The Less Toxic Home

27 November 2008

Continuing on with the theme of getting harmful chemicals out of your home, I want to focus on airborne compounds today. They seem so innocent, don't they. Advertisements that tell us about the "natural" mist of lemon fragrance or to wake up to the smell of meadow. And because it seems so innocent, we fail to question their safety and we spray them, light them or plug them in believing that we are contributing to the wellbeing of our families.

I was absolutely gob smacked recently when I saw an advert for a well known Australian brand of insecticide telling us about their new "natural automatic insect control system". You mount the product on the wall and every 13 minutes it automatically releases a spray of insecticide, or as they call it - a spray of insect control. Every 13 minutes a blast of poison capable of killing an insect! Am I the only one who thinks that is insane? I have no doubt that stuff is selling like hot cakes. And I also have no doubt that if people thought about it, they'd realise the potential danger.

Air fresheners are another area of concern for me. Many synthetic fragrances are produced using petroleum and other harmful compounds you do not want in your home. Those air fresheners that are plugged in or that automatically blast the fragrance at preset times, are, in my opinion, best left on the supermarket shelves. If you want to add fragrance to your home, use essential oil in a burner. They are supposed to be harmless, but again, I never use them. Fresh air is the only 'fragrance' I want to smell. I open the doors and windows every chance I get and let the air in from the rainforest. No doubt airborne pollution gets in when I do that but I'd rather that than being in a closed up house with synthetic fragrance or insecticide.

I have no idea how insects are dealt with in other countries but here airborne insect sprays are commonly used, so are surface sprays. But have no doubt, my friends, even though they are called "spray" or "insect control system" what you are spraying is poison. They may be low grade poison or "pyrethrum-based" but consistent use of anything like that may have the potential for harm.

And you should remember that most insects are harmless and life on earth as we know it would be impossible without them.

Now you all know I'm an old granny from way back, so you won't be surprised to know I use a fly swatter for flies and mosquitoes, and for the occasional spider. (While I am writing this a huntsman spider is crawling on the wall in front of me. They are harmless and they eat other spiders and insects.) It is common practice in Australia to have homes routinely sprayed for spiders and other insects. We don't have this done. I would rather live with spiders than poison. We've lived here for 11 years (as of today!) and we don't have a problem with spiders, ants or any other insect. We have insect screens and doors and if something gets in, we either live with it, as in the case of some spiders, or kill it with the swatter.

I use the exclusion method for pantry moths, weevils and those insects we get in grains and cereals. I freeze flour, grains and cereals when I bring them home from the shop to kill any larvae they may develop and infest the pantry or stockpile. After freezing, the food is put into airtight containers. I wipe the pantry shelves frequently.

If the dog, cat or chooks have fleas or lice, we use diatomaceous earth which is available from garden or produce stores. It works every time.

Be aware that every time you smell something in the air, and even when you don't, there may be chemical compounds around you - especially in a new home or car. That new car smell - that's chemicals. New carpets, plastics, some benchtops, some paints all give off airborne chemicals. Here is a recipe for milk paint, a better alternative to many commercial paints.

I know there will be times that you might have to use some form of poison in your home but I hope that you know the risks associated with whatever you use. Even seemingly harmless things like deodorants, hairspray, makeup and new clothing may contain compounds that may cause harm. Be aware, read labels, do research and know what you're bringing into your home. Your family's health depends on it.

Chemical exposure
Btoxic free
Human Toxome Project
Pyrethrum and pyrethrins

Graphic from Allposters


  1. Oh yes, I've watched that ad in horror, as families happily go about their business while they absorb that poisonous 'puff' every few minutes. And the rationale for using them is couched in such reasonable terms!

    Like you Rhonda, I either swat or leave be. If you spray for one insect, then innocents die too...

  2. How timely! I was just taking a break from cleaning and read this. I was dusting/polishing my furniture with olive oil and lemon juice on a cloth. As I was rubbing all the wood I was thinking about how good it smelled. SOOO much better than before when I'd use lemon-scented cleaners with who-knows-what in them.
    My favorite way to make my home smell wonderful is simple--I cook. Right now our home is filled with the scent of sweet potatoes baking. Usually, it's the smell of bread baking, or something else yummy. I find I'd rather those smells than any candle or spray.
    Well, off to clean the bathroom where everything will smell like vinegar for a few moments!

  3. Thanks Rhonda. I read recently in 'Choosing Eden' (Adrienne Langman) that she accidentally used water and a bit of lavender essential oil on a few flies and they died pretty fast! I am going to try this soon, as I have just ordered some lavender essential oil. I know you have read the book because I first found out about her book on your blog, and I was wondering if you had tried this too and how it had worked for you?



  4. Hi Rhonda,
    I've been so busy lately and our baby is due in a few weeks, but I pop in every day to read your blog. We don't use those freshners or sprays either - not because (in the past) we were being particularly conscious about the poisons in them, but I don't actually like the way they smell anyway. But nowadays I am conscious about the poisons and it goes against the grain to be around them. I remember those huntsman spiders from Australia!! I've had a few encounters with them. Not sure I could handle one crawling on my wall - I'd probably be encouraging it to go back outside!
    There is a modern version of the old flyswat that my 9 year old son loves to use. My parents gave it to him for a gift one year, and he is our chief fly-swatter now. It's shaped like the old flyswat and gives the flys a little electric shock which kills them instantly (does not shock humans), and being a 9 year old boy he loves it! He has a running tally of how many flys he has killed. ;o)
    Rachel from NZ

  5. That ad saw my jaw drop to the floor too :-O I actually couldn't believe it though! When we moved in to this house it took me a while to find the source of the horrendous air freshener 'stink'... I never expected it to be tucked away in the back room as it was so overwhelming. Those plug in electric automatic things are responsible for a lot of house fires too I gather. There is an e-mail chain letter thing about it which I doubt the origins of but no doubt there's some truth in that even. Might have a look on ... hhmmmmm yuck yuck and yuck again. Disgusting things.

  6. I was very interested to read this. The last few years I have noticed myself quickly becoming sensitive to a great many airborn things in my environment. It scares me, actually, because I have so little control over what I encounter. In my home I have a say, of course, but not out at the store, or even in my yard (neighbors have their yards sprayed, etc). It just amazes me how little thought many people (most?) give to what it really is that they surround themselves with, and how little benefit they actually derive from it. Thanks for the reasonable voice and helpful alternatives!

  7. I heard the funniest and true story about three young women each weilding a tin of Mortein, spraying like mad to kill one cockroach in a little car. After they had each used up nearly half a tin inside the car they 'gave up' not knowing if the poor thing was alive or dead and proceeded to enter the car themselves! Of course they live in Melbourne. LOL
    You couldn't live here where I do with an attitude like that. Seriously I couldn't agree more with anything you said. I believe a chronic fatique friend of mine is making herself worse by filling her home with 'germ' killing products and how on earth people cannot comprehend that those airfresheners are poisonous is beyond me. Light a match for a few seconds above the toilet (not advisable if you have pyromaniac sons in the house of course!) if the smell offends or better still close the lid and open the window! Better stop raving now!! Cherrie

  8. I am glad to see someone else agrees with me on the horrible smells and toxic yuk called air fresheners. We have cats with an indoor litter tray and sometimes there's a pong! Once the source is dealt with (hope nobody's eating here!) I open a window or two, or if it's too cold, use my home made air freshener.

    I use a mix of 50% water, 50% white vinegar with 20 or so drops of essential oil, usually lavender. This is in spray bottles and works a treat.

  9. Yes Rhonda that ad is amazing, but the power of advertising will sadly make some poor souls buy this poison. Thanks for reminding us of the dangers, as by keeping it in front of us we will in turn bring the subject up with co workers, friends,family and such and hopefully more people will think before they buy that stuff. Can't cope with huntsman spiders inside though so have to get my husband Joe to take them outside.I remember when I was a little girl Mum had just cut our lunches for school when she looked up at the ceiling and a huntsman was sitting right above them. She left our lunches on the bench went and got her purse and gave us all lunch money and sent 3 happy kiddies off to school . Such a treat to actually buy our lunch.Later in the morning a neighbour came in and removed Mum's unwelcome guest. I guess I inherited her fear of them.

  10. Amen to that Rhonda! Want fresh air? Open the doors and windows! I can't stand the air fresheners, and my SIL gets migraines from anything like that.

    I do own a can of fly spray, the first one in nearly three years! We were inundated recently with hundreds of flies in the house and used the spray for two days and kept the doors and windows open to air it out (with screens to prevent more coming in!) It worked and I haven't used it since.

  11. I too saw the ad for the insecticide and couldn't believe it. I live in the country and there are bugs but we live with them. I swat the flies, catch the spiders and release them outdoors and put up with a few spider webs around the place. I would much rather a few bugs than poison being puffed into the air every few minutes.
    My air freshener is an open door or something cooking in the kitchen. At the moment the house smells like lavender as I made a batch of lavender scented soap yesterday. Today it will be grapefruit scented soap. I use pure essential oils not artificial stuff.

  12. my husband is horrified by those ads with continuous sprayers for rooms...
    and plug ins are a major cause of home fires...throw them away.

    we r with u, doors and windows r opened daily to let in natural air and smells. (ok in winter its not daily...we would be a freezer hehe)

  13. I don't think that particular product is available in the US, or at least I haven't seen the commercial for it. But it is one I would avoid. Because my daughter and I both have asthma, we've always tried to stay away from air fresheners and just about any other sprayed chemical. Especially bug spray. I'm not a big fan of putting more chemicals into the environment anyway, either for cleaning, bugs or air fresheners. I have occasionally used spray on wasps, but only if I can't get rid of them any other way. My daughter has a good chance of being allergic to bees and similar insects, but we try to live and let live. We have to deal with spiders, but most of them are harmless so we either leave them alone or move them outside. We have had Brown Recluse spiders, they usually get squashed as soon as we see them. Most spiders tht we have are harmless and they get rid of a lot of the unpleasant bugs. We have had ants at times, but we have been pretty lucky. We have had to use a little bit of ant killer, but again only if we have to. Air fresheners are the ones that I think are a big waste of money, they don't freshen anything. They just cover up other odors and sometimes they are worse. We also can't handle perfume that people wear, because of the allergies and asthma.

  14. Great post once again, Rhonda. I try to keep my home free of a lot of gook, but there are times when it seems unavoidable (like that time in Michigan when the carpets were flea infested - horrors!). My daughters grew up with the "safety zone" concept. If a spider was too high up to reach than she was in the "safety zone".

  15. ABSOBLOODYLUTELY Rhonda well said.

    I have never had any home we have ever lived in sprayed with commercial spray.

    My sister used to spray her own house she would buy the chemnicals mix them up then go around and spray!!!!! I am sure it contributed to the breast cancer. (well maybe not but it can't help being exposed to that.

    We also don't use sprays in the yard we are the boring ones who take a water bottle and a mattock and go dig out the thistles.

    I work in a local Real Estate agents on the weekend and we have a property (100acres) that has "no chemicals used for 10 years " on the sales pitch sad we even have to state it hey??


    PS; what happens if your toddler is standing next to the bug thingy when it goes off????????????

  16. We let most spiders stay in our home. Most of them are harmless or even beneficial. When we see a spider that bothers us, or another insect that we don't want in the house, we "escort it out". We gently nudge it onto a piece of paper and, if it is a flying insect, put a glass over top of it then carry it out the yard and release it.

    While at the vet's office with my cat recently we spotted a large spider. My vet and her assistant were about to kill it and I asked if I could just take it outside for her. We scooped it up in a paper towel and I ran outside and deposited it into the neighboring field.

  17. I too was actaully alarmed when seeing the ad that puffs a scent in to the room every few mins or so. I cannot imagine what poisons they expel under the guise of perfumes! and to think humans are ingesting that into their systems!

    I once sat in a restaurant that had one of those and it was located under my seat... I unplugged it as the 'perfume' it emanated made me feel sick and especailly in a food situation! yuk!

  18. It's absolutely terrifying the things people are doing to their immediate environment with these sorts of things, thanks for doing a post about it Rhonda. Those automatic insect sprays are just plain stupid, and I can't believe they're allowed to sell them!

    We have screens on the doors and windows, and have very few problems with flies etc. When we were living in our shed, I didn't even bother to swat them, just shoed them away, and kept food covered. Spiders I catch and take outside, except daddy long legs, who can stay. Supposedly they keep the redbacks away. Definately they will be eating any smaller bugs that find their way through the screens.

  19. I haven't seen the add but there is no way I would use anything like that, they are a complete waste of money.

    It took me years of convincing my husband to stop using fly spray like it was air freshener, but now we are spray free. We don't seem to have any problems with crawlies in the house although I will kill a spider - they make my skin crawl and I can't take my eyes off one when I see them.

    They best way to make a house smell lovely is to open the windows as you said and also to bring in some freshly cut flowers and herbs from the garden. Perfect!

  20. The other consideration of course is how much elecricity do they use being on 24/7??


  21. Even my kids could not believe that bug-spray ad! And as for the automatic air fresheners- they make houses smell like public toilets!
    I would also advise only buying aromatic and essential oils from reputable sellers. Some of the ones in discount stores and $2 shops smell suspiciuosly chemical, as do their scented candles.

  22. Hi Rhonda
    I agree! Imagine breathing those poisons in day and night, yuk! We have been almost 100% chemical free since my eldest son came down with chronic fatigue at 12 yrs old due to the chemicals used on crops in the rural area that we lived in. He still suffers 11 years later.
    How do you cope with cockroaches, we swat those we find and I do try to keep cupboards etc clean and not leave out food overnight, but I am a bit(very)paranoid about these creepy crawlies!! Even if I only see one a week it makes me think I have a dirty house and how many live where I can't see them. Any suggestions would be great. I have been wanting to ask you this for months but it seemed off topic so thanks for your post today!

  23. I feel exactly the same. We had a white tip problem last year in my little boy's room. My husband went out and bought surface spray and I freaked (inside), then hid it :o)
    I wiped around with eucalyptus and orange zest. No probs!
    They're in our room now, but I have stuck to the 'squish it if it's poisonous, hoover if it's not' rule.

  24. I'm like you, a fresh air kinda girl! my windows and screen door are opened on any decent day.
    By the way, I tried the baking soda and vinegar for dishwashing and my dishes came out great! thanks for the advice!

  25. I don't watch much commercial TV and I'm astonished. Automatic puffs of insecticide into the house? You'd think it was 1962! And those electric air fresheners are just disgusting -- people who use them can't have any sense of smell. The only air freshener I need is an open window! But I do love fresh flowers in the house as well... the smell of dinner... frying onions... baking bread or cakes...

  26. Like you, Rhonda, we have insect screens. Some fellow spiders still invade our home - I don't mind spiders so much, but those webs adorning the corners of my walls and ceiling... you get the drift, right? :o) I hate killing innocent little spiders, so I catch them and put them outside. They come back. I put them outside again. And on it goes...

  27. My sister's middle aged cat started to suffer from fits a few years back. Taken to the vet's the prognosis was that nothing could be done and she would not last long. Sis then realised that the cat was affected by one of those room fresheners that puffed out chemicals periodically. She threw them out and the cat recovered completely.

    We have a battery operated device which sucks unwelcome insects into a plastic tube from whence they can be deposited in the garden. We can even suck up spiders with a leg span bigger than the opening, without harming them. So much better than the old tumbler+cardboard routine.

  28. we've just had to spend a few months living with my mother - a cleaning robot!

    My poor border collie ended up with a painfully itchy rash all over her body for almost the entire time we were there. The vet said that it was common for pets to suffer allergic reactions to cleaning chemicals.

    It's completely gone now that we're back in our own space and using sensible cleaning products.



  29. PS: This is a bit off-topic, Rhonda, but I wanted to let you know we have taken another small step towards water conservation. When we shower around here, it takes time until the water reaches desired temperature. So now, instead of just letting it flow down the drain, we take a bucket to the shower and fill it while we regulate the water temperature. Then we use it later for watering some of our plants in the garden.

  30. I'm another who hasn't sprayed for pests for many years and make my own cleaners / air freshners etc. My boys are leaving home soon and have asked for the recipes so they can make them too. Rhonda can you tell us more about how to use the diatomaceous earth for our pets. I checked out the weblink but it didn't explain.

  31. OH MY GOODNESS!!!! I just picked myself up off the floor after reading about the new auto insect spray. I have not bought a chemical in over 15 years. I live in the forest and do not have a problem with any infestations. If a bug makes it past my indoor cat I simply catch and release it outside. The chooks take care of anything outside. Like many of you I bake to fill the air with wonderful aroma's.

  32. I agree with the no insecticide thing - even though I hate spiders ! I do have a problem with silverfish though, I read that wormwood was good at repelling them - has anyone tried that or got any other ideas to get rid of them ?

  33. This is an interesting topic, thank you. Have you also investigated just what goes into makeup? (I notice from your photographs you wear it) After finding out it's no more foundation and mascara for me, I was horrified to find just what I had been putting on my face.

  34. Rhonda,

    A few years ago we had to live in an appartment complex for three months while we were between houses. Management sprayed all appartments every couple of months for insects, spiders and who knows what else, whether there were any present or not. Lots of things crawled in under the front door, and every two or three days I would sweep up a pile of dead little insect bodies that had been killed by walking across three feet of toxic carpet. After the first week, having realised with horror what was going on, I banned our two small children from playing on the floor, and required them to play on their beds. (Very inconvenient at bed time, because all toys had to be put away every single day, but worth it to safeguard their health.) I can't imagine the cummulative effects on children growing up in such an environment.

  35. Rhonda -- Coming out of lurkdom for this topic. As an asthmatic, I am extremely sensitive to the chemical sprays, cleaners, and scents in general. For an air freshener/deodorizer, I've found that few things beat good, old-fashioned white vinegar. I spritz it in the room with problem scents/odors (even the one where I keep the cats' litterbox. By the (very short) time the smell of vinegar evaporates, the other scents are gone, too.

    Mo from Oklahoma (Central U.S.)

  36. Leah, I haven't tried lavendar essential oil.

    Rachel, I'm thinking of you. You have a couple of weeks to go, haven't you?

    Daisy, it operates on batteries.

    Cockroaches, I either leave a borax and honey bait in an upturned jar lid on the bench, or sprinkle diatomaceous earth around behind the fridge.

    HI Mrs Anna, I'm thinking of you and your baby too. Take care love.

    anon, I buy my makeup here:

    Louise, I'll do another post about this next week and explain about how to use diatomaceous earth and a bit more about "safe" baits.

    I really enjoyed reading how you all deal with insects.

  37. the rampant, excessive unnecessary use of insecticides all over the world has brought about the extinction of many many species of insects that are integral to the biosphere. The long term damage from their absence is yet to be seen.
    The same goes for the use of anti bacterial soaps and other cleaners. Notice that they claim to kill 99.9% of the bacteria in your home. Well that leaves 0.1% of the bacteria that are resistant to bacteriacides and grow stronger with each application. We are creating a world of super-bacteria that nothing will be able to control and we don't even know it. Leave it to oblivious corporations to put their greed ahead of the health and safety of human kind.

  38. Rhonda, I saw that ad too and grimaced. There's another one featuring animated animals with one asking the other how she manages to have such a "fresh smelling home". What a load of rot.

    In a very odd juxtaposition, in this month's Burke's backyard mag, there's a really good article on organic pest control - like milk spray for mildew etc - and a big fat add for an interior household insecticide sandwiched in between.

    Our home is in bushland and we have spiders everywhere on the outside of the house. Just like elbow grease for using green products on the inside of hte home, a cobweb brush and basic detergent is all you need to cosmetically clean the outside. Killing the spiders is pointless and only likely to make us sick with the poison, so we don't bother. They're not redbacks or funnel webs or anything likely to harm us.

    That said, I don't mind telling you I steer clear of them and still jump with fright like a woman in a 1950's tweety bird cartoon when they pop their heads out.

    What is it with us, that our houses need to be perfumed? Because of the bushland, after rain our whole home smells of peppermint gum, and you can't beat that. I'll stop rambling now.
    Lisa x

  39. I thought I was the only person who hated those automatic sprayers!!

    My husband still buys a slew of cleaning stuff which I refuse to use. He does use vinegar on the floors though.

    For many years I have had trouble walking down the cleaning aisle at the supermarket. My eyes water and I start sneezing. How do people cope with all those chemicals and chemical smells?

    Thanks for an interesting blog Rhonda.

  40. We have 4 or 5 fly swats. My girls bought hubby a huge on as a joke but its great and well used.

  41. Sorry, I'm on a catch-up as not been here since Tuesday last week! There are ads in the UK too for those horrible air fresheners. Incredibly, there's now one that has an in-built 'sensor' so whenever somebody walks past it, it sprays the chemicals right at them!! I think they're absolutely disgusting. IF somebody has one going in their house I have to apologise and ask them to turn it off as it makes me feel physically unwell.

    In work, too, the cleaners use far too much chemical in their solutions, and you walk into the office to the choking scents of something artificial.

    I still have some bottles of stuff left over from before my transition, but I only use those when nothing else will shift the dirt - but to be honest that's not very often, if ever!

    Thanks Rhonda, I agree with everything you've said here :-)

    Love, FiFi xx

  42. I don't know that I agree that you have to use chemicals in your home... I have used Melaleuca products for the past 10 years + and haven't had any negatives to getting bleach and other hazerdous chemicals out of our home....

    We even got rid of lice with the oil and Sol-u-mel, with confidence, knowing it wouldn't hurt our children. For animals, all you do is spray sol-u-mel on them and the lice drop off! It's awesome and gross at the same time! ;)

    I don't know how I "found" you - clicking from site to site but I'm glad I did!

    I'm younger than some but have been "green" before I knew what it was.

  43. Dear Rhonda,

    I had a suggestion on how to further help keep bugs out of your grains. I live in the Mountains of New Mexico, and when I was younger my Mom and I had a proublem with weevils in our grain and we always had a lot of grain because we live a good hour or more from any sort of store. So my Mom started putting Bay Leaves in all of our containers of grain, that was probably 15 or 16 years ago and we haven't had any problems since. It doesn't take much, just one or two leaves on the bottom and you can reuse them. Just a thought, I just found this blog and am enjoying it immensely thank you. I have just started making my own soap and laundery detergent, and I have always made most of my own cleaning supplies, (Olive Oil mixed with Lemon Juice works wonders on wood)
    So keep up the good work.
    Blessings in Jesus Christ,
    Kate- USA


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