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Articles by Mary Cordaro
Creating a Healthy, Sustainable Bathroom
Appeared in the Organic Trade Association's O'Mama Report Newsletter, May 2003

By Mary Cordaro
May 2003
©Copyright, Mary Cordaro May 2003, First Serial Rights

Our bathrooms can be places of health, rest and quiet—private rooms where we not only care for, but also pamper ourselves. And yet typically, we often inadvertently compromise our health with conventional linens, health care and beauty products and expose our bodies to chemicals and mold.

Here are some relatively easy steps to take to transform your bathroom into a healthy sanctuary:

  • Bath linens
  • Until conventionally dyed towels are washed many times, they can contribute a small percentage of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) from synthetic chemicals into your indoor air. Chemical treatments on newer conventional bath linens can also be absorbed into the skin.

You can support those companies that provide a healthier, more ecological alternative by purchasing bath linens made from organic cotton. Nothing can compete with organic towels. The more you wash them, the softer they get. Ideally, choose organic bath linens that are undyed, naturally dyed or bleached with hydrogen peroxide.

  • Shower curtains
  • Vinyl shower curtains can contribute a substantial amount of harmful VOCs into your indoor air. For a healthy alternative, choose a shower curtain made from hemp, which is not only fungus resistant, but also easily washable.
  • Personal and cleaning products
  • Purchase personal products containing certified organic ingredients. This is particularly critical for all products containing essential oils, as conventional methods of extraction can include toxic solvents. Remember that natural products can still contain synthetic ingredients, as well as extractions from plants that are heavily contaminated with bacteria, pesticides and chemical fertilizers.
  • Read ingredient lists and avoid personal and cleaning products that contain "fragrances." Conventional fragrances and perfumes may contain neurotoxic chemicals. They can also introduce high levels of VOCs into your indoor air.
  • If possible, avoid all synthetic ingredients in personal and cleaning products, including those items generally regarded as "food grade" additives, such as methylparaben. Skin is the body's largest organ. If you don't want it IN your body, don't put it ON your body.
  • Use personal soaps, cleaning and laundry products that are technically classified as "pure soap." This is the only designation that means a product is naturally anti-bacterial. Don't be fooled by chemically laden products with the word "anti-bacterial" on them.
  • Never use conventional deodorizers or air fresheners, which contain synthetic chemicals and fragrances and emit high levels of VOCs.
  • Ventilation, moisture and mold

Mold is a health hazard. In bathrooms, mold can be the result of leaky plumbing and fixtures, improperly installed or damaged tile or stone in shower and bath enclosures, wallpaper, which prevents walls from properly drying out, and the absence of an exhaust fan. Given the right conditions, including temperature, moisture and "food" in the form of some interior building materials, mold will grow on the paper backing of drywall, on paints and finishes, and on and behind grout and tile. But mold can be prevented. Here are some starter tips:

  • Keep tile, grout and fixtures free of soap residue and scale build-up.
  • Install an exhaust fan that exhausts to the outside, even if there's a window in the bathroom. Turn it on during a shower or bath and keep it running at least 30 minutes afterward.
  • Remove wall-to-wall carpeting and replace it with ceramic tile.
  • Remove wallpaper and don't build up too many coats of paint on the walls.
  • Fix all leaks immediately, no matter how small.
  • Check plumbing for leaks in cabinetry and crawl spaces on a regular basis.
  • Replace missing and cracked caulk and grout and repair cracked tile, tubs, shower enclosures and sinks.
  • Never use anti-microbial paints and finishes. Not only are they toxic, they also only mask the problem temporarily.
  • Water filters
  • Whole-house carbon filters can remove most of the harmful chemicals, including chlorine, from all of your household water. However, since your pipes will no longer contain chlorine, to prevent bacteria be sure that water runs through all the pipes in your home on a daily basis.
  • Shower filters and bath balls containing a combination of metals called KDF are a good, low-cost alternative for reducing chlorine. KDF converts chlorine to zinc chloride, which is much less harmful than chlorine.
  • Lead in paint, tile and flooring
  • If your home was built before 1980, be sure to have your paint, tile and vinyl flooring tested for lead before disturbing, removing or replacing it. A qualified lead-testing company will give you a remediation plan for proper removal or containment.

This may seem like a lot, but remember, just take one healthy step at a time. Start with cleaning and personal products and slowly incorporate these additional steps. Before you know it, you'll have a room of real rest, relaxation and health.
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