Is My House Making Me Sick?

bathroom bedroom cleaning indoor air kitchen sick building syndrome Mar 26, 2018

by Angela Cummings and Sophia Ruan Gushée


Do you feel tired or under the weather when you’re at home, and feel better when you leave the house?

New moms spend more time at home with the kids and, along with it, sometimes comes congestion and a scratchy throat.

When you take the kids to the park, you enjoy fresh air and feel much better.

But when you return to your new home, you become dizzy or nauseous.


Since you’re spending more time in the home, your symptoms might be getting worse. Did you know that the items in your home may contribute to allergies, or illness-like symptoms? And, how may this affect your child?

Indoor air pollution

“Indoor Air Quality" (IAQ) refers to the air quality within and around buildings and structures, especially as it relates to the health and comfort of building occupants,” according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It adds: 

“Understanding and controlling common pollutants indoors can help reduce your risk of indoor health concerns.” (1)

What are common indoor air pollutants and how can we avoid them? They can be found in your kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, living room, and cleaning products. Read on to find out how your home could be making you sick.

1. Kitchen

Cabinets, tables, and chairs are often made from composite wood with a vinyl or plastic finish, or solid wood with a finish that is high in volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other chemicals. These materials have been linked to cancer, damage to a developing fetus, and low fertility in men, headaches, dizziness, nausea, and loss of coordination. (2)

Solution: Consider buying solid hardwood cabinets that are finished with a zero-VOC stain and sealer or paint. Alternatively, you could purchase the cabinets unfinished and stain and seal them yourself with your favorite zero-VOC product. If plywood is a must-use, make sure it’s formaldehyde free.

2. Bedroom

Mattresses are often made from polyurethane foam, adhesives, synthetic material, and flame retardants. Pillows and bed sheets are also often made of synthetic materials and fillers.

These materials and finishes in mattresses, pillows and sheets are made from chemicals that may contribute to thyroid disruption, cancer, birth defects, damage to the nervous system, dizziness, headaches, asthma, throat irritation, headache, and more. (3)

Solution: Consider a mattress made of 100% organic cotton, organic wool, and/or natural rubber. Similarly, choose pillows filled with 100% organic cotton or wool, and covered with cotton. Look for sheets made with organic natural materials, dyes, and no chemical finishes. Those with wool allergies should think more critically about mattresses containing wool. But, consider that you may have a different response to 100% organic wool.

3. Bathroom

Bath mats and shower curtains often are made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Often found on the backing of bath mats, PVC is used to prevent the bath mat from sliding. Shower curtains are commonly made from PVC, or have a PVC lining on one side of the curtain. PVC is one of the most toxic materials and has been found to damage to the immune, endocrine, reproductive, respiratory, central nervous and reproductive systems, cause cancer, and damage internal organs. (4)

Solution: Use cotton bath rugs and shower curtains instead of PVC. Note the types of dyes and finishes used, and choose naturally dyed and finished materials. Consider purchasing a thicker bath mat so that the weight of the mat will help minimize move-ability of the mat.

4. Living Room

Cushioned chairs and couches are typically made from polyurethane foam and synthetic covering such as polyester or acrylic. Since furniture is required to meet flame retardant standards, most furniture has chemical flame retardants added to them.

Living room drapes are often made from synthetic materials, dyes and finishes that are labeled “wrinkle-free.”  Chemicals found in polyurethane foam, synthetic materials and dyes, and chemical finishes may contribute to cancer, asthma, headache, damage to liver and kidneys, cancer, learning disabilities, thyroid disruption, nervous system damage, and DNA (cell) mutation. (5)(6)

Solution: Buy cushioned chairs and couches made of 100% organic natural rubber, organic cotton, or wool filling and covered with natural materials. Choose drapes made of organic natural materials, natural dyes, and no added finishes.

5. Cleaning Products

Used throughout the home, household cleaning products often contain chemicals that have been found to increase risks of asthma, allergies, respiratory tract irritation, headaches, dizziness, nausea, visual disorders, and loss of coordination. Long-term, they may contribute to kidney, liver, and nervous system damage and cancer. (7)

Solution: Instead, use natural cleaning agents—like vinegar, baking soda, castile soap, water, hydrogen peroxide, and a steam cleaner. Learn which cleaners work best together, and learn which ingredients you should avoid mixing.

In Summary

If you feel sick, congested, or dizzy in your home, your house might be making you sick. Below are ways you can detox your home as the opportunity arises.

  • Choose cabinets and wood products made of solid hardwood and finished with zero-VOC finishes.
  • Choose a mattress, couches, chairs and pillows filled and covered with 100% organic natural rubber, wool or cotton.
  • Choose sheets, drapery and other textiles made of natural materials, dyes and free of finishes.  
  • Avoid PVC in products such as bath mats and shower curtains, and instead, consider buying cotton.
  • Throughout your home, clean with natural products such as vinegar, baking soda, castile soap, water and hydrogen peroxide.

Making these changes should improve your indoor air quality and reduce your health risks.

Related Content


(1) U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

(4)(5) A to Z of D-Toxing, Works Cited Part 1

(2)(3)(6)(7) A to Z of D-Toxing, Works Cited Part 2

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Ruan Living simplifies a nontoxic lifestyle through its Practical Nontoxic Living podcast, free detox workshops, online D-Tox Academy, and transformative 40-Day Home Detox. It aims to help you avoid toxic chemicals, heavy metals, and electromagnetic fields (EMFs) from what you buy, own, and do— without compromising your joy and convenience. Ruan was founded by Sophia Ruan Gushée, author of the bestselling critically acclaimed book A to Z of D-Toxing: The Ultimate Guide to Reducing Your Toxic Exposures and several detox workbooks. A graduate of Brown University and Columbia Business School, Sophia has served on the Brown University School of Public Health Advisory Council and Well+Good Council. A popular nontoxic living speaker, consultant, and teacher, Sophia lives in New York City with her husband and three daughters. Her passion for empowering others to enjoy nontoxic living began with the birth of her first daughter in 2007. Everything she creates is a love letter to her children and for the healthiest, brightest future possible. You can learn more here: Sophia’s Impact.


This article is for informational purposes only. This information is provided “as is” without warranty.

It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. We do not offer medical advice, course of treatment, diagnosis, or any other opinion on your conditions or treatment options. To the extent that this article features the advice of physicians or medical practitioners, the views expressed are the views of the cited expert and do not necessarily represent the views of Ruan Living.

In no event will Sophia Ruan Gushee or Ruan Living be liable for any damages or loss of any kind resulting from the use of this website. Anyone relying upon or making use of the information on this website does so at his or her own risk.

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