Create a Healthy Indoor Environment in Your Bathroom

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While we don’t usually spend a lot of time in the bathroom, it can harbor a lot of unwanted chemicals, toxins and bacteria, which in turn can affect the quality of the indoor air.  Bathrooms tend to be a room with the highest humidity in the house, and because of that, toxins generally produce VOCs at a much higher rate. Not only is the high humidity a problem, but the sheer amount of toxic materials in our bathrooms are a huge problem as well.

Cleaning products, to vinyl shower curtains to the personal products we use every day are made and created with toxic chemicals that off-gas into the bathroom air.  The small, enclosed space of the bathroom leaves them no place to dissipate and they remain in the air for long periods of time.

A secondary concern in the bathroom is the mildew and mold that can quickly form due to the high levels of humidity.  Mold and mildew once started can be difficult to remove and keep at bay. Mold is an organic toxin and it’s actually a living organism.  This means it needs a “food” source, which could be just about anywhere in the bathroom. Once the mold has a porous surface, it continues to grow and spread.  Things like woodwork, rugs, grout and underneath caulking are the main culprits.

By paying attention to a few key areas in your bathroom, you can dramatically reduce the toxins and VOCs in the air as well as keep the risk for mold growth low.

Cleaning Products

Cleaning products are one of the biggest ways we add toxins to our home, and they’re often times one of the easiest habits or items to change.  Cleaning products stick around on surfaces long after your done cleaning the bathroom. The overspray lands all around the counters and flooring and once the room gets humid from either a shower or bath, before you know it that overspray is contributing VOCs to the indoor air of the bathroom.Not only is it problematic to be standing on toxic cleaner residue with bare feet, but it’s also an unhealthy habit to be breathing in the VOCs from harmful cleaners in the warm, humid air.  Unless your completely scrubbing and rinsing your shower walls to remove the cleaner and cleaner overspray, chances are those chemicals are winding up in the air and eventually in your lungs.

With you kiddos in my house, I changed over my cleaning products to a non-toxic concentrated cleaner.  It’s plant based and has no harmful chemicals or dangerous toxins, so I have 100% peace of mind know it’s safe for my whole family.  Plus, it disinfects and cleans (which many homemade cleaners don’t do) which means I only need one bottle for my bathroom cleaning.

If you want to make the easy switch to non-toxic cleaning products, here’s a little homework to get you started:

 

  1. Visit ewg.org and search for your bathroom cleaning products.
  2. The worse the grade they have on the rating scale, the more quickly they should be thrown out.  
  3. Replace toxic cleaning products with a non-toxic cleaner.  You can find more on this page.
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Ventilate Properly

One of the biggest culprits when it comes to bathrooms is the humidity and moisture that can become very high not only while someone is showering, but for quite sometime after the bathroom is done being used.  It’s important to let the bathroom area completely dry out and the more quickly it dries out, the better it will be for the health of the indoor environment.If you’re lucky enough to have a window in your bathroom, use it if the weather is dryer outside.  During hot and humid times of the year, it may have the opposite effect to open the window to the outdoors.  But if the air is dryer than inside the bathroom, crack it open while the bath or shower is running and leave it open for a bit afterwards too.

Second, use your bathfan if you have one.  A vented fan is often times installed in bathrooms to pull moisture out of the air and expel it outside the house.  A high quality fan that draws the moisture up and out of the room is best used during shower and bathing use and for twenty minutes afterward as well.

Some maintenance tips on vented fans:

  1. Clean fan grates off every so often to remove dust and debris build up. This will prolong the life of the fan.
  2. If you’ve never checked, peek into your attic space to ensure that the venting connection running from your bathfan to the exterior of your home is in tact.  Moisture entering your attic space on a regular basis can turn into a huge problem (mold!).
  3. If you or someone you know is moderately handy, you can inexpensively install a timer switch for your bathfan that will keep the fan on for 20-30 minutes after a shower or bath to help remove moisture from the room.

Check Grout & Caulking

Caulking around the inside of showers and tubs can become loose over time and can allow water to seep underneath it.  Once water gets underneath it and gets trapped, mold and mildew can quickly form underneath the caulking, which is bad news for your bathroom.  Unfortunately the only way to correct the problem is to remove the caulking and completely replace it. You’ll want to make sure the area is completely clean and dry before running new caulking around the tub, shower door or surround seams.To help prevent this problem, using a mild but effective cleaner is best.  Harsh chemicals will eat away at the caulking.

You’ll also want to keep an eye on the grout between tile if you have a tile shower or tub.  Once there is a small hole in the grout between tiles it can quickly turn into a bigger hole where water can travel down the back wall of your shower or tub area.  If you notice a problematic area, you can use a tube of grout filler and fill in the areas as you notice them rather than regrouting the whole area. You’ll also want to watch grout for mildew as it can be a very porous surface that holds on to moisture.  Drying out the bathroom as best you can will help this problem. ​


Dry Out Rugs & Towels

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There’s a reason your mom always told you to hang up your towels.  Wet, soggy rugs and towels are a breeding ground for bacteria and mold.  They also can expel moisture into the air when left wet for a long period of time.Dry out towels by hanging them up immediately after use.  If you can hang rugs over a bar or bathtub, you can help dry those out as well.

I recommend washing towels and rugs 1-2 times a week in the washing machine.  You can put baking soda in the soap compartment and vinegar in the softener compartment and wash on the hottest setting.  This will help remove product build-up and reside from the towel fibers without adding harsh chemicals. Finally dry them on the hottest setting to ensure they are completely dried out.​



Seal Woodwork

Many bathrooms have wood trim and wood cabinets.  It’s important to keep this wood sealed with a non-toxic varnish to protect it from the wet areas of the bathroom.  When wood is exposed it absorbs all the moisture from around the bathroom and can hold onto the moisture for a long time.It’s important to seal that wood so that mold and mildew doesn’t begin to grow and also to protect the integrity of the wood.

If you do notice a spot that has faded and the sealant has come off, you can sand it down, stain it with a non-toxic stain if desired and then seal it with a safe varnish.​


Get Rid of Plastic and Vinyl Shower Curtains

Plastic shower curtains are a big health concern when it comes to the environment indoors.  These curtains are made from the softest plastic, which contains the highest amount of plasticizers and PVC.  Have you ever smelled the strong odor of a brand new shower curtain? That’s the smell of chemicals and plastic toxins.  These toxins continue to offgas into your bathroom and your home for the life of the product. And what we know about offgassing is that the higher the humidity and temperature, the more toxins are expelled.For this reason it’s best to opt for a different solution that is toxin free, but that also keeps water inside the tub or shower.  Looking for a curtain that can repel water is your best bet. Some of the best options I’ve seen are:

  1. Hemp: It’s naturally resistant to mildew and bacteria which can make it one of the best options for a liner
  2. Linen:  You’ll want a heavyweight fabric to ensure the water is repelled and kept off the floor.
  3. Cotton: These can be great as you can wash them when you need to.  Again, a heavyweight option is best to help repel the water and keep it in the shower or tub.
  4. Beeswax Coating: This can be an additional way to repel water, but definitely involves work on your end as you’ll have to reapply it from time to time.

Switch Out Your Hand Soap

This is often forgotten about in the bathroom as we just buy whatever is on sale or whatever we’ve always used.  But hand soaps are filled with chemicals and synthetic fragrances that seep into our skin and care carried to the bloodstream.  This is one of the easiest ways to remove toxins from your bathroom and one of the BEST ways to protect your body from toxins.A few alternatives that I use in my own home are:

  1. Thieves Foaming Hand Wash: This essential oil infused soap can actually support healthy immune function as it gently washes away dirt and bacteria.
  2. Homemade mix of ½ cup castile soap and ½ cup water.  If you want to add a little moisture, you can add 1 tbsp of vitamin E oil (jojoba or sweet almond oil work too).  You can create a naturally disinfecting soap by adding 15-20 drops of tea tree essential oil and 10 drops or so of lavender essential oil.
  3. You can create a foaming hand soap (which is easier for my kids to use) by purchasing foaming hand soap dispensers and using the recipe above but changing the ratio to ⅓ cup castile soap and ⅔ cup water and leaving out the vitamin E oil.
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