The Sweet Smell of Poison In Your Home

Saturdays were “house cleaning” days when I was growing up. We would haul out the bathroom scrubbing bubbles, streak-free window cleaner, disinfectant spray, furniture polish and other assorted cleaning products and get busy removing dust, dirt and germs. By the time we were finished, the house would be spotless and smell wonderfully fresh. Even today nothing takes me back to my childhood like a whiff of lemon-scented Pledge.

cleaners 1

All of our efforts were done to achieve a clean home but the scary truth is that the vast majority of the products we associate with cleanliness and fresh smells are often loaded with harsh toxic chemicals that can seriously damage our health.  Just because a house has the aroma of mountain air or spring daisy air freshener doesn’t necessarily mean that its clean. But most of us have been brainwashed into equating the smell of our cleaning products with their efficacy and not only is that a false assumption, it is also putting us directly in harm’s way.

According  to the David Suzuki Foundation, “Canadians spend more than $275 million on household cleaning products in a year.”  The familiar labels on so many of these products warn of immediate dangers like “poison”, “corrosive” and “irritant” but “there is no requirement in Canada for manufacturers to warn consumers about the health and environmental hazards associated with chronic, or long-term, exposure to chemical ingredients in household cleaning products. Most of us are exposed to cleaning products and their residues at low levels on a daily basis.” 

cleaners 2

Due to the artificial fragrances in the vast majority of cleaners, the very scents that we find so pleasing can lead to allergic reactions, rashes and asthma. And even more troubling are the Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s) that are in chemically-derived household products.

The list of VOCs commonly used in cleaners and air fresheners is shockingly long but a few of the most frightening ones include propane, butane, ethanol, and phthalates. “Propane is a suspected neurotoxin and respiratory toxicant. Butane is a neurotoxicant. Ethanol has been reported to be a carcinogen as well as an endocrine toxicant, liver toxicant, neurotoxicant, and reproductive toxicant. And phthalates are suspected endocrine disrupters associated with reproductive effects, including reduced sperm count in men.” Seriously scary stuff!

How do these nasty toxins get into our bodies? Well, when we scrub and spray our homes the chemicals linger in the air and we breathe them in. They can also enter our bodies directly through our largest organ – our skin- when we touch or rub up against the “sanitized and disinfected” surfaces and through our mouths if we swallow residues left behind on dishes. And these poisons have been shown to have a cumulative effect in our bodies and are extremely difficult to eliminate.

When switching to nontoxic cleaning products, it may take you a while to get used to not having that pine forest or lemon smell that has signaled  “clean” for, oh, your whole life! But trust me – odorless (or naturally scented) is much healthier.

Jessica Alba, The Honest Company

So what the heck should we use to safely clean our homes that will satisfy both our sniffers and our cleaning standards? Here are a few of my best suggestions:


1. Research: Check out the Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning – they have done exhaustive research on over 2000 products and provide ratings and toxicity levels. My own personal favourites are: Benefect Disinfectant & All-purpose Cleaner, Cleanwell Hand Santizer, Vaportek Odor Control Products, The Honest Company and Seventh Generation cleaners and detergents. They are all safe and effective products that I feel comfortable using in my home around my 3 young children.

benefect 2


2. Make your own – There are loads of websites and books available for whipping up your own natural and effective “homemade” supplies. Often a simple mixture of food-grade essential oils from Living Libations (lemon and tangerine are my favs) and pure water can clean and freshen up floors and surfaces. Wellness Mama and Keeper of the Home are great blogs to find recipes.

3. Kick it Old School – Real food author and activist Michael Pollan wisely advised us in his book The Omnivore’s Dilemma “Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.” The same can be said for our cleaning products. Our ancestors used things like vinegar, lemon juice, baking soda, soap, hot water, scrub brushes and rags to keep their living spaces sparkling clean – and they still work just as well today!

My husband and his best friend have worked in the all-natural cleaning and disinfection industry for over 15 years – long before “green” cleaning was on anyone’s radar. And I’ll admit it always rubs me the wrong way when one of their customers complains about the “smell” of their products – all of which are scented exclusively with pure  essential oils (ironically it’s often these same people who freely spray toxic chemical disinfectants or rave about the wonders of an alcohol hand sanitizer from the drug store). C’mon people –  – it’s time to retrain our noses to transition to more natural and safer scents. Let’s use our buying power to support products that prioritize the health and safety of their consumers over the mass-produced chemical brands that are ultimately poisoning our homes and our bodies.


The Hidden Toxins in Beauty Care & How to Ditch Them

There were 3 girls in my house growing up and as you can imagine -we went through a TON of personal care products. There was the shower full of soaps, 2-in-1 shampoos and Neet hair removal cream (Pert Plus and Dial were my favs), the vanity with a huge assortment of face washes, toners, deodorant, Biore nose strips, toothpaste, hair gels and mouthwash AND our own makeup bags stuffed to overflowing with cosmetics and nail polishes. And I always liked to top things off with a generous spritz of The Body Shop vanilla perfume just to seal the deal. Hey it took a lot of work to look this fabulous!

Lori Picture

What I didn’t know back then was that each of those items that made my hair shine, my pimples fade and my nails gleam fluorescent purple were loaded with toxic chemicals. In fact, it wasn’t until I set about changing my diet 6 years ago that occurred to me what I put on my body is just as important as what I put into it. Perhaps even more important since the things we eat are filtered through our organs of elimination (kidneys, liver, bowels) but the junk we smear on our skin is simply absorbed right into our bodies. Yeesh!

The clearest and best way I’ve seen to get my head around this stuff is by watching Annie Leonard’s 8-minute video “The Story of Cosmetics”. Check it out below:

(*email subscribers – click the link above or go to my site at to view the video)

Of course I want the safest and best alternatives for myself and my family but at the same time I don’t want to resort to letting my hair hang in greasy coconut oil covered strands or staining my lips and cheeks with beet juice to achieve a healthy glow. So what can I do? Believe it or not there are some really amazing and effective natural alternatives that will meet all of our cosmetic needs while still keeping us as healthy as possible. Here are 5 suggestions to get you started:

1. Read Gillian Deacon’s book “There’s Lead in Your Lipstick” – Broadcaster and environmental activist Gillian Deacon wrote this compelling book after undergoing treatment for breast cancer. It’s an invaluable resource because she not only outlines all of the hazardous chemicals and their potential side effects but also lists natural and effective alternatives by brand name.

theres lead in your lipstick

2. Download the free app “Think Dirty”– Developed by a young Canadian entrepreneur, this free app is a life saver when you are shopping for the healthiest products to use on your body. Simply enter the product or scan the URL and you will immediately get the list of ingredients with a ranking from 1-10 (10 being the worst). The “Dirty Meter” will rate the products ingredients in terms of their Carcinogenicity, Developmental & Reproductive Toxicity and Allergies & Immunotoxicities. And they even offer up greener and more natural alternatives!


3. Ask questions & Source Out Greener Salons – have you ever wondered how safe the sweet-smelling shampoos and hair dyes applied at your favourite local hairdressers are for you AND for the stylist applying them? Or what about the cocktail of toxins we apply to our nails and skin at spas? Chances are we are inhaling and ingesting a dangerous mix of untested chemicals each time we get a “beauty” treatment. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and do your own research about the products being used and take the time to find safer and healthier alternatives. Thankfully many salons and spas are now incorporating greener items into their offerings which benefits the long-term health of both their clients and their employees. (GTA friends – check out Casablanca Salon, Alma Natural Spa and One Salon & Boutique)

4. Order online – Although you might not be able to find good clean products at your local store, there are some amazing websites offering beautiful natural products to keep you looking and smelling your very best. 100% Pure, Living Libations and Gabriel Cosmetics are 3 of my absolute favourites.

100% pure

5. Make your own stuff- I’ve had lots of fun making beauty products in my own kitchen. Meghan Telpner’s book Undiet and the website have tons of wonderful recipes using easy-to-source ingredients like baking soda, epsom salts, avocado, oats and raw chocolate. I even whipped up homemade beauty products to give as Christmas gifts to my girlfriends including these Lavender Bath Salts: Combine 3 tablespoons of epsom salts, 1 tablespoon sea salt, 8 drops of lavender essential oil and 3 tablespoons of baking soda in a small jar. Shake it all up and use generously in a restorative hot bath!

Today my bathroom is filled with just as many products as when I was a teenager but over time I’ve managed to ditch the Pert Plus and Biore in favour of stellar chemical-free alternatives. Don’t get overwhelmed though- it took me a good long time to transition from Pantene to Aubrey Organics. But little by little I have replaced the old stuff with healthier and more natural choices…..I might still have those stunning purple triangle earrings though ; )

Smelly Pits and Natural Solutions

As I’ve made the transition to a plant-based diet and began to really consider what I am putting into my body, I have also become more cognizant of what I am using for body care and putting on myself in the form of makeup, soap, shampoo, lotion, sunscreen, perfume and deodorant. Did you know that according to Environmental Defense Canada the average woman applies over 126 different chemicals on her body on a daily basis- many of which are highly toxic?

So let’s tackle a sensitive area right off the bat – armpits! This is a tricky one to address because no one wants to be stinky and although sweat itself is generally odourless, the bacteria in our pits can really get rank.

deodorant woman

This has probably been the toughest area to find a safe and non-toxic solution for because to be completely honest most all-natural deodorants just don’t cut the mustard…or the stink. But I am absolutely determined to keep trying for a number of reasons. First of all, despite conflicting scientific research, I just don’t feel good about slathering a bunch of chemicals and sweat inhibitors into an area that houses lymph nodes- a vital part of my body’s immune system (not to mention how close my armpits are to my boobs and their fat cells that are prime receptors for toxins).

deodorant there's lead

If you don’t already have a copy, I highly recommend Gillian Deacon’s book There’s Lead in Your Lipstick. Gillian is an author, a broadcaster, an environmental advocate and a breast cancer survivor and she offers up a wealth of information regarding what is really in our body care products and what we can do about it. Here is just some of what Gillian has to say about our pits:

  1. Perspiring is our natural mechanism for releasing toxins and impurities from our bodies, regulating our body temperature and maintaining an appropriate salt level in our bloodstream
  2. Conventional antiperspirants essentially release aluminum salts that enter our pores to block this natural process
  3. If our skin isn’t able to properly eliminate toxins through perspiration, we may experience a trickle-down effect on our internal organs. The liver, kidneys and large intestine are challenged to work harder if impurities that would otherwise be released by sweating stay inside the body
  4. Both conventional deodorants and antiperspirants contain many scary ingredients including parabens, triclosan, synthetic fragrances, formaldehyde, phthalates and aluminum

Source: There’s Lead in Your Lipstick, Gillian Deacon

As a mom, I also want to make sure my kids are armed with the safest and most effective products as they enter their tween years and begin to experience their own aromas. Their growing bodies are especially sensitive to chemical exposure and it is up me as a parent to introduce them to products that will leave them smelling fresh but will also lessen their overall toxic load.

If you are curious about the products you are currently using, check out the amazing Cosmetic Safety Database put together by the Environmental Working Group to get the scoop on your favourite brands. You simply enter the name of your personal care product and you will get a detailed report of toxicity, safety studies and a hazard rating.

So here is the best advice that I can give you when it comes to armpits and natural toxin-free deodorants– you’ve got to keep mixing it up. What works one month may make you stink to the high heavens the next so keep trying new things and alternating your favs to keep yourself smelling wonderful and your body chemical-free and healthy.

Here are some of the ones I like and what I’m using right now:

Crawford Street Deodorant Cream– this is a great lemon-scented deodorant cream and it works quite well but needs to be rotated after a few weeks with an alternate brand to maintain it’s effectiveness. I ordered mine online from their store in Toronto and it arrived within a few days.

deodorant - crawford St

Rocky Mountain – this is another goodie and it comes with a guarantee that it will work or your money back. I’ve ordered a number of products from this company out west from their online store and I’ve loved all of them. Again, I’d recommend switching it up from time to time.

deodorant - rocky mountain

Weleda Rose – I love this light rose-scented spray and I use it to top up my deodorant of choice or to spritz on other sweaty areas to keep me smelling….well, like a rose! You can get it at most health and natural food stores or order it online from Saffron Rouge.

deodorant Weleda

Purely Great – this is my current fav and I love it. It’s a bit of a pain in the butt because you have to scoop it out of the container with the little wooden stick that is provided but if you can get over the inconvenience it actually works really well. They also have special formulas for teen boys and girls. I bought mine at my local health food store but you can also order online.

deodorant - purely great

Dr. Hauschka– this is a lovely scented deodorant and works remarkably well but with the $25 price tag per bottle you might not want to pony up for this brand. If you want to add it in to your rotation it is quite effective. You can buy this one at high-end health food stores (like Whole Foods) or order online from Saffron Rouge.

deodorant - dr hauschka

Living Libations– the deodorants from this incredible company are also effective but quite pricey. They use only the very purest ingredients and essential oils, however you will smell like a bit of a hippy with their many of their scents of choice so if this bothers you at all this one probably isn’t your best bet (I quite like it). You can order any of their products online and they are shipped promptly.

deodorant living libations

Remember – perspiring is a natural function of our bodies that is in place for a reason. Instead of attempting to override sweating with artificial chemicals and fragrances, why not swap in a more natural product? Try some of these brands out and let me know how they work out. I’m interested to hear from you as well. Have you tried out any toxin-free deodorants that have been effective? Tell me in the comments!