Breathing Clean Air – A Reason for Homesteading

A few years ago, I had a terrible reaction to some penicillium mold on books I was cleaning. I knew I was allergic to penicillin; every exposure since childhood has been near life-threatening. But I failed to recognize the dried mold as blue penicillium, and had to be taken to an emergency room. This last exposure triggered a whole series of allergic reactions to other substances, mostly in the benzone and paraben families. This includes many cleaning products, sunscreen, and fragrances. It also includes some body care products and shampoos. Antihistamine is my constant friend. I developed a companion allergy to dust mites, as well – it’s the mold on their microscopic droppings, and it doesn’t take much. I have to live in houses without carpets, with new or well-cleaned soft furniture, without drapes. I need to launder, vacuum, and dust a lot.

The house we are in is mold-free, carpet-free, drapes-free, and has mostly new furnishings. The cellar is dry. I had to get rid of some of the cleaning products and the air fresheners left behind. I clean with plain soap, scent-free dishwashing liquid, baking soda, borax and white vinegar. We wash and shampoo with unscented bar soaps, or with soaps that have only natural essential oils in them. I use beeswax skin care products. I usually burn beeswax candles, but I haven’t been able to find any locally, so I am using unscented paraffin candles. I hope to find some in Fredericton when we are there next.

I am never tempted by fragranced products, by new cleaners, by the latest skin or hair care items. I can’t expose much skin to the sun, since I am very fair and I burn quickly. Long skirts, long sleeves, brimmed bonnets and wide straw hats are what I have to wear. Since we will be keeping a big garden this year, I expect to wear gardening gloves as well, to avoid contact with molds in the dirt. I may have to occasionally wear dust masks. I know I should take vitamin D supplements!

Homesteading is the best way for us to live outside the usual scented and contaminated environment. The wind here is steady; we get a fair amount of rain. It is cold much of the year, keeping down mold proliferation. We are not subjected to much air pollution. I don’t have hay fever or pollen allergies, so living outdoors in good weather is actually good for me.

Do most people understand how many chemicals they put into their bodies through eating, breathing, and washing? Artificial cleaners and scents are in most shampoos and soaps, and in detergents. Fragrances permeate everything – so-called air fresheners, masking sprays, skin ointments, cosmetics, even stuff that we put on our babies. It is unnatural and unhealthy. I can no longer sit with or stand next to someone wearing perfumes or even sunscreen. I never expected that my allergy would lead to this; I thought I would just have to avoid penicillin antibiotics. But so many chemicals in use today mimic the composition of that common drug.

I used to shake my head at people who claimed to have environmental illness or sensitivities; no more, since I have joined their ranks.

For those with pencillin allergies: Avoid anything with a name that starts with benz- or has -paraben in the chemical formula. Also, avoid blue cheese and Brie – they are made with penicillin molds.

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23 thoughts on “Breathing Clean Air – A Reason for Homesteading

  1. One of my closest friends has the same issues but from formaldehyde. She was subjected to high concentrations of it in a new handicap van she bought for her son. It had turned out that the van had been in Mississippi during Hurricane Katrina and been sanitized with formaldehyde. Then the van was transported to Florida where the formaldehyde baked in the summer sun.

    Her whole family was poisoned from it and now she has similar environmental issues. She has had to leave church because of perfumes. Her husband cleans the house because she can’t be near any chemicals. I made her ill because, not realizing, I sent her decorative snowflake soaps one year in a snow basket I sent her.

    I am so happy you have found a place to breath easier. Just watch out for the critter poops because they can also make the same type of allergins.

    • I just don’t use any commercial cleaning products except the ones that are allergen free. I’m even careful about the brand of white vinegar I buy – it has to be made from plants, not petroleum. (Any carbon compound can be fermented and distilled – doesn’t make it truly edible, though.)

      Formaldehyde is a major offender when it comes to “environmental illness” – a term which is shorthand forillness in people who have developed allergic reactions or have sensitivities to common, normally stable and unoffending chemical compounds in a local environment such as home or work. Plastics and fragrances are usually among the triggers.

      I cleaned the house really well when we moved in because a mouse or two had got in while it was vacant. I may have to get a barn cat to keep down rodents once we get animals.

  2. Well, alot of us don’t understand things until we experience them. People generally do not understand why I am trying to treat my son’s epilepsy with natural approaches – why not just use the drugs and why worry so much about it all? If I had had Patrick before I went through all kinds of bad things with our other children and even lost a child to mysterious SIDS, I would never have developed the healthy skepticism I did toward using only conventional medicinal approaches to illnesses. I use medicines with him, but lower doses and are always working on getting to just one medicine rather than 3. Anyhow, while Patrick is merely sensitive to many things, Erik, our eldest son, is full blown allergic to many things. Indiana is one of the worst places for allergies. In fact, Erik just got back from having a CAT scan of his sinuses because even after a course of nasty steroids ( just 4 days, but still) the Otolaryngologist could not see what he needed to see because of extreme swelling due to allergies – mostly. There is a chance he has polyps or a cyst, but likely it is just horrid allergies and at 23 he is just now getting sensible and serious about treating his allergies consistently and trying to clean his environment up. He finished homeschooling way too early – at 16 – and he has not been under my care since. He wouldn’t do it. And he is a very, very sick young man right now and it is only by the grace of God that he has not had a horrible asthma attack or shock from ignoring the warnings ( we have watched cheese and dairy reactions in him escalate to the point he could barely breathe).

    We don’t use normal shampoos, soaps, or cleaning stuff either. Patrick reacts to most cologne, but he does have one with no bad things in it and he seems to do ok with small amounts of it. He is a kid still ( 20 next week, but he is very delayed, not MR, but is emotionally about 16 or 17 and a very innocent one at that.) and being handicapped he has few friends. The ones at our church group are mostly girls and even though they are a German Baptist family, the kids are given wide berth on stuff llike perfume, some jewelry stuff, DEFINTELY SHOES ( they don’t grow out of that one.), and oh, some silly high school stuff. They tend to send their kids to public school so this happens. It affects Patrick, but he can handle the discussions we have about what is the right thing to do and make good decisions. It is the best we can do and these kids are still really well behaved kids in general. So, mostly Patrick leaves the smelly stuff alone. He is very proactive in his health and I am grateful. Erik seems to be finally getting that way. He has made fun of me for years while I fix up the daily supplements that are handed out all day and night. But he knows what I am doing has made a huge difference and I thank God for direction and sometimes out and out putting the thing needed in my head and I can sort of hear it, like a voice deep in my head.

    I did want to ask if you have ever tried this AWESOME pan cleaning idea. You probably have, but maybe others would like to try it. I would not use it on a teflon and I would not use teflon anyhow, but it works on anything else. Eggs can stick badly sometimes and so can other foods and now you don’t have to scrub for , well, a very long time. Just pour in water enough to cover the mess, sprinkle in liberally baking soda, bring it to a boil, shut it off, and let it cool. Use a rag or scrubber on it ( It won’t just rinse off and at first I expected that and thought it was still stuck, but it wasn’t it just needs wiped) and wipe it out. It just wipes right out! I am still so thrilled to have his help.

    Your place sounds wonderful, Magdalena!!! I am so happy for you both. Is your husband all thrilled too? I would love that area, I think.
    Oh, and DO take that vitamin d seriously!! It has made a difference in our families health and I wished I had known earlier, but nobody really did. Still, it could have made a huge differences in people’s health and even prolonged their lives. A lack of this is being connected to many serious illnesses.
    Joanie

    • We are so pleased with the house, our landlords and the region, that we hate to leave the property. I am so anxious to start gardening and raising animals.

      I am trying to take a natural approach to my health issues. I have been an herbalist for years. Many of the herbs I use come out of the spice cupboard.

    • We do this for serious sticking problems.

      For teflon, I just buy cheap teflon pans and run them trhough the dishwasher if necessary. Life is too short to worry about the pans too much.

  3. What’s wrong with chemicals? Plants eat chemicals; we eat chemicals; soap is a chemical; baking soda is a chemical.

    I have a daughter who has a sensitivity to milk products; she gets eczema. I’m not a fan of the total deprivation method (absent a life-threatening allergy) so we just try to limit the amount of milk product she eats.

    The air quality is actually very good “these days” compared to our recent past. Coal and wood fires cause more serious air pollution than gas and hydro power.

    • I guess we are a bit careless in how we use the word ‘chemical.” I suppose we mean, commonly, manufactured chemicals, although baking soda would be one of them!

      Air quality is improved in many places, but here in the east we still get blow-over from industries in Quebec and Ontario. I agree that gas and hydro are least polluting. But natural gas is not available here via pipeline, and liquid propane is expensive. We are using electric heat right now. No one here burned much coal – ours is too soft. We have such a low population density and such volatile weather that wood burning has less effect than in other regions, and with some effort, it is almost free and can be clean-burning.

  4. People breath in a lot of stuff that is bad for them. Aerosol sprays should be avoided as the particles that are sprayed are easily inhaled. I never understand why someone would decide to remove an odor from their home by covering it up with a strong air freshener, or using febreze, wouldn’t it be best to determine the root cause of the odor and eliminate it altogether? Not to mention that now your home smells of air-freshener with an undertone of whatever bad odor you are attempting to cover. When looking for a new home be very suspicious of homes that are filled with air-freshener – they are covering up something!

    • I so agree – it’s hard on me to walk into a home with a lot of scented products. I wonder what they are covering up. Mold? Poor sanitation? Dirty pets? Hockey playing teenagers? Dead horse in the basement?

      • When I go to the mall, I try to avoid even walking past a Yankee Candle Company franchise. The heavy perfume odor emanating from that place is repulsive to me, never mind the thought of actually walking into it. It’s amazing to me that people buy such things. At home, the only candles I have are made from beeswax. The last thing I need are candles that have artificial pumpkin and strawberry scents.

        I have no environmental allergies, except mild hay fever from grass pollen, but the continual smell of heavy perfume in our culture, on poeple and in public spaces, is offensive to me anyway. Products like air fresheners and Febreze are about the worst, and calling them by names like “ocean breeze” and “spring rain” ought to count as false labeling. Febreze, as an idea, is not so bad, but the product leaves an odor of its own behind, which I don’t like at all. There is an unscented variety, but it’s hard to find. I do use an odor eliminator called ZorbX, which promotes itself as an “odor absorber” rather than a cover-up. At least it’s unscented, and does work as advertised, but I only use it on things that can’t easily be laundered, such as shoes and furniture. Nothing eliminates odors like washing, and an open window is still the best air freshener. I started using “natural” household and grooming products years ago–witch hazel instead of aftershave, real unscented soap instead of the stuff that is detergent in bar form, baking soda and vinegar instead of a dozen specialized household cleaning products–but this was mainly for economic reasons. The more I look at what’s on the store shelves, and see what’s advertised on TV, the more I’m glad I did.

        “Dead horse in the basement?” That’s hilarious! As someone has already stated, most of those products don’t even do a good job at covering up household odors, they just an another layer of smell to what’s already there. I’ve walked into houses that smell like lavender-scented dirty laundry.

      • I have to hunt up lavender soap that has a natural scent. I love real lavender and I use it in herbal teas.As for spray products – shouldn’t we know better by now? Right now, a lot products have febreze added to them. I hate the smell!

        The heavy fragrances keep me out of the mall. I don’t know what to do about church; I can’t find a “safe” seat where I won’t be overwhelmed by someone’s cologne, laundry softener, or hairspray.

  5. We have always had to avoid a large list of unsafe for anybody additives in foods and products and really it is appalling how food ends up being something that is not food at all. Our bodies are being ambushed from the environment at large, the environment in our homes, the foods we eat ( and we cannot always find the best source, but we try and grow what we can.) and they ( our bodies ) can’t deal with so much. I always ask the Lord to help the food nourish our bodies despite the problems when we cannot eat better. I don’t want to make it an idol – food etc… – but I do want to be sensible and eat as well as I can afford. It takes a while to get ones foot out of two food camps, but a fairly good diet can be afforded once one is firmly dedicated to healthier choices. Or once one gets every member of the family on board and in some families that just ain’t gonna happen. With a young family it can, cuz mom or dad says so!!

    I did get a good laugh out of the horse in the basement!! One of our friends who was selling her home last year was told not to use any scents or candles, as people did supect a problem.
    About your church – wow, that IS a problem. My husband got so aggravated over the years with the same thing. When we visited churches it seems there was always a group of men who tended to be in suits and drenched in cologne as much so as the women. He is guilty of making some jokes about the way men would come up to shake his hand and his hand would smell like cologne until he took the next shower ( the more handshakes the more concentrated and loud the smell).

    I am wondering what you and others think- when something like this happens ( being sensitive to smells and hairspray etc… ) shouldn’t we be able to let the congregation know so people can practice laying self aside? At least just for the time at church? Isn’t that what we ought to do for each other? That is one thing we have not encountered in the plain church. Women and men do wear scents sometimes ( don’t see the men doing it much), but never much – and even though this is because it would be way too worldly and loud to wear it strongly these groups would never think twice about doing something or not doing something for the welfare of their sister or brother. All that said there have been churches I have been to that I could not imagine asking them to refrain from practicing this thing they delight so in. If they only knew what stuff is in the perfume that is not good for anyone. For example, many have ingredients in them that have interfered with hormones. But really, the important thing here is a health issue and we should be able to expect a group to be spiritual in this.

    Joanie

    • I will ask the priest and a warden if something can be done to make the church “scent-free.” Some churches make this a policy.

      I had to ask my husband to switch from his old favourite deodorant to something all natural. He actually likes it better, and it is less irritating to his skin. I switched to a mineral deodorant myself – no aluminum, all natural.

  6. I have sensitive skin and an allergy to hair conditioner. I cannot even use the hypo-allergenic types of conditioner and only three brands of shampoo that I know of. Washing powder must be hypo-allergenic too. Fabric softener is totally out of the question, I scratch my skin until I bleed, yes, even with the so called hypo-allergenic ones. I usually put ‘a cap’ of vinegar in my wash in case there are smells that the powder does not take away, it has worked this far and does not harm the clothes.

    For cleaning the floors, toilet and so on I use the same stuff as I wash my plates in and sometimes some vinegar but nothing else.

    I grew up with a very allergic brother so I am used to things spelling like ‘nothing’ not perfume. I cannot understand how one can like strongly scented washing powder, it smells so ‘cheap’. Even if I did not have allergies I would never use that kind of product. Air freshner? What is that? It just stinks according to me. I prefer the dead horse to them…

  7. Walk down the road here anytime and you can smell the dryer sheet perfume as most folks vent their dryer outdoors. It is a particularly odd smell when mixed with cigarette smoke or smells. Like using air freshner to cover up that dead horse’s smell in the basement.

    Seriously, I don’t want people to feel badly about themselves because they have not come to some of these conclusions some of us have had to come to or chose to as they had somehow become interested in preventing health problems down the way or whatever. With me, it took my own sickness to get me started questioning these things I once did and then the health issues of my kids to give me the incentive to look even deeper. But there was a time when I paid no attention to any of this. I loved perfume and dryer sheets and I grew up eating a lot of good food, but my mom was that generation that was sold on mixes for everything, -bouillion (sp) cubes, margarine, endless cocktails, cigarettes and non food unhealthies like parties and dances, psychology ( esp child), lots of fine clothing, perfume, makeup, style shows, and beauty aids like some thing that used to steam our faces nearly off to clean our pores. I think probably anyone reading here is somewhat interested in healthier living, but I hope I have not offended anyone in my zeal.

    I forgot one thing that seems impossible to imagine one could find in that same home. Two coverings for church. One black mantilla that I managed to get out of the house somehow to wear for mass before school. I mean, can you see some little mouse of a girl wearing a huge black long mantilla?? I couldn’t figure out why they didn’t like me in this. I was supposed to be wearing the black lace oval that fit on the top of my head. Usually, though, I ended up with a kleenex pinned to my scalp, having forgotten any covering at all
    Joanie

    • You probably thought you were just the cutest thing in the mantilla! I would have done the same thing. It is a blessing that the “anything on your head” days are gone.

  8. magdalena,

    I had to smile at your observation ‘It is a blessing that the “anything on your head” days are gone.

    ‘. Though this has led to widespread disregarding of covering, what is imerging in response is a far more powerful revolution – personal investigation into the matter of covering, an understanding of its true meaning rather than simply being something that ‘everyone just did’ and a small yet exponential revival that started in the 90’s and has snowballed ever since leading to growing numbers of my generation (gen X) and gen Y rediscovering this spiritual discipline, understanding its empowerment and taking ownership of it with viggour. We are still more likely than not the only ones who cover, especially in the Anglosphere outside North America (it is all but extinct in non Mediteranian Western Europe), but it is growing undeniably all over the world.

    Re artificial perfumes and scents, i’ve never been able to tolerate air freshners; find them repellent to say the least, but appreciate being able to keep the house open every day, even in what passes for Winter in Sydney. I use scentless deoderant (Body Shop sells a genuine scentless one) and am able to go down the ‘no poo’ path re shampoo. After about six weeks, if you’re able to do this, your hair will stabilize as its natural oil balance returns. About a third of us can get away with this; having very good brushes and detangling combes is a must. Also, as I have long yet not voluminous hair ( leading edge down to my tailbone) it’s easy to just put it up in a scrunchy-held ponytail, wind a bun and slip on a buncover – right to go in under five minutes. I’m drawn to go down the natural soap route and get away from the ‘shower gel’ detergent cycle. Does anyone know if the Pears natural soap (the translucent dark honey oval cake) is actually genuine natural soap? We’re lucky to be able to line-dry washing pretty well all year round here, needing the dryer only during spells of excessive rain. Re moving away from deoderants, I have found the mineral variety not very effective. Are there alternatives to deoderant stil available today, the ‘inserts’ that some older readers might remember?

    Sarah.

    • Pears is a glycerin based soap, but it has cedar oil in it, to which some people are very allergic! I don’t recommend it. See if you can find an artisan soapmaker in your community; the price will be equivalent in most cases. We used one that made myrrh soaps.

      I’d look at a place like the Vermont Country Store for those old deodorant alternatives.

  9. Sarah Elliot, I have had the same experience with mineral deodorant, it doesn’t work for me. For a couple of years I never wore deodorant and I must say that if you wash yourself with water every morning and evening you are pretty OK when it comes to not spelling sweaty or at least I was. However, I went back on deodorant about 7-8 years ago for reasons which are unknown. I used scented oils if I wanted to ‘smell nicer’, perhaps that might work for you?

    I have tried no poo too but since I cannot use the conditioner version I am forced to use the baking soda and lemon/apple vinegar version and I was not impressed by the result but it would do if I had to. I have decided to try once more this summer. In summer my hair is more dry and I think that perhaps the baking soda could do its work better then. I don’t know, but no one is going to die from me trying, I hope… The one with cleaning with eggs I tried once, I smelled like an omelet despite rinsing like have never done before, and yes I didn’t use too hot water, it was barely warm enough to not make me shiver.

    • My husband can’t use the mineral stuff so he uses Tom’s of Maine calendula deodorant. I love the smell, Since we are at mid-life, we wash our hair with plain unscented bar soap and rinse with diluted vinegar.

  10. Thanks to Magdalena and others for suggestions. I can’t get away with no deoderant, even with regular (twice daly) bathing; doesn’t matter if I’m wearing all natural fibres or polycottons. I have never been able to, regardless of diet etc (even when vegan or near vegan during fasting time), I am left needing to launder a dress or blouse after only one wear with dissatisfactory results. Does Vermont Country Store ship internationally at reasonable rates (to Australia etc)?

    Magdalena, thank you so much for the heads up re the pears soap; I used it as a little girl and didn’t have a problem with the cedar oil, but next time I can get to an artisanal soap maker…what are the questions I should ask so I’m not fobbed off something I don’t wish to purchase (cannot read labels, as you know, and my patient husband leaves me to the soap shop shopping…)

    Many thanks

    Sarah.

    • Vermont Country Store carries Ombra, Tussy and Lavilin deodorant. Tussy is an old brand, Lavilin is billed as long-lasting. None contains aluminium. They will ship internatioanlly, I believe, and they have customer service numbers available. http://www.vermontcountrystore.com.

      As for soapmakers – ask what they use for fat, and if they use all natural colours, no colours, and natural essential oil for fragrance. Look for lavender, myrrh, vitamin e, and goat’s milk soaps. I usually pay between CAN$2 and $3 for natural soaps. Sniff the soap for a natural odor, and to make sure there are no pockets of lye in it! The soap should be smooth, free of grease and only grainy if something like oatmeal has been added. It should not be crumbly. I avoid Pears not because of my allergy, but the cedar oil on your skin can cause problems for others. I had a friend who was terribly allergic to it.

  11. Magdalena,

    Many, many thanks!!!! This is excellent!! I’ll go and take a look at the VCS… Thank you for the soap guidelines also.Sorry I can’t help with your seed hunting, however, you may wish to check out the Canadian slow food association as the International Slow Food movement is as much about sustainable farming practices, building community, growing and preserving natural, heirloom, untampered seed as they are with good nutricious food and artisanal food production. they may also be able to hook you into a network re seling etc. Even if you’re remote, email, internet and phone contact where you are able may be possible with other likeminded individuals in your district, even if you’re all thin on the ground…just a few thoughts.

    Sarah.

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