We want our home to be a healthy, happy space – it's the place we go to rest and restore, to spend time with family and friends, to enjoy free time away from work and the hustle and bustle of the outside world.
When we shut the front door, we believe we are protecting ourselves from the pollution and dangers that exist beyond our front yard. But what if our home isn't the sanctuary we think it is? Truth is, toxins that can damage our health can be found inside our own four walls. But there are ways to make your home a healthier place.
And while you're thinking about your physical health, don't forget your emotional wellbeing, too. Your home should also be a space that lifts your mood and makes you smile with happy room ideas.
5 reasons why your house is making you ill
Paying attention to the materials and manufacture of the items in your home can make a big difference to the health quality of your living space, without sacrificing on style and comfort.
It's a philosophy central to eco and biophilic design, which aims to increase humans' connection to the natural world to increase our wellbeing, at the same time as protecting the planet.
'Working in interior design, I am committed to finding ways of reducing our environmental impact without compromising on style – to create a home that benefits both us and the environment, containing fewer toxins and being a nurturing, comforting place to call home,' explains eco interiors expert Oliver Heath, founder of Oliver Heath Design (opens in new tab) and author of Urban Eco Chic.
We talked to the experts to find out how our homes are making us ill, and what we can do to make them healthier.
1. The dust is making you wheeze
Dust comes from many places – floating in on the breeze, from vents in our AC system, being traipsed into our house on the bottom of shoes, from fibers in carpet, upholstery and clothes, and even from pet dander and our own shed skin cells.
'Dust can be a big health concern.Breathing it in for long periods can cause long-term health conditions likeasthmaand chronic bronchitis and may contribute to heart problems,' says professional housekeeper, Sara San Angelo, founder of Confessions of a Cleaning Lady (opens in new tab).
Knowing how to clean a living room and other domestic spaces in order to minimize dust will help (a damp cloth and the best vacuum you can buy are your friends here). You can even learn how to vacuum an AC system to stop it from pushing dust into the air.
If you want to get on top of the amount of dust in your home's atmosphere, you could also consider buying a home air-quality monitor, like the Airthings House Kit (opens in new tab). This measures radon levels, temperature, humidity, and airborne chemicals (VOCs), and it has a mold risk indicator to minimize the risk of health concerns includingasthma, allergies, and headaches.
'We spend 90 percent of our time indoors, where the air quality is up to five times worse than outside,' says Øyvind Birkenes, CEO of Airthings (opens in new tab). 'Many indoor pollutants are odorless and undetected until symptoms arise. With radon being the number one cause of lung cancer among non-smokers, we believe that understanding and monitoring indoor air quality is key to ensuring a healthy home.'
2. Your paintwork is releasing toxins into the air
Although stricter standards mean paint formulations are becoming safer, products from some brands still contain high levels of toxic VOCs.
'VOC stands for volatile organic compound, but don’t be fooled by the word organic. We often associate organic with things that are better for us, but VOCs can be harmful,' explains Cathryn Sanders, Head of Creative at eco paint brand Earthborn (opens in new tab).
'VOCs are a mixture of a variety of different chemicals, some of which can contribute to either short-term health issues including irritation in the eyes, nose and throat. There is also some evidence that links VOCs to some cancers.'
All paints by necessity contain some synthetic chemicals – for instance, water-based paints require a preservative to keep them ‘fresh’, otherwise the paint would go off. Similarly, all liquid paints contain synthetic binders, 'but like wine, ours is produced from natural ingredients,' says Cathryn.
To stop your paintwork from harming your health, look for paint that uses fewer solvents, is low in VOCs, and is not oil based. Breatheasy paint from Crown (opens in new tab), for example, has a 99 percent solvent-free formulation, the range limits exposure to airborne triggers of asthma and allergy, helping to create a healthier space for the whole family.
'A lot of paints contain high levels of VOCs which, when they dry, emit solvents into the air which can cause dizziness and headaches,' confirms Crown color consultant and senior designer, Justyna Korczynska. 'If you’ve chosen a low VOC paint, then the room should be suitable to move back into the day after painting, assuming it has been well-ventilated.'
3. You don't have enough daylight coming through the windows
We need daylight in order for our body to produce vitamin D – the disease-fighting nutrient that's linked to lower levels of depression and better mood regulation. No wonder then that a recent survey by the window and doors brand Origin (opens in new tab) found respondents were three times more likely to believe their home is bad for their mental wellbeing if they have a lack of natural light, and 18 percent with low levels of natural light at home believe their space is bad for their physical wellbeing.
'There are ways to make the most of light to brighten your home, without the need to feel exposed with bare windows from wall to wall,' comments Rachel Davies, design expert a Shuttercraft (opens in new tab).
'If you like privacy but also light, opt for fabric blinds which can let some light in, and also reflect the light from inside the home. Shutters in pale shades like white and cream can help optimize light levels in the home – choose wide slats if you want the room to bask in natural light.'
To bounce light around the room for a brighter look, place a mirror where it can reflect the light coming through the window. 'Placing a mirror next to or opposite a window does wonders to make a space feel lighter and bigger. The bigger the mirror, the better,' Rachel says.
4. Your upholstery is releasing toxic gasses
Off-gassing is the term for the release of chemical vapors into the air – and upholstered furniture, carpets, and mattresses can be some of the worst culprits, as so many chemicals are used in their production. That 'new car smell' or the odor you get from your new couch is the fumes being released into the atmosphere. And the off-gassing continues even when the smell has faded.
'The flame retardant PBDE is often used to treat furniture, carpet, and clothes. This very persistent synthetic compound accumulates in our bodies, and has been linked to hormone dysfunction,' says sustainable living consultant Joanna Yarrow, author of 1001 Ways You Can Save the Planet (opens in new tab).
Search for furniture and furnishings made from natural and organic materials which are grown without the use of chemicals; some, such as wool, are also and naturally flame resistant. The Sustainable Furnishings Council (opens in new tab) has resources including a Quick Buying Guide, to help you source furniture made with fewer off-gassing chemicals.
5. There are chemicals in your cleaning products
Cleaning products made from synthetic formulations and harsh chemicals can cause skin irritation, breathing difficulties and, potentially, may result in toxic chemicals accumulating in the body and increasing risk of chronic disease.
Opt for products made with natural ingredients, or look for toxin-free household products that have been used as effective cleaning solutions for centuries. Find out how to make homemade kitchen cleaner from baking soda and Castile soap. Learn how to unclog a bathtub drain naturally. And discover the benefits of cleaning with vinegar, including using white vinegar in laundry.
Is your house making you sick? Don't be surprised if the answer is yes. Toxins, pesticides, gases, mites, and molds are everywhere, and the more you're exposed to them, the greater your risk for developing the health problems they can cause.How can I tell if my house is making me sick? ›
The “immediate” symptoms of poor indoor air quality can often resemble a cold or allergies. You can feel fatigue or dizziness and may frequently get headaches and experience eye, nose, or throat irritation.How do I stop getting sick in my house? ›
- Avoid sharing common spaces and personal items. ...
- Wash your hands. ...
- Avoid touching your face. ...
- Disinfect commonly touched surfaces every day. ...
- Do laundry often and with caution. ...
- Avoid having guests.
Lack of air flow allows for indoor air pollution to build up and cause health issues like asthma or sick building syndrome. In fact, modern furnishings, synthetic building materials, and even your own carpet may carry more chemicals than expected. These chemicals can make up to 90 percent of indoor air pollution.What is a sick house? ›
Introduction. The term "sick building syndrome" (SBS) is used to describe situations in which building occupants experience acute health and comfort effects that appear to be linked to time spent in a building, but no specific illness or cause can be identified.Can a dirty house make u sick? ›
A dirty house affects your physical health. It can cause skin irritations, allergies, and breathing problems. A messy house can also cause fatigue, headaches, and general irritability. It can even cause infections.Can a house be toxic? ›
Essentially Toxic Building Syndrome is where the air quality in your home or office is so bad that it can affect the health of those inside. You see you might think you're breathing clean air, but in fact the air inside your home can have more than 900 harmful chemicals and organisms in it, which you simply cannot see.Can dusty house make you sick? ›
Dust mite allergy is an allergic reaction to tiny bugs that commonly live in house dust. Signs of dust mite allergy include those common to hay fever, such as sneezing and runny nose. Many people with dust mite allergy also experience signs of asthma, such as wheezing and difficulty breathing.Can a house be toxic? ›
Essentially Toxic Building Syndrome is where the air quality in your home or office is so bad that it can affect the health of those inside. You see you might think you're breathing clean air, but in fact the air inside your home can have more than 900 harmful chemicals and organisms in it, which you simply cannot see.Can moving into a new house make you sick? ›
You'll face exposure to new places, people and microbes; this is often a huge reason for getting sick after moving into a new house. New air, new dust, new everything. Your body will take time to adjust to the changed environment.