The 12 Days of a Healthy Home: A Holiday Checklist

What we do seek, and at the top of most people's wish list these days, is good health. Why then, do we adorn our homes with holiday décor and engage in activities that could be making the whole family ill?
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The 12 days of Christmas are fast approaching. While five golden rings would be lovely, most of us have no use for two turtle doves, or a partridge. What we do seek, and at the top of most people's wish list these days, is good health.

Why then, do we adorn our homes with holiday décor and engage in activities that could be making the whole family ill? Holiday festivities are supposed to make us feel good, but not for the 1 in 5 Americans who suffer from allergies. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), allergies are not limited to spring and fall. Allergy season lasts all year long, with approximately 40 million Americans suffering from indoor/outdoor allergies, or allergic rhinitis.

Add increased time spent indoors, allergens from live and artificial trees, synthetic fragrances, unhealthy holiday baking, and dusty decorations to the mix and you have an even greater recipe for disaster. If you really want to give your true love something they'll remember, try this healthy home (holiday) checklist. Here are 12 ways to save your health and still enjoy the merriment of the season.

DAY 1: An Allergy-Free Tree: While the pine scent of a live Christmas tree is certainly reminiscent of the holiday season, it isn't the best idea for sensitive people. According to a study by the American College of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology, evergreen Christmas trees can harbor mold molds, pollens, and other airborne irritants that trigger seasonal allergic rhinitis. Most artificial trees are made from polyvinyl chloride, PVC, dubbed the most toxic plastic. Lead and cadmium can leach from the plastic as it degrades and can be ingested by a child or pet.

Solution: Look for a tree that's completely allergen-free like the PossibiliTree. It's USA-made from 100 percent real wood. Available in three sizes, it makes a great natural alternative to both live and artificial trees.

DAY 2: Avoid Toxic Ornaments. Ornaments can pose a threat by containing imported metal (lead) or being derived from PVC. Also, when you start pulling old décor out of storage, you're unfortunately bringing in months of dust and mold buildup into your home.

Solution: Choose old-fashioned ornaments made from wood, glass, or fabric. To prevent ornaments and lights from circulating dust into your air, wipe them down with a microfiber cloth and use a HEPA vacuum. Then, store them in plastic bags and in airtight containers when finished to prevent dust buildup for next season.

DAY 3: Wrap Responsibly. In the U.S. we generate an additional 5 million tons of waste during the holidays, accounting for 25 percent more waste than any other time of year, according to the EPA.

Solution: Look for wrapping paper that's made from 100 percent post-consumer recycled content and soy inks instead of virgin paper and metallic inks. Alternatively, try reusable cloth bags or get creative with the newspaper and maps.

DAY 4: Plant Your Way to Health. The EPA deems indoor air quality one of the top five environmental health risks we face today.

Solution: According to NASA studies, three popular holiday plants -- poinsettias, Norfolk Island pines and the Christmas cactus -- work as natural air purifiers. They provide a natural defense against by absorbing formaldehyde and other chemicals from the air. Plants can also gather dust, so it's important to clean them regularly.

DAY 5: Defeat Dust! Over 20 Million Americans have a dust mite allergy today, according to the AAFA, making it the most common indoor allergen. Most bedrooms, carpet, holiday trees/ornaments and sofas are havens for pet dander and dust mites.

Solution: Wash your bedding in hot water every 10 to 14 days, or consider a natural latex mattress that will protect against dust mites. Also, place your pillow in the dryer on high heat for 30 minutes to eliminate dust mites. Natural latex and wool are both naturally dust mite resistant.

DAY 6: Leave Your Shoes at the Door. Perennial allergic rhinitis during winter is at an all time high and triggered by the most common indoor allergens: pet dander, mold spores, dust mite and cockroach allergens. According to a study by the University of Arizona, 60 percent of dust is tracked in from the bottom of our shoes. Carpets, in particular, harbor allergens.

Solution: Clean carpets thoroughly with a HEPA vacuum and a non-toxic cleaner. Also, create a shoe station near the entry to leave shoes before entering the home.

DAY 7: Get Unstuck! Did you know that PFCs -- perflourochemicals -- are used in the manufacturing of nonstick cookware and in other coated items? They break down into perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, and release toxins into the air. Animal data for PFOA are consistent with the examples listed by EPA under the descriptor "likely to be carcinogenic to humans," according to a report from the EPA's Science Advisory Review Panel (SAB).

Solution: Choose natural materials such as stainless steel, cast iron, ceramic or glass cookware.

DAY 8: Light Your Way to Safety. Depending on your local recycling program, CFL -- compact fluorescent bulb -- recycling may require special handling or disposal at a hazardous waste facility. CFLs contain small amounts of mercury and can be a fire hazard. Each bulb contains about 5 milligrams (mg) of mercury, a toxic heavy metal.

Solution: LEDs, light-emitting diodes, last up to 10 times longer than CFLs and don't contain mercury. Plus, they're safe since they stay cool to the touch, making them less of a fire hazard.

DAY 9: Know Which Candles to Avoid. Most candles are made from paraffin wax, synthetic fragrance, dyes -- among other toxins -- which can release harmful chemicals directly into the air we breathe while burning. This includes trace amounts of organic chemicals such as acetaldehyde, formaldehyde, acrolein, and naphthalene, according to an EPA report, "Candles and Incense as Potential Sources of Indoor Air Pollution."

Solution: Stick with natural air fresheners comprised of 100 percent essential oil scents derived from plants and opt for organic coconut wax, vegetable wax or beeswax.

DAY 10: Breathe Cleaner! According to the EPA, Americans spend 90 percent of their time indoors where the air is 2-5 times more polluted than the outdoors.

Solution: Running air cleaners at the highest setting during winter months can help reduce allergic reactions to dander and mold. Implement a portable air purifier with a true medical grade HEPA filter to remove airborne particulates while keeping your immune system stronger.

DAY 11: Air on the Side of Caution. According to studies, most air fresheners only mask odors with synthetic fragrance or interfere with our ability to smell by coating the nasal passages with an oil film or releasing a nerve-deadening agent. They can include dangerous chemicals such as: camphor, phenol, ethanol, formaldehyde and naphthalene.

Solution: Replace synthetic fragrance with natural, 100 percent essential oil scents derived from plants which can be diffused.

DAY 12: Change with the Season! When central heating is turned on and circulating air throughout a house, it's also circulating allergens like dust mites, and pet dander. Many people fail do regular maintenance like changing their HVAC system furnace filters -- 41 percent of people fail to change their heating/cooling system filter regularly and 9 percent never change them, according to a survey from the American Lung Association and 3M.

Solution: Upgrade to a high performance air filter that will trap airborne allergens such as mold spores, pollen, and dust mite debris from the air passing through the filter. Change this every season according to the EPA's recommendations.