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    Home Education, Other Thoughts

    Clear the Air (A Low-Energy Mom’s Guide Post)

    January 11, 2017 by Brandy Vencel

    I ‘ve neglected this series for a while, so if you’re just joining us, you can find The Low-Energy Mom’s Guide to Homeschooling index here. And if you don’t want to read all of that before you read this post, you should at least check out the health merry-go-round post so that you get a sense of what I’m talking about here.

    If you’re wondering what this has to do with homeschooling, well … have you ever tried to teach when you feel terrible? Because trust me: the healthier mom is, the better homeschooling is going to go.

    Cleaning up the air in your environment is one possible way to jump back on the health merry-go-round. Here are some ideas to get you started.

    What people don’t tell you is that being sick is hard on your body. It seems like we should intuitively know this. When you are fighting an illness, your body is working. It’s pouring resources — energy and nutrients, for example — into trying to fight and fix whatever is wrong. Sometimes this translates into it not doing a very good job at other things that it used to do just fine.

    One example is filtering environmental toxins.

    Your body is designed to do a good job at filtering. You probably learned about the miraculous lungs, liver, and kidneys in your health classes in high school or college. You can inhale a whole bunch of exhaust from a car, for example, and yet you don’t die — even when it’s full of mercury, carbon monoxide, and more. Why? Well, your lungs protect you. They filter out the bad stuff. Or, if it’s really bad, your lungs have a coughing reflex that will help you get whatever got in back out. Sneezing can also do this.

    But your lungs aren’t alone. Toxins can and do still get in, but your liver and kidneys take care of them. At least, that’s what happens when they are functioning normally.

    Now, I’m not a doctor or a scientist, so I’m just going to speak from personal experience. During the worst points in my health history, I had some very strange symptoms. I developed bad reactions to things that I am not allergic to — potpourri, scented candles, cleaning supplies.

    My theory is this: when you are healthy, you don’t really need to worry about every little toxin. It’s not a big deal, and your strong body is capable of handling it. But when you are struggling with disease, these little things can put your body over the edge. It can make things worse.

    And, correspondingly, getting rid of the toxins can support your healing. At the very least, it can slow the decline.

    Here are some things I have done in the past — some of which I still do now — to help clean up the air in our home.

    1. Switch to “natural” cleaning products.

    I put “natural” in quotes because I don’t necessarily think that cleaning products that contain chemicals like ammonia are bad, and lots of “natural” products are only mostly natural — whatever natural means. For our purposes today, natural is going to mean that, if it gets into your body, it’s not hard on your body. Depending on what it is, your body might even like it. (I have a lotion bar that, technically speaking, I could eat, for example.) I felt better once we stopped using the more toxic cleaners and soaps. I still keep Windex around, but we only use it when other things simply won’t work.

    I learned to do a lot of my regular cleaning with simple ingredients like baking soda, washing soda, and white vinegar. Still, it’s nice to have bottles on hand that don’t require a recipe before using. In that case, the Environmental Working Group is my go-to website. If I’m thinking about buying a product, I check there and see what grade it received.

    Here are some of my favorite products that received good grades:

    Seventh Generation Disinfecting Multi-Surface Cleaner in Lemongrass Citrus

    Citrasolv/Homesolv Natural Window & Glass Cleaner

    Seventh Generation Toilet Bowl Cleaner

    Shark Steam Mop

    2. Get rid of products that contaminate the air.

    Do you wear perfume? Are you sick? If you answer yes to both, I recommend you stop. Get rid of everything you can that contains fragrances and perfumes. For a couple years, I felt like I had trouble breathing in my bedroom. I figured I had a hard time always, but only noticed it at night when there weren’t other distractions. Turns out, I was wrong! Once we got rid of a candle we kept — and often burned — in our room, I felt so much better.

    This is especially pertinent to laundry. Check your soaps, softeners, and dryer sheets — chances are they are full of these things. Many years ago, I switched to Charlie’s Soap for laundry and it’s been faithful to me all these years, always doing a great job, and in a pinch I can add some water and use it as a cleaning product. I’m not super picky about dryer sheets — they just have to be unscented. And in each load of laundry I add either white vinegar, borax, or both.

    3. Add house plants.

    When I was doing research on indoor air a few years ago, I was surprised to learn that one easy way to clean it was to have houseplants. I manage to kill most houseplants, but my boys have one in their room that they have kept alive for years. If you can keep one alive, it might be a simple (and pretty!) solution for you.

    Here is a list of plants that are best at cleaning the air.

    4. Buy an air filter.

    We live in one of the most polluted cities in the United States and so opening a window isn’t always helpful and is sometimes detrimental. Enter our HEPA air purifier. It’s large and somewhat unattractive, but it does the job. Using the handle, I can easily move it from room to room. I especially enjoy it during super dry seasons because it keeps me from having to dust quite as often.

    Of course, regularly replacing the filters in your central air system is a good idea, too.

    5. Use allergy covers for mattresses and pillows.

    We’ve used both pillow protectors as well as mattress covers. This is the sort of thing you grow into. With us, we had a child with allergic reactions to his bed. At that point, I thought that maybe it’d be good for me as well. Turns out, it was!

    Here are some things I haven’t yet tried that you might find helpful.

    1. Test your house for mold.

    I’ve read many articles where someone came down with a mysterious illness only to discover after years of sickness and numerous painful tests that mold was the culprit.

    2. Keep your pets outside.

    I don’t have pet allergies, but our dog doesn’t have full use of the house, either. (That’s just because I don’t want to clean up the hair he sheds all over.) However, comma, since we don’t have allergies, he comes inside for naps or when it is too cold, too hot, too windy or otherwise cause for complaint at the back door. He sleeps in his crate in the living room at night. All of this, I like. But, if I thought he was making me or someone else sick, I would reconsider it.

    3. Use charcoal air purifying bags.

    Let’s face it: these things are pretty cool. The charcoal is supposed to absorb air pollutants and also the excess moisture that can cause nasties like mold to reproduce. Some people keep air fresheners in their cars — um, that violates my no-fragrance policy. This would do the trick and be nontoxic at the same time.

    I haven’t bought any yet because I just learned about them, but I plan to invest soon and keep one in my Suburban and another hidden near the dog’s crate.

    Enlisting Outside Help

    I said I was going to talk about this for each category. Here is how I see it in regard to clearing the air.

    First, we are actually enlisting outside help any time we purchase a product. I have spent hours making cleaning products so that I can save my pennies. But if you are too sick, you can either get someone else to find recipes and make things for you, or you can simply buy a product. (That’s why I listed my favorites.)

    We are also enlisting outside help when we buy a service, such as a company to test and treat mold contamination.

    But let’s say you feel so bad that you Can’t Even. What I mean is, you can hardly read this post before your head starts swimming. It’s too many details and even if you understood all of it, it’s too many decisions to make and that takes energy you don’t have. This is when you call in a friend or a loved one. You tell them you think this might help you get back on the health merry-go-round and you ask for their assistance.

    I have been there and trust me: if you think you need help, you probably do.

    Return to The Low-Energy Mom’s Guide to Homeschooling series index.

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  • Reply ann November 20, 2018 at 4:33 pm

    Mold… best advice ever was to get a hygrometer from Amazon (around $20). If your humidity is over 50% both mold and dust mites are growing. Even if you can’t find the source and it’s a rental, you can get a dehumidifier and lower the humidity so that neither mold nor dust mites grow. (Good ones are around $400, so get the hygrometer first!!!)

    We found out that while we lived in a cold climate and assumed it could NOT be humid, it was……way over 65% and we had been growing mold and dust mites for 2 years of super sick low energy. Then we moved to a dry area, again we assumed it could NOT have mold or dust mites….wrong!!! We finally got a dehumidifier because of a water leak and began to feel 200% better.

    It hasn’t and won’t solve all our problems, but just cutting down on the allergens of mold and dust mites has kept all of us feeling better and cut down on the need to clean so often.

    Again, if you don’t have humidity over 50%, don’t bother with a dehumidifier…..mold and dust mites have a hard time growing in dry houses.

  • Reply Sarah B July 20, 2017 at 10:58 pm

    I’ve just read through this series in one evening and have been so blessed! I’ve had Hashimoto’s for at least 6 years and am possibly Lyme without a diagnosis.
    I’ve hunted and hunted for encouragement for homeschooling moms with chronic illness, and specifically for encouragement in trusting God’s sovereignty and goodness in the midst of it all! Thank you so much for this. I hope to see more soon. I’m sharing this with friends because there and more and more of us – it’s an epidemic. And yet I know God uses it for good. I know He has in my life.
    God bless you!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel July 21, 2017 at 8:25 am

      Welcome to Afterthoughts, Sarah! The Lord definitely meets us in the trials, doesn’t He?

  • Reply Annie April 18, 2017 at 8:05 pm

    Thank you. Love this series!

  • Reply Tara January 21, 2017 at 11:33 am

    As someone who has been chemically sensitive and is now healing, I’d like to mention a couple of things regarding clean air. First, if you are dealing with an issue like mold, the solution will need to involve finding the source of the problem and dealing with that. Where is the mold? And then find safe (non-toxic) ways to deal with it (hint: not bleach). Using a charcoal bag, plants, a salt lamp, etc, won’t remedy the mold problem. Second, while I have had some of the charcoal bags, I’m not sure they’ve done a lot for me. I would say I’ve found the ones placed in the fridge to be most helpful! I got some small ones on Amazon intended for fridge use, and I think they’re supposed to help with moisture and odors. And I would add that the charcoal bags aren’t a substitute for something that moves the air. If you think of how much air is in a room (and in a house), the air needs to *pass through the filter media* in order for the air to be purified. So a charcoal bag won’t be able to do the same thing as an air purifier would. For great air purification, I really like the EnviroKlenz mobile unit (they also have HVAC filters); it is expensive, but if you are dealing with a health issue and need to actually remove the contaminants from the air, it’s a great machine. And periodically they have sales. They also have super helpful customer service, and they welcome questions or challenges. (I don’t work for them, don’t know them personally, etc; just a satisfied customer!) The same point applies here, though: you still need to find and address the source of the contaminants rather than just running the purifier. As an obvious example, if someone were smoking in your house, it wouldn’t be very helpful to run the air purifier while they’re smoking. The solution would be to remove the smoke and then run the purifier. If there is mold, you need to find the mold and remove it. If your cleaning products are toxic, switch to non-toxic cleaning products and run the purifier. It’s like turning off the water if your sink is overflowing; first stop the ongoing problem, and then go from there.

    Also, a word about cleaning products and fragrances. It is worth noting that some who are sensitive to fragrances are also sensitive to essential oils, so it is helpful to use fragrance-free cleaning products. A lot can be done with Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap (they make a “Baby Mild” fragrance-free option) diluted in a spray bottle with water (easy DIY recipes are abundant online), or baking soda, or Bon Ami scrubbing powder (for kitchen and bathroom). I haven’t found anything that natural options can’t address. People did plenty of cleaning before all the chemical companies came along, so I’m not convinced that we have to have harsher stuff to really get the job done.

    It’s also worth noting that many people don’t realize they (or their children) are actually sensitive to fragrances. If they avoid them for a while and then are exposed to them again (as in, walking near the cleaning products aisle at the grocery store), they realize how incredibly strong those scents are and then realize they have a headache or other ailment that they never before realized was due to the fragrances. It could be triggering anxiety, respiratory issues, headaches, any number of things. The fragrances do not add to the cleaning ability of the product, and they are made of combinations of chemicals that are either known to be toxic or have not been adequately tested for safety. Some are endocrine disruptors, etc. And in the case of dryer sheets, their use does not only affect the person using them, but also affects others walking by in the neighborhood when the dryer is running, people who are near the person wearing the dryer-sheet-coated clothes, etc. So those who are sensitive face challenges being around others (or going into the home of others) who use fragranced products. I’m just putting this out there for those who might not have thought about it or aren’t aware of what actually gives those products their scent. It isn’t really a spring breeze captured in a bottle (unfortunately).

    On a side note, a cleaning product like Dr. Bronner’s can be economical as well. Buy it online (Vitacost or Thrive Market have best prices), and dilute it in a foaming soap pump for hand soap in kitchen and bathroom, dilute in spray bottle for surface cleaning, squirt a little into toilet bowl for cleaning, etc. The bottle appears to be pricey but lasts a while when used in these ways (especially the foaming soap pump), and I believe is then more economical than buying lots of separate products.

  • Reply Becky Beck January 15, 2017 at 12:40 pm

    Clean air is so important! We’ve tried dealing with mold and I had bought several salt lamps thinking they would help clear the air…but only made things worse. We got rid of them and everyone is improving nicely! So I’m excited to try the charcoal! Thank you for the tip!

  • Reply Bethany January 12, 2017 at 6:42 am

    I just learned about charcoal air filters too. I actually decided to make my own with old nylons and socks and place them around the house and car. They seem to work well!

  • Reply Diana January 12, 2017 at 6:33 am

    Umm. Houseplants, tho. I kill them pretty rapidly, and I’m always concerned about mold growing in the dirt (that may also contain a dead plant).

  • Reply Diana January 12, 2017 at 6:28 am

    I love my Shark steam mop! We also switched over to more natural cleaners a decade ago — not because we were feeling bad, but because we were expecting baby #1. Recently I’ve been struggling with ongoing respiratory problems (like, since Thanksgiving), so I’m starting to be suspicious of indoor allergens, especially in the master bedroom that rarely gets the floor-to-ceiling treatment. Just bought a little charcoal bag (based on your recommendation) to put in my bedroom. Thanks!

  • Reply Rachel Anderson January 11, 2017 at 5:29 pm

    Major lurker here…this drove me to commenting (I never comment!!). I hope this won’t come off as sales-y, because you are one of my favorite, most respected bloggers and I would NEVER spam you! That being said, you should research Norwex cloths for cleaning. They’re top of the line microfiber, remove 99% of bacteria using just water, suffocate that bacteria with the micro-silver in the cloths, and most importantly, make cleaning the house and cleaning off messy children a non-issue. My spaghetti-loving toddler will attest to the fact that it works!

    Thank you for the low-energy mom series! I’m loving it, and I keep sending posts to my high-energy mother in law to help explain why I am not the same kind of homeschooler she was!

  • Reply Kristi January 11, 2017 at 12:34 pm

    Thank you for this, Brandy! I love that you take on both practical and philosophical issues with equal enthusiasm. And I’m always looking for thrifty but more natural cleaning (and product) suggestions.

    To that end, I’m wondering if you have anything you use that is a more natural equivalent of a “home-defense” pesticide? I have done some research on this but haven’t found anything (yet). My husband found a scary black widow in our house and wants to spray around the house. He will, if he finds another poisonous spider. We have two small kids, and I have read that children should not be exposed to pyrethroids (as much as possible), and that there may be links between these chemicals and cancer. However, apparently black-widow bites can be very dangerous to small children as well. So I’m hoping there’s an alternative product to the typical “around the perimeter of the home” spray that is effective but not so toxic to people, and thought I would ask you if you knew …! 🙂

    • Reply Brandy Vencel January 11, 2017 at 3:45 pm

      I have to say … spraying for spiders has been my one area of compromise. Daughter A. was bitten by a desert recluse a number of years ago and it was VERY scary and so I have felt like until I find a substitute that is truly effective, I just need to be that careful. Next time, we might not be so lucky.

      With that said, we try not to spray indoors. I think we had to do it once this year. But for the most part, we don’t have spider issues inside, so that helps.

      • Reply Kristi January 11, 2017 at 3:59 pm

        Wow, that IS scary! Glad it turned out OK. Thanks for your reply. It’s a bit of a relief, actually, to know of someone who cares about toxins and who did end up compromising on this particular issue, for good reasons.

        • Reply Brandy Vencel January 11, 2017 at 4:09 pm

          Yes it WAS scary. Especially when, a few weeks later, she was still touch and go on her healing, and my grandma decided to explain to me how a sister-in-law she’d once had died in her 20s from the exact same type of bite! I don’t think she realized how bad the bite was and it completely freaked me out!

          • Kristi January 12, 2017 at 1:48 pm

            Oh my goodness! Terrifying. Another spider was spotted this morning (not black widow; type unknown)! Seems to be all the rain we’ve been having that is suddenly bringing them in. I told my husband he can go ahead and find an appropriate perimeter spray, and just to make sure we aren’t home when he does it. 😉

    • Reply Tara January 13, 2017 at 3:51 pm

      Kristi, you might try finding a company in your area that uses more-natural ingredients. Sometimes there are pest control companies that do use alternatives, which you’d have to investigate for yourself to see what they actually are. But that might be a compromise option you’d be more comfortable with. You might also Google to see if any natural options like diatomaceous earth, etc, might be helpful.

      • Reply Kristi January 17, 2017 at 1:05 pm

        Thanks, Tara! Looks like Wondercide might have a more “natural” perimeter spray but I don’t yet have confirmation as to whether it is effective against (dangerous) spiders; they only mention fleas, ticks, and other crawling bugs, so I’m not sure how inclusive that last term is.

        • Reply Kristi January 17, 2017 at 1:12 pm

          Apologies for hijacking this thread with another comment, but I just wanted to confirm that the Wondercide outside spray I mentioned above is apparently not for spiders. I asked and they clarified that “the product would not be effective on spiders as they do not have the same receptors as non-beneficial insects.”

  • Reply Dawn Duran January 11, 2017 at 8:57 am

    Excellent ideas, Brandy! I’ve been cleaning with vinegar and baking soda for years now and am very pleased with the results. I learned a trick to minimize the vinegar smell, too, that also doubles as decor (in my mind:): I soak orange peels for ~1 month in a mason jar full of vinegar. I have these jars all over the counters in my kitchen, and when I need more cleaner I just pour the jar into my sprayer and then put the peels in the disposal to clean it. The vinegar is then seeped with orange oils and there is no nasty smell.

    I, too, have a black thumb so cannot use the houseplant tip as much as I would love to. We have, however, used similar charcoal products for more than a year and really like them. We have one hanging on nearly every door in the house, so that every room has access to it. The trick is remembering to expose them to direct sunlight once a month to purify the charcoal and keep it working its best.

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