How to Switch to Safer, Cleaner Products at Home
We’re surrounded by plastic every day. We’re exposed to toxins and harmful chemicals every day. Every day. It seems inevitable. But there are small ways to try and control or limit your interaction with certain toxins. Now, I’m neither a doctor nor scientist; however, I feel that I’ve done enough research in my life to believe that countless products we use on our bodies, store in our refrigerators, clean with in our kitchens, put on our babies, day after day are cause for concern. Again, whether it’s wholly true or partially true or not true at all (though I highly doubt it), I have chosen to believe that things like plastics, parabens, the mysterious “fragrance” or “parfum,” and so on, are in some way, shape, or form connected to the unfortunate rise in cancer, infertility and reproductive issues, developmental problems, and allergies in today’s world. It’s our reality, and it’s unfortunate. It’s unfortunate that we can’t just go to the store and grab what we need off the shelves and not think twice about whether it’s safe to bring into our homes and share with our families. But the reality is, we still do that. Many of us still go to the store, fill our carts, and never look back.
And it makes sense: we are busy!
Who has time to mull over labels and research and second guess every product and every ingredient? Well, not many of us. But if switching to safer means something to you, like it does to me, you’ll make time. I have no shame when my quick Target run turns into a 2-hour process, scanning products with my phone, looking for alternatives, and comparing prices online. And guess what? Sometimes–actually a lot of the time–I go home with nothing. Hours of stepping out of the way with my cart to inspect labels, grabbing things off the shelves only to go and put them back before checkout, searching on Amazon and EWG until my phone is dead: all for nothing. Zero. But it beats a cart full of carcinogens, in my opinion. Most of the time, I go home, spend a couple more bucks, take full advantage of Amazon Prime’s 2-day shipping, and get the good stuff. If you’re going to spend the money, make it worth your while. Besides, those scary ingredients you’re getting in the easily accessible, often inexpensive products: they’re likely doing the reverse of what you need them to do. Waste of money.
And that’s just it: our problem is money. Many of us don’t have a lot of green stuff just lying around. We’re all on a budget, often a very tight budget. I know I am, which is why it’s OK to take it slow. That’s what my family is doing, and over time, we’re slowly picking away at our products and switching to safer. It takes time, so give yourself time. If I won the lottery, I’d be taking out the trash that same day and stocking our home with the best of the best. But I know that won’t be happening, so instead, I’ve made a list. It’s my “Switch to Safer” list, which includes the potentially toxic products I currently have alongside the “clean” products I plan to replace them with, either in the near future or later on down the line. Some things, I’ve already replaced. Some things, I have not, but there’s at least a list, an acknowledgement that we will get there, eventually, and hopefully sooner than later.
Interested in what’s on our list, checked off or not? Here are a few big ones:
This has been at the top of my list for a long, long, long time. Why? I’ll answer with a few words: fragrance, BHT, and the big one–aluminum*. Aluminum is a known hormone/estrogen disrupter hidden in most deodorants that has been linked to breast cancer, prostate cancer, and Alzheimer’s. Yikes! I know what you’re thinking: can deodorant really cause cancer? I don’t know, but there are strong suspicions that support this, and keep in mind: we are putting deodorant on every single day, (at least I sure hope so). That’s what many people forget when they think, well, it’s just deodorant. How can such a small thing do so much damage? It can when you’re using it every day, sometimes multiple times a day. Your skin is the largest organ on your body, and it’s meant to be your protector, your first shield of defense. It’s also extremely absorbent, so you better believe that everything you’re slathering on your body isn’t just sitting on the surface. Think about that next time you dab on the Degree. That’s what I used to use, and it actually made me itch…a lot. Attractive, I know, me itching my pits. So I tried Tom’s and Kiss My Face and my husband tried Crystal, all safer options. Unfortunately, Tom’s and Kiss My Face just didn’t cut it in the odor department, and Crystal just didn’t work, period. Finally, I think I’ve found my match.
- It works! Odor is masked and sweating is controlled.
- It smells good; a bit more natural of a smell, but I actually like that.
- A little goes a long way, so it will last.
- Safe ingredients: Organic Virgin Coconut Oil, Organic Shea Butter (Unrefined, Fair Trade), Magnesium Oil, Manuhot Esculenta (Tapioca) Starch, Aluminum-Free Baking Soda (sodium bicarbonate), Wildcrafted Candelilla Wax (Euphorbia Cerifera), 100% pure lavender essential oil
- It’s a tad pricey (but like I said, it will last).
- It only comes in lavender or unscented.
- It’s really hard when it’s cold and it’s really soft, almost too soft, when it’s hot.
- Primal Pit Paste (stick form or tub); haven’t tried it myself, but I’ve had several people recommend it highly.
Glass Food Storage
I cringe just thinking about how many times we had previously microwaved food in plastic containers before this switch. Yuck. We FINALLY upgraded to glass for food storage, and it has been fabulous. One big perk: many glass food storage varieties are oven safe! The cheaper glass storage sets are often labeled as NOT oven safe, though, so make sure to check for the “oven safe” label, if that’s something that interests you. We went with Glass Lock; even though it’s a bit more expensive than Rubbermaid and Pyrex, for example, we found a good deal on eBay; they came highly recommended to us; and they have not disappointed us one bit. They seal extremely tight, and I can’t tell you how many people go with other flimsy, plastic tops, and they end up with cracked or broken lids. These lock tops are sturdy, and I would be shocked if they ever broke in any way. If Glass Lock brand just isn’t in the budget, I’d check out IKEA. We got a couple additional lock top glass storage containers from there, and they seem much like the Glass Lock brand (and at a decent price).
- Glass > plastic.
- Lock tops ROCK; tight seal and lids seem indestructible.
- Oven safe.
- Glass Lock is more expensive than other brands.
- As all glass goes, it is easier to break than a plastic container.
- IKEA glass food storage containers.
I can’t tell you how many shampoos I’ve tried. It’s been a long time coming with this one. I’ve done Suave and Paul Mitchell and Redken, and they all made me break out or itch, which totally makes sense now that I know what’s really in that stuff (parabens, fragrance, sodium laureth sulfate, BLEH!). Sulfates give you that lathery, sudsy feel in the shower, but I know now that this chemical reaction is likely what caused my irritated and eczema-prone scalp. With that, I moved on to some sulfate-free, more natural options. I tried some Burt’s Bees (Mango and Baobab) and Hugo Naturals Tea Tree Lavender (ingredients are meh, iffy), and they were just OK. My hair often looked greasy and felt filmy to the touch. If you plan to just stay home all day, they’re probably decent options, but I kept looking because I figured: there has to be a safe, effective shampoo out there that doesn’t leave me looking greasy grimy like I haven’t washed my hair in weeks. Besides, I personally do not want (or have time, honestly) to wash my hair every day. Well, luckily, such a shampoo does exist, and all bias aside…this shampoo ROCKS!
- The citrus mimosa scent is divine and gender-neutral! It’s uplifting but so very subtle. Oh and NO fragrance; only essential oils used here.
- It’s true to its name: clean. Gives a very clean feel; doesn’t leave my hair feeling heavy.
- I have thick hair, but I’ve been using just a nickel-sized amount, which seems to be plenty.
- It’s great for all hair types–frizzy, thick, thin, curly, straight, oily.
- No sulfates and lots of coconut oil! What’s better?
- Hydrating. My hair is so dry, but this shampoo–even when I don’t follow with the Beautycounter conditioner (which I also recommend)–locks in moisture and leaves my hair soft and shiny.
- Slightly pricey, but trust me, you get what you pay for. These are top ingredients from the company with the strictest ingredient list to date.
- You’ll likely have to share…my husband loves this stuff.
- Still looking, but as I mentioned before, you could try Burt’s Bees, but you’ll likely need to wash everyday and may feel a tad on the greasy side.
Much like shampoo, it’s been a long time coming for body wash, for the same reasons: unsafe ingredients leaving my skin dry, itchy, bumpy, and irritated. Some body washes I’ve tried even burned my skin. And so many of us just cake on this stuff; I get it: it’s hard not to when it smells so yummy. You might want to take another look at why it smells so good…dun dun dun…the “mystery fragrance.” The ingredients in “fragrance” and “parfum” are undisclosed, and synthetic fragrances are derived from petroleum. Both don’t sound so good to me. That is why I’ve switched to castile soap. It is the bee’s knees, for body wash and BEYOND!
- Smooth and hydrating; not much lather; very oily, so only a little is needed at a time.
- Certified vegan and organic; derived from coconut oil/olive oil; no sulfates/harsh ingredients or fragrance
- Comes in lavender, almond, peppermint, tea tree, eucalyptus, rose, citrus, and baby mild (I’ve tried 5 out of the 8).
- There are SO many uses for it: cleaning, tub scrub, body wash, shampoo, dishwashing, baby body wash, wipe solution (I use it in our wipe solution), and much more.
- You can buy it in gallon form, if you become obsessed and want to save in the long run.
- Great for dry, eczema-prone, and sensitive skin.
- Some might say price, but it’s so versatile that buying a huge jug is totally worth it.
- If you prefer bar soap: Dr. Bronner’s Bar Soap
- If you want a different baby soap: Weleda Calendula Baby Soap (bar) or Beautycounter’s Kids Squeaky Clean Body Wash (liquid and smells awesome).
- If you’re looking for clean but luxurious: Beautycounter’s Wash Every Day Body Wash or any of the soap bars.
It wasn’t hard for me to come across a good option in this area because I knew I would be hand washing all my son’s bottles and breast pump accessories with it, so I cut right to the chase: I wanted free and clear and a brand I could trust. The first brand that came to mind had exactly what I needed, and it has been great.
- This brand is legit and trustworthy.
- Plant-based; no petroleum here.
- Free & clear, so no dyes or fragrances.
- Biodegradable (bonus!)
- Perfect for baby stuff, but also tough on grease and grime.
- A little goes a long way; I use a couple drops and soak bottles in this and hot water, and they’re clean within 5 minutes.
- Reasonable price, in my opinion.
- None. What’s not to love?
Glass Water Bottle
If you’re like me, you carry a water bottle everywhere with you. I’ve always struggled to drink enough water, and still sometimes do, but I know now that if I always have it next to me, I’m much more likely to sip throughout the day. I find myself excessively thirsty ever since I started nursing, so I never forget my water bottle when I go to the grocery store, up to bed, to the chiropractor, you name it. It didn’t take long for me to realize that since I’m carrying this around with me every day and it’s my primary source of hydration, I should probably forego the plastic water bottles; that seemed like a no-brainer. I always run into glass water bottles at Earth Fare, and finally, when I had a coupon, I grabbed one for myself. Bye-bye plastic!
- Choose from straw cap or flip cap; I prefer a straw.
- Protected by a silicone sleeve.
- Dishwasher safe.
- Bottle and cap are BPA/BPS-free.
- Comes in lots of fun colors, and I find it stylish.
- Price, BUT you really only need one, maybe two, so it’s a one-time purchase.
- Sometimes the straw regurgitates some water if I open it after it’s been sitting in a warm car too long (but this may just be my bottle’s problem).
Well, I was a fool in this category. I recently purchased Mrs. Meyer’s multipurpose cleaner in lemon verbena scent. I know now that it’s not as safe/clean as it’s marketed to be: very high ratings in carcinogenicity and developmental and reproductive toxicity. Oops. Oh, and there’s fragrance up the wazoo…and I actually don’t like the smell at all either. That being said, I definitely need to replace this once it’s out. I’m still in the market for a good kitchen/multipurpose cleaner for countertops and well, everything else, kitchen and beyond. I want something safe considering this stuff will be cleaning one of the most important places in our home: the kitchen, where we prepare food, eat, and spend a lot of our time. I’ll likely look into Seventh Generation or even make my own with my essential oils (anyone have good recipes?), but I’m taking suggestions! Stay tuned on this one.
Between my husband and I, we go through a lot of chapstick. We’re constantly lathering it on, especially in the winter. My lips are often flaky and cracking from dry air and likely because of my lack of water intake some days. With that, I’ve gone through all sorts of chapstick brands, some toxic and some considered very clean: Chapstick (have you read this!?), Kiss My Face, Badger, Burt’s Bees, and EOS (HAVE YOU READ THIS!?! Yikes…the buzz about this highly endorsed chapstick is only getting worse, too). I was never satisfied and felt I had to reapply more times than I could count in a day. Besides the fact that I’m obviously picky about ingredients, I’m just as stingy about texture and scent, especially when it’s being put on my lips. There’s nothing worse than a thick, sticky chapstick, especially when it needs to be reapplied 20 times a day. So…I’ve been searching long and hard for a chapstick that could change my world. I realized soon enough that I’d never spent more than $5 on chapstick, which is likely why I wasn’t getting the quality I was hoping for; therefore, I decided to open my options up to more, even if it meant spending more. I figured, it’d be worth it for how often I use it, and let me tell you, I’m so glad I did. I was looking in all the wrong places until I found my true love. I didn’t know such amazingness and yumminess and luxuriousness could come in such a small little container! I could eat this stuff: it’s that good.
- Calendula is love! I was obsessed with this herb long before Beautycounter came along. Calendula is a healer: great for cuts, scrapes, bruises, and burns, as well as minor infections of the skin. Bye-bye chapped lips!
- It smells so gooooooood; light, sweet floral scent.
- It’s so smooth and conditioning because it has the best of the best working together: avocado oil, shea butter, meadowfoam seed oil, and jojoba oil! Hello mega-moisturizers!
- A little goes a very long way, so this stuff lasts.
- Also comes in peppermint, if you like a cooling effect.
- Price, but it’s so so SO worth it!
- Must use your fingers, q-tips, or other applicator to spread it on.
A lot of conventional toothpastes like Colgate contain Triclosan, sulfates, and something called Poloxamer 407*, which is a derivative of petroleum that is used to dissolve oily ingredients in water, and there are concerns that these are toxic to our organ systems. Whether they pose a huge threat or not, due to the fact that they are used in smaller doses in toothpaste and mouthwash, is the big question. But the simple fact that there is a question mark next to these names makes me think: why not avoid them altogether, until further research is complete? It makes sense to me. Besides, these can be easily avoided, and there are actually quite a few safe, clean toothpastes out there. My go-to used to be Tom’s Whole Care Natural Toothpaste with Fluoride in Peppermint, but recent research has led me to believe there’s better toothpaste out there. The “Whole Care with Fluoride” specifically is not the best but not the worst, according to EWG; however, I decided to switch to Trader Joe’s Anticavity Peppermint Toothpaste, which rates 0 on EWG and gets raving reviews. I have no complaints about it!
These are just a few of the many things on our “Switch to Safer” list. As more research is done and more products are discovered, this list may change, but for now, I’m happy with the subtle changes we’ve made and am looking forward to slowly making more clean decisions for our family. I think it’s reasonable to take it slow because we are on a tight budget, and as you can see, the high quality products often come with higher price tags. Luckily, for us, most of our switches have been worth it, and it’s actually kind of fun, at least for me. I tend to get giddy about switching to safer around the house. The feeling I get when I’m about to wash my hair with my luxurious, clean shampoo is as good as how it once felt to get the go-ahead from mom and dad to host a sleepover. It’s that kind of awesome. Yes, these are the funny things we get excited about as adults. Or maybe it’s just me…?
*Note: Poloxamer 407’s risk is low if used in moderation; however, I feel that because it’s often used multiple times a day, it’s risk of harm may increase, and simply because it’s a derivative of petroleum, I’d rather avoid it if possible; this is just my opinion. Regarding aluminum’s safety, there has been a lot of speculation as to whether its use, especially in antiperspirants, is linked to breast cancer and Alzheimer’s. Of course, the claim is always that research cannot conclude that aluminum zirconium is harmful in small doses, but those claims are backed by the FDA, which at this point in time, does not hold much weight or credibility, in my opinion, because the United States has not passed a federal law to regulate the ingredients used in personal care products since 1938. So until we take a look at what’s really in our personal care products that we use every single day, I’d rather just avoid the strong possibility that these chemicals are damaging our bodies, aluminum included. The jury is still out on this one, but until there’s concrete safety data on these chemicals, I’m airing on the side of caution.
– Last updated: June 28, 2016 –