The Extreme Detox Challenge

I read an article in the New York Times last week that completely freaked me out; it was about new parents who are taking non-toxicity to the extreme by purging their households of anything with dangerous chemicals in it. 


And I’m not just talking about plastic containers and cleaning products.  I’m talking about wall stickers, fire-retardant pajamas, mattresses, particleboard furniture, fragrant shampoos, rubber ducks, fabric softeners, carpets, computer casings, foam inserts made before 2005, and plastic shower curtains. 


By the time I finished reading, I needed a paper bag.  Not because it’s non-toxic and recyclable, but because I was hyperventilating and I couldn’t breathe. 


I consider myself to be a fairly well-educated person, and I try to stay on top of the latest health concerns, especially where my children are involved.   So when reports arise involving toxic chemicals and their links to asthma, cancer, and other diseases, I pay attention, and I make changes accordingly.  I’ve replaced all of my plastic containers with glass.  I threw away my non-stick pans in favor of stainless steel.  I use chemical-free laundry detergent and I switched to non-toxic wood floor cleaner and vinegar-based glass cleaners.  I buy organic produce whenever possible, and I try to avoid canned foods.  I thought I was being pretty responsible.  But holy cow, I had no idea how much I was missing.


Apparently, there are websites where you can find out the safety ratings of household goods, and books that warn you of the dangers of all kinds of everyday items.  And once you have that information, you’re left with a choice: you can ignore it, and continue spraying air freshener around your house even though you know it has phthalates in it that might disrupt your son’s sperm levels later in life, or you can make yourself insane trying to keep tabs on the toxicity levels of every item that might potentially come into contact with your kids.  But it occurred to me that there’s a third option, too: you could just bury your head in the sand and not go to any of those websites or read any of those books, and keep doing exactly what you’re doing.  This, I’m somewhat embarrassed to say, is the current plan that I am on. 


You see, I know myself, and I know that if I start researching this in more depth, I will never, ever, ever, sleep again.  And while this may sound like a rationalization, the truth is that I don’t have a newborn who is under my watch 24/7, and I can’t control what my kids come into contact with on a daily basis.  I mean, I don’t know what kinds of cleaning products are used at school, or at the ice rink where my daughter takes her skating lessons.  I don’t know what my kids are eating when they sleep over at their friends’ houses.  And I don’t know what’s in the carpets in hotel rooms, or whether the chicken used in the chicken fingers they order in a restaurant was fed an all natural diet.  And yes, I suppose I could try to find out, but I already have a job, and I don’t need another, full-time one.



As a mom, I am glad to see that common sense prevailed in your approach as I think that's reasonable for most people and what we do as well. However, as a chemist, I do want to point out something

"I use chemical-free laundry detergent "
There is no such thing as "chemical-free". While I realize that companies are talking about no unneeded chemicals or potentially toxic chemicals, it's not accurate. So even those substances that are deemed safe are in fact, chemicals. Even water is a chemical.

I realize that most people will say, what's the big deal? We know that we are only talking about the "dangerous" ones. But science education in this country is not where it should be and no where near the rest of the world. What may be viewed as a minor misconception of the idea of a chemical can lead to chemistry always being labeled as "dangerous", when it fact it's not.