
  18. https://www.thespruce.com/best-weed-killers-4173508
  19. https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/chemical-...
Home

Starting a new garden? How to Test Your Soil for Lead

Soil contamination is more common than you think

Starting a new garden comes with such a sense of excitement. It can brighten up the landscape, promote a healthier lifestyle, and become a lifelong hobby! But before you hit your local nursery, you might want to consider the soil contaminants. It's always a good idea to check if the soil on your property might contain harmful chemicals like lead. What do you do if you suspect your soil may be contaminated? And how do you check? We've got you covered!

How lead can get into your soil

Lead can occur in soil naturally around a rate between 10-50 mg/kg, but because of past reliance on leaded products, contaminated sites may have lead levels anywhere from 150 mg/kg to 10,000 mg/kg (1). Although the widespread use of lead had been phased out over the years, lead does not break down over time so it's still the most common type of soil contaminant in urban areas (2).

The main ways lead can contaminate your soil is through lead paint or leaded gasoline. Until the 1970s, lead paint was commonplace indoors and outdoors in both residents and commercial properties. It was basically everywhere! As paint ages, it can flake off and leave behind tiny debris that can integrate into soil. Car exhaust from leaded gasoline could have also contaminated soil with lead, especially if the soil was located next to a particularly busy road (2). Even though lead gasoline was phased out in the 1980s, lead can still be present in the soil.

While lead does not bioaccumulate in plants, it does hold very tightly onto clay or organic matter and, unless disturbed, is found in the top 1-2 inches of soil (2). This means that produce that grows lower to the ground, like root vegetables or leafy greens, might be covered in lead-contaminated soil.

How you can test your soil

Even though it's a little more time consuming, testing your soil is definitely worth it for the peace of mind. Although you can buy soil testing kits at a home improvement store, they don't test for heavy metals. To test for lead and other heavy metals, you'll have to send your soil to a laboratory for more extensive testing. Luckily there are many laboratories that offer easy testing, like this one available to purchase on Amazon The EPA has also put together a list of labs for their National Lead Laboratory Accreditation Program that offer lead testing. You can also check with local universities or labs to see if they offer heavy metal soil testing- some good options include Perry Laboratory,Center for Agriculture, Food, and the Environment at UMass Amherst, or the Cornell Nutrient Analysis Laboratory. Tests usually cost between $15-100 and offer a detailed look at your soil and any contaminants.

Any result that shows lead above 150 mg/kg means you have high levels of lead in your soil and you should take action before planting and new plants. One of the easiest solutions is to switch to only gardening in raised garden beds with soil you bought at a nursery. If you'd prefer to plant in the ground and are able to, you should remove the top 4 inches of soil (just to be on the safe side) and replace it with store bought soil. It's also a good idea to only plant ornamental plants instead of edible produce.

There are also a lot of small, easy changes you can make if you suspect your soil might have high levels of lead. Thoroughly washing and peeling produce before eating it is a great way to limit your exposure. Since lead doesn't bioaccumulate in plants, getting as much soil off of your produce as possible will make it a lot harder to come into contact with lead. Always make sure to wash your hands and remove your shoes before entering your house. This is especially important for kids playing in soil, since their little bodies are more susceptible to lead poisoning but they also love putting their hands in their mouths and rolling around in the dirt!

Citations

  1. https://www.soils.org/about-soils/contaminants/lead/
  2. https://extension.psu.edu/lead-in-residential-soils-sources-testing-and-reducing-exposure
Home

How Safe is Borax?

A common non-toxic cleaning ingredient that may not be so harmless

For years people have recommended Borax as a safe and natural cleaning solution as an alternative to harsher traditional cleaners. It's also used a lot for other things like a non-toxic pest solution, to clean carpets, and even as an ingredient in slime for kids(1). But is Borax actually safe? Some say it is completely safe and others swear you should never use it. So we decided to do the research and figure out if Borax is a product we should be using in our everyday lives. We found that there are some issues associated with it, but there are ways it could be used safely in particular circumstances with the right precautions.

Keep reading to learn more about Borax and it's safety, as well as some alternatives you can use instead!

What is Borax?

Borax, or otherwise known as sodium borate, is a natural mineral mined from the Earth that is most commonly found as a white powder. It's most notably characterized as being a good emulsifier, preservative, and buffering agent (2). It's also known for being a great disinfectant, getting rid of stains, whitening clothes, and neutralizing hard water (2, 3). Because of these properties Borax is often found in common household products like laundry detergents, soaps, and degreasers. It's also found in topical medicine, food preservatives, pesticides, and other industrial uses because Borax can inhibit the growth of bacteria and mold, increase resistance to heat and chemicals, kill insects, and helps balance acidity (4).

Is Borax safe?

Since it is considered a natural product, it pops up in a lot of DIY recipes for various tasks around the house. However, just because it is deemed as natural that does not mean it is considered safe. Borax comes in many forms but you're most likely to handle it in its powder form for cleaning or for doing laundry. As a powder, borax has been known to be a skin and eye irritant because it can easily travel through the air and be inhaled or get in the eyes of anyone close by. Borax has also been associated with reproductive issues, endocrine disruption, and developmental issues from exposure to any of its forms (3). It's worth noting that most of these health problems were found in rats that were exposed to pretty high doses of Borax (2), so this probably means that the average person won't come into contact with enough Borax to be very dangerous, but you should still take caution when handling it in your everyday life.

It's also important to look at some of the other uses for a product when determining it's safety. In the case of Borax, one common use is as a pesticide. To kill certain pests, Borax is found as either a powder, which sticks onto the insect's body and then they ingest it from cleaning themselves, or it is mixed into food bait that the insects ingest directly. The Borax will build up in their system inhibiting their metabolism and reproductive system causing them to die. Borax is also really good at breaking down and destroying the exoskeletons of some insects because the powder is very abrasive to them (5).Obviously insects like ants are much smaller and more fragile than us, however, it is slightly concerning that Borax, a product we use relatively often in our homes, has the ability to be used as a pesticide as well.

Not only is Borax used as a pesticide, it is also used as cooling agents, adhesives, anti-freezing agents, building materials, and so many other industrial uses (2). Most of these chemicals and products are usually not associated with good human health so it is something to keep in mind when using Borax to clean around the house.

How to use Borax safely

Borax has been known to have some negative health consequences when exposed in high levels over time and lethal if ingested at high doses in animals and humans (6). Because of this it is best to limit our exposure which means that it's probably okay to be using it every once in a while, but we do not recommend using it for all of your cleaning and household purposes. If you are planning to use Borax for different tasks around the house, we found some ways you can stay safe and avoid any health issues.

  1. Keep the area where you are using Borax well ventilated by turning on a fan or opening a window.
  2. Wear long sleeves and pants to prevent any Borax from getting on your skin because it could cause irritation.
  3. If you spill any Borax on your clothes make sure to take them off right away and wash them. This goes for spilling Borax on anything, clean it up right away!
  4. Use glasses or even goggles to prevent any Borax dust from getting in your eyes.
  5. Try to keep the Borax far away from your face so you don't breathe it in. Avoiding dust is the best thing to do!
  6. Keep the Borax container tightly closed when you're not using it.
  7. Try to not use it everyday, just every once in a while.
  8. Vacuum up the floor of anywhere you used Borax in case any dust settled onto the ground.
  9. Do not ingest any Borax because it can be lethal at certain doses. This goes for children as well, keep the box out of their reach at all times (2).

Alternatives to Borax

As we mentioned, a lot of DIY cleaners and laundry detergents call for Borax. Because it can be a skin and eye irritant we wanted to give you some alternatives you could use instead if you are concerned about using it in your homemade products. We included some other homemade cleaners you can use instead, as well as some store bought all-purpose cleaners that we love!

  • Vinegar: Distilled white vinegar is a great disinfectant and deodorizer, making it a great alternative to Borax's disinfectant qualities. (7)
  • Baking soda: It is a natural and safe deodorizer, as well as, a mild abrasive that can help scrub off tough messes and stains. (7)
  • Non-chlorine bleach: Non-chlorinated bleach is a much safer alternative to the traditional bleach and is a great disinfectant.
  • Washing soda: Washing soda is a popular cleaning additive that is great for removing stains, dissolving grease, softening water, and getting rid of unpleasant smells.
  • All purpose cleaners: Instead of making something at home, check out some of the eco-friendly all purpose cleaners we love!
  • Here is a great recipe for kids slime without Borax!

Sources

  1. https://www.onegoodthingbyjillee.com/uses-for-household-borax/
  2. https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/1303-96-4#section=Uses
  3. https://pharosproject.net/chemicals/2006849#hazards-panel
  4. https://www.borax.com/boron-essentials/shelter#:~:text=U.S.%20Borax%20products%20increase%20building,railway%20ties%20to%20automobile%20frames.
  5. A. Fotso Kuate, et. al. Toxicity of Amdro, Borax and Boric Acid to Anoplolepis tenella Santschi (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) 109-152. International Journal of Pest Management. https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/18234674.pdf#page=109
  6. http://npic.orst.edu/factsheets/archive/borictech.html#fate
  7. https://www.zmescience.com/medicine/what-is-borax-and-is-it-safe-432432/
Want an easy way to live healthier?
Sign up for our newsletter! Curated environmental health news delivered to your inbox every three weeks.
By submitting above, you agree to our privacy policy.
/ SOCIAL