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Around the home

Improving your health by making your home environment cleaner and safer


  • Increase ventilation by opening a few windows and/or back and front doors every day for 5 to 10 minutes, preferably on opposite sides of the house to allow a good flow of air to pass through.

  • Get some houseplants or have a decent garden all around you and keep the windows open as much as possible. Here are the ten best pollution-busting houseplants — and theyre easy to come by; you may even have some of them, such as the spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum), pictured above.

  • Take your shoes off and leave them by the door or outside to stop toxic particles being transported into the house. There some nasties on the soles of your shoes. Having dedicated indoor and outdoor shoes is best, particularly in winter. Otherwise go barefoot — which is smart to do as much as possible, unless you live in a large grubby city where bare feet can absorb all manner of crap from footpaths.  More info

  • Discourage tobacco smoking in or around your home. This should be obvious, but it isn't only firsthand or secondhand smoke that is a worry, now there’s thirdhand smoke and it’s a potential new concern too.

  • Switch to non-toxic cleaning products, such as baking soda and vinegar or even good old soap and water and a bit of elbow grease, aka the scrubbing brush. You can also choose safer personal care products, ones that at least avoid these chemicals. Avoid aerosols as well. Look for VOC*-free cleaners. Avoid commercial air fresheners and scented candles, which can degas literally thousands of different chemicals into your breathing space.

  • Don’t hang dry-cleaned clothing in your wardrobe straightaway. Hang them outside for a day or two. Better yet, see if you can find a dry cleaner who uses some of the newer drycleaning technologies, such as liquid carbon dioxide.

  • Vacuum floors regularly, if you have carpet, and have it shampooed at least a few times a year. Wet mop wooden and tiled floors occasionally. Likewise, with rugs, shake them out or vacuum them regularly and shampoo as needed.

  • If you have airconditioning, have the ducts and filters cleaned out regularly. 

  • Avoid nonstick and aluminium cookware. When cooking, use earthenware, ceramics, glass or stainless steel.

  • Ensure your stove and gas heater/wood fire are properly vented.

  • When building or remodelling, opt for safer and more low-impact materials, especially paint. VOC*-free paints are becoming easier to find.

  • Opt for plantation hardwood flooring instead of carpet. Carpet traps a multitude of particles such as pet dander (skin flakes in an animal’s fur or hair), heavy metals, and all sorts of allergens. If you choose to lay carpet, look for one labelled ‘VOC*-free’ to avoid toxic outgassing.

  • Make sure your house has proper drainage and its foundation is sealed properly.

  • The same principles apply to ventilation inside your car — especially if your car is new — and chemicals from plastics, solvents, carpet and audio equipment add to the toxic mix in your car’s cabin — that ’new car smell’ can contain up to 35 times the health limit for VOCs. More

  • Compost. Almost half (by weight) of the contents of our landfill garbage bins — usually the one with the red lid — is food waste and organic material, which can be composted at home, to be returned to the garden to benefit soils and plants. In landfill, it just rots to produce methane, a gas 25 times more potent than CO2.

  • Plan ahead and only buy what you need between shops. That way it’s fresher and you’re more likely to use it all. This is because when we waste food, we also waste all the water, energy, land, capital and labour that got it from paddock to plate. It’s estimated food valued at at least $8 billion is wasted every year in Australia. And that’s just household food waste.

  • Don't put any of your bins out unless they’re full. Every time those diesel-fuelled garbage trucks need to stop, they use more energy and generate more pollution. It’s a little thing, but very easy to do. You can also reduce what goes in the landfill bin by finding a new home for something that still works or can be used by somebody else after you no longer need or want it. Think opp shops, Facebook Marketplace, Gumtree, freecycle and places such as Reverse Garbage

  • While re-use and recycling are important, think about if you need it in the first place. ‘Rethink’ and ‘Refuse (to succumb)’ are two ‘Rs’ ahead of recycling in the resource hierarchy. Check out The Story of Stuff and The Story of Change.


*VOCs: Volatile Organic Compounds

Examples include

  • aliphatic hydrocarbons, ethyl acetate, glycol ethers, and acetone (found in paints and coatings)

  • chlorofluorocarbons and chlorocarbons

  • tetrachloroethene (widely used in dry cleaning and by industry) 

  • benzene (in tobacco smoke, stored fuels, car exhaust; used to make other chemicals in the production of plastics, resins and synthetic fibres)

  • methylene chloride (in adhesive removers and aerosol spray paints)

  • perchloroethylene (used mostly in dry cleaning)

  • formaldehyde (emitted from paints, adhesives, wall boards (chipboard), and ceiling tiles)


A fuller list of VOCs

Since a lot of us spend most of our time at home or in an office, we can be exposed to VOCs from new furnishings, wall coverings, and office equipment such as photocopiers, which can out-gas VOCs into the air. Good ventilation helps reduce these emissions. New buildings especially contribute to the highest level of indoor VOC out-gassing because all the new materials generate VOCs at the same time over a short period. Indoor VOC concentrations during winter are three to four times higher than VOC concentrations during summer. That’s mainly because in winter windows and doors are kept shut. The take-home message is open those windows and doors as much as possible!​

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