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Installing a New Floor? Here's How to Pick a Healthier Option

Everything you need to know to tackle that DIY floor project like a pro

You and your floors spend a great deal of time together. But what happens when you're ready for an upgrade? Goodbye old floors, helloooo shiny new ones! Whether you’re doing it yourself or hiring a pro, making the choice of what flooring to go with can be completely overwhelming. With seemingly endless flooring options and lots of factors like durability, proper maintenance, kids, and pets, it can be hard to know where to start. One aspect of flooring that you may or may not have thought about is how it affects your health and the environment. Turns out that some materials are better than others, and it really depends on the various components that go into flooring products. Unfortunately many products are marketed as eco-friendly, but they actually aren’t. It can be so tricky! So to help you wade through all the options and choose the healthiest flooring, we've got a guide that will help you on your shopping journey so that you know what questions to ask.


Floors we love:

  1. Linoleum: This flooring material should be at the top of your list. Linoleum is typically made from bio-based, non-hazardous ingredients like linseed oil and cork dust (1). It comes in a lot of colors and patterns, is slip resistant, and incredibly durable. It's also budget friendly!
  2. Solid wood floors, pre-finished: Not only are solid wood floors beautiful, they are also one of the healthiest flooring choices out there (1). You'll want to make sure that these floors are marked as "pre-finished", meaning that the stain and topcoat were applied during the manufacturing process (and with proper safety gear) so you won't have to (1).
  3. Ceramic tiles: Ceramic tiles come in an endless array of patterns and are a safe flooring option as well. However, make sure that the ceramic tiles you're purchasing were made in the USA (1). Ceramic tiles made in the USA are tightly regulated and do not contain heavy metals like lead and mercury among other hazardous chemicals (1). If you go with a glazed tile, then the tile itself will not need a sealer, which is a good thing as many sealers contain PFAS chemicals.
  4. Cork floors: Cork floors are a very trendy flooring choice because of the natural look and the soft, cushioned feel. The cork comes from the bark of the cork oak tree, and is formed into flooring with the help of a binder and a topcoat finish or sealer. Avoid cork floors that have a PVC topcoat.

Floors we like:

  1. Engineered wood floors, pre-finished: Engineered wood floors are not as healthy a choice as solid wood floors. However, they expand and contract less than solid wood and are very durable. Engineered wood floors require glues to help hold the thin sheets of wood together. Formaldehyde, which can cause cancer, is a frequent chemical used in the glues to hold engineered wood floors together (4). Look for floors made with NAUF (no added urea formaldehyde) or NAF (no added formaldehyde). Make sure to look for pre-finished engineered wood, as that will ensure you do not have to expose yourself to the variety of harmful chemicals necessary to finish the wood floors.
  2. Laminate: Laminate flooring is made by gluing a sheet of decorative paper over wood. This makes laminate a versatile choice, because there are so many different types of decorative paper you can choose from (1). However, glue is again used to hold the layers together. If you've decided to have laminate floors, look for laminate floors that do not contain formaldehyde in the glue (1).
  3. Carpet (without fly ash, no vinyl or polyurethane backing, and PFAS stain repellent treatment): If you are looking for carpet, healthier choices are carpet without any stain or water repellent or resistant treatments and with better backing materials. These treatments contain PFAS (Teflon-like) chemicals. Many times these stain treatments are given to carpets that fall into the “performance” product categories, so be sure to ask if they are chemically treated. Thankfully Home Depot and Lowe’s do not carry carpets treated with PFAS anymore! Additionally, many carpets these days use polypropylene backings, which are healthier than vinyl or polyurethane backing, but it’s always good to check. Lastly, fly ash is a byproduct of coal burning and is sometimes used in the backing of carpets. This has been largely phased out, but it’s also good to double check! If you want to stick to natural materials, wool, jute, and sisal carpet are a good choice.

Steer clear of these materials:

  1. Vinyl floors, including Luxury Vinyl Tile: Stay away from anything made of vinyl, especially vinyl floors! These are essentially just plastic sheet flooring. These are the number one unhealthiest flooring choice to choose because vinyl products contain or are manufactured with lead, arsenic, PFAS, toxic PCBs and all sorts of nasty chemicals (1, 5). They have a huge climate change impact and no real way to dispose of them safely (5). Trust us, the more you look into LVT, the more problems you will find! Linoleum is a great alternative that is comparable in price and look.
  2. Carpet containing polyurethane backing and PFAS: You've probably heard of PFAS (it's that stuff that makes your jacket waterproof) and know it can cause developmental and reproductive problems, but what about polyurethane (1)? Polyurethane, which is found in the backing of some carpets, also contain hazardous chemicals such as phthalates (1). Another yucky chemical to keep an eye out for in carpet backing is recycled foam, which can contain flame retardants (2). Look for backings that are made from hemp, cotton, or natural latex, instead of polyurethane (3).
  3. Rubber floors, especially made with crumb rubber: Rubber used in floors comes from recycled tire scrap and can include some crazy chemicals (1). Lead, hydrocarbon processing oils, and other hazardous materials have been found in rubber flooring (1). Definitely stay away from installing rubber floors. Natural new rubber is a better option, but can be hard to find.

If you want to read more about flooring options, the Healthy Building Network has a variety of additional resources on its HomeFree site.

References

    1. https://homefree.healthybuilding.net/products/5-flooring-products-hazard-spectrum
    2. https://healthybuilding.net/blog/457-optimizing-recycling-of-flexible-polyurethane-foam
    3. https://www2.mst.dk/Udgiv/publications/2016/08/978-87-93435-98-8.pdf
    4. https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/phs/phs.asp?id=218&tid=39
    5. https://ceh.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/PVC-Report-5-5.pdf
    Roundups

    14 Essentials for Packing a Plastic Free Lunch

    our favorite reusable items for packing lunch for the kids (and yourself!)

    As many of us are headed back to the office, it's time to get ready to start getting creative when it comes to packing lunches. Getting takeout for lunch every now and then is great, but it's expensive and there's just so much trash generated! Packing lunch is great for your wallet and for the planet, especially if you invest in some plastic free lunch packing essentials. While plastic sandwich bags and plastic containers may be convenient, they aren't the healthiest and are only adding to the plastic problem in our oceans. Instead, stock up on some of these reusable lunchbox essentials made from stainless steel, glass, wax, silicone, and cotton. Whether you're packing leftovers, a simple sandwich, or a salad, we've got you covered. Our plastic free lunch packing essentials are reusable, washable, and healthier than a bag full of plastic containers. We also have a roundup of general food storage containers you might want to check out.

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    Roundups

    Healthier Food Storage Containers

    Plastic free jars, boxes, and wraps!

    Updated for 2022!

    We scoured the internet finding an assortment of safer and healthier ways to keep your leftovers and meal prep ingredients fresh. All of these options are sustainable, have many glowing reviews, and are easily available. We also have a roundup more specifically for packing lunch you might also want to check out too!

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    Life

    Your Summer Guide to Water Safety

    How to Promote Fun and Prevent Drowning

    Summer has arrived! Cue the backyard BBQs, ice cream sandwiches (or DIY popsicles), and Will Smith jams. During long, hot days, water activities are basically a necessity for creating fun memories and staying cool. Unfortunately, water-related accidents are a leading cause of injury and death for young children (4). So to keep things fun this summer, let's talk about drowning prevention.

    Drowning happens in seconds and often quietly (1,3). Permanent disability can result even when drowning isn't fatal (3), since any prolonged oxygen disruption injures our brains. Though it can happen to anyone, drowning is the second most common cause of death for 1-4 year olds (3). Almost 90% of these incidents occur in home pools and hot tubs5,6 (and anything that collects water, even buckets, poses a risk) (3). To keep the children in your life safe and cool, here are 5 water safety tips as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, CDC, National Safety Council, Pool Safely, and Red Cross.

    1. Kids' water activities require close supervision at all times

    Most drowning incidents occur unsupervised when adults briefly step away or become distracted (4). For this reason, children need vigilant supervision by a designated adult whenever they're around water (4). We can appreciate a relaxing poolside novel or margarita, but the responsible adult/Water Watcher (7) needs to be completely free of alcohol impairment and any distractions (not even Insta). Consider water supervision to be like your greatest Netflix binge – your attention is totally focused, and you don't want to miss a thing. For young children the guiding principle is "touch supervision"– being within arm's reach at all times (3). 5-9 year olds are more likely to drown at public pools (4), so designate a supervising adult even when lifeguards are present (3).

    2. Modest safety measures make a massive difference

    Physical safety measures are imperative, especially when delightfully curious and unintentionally stealthy toddlers attempt to swim without you! Installing the right type of fence can reduce drowning risk by over 80% – 4-sided pool fences (completely isolating the pool) are far more effective than 3-sided property line fences (3). The safest fences measure at least 4 feet high, prevent climbing, and have self-latching, self-closing gates (3,7). Door alarms and rigid pool covers are also preventive, though their effectiveness is less studied (1). Always check that the pool you use has intact anti-entrapment drain covers (mandated by federal law) to prevent suction-related accidents (7). For portable pools, check out this specific safety guidance.

    3. Life jackets are way better than floaties

    Sadly those super cute floaty wings aren't designed for safety, according to the CDC, and should not replace life jackets (3) (on the upside, this means less flimsy plastic!). Young children and inexperienced swimmers should wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacketwhenever near water (1,9). And, regardless of swimming ability, all children need USCG-approved life jackets if playing around lakes or the ocean (2). Life jackets are only effective if they fit well, so check the weight and size limits before using (9). Remember that nothing replaces close supervision! (To help start your life jacket search, we tracked down a more eco-friendly option.)

    4. Teach children swimming and water safety

    Learning to swim is crucial for water safety. We all benefit from learning how to swim, and swimming lessons can prevent drowning in 1-4 year olds (3). It's never too early (or too late!) to learn – YMCA and community centers often provide affordable lessons for all ages. (We get that communal activities are probably not your jam with the current Covid-19 situation, but, at some point, formal swim lessons could be a fun family activity.) Knowing how to swim does not make us "drown proof" though, so we still need to exercise caution with kids of any swimming ability (1). Teaching children not to climb over pool fences, swim without an adult, or play near pool drains is also crucial for preventing drowning incidents (7).

    5. Assess surroundings and swimming ability

    Being aware of location-specific water dangers and knowing a swimmer's ability can help discern which activities are safe. Every water activity presents an assortment of fun and risk. Case in point: sprinklers are a simple joy but also an understated toe hazard (been there…). Oceans, rivers, and lakes offer wilder adventure yet can even prove dangerous for expert swimmers – rip currents are an infamous threat in oceans, and lakes and rivers can have undertows (6). Older children and adolescents are more likely to drown in these natural bodies of water (3). Since alcohol can impair your ability to assess surroundings and react appropriately, avoid drinking while swimming or supervising others (7).

    Prevention first, but CPR can still save lives

    We hope you'll never ever need to use CPR...ever. Prevention with the above measures can massively reduce drowning risk for everyone, but CPR is invaluable during a drowning incident and can improve the likelihood of the drowning victim's survival (3). The American Heart Association provides in-person Family and Friends CPR courses, as well as socially distanced, at-home instruction with Family and Friends CPR DVD or Adult/Child CPR training kits (includes a training manikin and DVD – fun for the whole family!).

    With safe water play, we know your summer days will be full of adventure and excitement. Have fun!


    References

    1. https://www.aappublications.org/news/2019/03/15/drowning031519

    2. https://www.cdc.gov/safechild/drowning/

    3. https://www.cdc.gov/HomeandRecreationalSafety/Water-Safety/waterinjuries-factsheet.html

    4. https://www.cpsc.gov/s3fs-public/2020-Submersion-Report-4-29-20.pdf

    5. https://www.cpsc.gov/s3fs-public/pdfs/blk_media_SafetyBarrierGuidelinesResPools.pdf

    6. https://www.nsc.org/home-safety/tools-resources/seasonal-safety/drowning

    7. https://www.poolsafely.gov/parents/safety-tips/

    8.https://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/types-of-emergencies/water-safety/drowning-prevention-and-facts.html

    9.https://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/types-of-emergencies/water-safety/swim-safety.html

    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!

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    Food

    4 Recipes for Batch Summer Drinks that You Can Spike AND that are Kid-Friendly

    Ditch single use plastic and canned drinks at your next party

    Summer is basically one big outdoor party. Anyone else wishing it will never end? With all of the heat, it's important to have icy beverages that everyone can enjoy. While it's easy to just load up with flats of canned cocktails or plastic bottles of flavored sparkling water, making a big batch of easy, tasty drinks is more budget friendly and planet friendly! Here are 4 of our favorite drink recipes meant for big containers, so you can quickly prepare them in advance and just set up a glass beverage dispenser as people start to arrive. Kids will love these fruity drinks and so will adults, especially if you add a splash of alcohol into your cup (we won't tell!). Plus you'll be skipping out on single use plastic bottles and BPA-lined aluminum cans. Try out one of these recipes at your next summer BBQ or event!


    Spiked Lemonade

    -1 gallon of water

    -3 cups lemon juice

    -3.5 cups white sugar

    -Fruit like peach, blueberries, blackberries, mint, etc

    -4 cups vodka or 1 shot per glass if adding vodka after pouring

    Instructions

    1. Stir the sugar into the water until it's completely dissolved.
    2. Mix in the lemon juice, fruit, and optional vodka. Serve over ice.

    Fruit Punch

    -8 cups ginger ale

    -4 cups orange juice

    -4 cups pineapple juice

    -sliced fruit like orange

    -Optional: 2 cups rum

    Instructions

    1. Combine all ingredients and serve over ice

    Watermelon Refresher

    -8 cups seedless watermelon, cubed

    -2 cups water

    -2 cups ginger ale

    -2 cups lime juice

    -4 cups gin or vodka or 1 shot per glass if adding after pouring

    Instructions

    1. Blend watermelon in a blender until pulverized. If you want a completely smooth consistency without pulp, strain the blended watermelon through a sieve.
    2. Combine all ingredients, including pulverized watermelon, and serve over ice.

    Hibiscus Watermelon Cooler

    8 cups water

    8 hibiscus tea bags

    8 cups watermelon juice (puree watermelon in blender)

    ½ cup honey

    1 cup lime juice

    4 cups tequila or 1 shot per glass if adding after pouring

    Instructions

    1. Add the teabags to the water and let steep for 5-10 minutes
    2. Remove the teabags and add the rest of the ingredients
    3. Serve over ice

    As much as we'd like to be the type of person who wakes up early, grabs some buckets and a sponge at home, and spends a few hours giving their car a DIY wash, we often find ourselves pulling into a car wash business instead. It's easy to feel guilty about taking the "convenient" route but in this case you don't have to! It's actually better for the environment to get a professional car wash rather than DIY! We break down the benefits of an automatic car wash below.

    Whether you have a brand new car or your car has been with you for a decade and a few hundred thousand miles, chances are you want to take care of it. In addition to regular oil changes and tune ups, you need to give it a good cleaning. Washing your car isn't just for looks. Over time your car accumulates dirt, oil, salt, and other grime. As well as being an eyesore, this debris can damage the performance of your car. Since we want to drive our car for as long as possible, washing it should be part of your normal car maintenance routine! But before you run to grab your hose and bucket- you might want to consider heading to your local car wash.

    It's common to think that going to the car wash is worse for the environment and too water intensive, when actually, the opposite is true. Car wash businesses use high powered nozzles to use as little water as efficiently as possible, and many businesses also have a system in place to catch and reuse old water (1). When you wash your car yourself, you probably just use a bucket filled with water and a hose. While your water usage may not seem that bad while you're washing, it adds up fast. Individuals can use between 80 to 140 gallons of water to wash their car, but a car wash business only uses about 30 to 45 gallons of water (2)! Many car washes also recycle the water used, so the water can be used many times. Some states even require car washes to use recycled water; in California, car washes must use at least 60% recycled water (4). During one particularly tough drought season, a city in California went so far as to ban using potable water for at-home car washes and required car owners to go to a car wash to clean their car (5). If you are concerned about wasting water, ask your local car wash if they recycle water and try to go to one that does!

    Another reason to consider using a professional car wash business is wastewater. When we wash our cars at home, we're usually in a concrete driveway or on the side of the road and let the water run down to the sidewalk drains. But that water contains dirt, oil, heavy metals, and other harmful chemicals that accumulate during normal driving, and those sidewalk drains don't go to a water treatment plant. Instead, that runoff is usually diverted directly into our watershed, which might to a lake, stream, or ocean and negatively impact aquatic wildlife and water quality (3). Professional car wash businesses are required by the Environmental Protection Agency to capture all wastewater and divert it into a sewage system. That means the water is safely processed through a water treatment facility and can be used for future car washes!

    If you really want to wash your car at home, there are more eco-friendly options.

    1. Look for cleaners that are biodegradable and phosphate-free, to minimize the potential for water contamination (3).

    2. Make sure to dispose of any dirty water leftover in the buckets by dumping it down your sink, toilet, or bathtub instead of pouring it down your driveway.

    3. Washing your car on an overcast, mild day can help save water, since it won't evaporate as quickly.

    4. Use reusable cloths to wash and dry your car.


    References

    1. https://www.treehugger.com/eco-friendly-car-wash-4863509
    2. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/top-10-water-wasters/
    3. https://cfpub.epa.gov/npstbx/files/KSMO_CarWashing.pdf
    4. https://www.carwash.com/law-requiring-carwashes-to-recycle-water-passed-in-ca/
    5. https://www.marketplace.org/2015/06/09/one-california-drought-winner-local-car-wash/

    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.



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