Creating a healthier, more non-toxic home might sound like a daunting task, and you may be wondering, “Where do I start? Do I have to toss everything I own and start over? Do I have to just graze on grass and drink air? Do I have to slave in my kitchen 24/7 making deodorant and toothpaste from scratch?”

Do any of these scary thoughts sound familiar?

This is just a small sample of the many, many thoughts I had, too, when I started my own non-toxic journey, so I completely understand! The good news is there are so many small steps you can take to create a healthier home and to remove some of the everyday toxins that could be affecting your family’s health.

One of the questions I get asked most is what are the biggest areas in the home that have the most impact. Rather than going through all the ingredients to avoid and going through room-by-room (that can come later), I created this five-step system for some of the most helpful places to start.

Just remember the READD method:

Replace plastic in your kitchen. Plastic food storage containers and re-usable water bottles can contain hormone-disrupting chemicals, such as BPA and phthalates. Not only can these chemicals disrupt the endocrine system (which regulates every function of our body) and our hormones, but they have also been shown to lower IQ in children with prenatal exposure.

How to do it: Rather than throwing out all of your plastic at once, begin by replacing the container and/or water bottles you use most and replacing those first. And buying BPA-free isn’t enough. BPA-free options typically contain BPS or BPF, both of which have been shown to be as harmful, if not more harmful, than BPA. For food storage containers, buy glass and for water bottles, buy glass or stainless steel options.

Eat organic as much as possible. This may sound easier said than done, but this is one of the best ways to reduce your toxic load. Not only has organic produce been shown to have more nutrients, but a study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives has shown that eating organic for just several days can greatly reduce the levels of pesticides in the body.

How to do it: To ensure that the produce you’re buying is organic if it’s not clearly labeled, look at the numbers on the PLU sticker. If it starts with a 4, it is conventionally grown produce, meaning regular pesticide use. If it starts with a number 9, it is organic. Remember the phrase “if it starts with 9, it’s fine.” A little corny, but it works!

If you can’t completely eat organic, follow the Environmental Working Group’s “Clean 15” and the “Dirty Dozen” lists. Try to always buy the organic version of produce on the Dirty Dozen list, which have shown to have the most pesticide residues, and then you don’t have to worry as much about buying organic for the produce on the Clean 15 list, which have been found to contain much lower amounts of pesticides.

Avoid artificial fragrance. Fragrance is a formula considered to be a “trade secret,” so its individual ingredients are not required to be listed on the label. The International Fragrance Association lists approximately 3,000 different stock chemicals that can make up a fragrance formulation, and these chemicals contain allergens, respiratory irritants, hormone disruptors, cancer-causers, and chemicals that are toxic to the brain and nervous system, as well as the reproductive system.

How to do it: There are several ways to avoid fragrance. One of the first things to look for on the label is, of course, fragrance! Not only is artificial fragrance used in air fresheners and candles, but it’s used in many personal care products as well, such as lotions and conditioner, and in products such as baby wipes.

One of the things to look for instead is to look for products that say “scented only with essential oils,” or “no synthetic fragrance.” One thing to be on the lookout for though is products that say “Fragrance-free.” Beware of those words on the label, because this typically means other chemicals were added to mask fragrance.

And avoid scented plug-in air fresheners and fragrance sprays, as well as candles. Diffusing essential oils is a great option if you don’t want to give up scents in your home.

Destroy dust. Believe it or not, common household dust is a major exposure to toxins in the home! Studies have shown that some of the most common toxins found in household dust include flame retardants, phthalates, fragrance chemicals, and lead. These toxins are associated with hindered brain development, hormone disruption, cancer, and infertility issues.

How to do it: First of all, don’t stress about it! Having a more non-toxic home should feel light and happy, not stressful. You don’t have to dust 24/7 to be effective. Having a regular dusting schedule is a good thing, but for more frequent dusting, concentrate mostly on the areas where your family spends the most time. This means in bedrooms, family rooms, and on the floor where your children spend the most time.

Here are some more tips:

  • Be sure to damp dust and damp mop; dry mopping and dusting just spreads dust around.
  • When vacuuming, use a vacuum with a HEPA filter.
  • Take shoes off before entering the house. So many things, including toxicants, can come in on the bottom of shoes that end up in household dust.

Drink filtered water.

This is a big one. We know that water is essential for good health, but drinking unfiltered tap water can actually be detrimental to health. Tap water can be contaminated with harmful chemicals such as chlorine, pesticides, radium, prescription drugs, and even hexavalent chromium (remember the movie Erin Brockovich?).

And bottled water might not be much better. City tap water is more regulated, and is required to do more testing than bottle water plants. For example, city tap water is required to test for bacteria such as coliform 100 or more times per month, while bottled water plants are only required to test oncer per week.

Not to mention the cost of bottled water. It can be thousands of times more per gallon for bottled water than tap water, and the National Resources Defense Council states that an estimated 25 percent of bottled water contains tap water.

There is also the concern of chemicals leaching into the water from the bottles. Hormone disruptors such as BPA and phthalates have been found in water bottles stored in as little as 10 weeks in plastic water bottles, and that leaching can occur even faster and in larger amounts if the water bottle was exposed to heat, such as left in a hot car (heat can increase the amount of chemicals into foods and beverage stored in plastic).

So what’s the best thing to do? Drink filtered water.

How to do it. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has two great resources for safer water: the first is their Tap Water Database, and the second is their Water Filter Buying Guide.

The EWG’s Tap Water Database is where you can enter your zip code and it will bring up contaminants found in your community’s water. Click on your town’s link to see what contaminants have been found, then head on over to their Water Filter Buying Guide to see recommendations on water filters. It’s a great way to find which water filter will be best after you find out what is in your area’s water.

How to Use These Six Steps

Following all five of these steps is great, but if you can’t, start by doing one or two as often as you can, and then add another step once one or two of these becomes easier. Even small changes can have a big impact on your family’s health. And it’s not about perfection, it’s about progress and balance. Start small, and work up from there.

This is where the 80/20 rule can come into play when it comes to removing toxins: if you’re buying safer products and doing what you can to avoid toxins 80 percent of the time, you don’t have to worry quite as much about the other 20 percent of the time that might pop up where you can’t control things. It’s ok to be just slightly greener!

Starting with food is the best place to start and will help build a strong foundation. Fueling yourself with healthy foods will help you feel better and will make you want to make healthy changes in other areas of your home and life, too.


  • Tonya Harris, MSHN, BCHN

    Childhood Leukemia Survivor and Award-Winning Toxin Expert

    Tonya Harris is an award-winning environmental toxin expert and the founder of Slightly Greener, offering busy moms simple and doable solutions to reducing toxins, without turning their lifestyle upside-down. As a childhood leukemia survivor and the mother of three (one with multiple learning disabilities), Tonya’s path has led her to helping parents learn how toxins in the home can affect their child’s health. In addition to Board certification and a Master's degree in holistic nutrition, she holds multiple certificates in the environmental health field. She is the creator of the Slightly Greener Method™, and has been featured on ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, Reader’s Digest, Thrive Global, and Parents. When she’s not teaching parents about toxic products, Tonya can be found spending time with her family, or raising money for her organization Clubs to Cure Kids, from which she has donated over $160,000 for childhood cancer research and family support programs in the Chicago area.