The Best Healthy Home Products of 2020
We’ve put together a day-to-day, room-to-room road map of easy places to start building the healthiest home possible.
Depending on where you live, work, and shop, trying to make environmentally friendly choices can leave you feeling like a fish swimming upstream. “Small changes do make a difference, and it also feels better to know we’re doing everything we can,” says Magali Delmas, PhD, professor of management at the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, Anderson School of Management. So instead of thinking of the big wide world, try narrowing your focus to your everyday life—you’re fully in charge of your own actions and purchases. Which is why we’ve put together this day-to-day, room-to room road map of easy places to start heading in the right direction.
Start the day in your bedroom
In the U.S., nearly half of all electricity is used for heating and cooling, and almost 64 percent of our electricity comes from burning fossil fuels. Curb your personal consumption by lowering the heat 7 to 10 degrees while you sleep, a move that’s healthy, too: Studies have shown that sleeping in a cooler room not only boosts melatonin but also your metabolism, and even reduces your risk of type 2 diabetes. (Sleep experts say the optimal temperature for adults is between 60 and 70 degrees.) In the summer, help your bedroom feel more comfortable by using a dehumidifier instead of the AC.
Install a Smart Thermostat
These aren’t just for tech geeks—they’re one of the best tools for curbing energy waste, Delmas says. Not only can you put electricity-saving temperature cycles on autopilot (including lowering the heat or turning off the AC when you’re not home) but “you’ll also get more information about how much you’re using and when,” she says.
Detox Your Mattress
Many foam mattresses contain high-density polyurethane (memory) foam or synthetic latex, both of which are made from petrochemical-based materials that off-gas potentially toxic volatile organic compounds. And when they eventually head to a landfill, they will last there for at least a century. Instead, go with natural organic latex mattresses, which can be more affordable than all-organic innerspring mattresses. They are also biodegradable; sustainable (the material is derived from rubber-tree sap through environmentally conscious processes); hypoallergenic; resistant to mold, mildew, bacteria, and dust mites; and made to last for decades. Look for the GOLS certification (Global Organic Latex Standard), which indicates a mattress is at least 95 percent certified organic latex.
Choose Untreated Sheets
Anything labeled “wrinkle-free,” “easy care,” or “permanent press” is likely to be treated with chemicals that can cause contact dermatitis, and may also release formaldehyde fumes, a known human carcinogen. Opt for 100 percent natural fibers like hemp, eucalyptus, or linen—ideally certified organic, to further reduce bedding’s eco footprint.
Have a Light Bulb Moment
If you haven’t switched to LEDs yet, start small and change over your bedroom. LEDs with the Energy Star label can last 25 times longer than incandescent bulbs, use at least 75 percent less energy, and don’t contain toxic mercury (like their energy-saving counterparts, compact fluorescent light bulbs).
Wear What You Have
We keep our clothing items half as long as we did 15 years ago, and nearly three-fifths of all clothing produced goes into incinerators or landfills. Plus, these days, we’re literally wearing fossil fuels: Synthetic fabrics like polyester, nylon, and spandex use petroleum-based fibers. They’re finished and dyed using harsh chemicals that can get dumped into waterways, often in countries where there’s little government oversight of commercial pollution (or health conditions for workers). And even cotton isn’t exactly earth-friendly; making one cotton shirt takes 2,700 liters of water. In other words, change starts in your closet. Organize a clothing swap with friends, shop consignment stores, and seek out new clothes that are ethically or sustainably manufactured. (Some brands that are doing it right: Amour Vert, DL1961, and Nisolo.) Having fewer synthetic garments also means improving the indoor air quality of your bedroom by introducing fewer microplastics, which are shed from these items and end up in household dust (and the water supply, when you do laundry).
Unlike most LEDs, these don’t give off invisible blue light, so they’re perfect for bedtime use.
To buy: $56 for a 2-pack; 1000bulbs.com
Since launching in 2017, Buffy has helped conserve more than 100 million gallons of water and prevented more than 7 million plastic bottles from entering oceans and landfills. All sheets are dyed with natural ingredients. Bonus: Eucalyptus uses 10 times less water than cotton to grow.
To buy: From $175; buffy.co
This brand uses a unique process to create airy-yet-uniform fluff and breathability in its plant-based latex pillows.
To buy: $100; amazon.com
Made of GOLS-certified natural latex and organic wool—no polyester or polyurethane. They also make a vegan mattress without wool.
To buy: From $900; avocadogreenmattress.com
Head to the bathroom
Stop Tossing Tooth Stuff
Toothbrushes and toothpaste tubes are among the trickiest items to recycle because they incorporate multiple materials. A simple fix for the latter: Try tablets that turn to paste when chewed (and don’t contain synthetic preservatives, like many premade pastes). If you’re really stuck on paste, Tom’s of Maine (owned by Colgate-Palmolive) offers a recyclable number 2 plastic toothpaste tube (look for the symbol when shopping; it will apply to all full-size Tom’s toothpastes by the end of the year). Colgate will transition to all recyclable, reusable, or compostable packaging across all brands by 2025.
Scan for Safer Personal-Care Products
If you are (understandably) overwhelmed trying to decipher ingredients, here’s a shortcut: Open the Think Dirty app to scan product labels and get a hazard score for an item’s potential toxicity. The following labels and terms will also help you make more informed choices: Fair Trade Certified, Certified B Corporation, USDA Organic, PCR (postconsumer recycled), and the familiar recycling triangle of twisted arrows (called the Möbius loop—when a percentage appears inside, it indicates the percent of the packaging that’s made from recycled material).
Recycle in the Bathroom, Too
Check the bottoms of your plastic shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and mouthwash bottles; numbers 1 and 2 plastic are accepted by most curbside recycling programs (cleaned out, and with any pumps removed) and are used to make everything from fleece garments and life jackets to park benches and picnic tables, in addition to “new” bottles. Aluminum hairspray and dry-shampoo cans are likely good to go, too, as long they’re totally empty. As for other packaging and plastic containers with different numbers, an increasing amount of brands offer package-return programs and incentives, or you can send them to TerraCycle (terracycle.com), an organization finding ways to recycle all kinds of containers. “Through numerous free recycling programs and our Zero Waste Boxes, we’re able to recycle more than 100 different waste streams that otherwise would be diverted to landfill,” says spokesperson Sue Kauffman.
Assuming you already turn off the water while brushing your teeth (right?), here’s your best next step: Install a water saving showerhead. One with the EPA’s WaterSense label will let the average family use 2,700 gallons less water each year and save enough electricity to power a whole house for 11 days. “Low-flow showerheads are easy to install, inexpensive, and can actually make it feel like there’s more water coming out,” says Joseph Kasprzyk, PhD, assistant professor of environmental engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder. His even easier water-saving hack: If you don’t have low-flow toilets, place a brick or rock in the toilet tank to reduce the amount of water used for flushing.
Turn Down Your Water Heater
Even if you live for a steamy shower, overheating your water is a huge waste of energy. The default setting on many water heaters is 140 degrees, while most people find 120 (or lower) plenty hot. “Even when there is no demand, water heaters use energy to maintain tank temperature,” says Enesta Jones, a senior press officer for the EPA. “For every 10 degrees you reduce your water heater’s set point, you could save 3 to 5 percent in energy.”
Bite’s bottles are made of glass, and tablet refills are sent in compostable packs. The brush handle is made from Moso bamboo; the head can be detached and replaced to reduce the waste of buying a whole new toothbrush.
To buy: $12 for a 2-pack of brushes; bitetoothpastebits.com
You typically don’t know how much you use until you get your bill, or know which fixtures are the biggest water culprits. Pani gives you a look at where and how much water is used, in real time.
To buy: $50; amazon.com
These liners and tampons are 100 percent certified organic cotton and fragrance-free. The tampons have a bio-plastic applicator (90 percent plant-based material).
To buy: $10; grove.co
This biodegradable, organic body wash is concentrated so you use less product, and you can choose between a plastic pump or a metal top. Bathing Culture also plants one native tree for every five gallons of soap made.
To buy: $35; bathingculture.com
This multiblade pivoting-head safety razor is 100 percent plastic-free, ships plastic-free, and uses cold-forged steel blades that can be recycled as scrap metal.
To buy: $79; grove.co
Every single day 27,000 trees are chopped down just to make toilet paper. Bippy aims to make that number zero with its 100 percent pure bamboo (a fast-growing and sustainable grass) toilet paper.
To buy: $29 for a 24-pack; heybippy.com
Elastic from discarded hair bands can take centuries to break down in landfills. Which is why Terra Ties came up with these natural-rubber versions with organic-cotton covers.
To buy: $15 for 27; amazon.com
Traditional liquid products contain upwards of 90 percent water; one bar of HiBAR’s salon-quality shampoo or conditioner lasts at least as long as a 16-ounce bottle of liquid shampoo. There is zero plastic used in packaging and shipping—no plastic bottles, padding, envelopes, labels, or tape (even when customers purchase from Amazon).
To buy: $14 each; amazon.com
Off to the kitchen
Make Healthier Coffee
Pods are convenient, but they also involve hot water shooting through plastic— a questionable concept in terms of leaching chemicals. Considering that parts of most regular coffee machines are plastic too, it just makes sense to brew it old-school: Use a French press, Chemex, stainless-steel percolator with built-in filter, or a simple porcelain dripper. And don’t forget to choose organic, fair-trade coffee.
Stick to Loose-Leaf Tea
A 2019 study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology revealed that plastic mesh tea bags release billions of micro-and nanoplastics (including bits of nylon and polyethylene terephthalate) into your drink. Use loose tea in a stainless infuser instead.
Pack a Zero-Waste Lunch
BYO gets you away from the takeout/delivery habit, which uses piles of plastic containers and single-use plastic utensils, all packaged up in yet another bag. Making your own lunch will help you eat healthier too, and there are plenty of cute bentos and sandwich-wrap options for motivation. Don’t forget cutlery and a cloth napkin!
Reduce single-use plastics with this stylish set of stainless-steel travel flatware in a silicone case.
To buy: $24; amazon.com
Made with beeswax, tree resin, and organic jojoba oil, all infused into a hemp and organic cotton cloth—reusable and completely plastic- and chemical-free. Wrap, wash, reuse for a year or longer.
To buy: $18 for a 3-pack; amazon.com
It’s made of biodegradable, dishwasher-safe bamboo fiber and packaged in a recyclable craft paper box. Replacement carbon filters can be purchased at your local hardware store, no need to have them shipped.
To buy: $40; amazon.com
Drop this wine-cork-size pod into any pitcher, water bottle, or glass, and it filters out 99 percent of lead and arsenic and 97 percent of chlorine and fluoride from tap water. The pod is reusable for up to six months, and fully recyclable once it’s reached its life span. One pod can purify up to 264 gallons of water.
To buy: $25; amazon.com
Since launching, Repurpose says it’s kept 3,531,805 pounds of waste out of landfills (and counting!). These compostable plant-based trash bags emit 80 percent less CO2 into the atmosphere than traditional plastic bags.
To buy: $13 for a 12-pack; amazon.com
An eco-friendly (and attractive) substitute for plastic wrap, these can also be used as lids on pots and pans. They’re made from heat-safe silicone that’s BPA- and BPS-free.
To buy: $40 for a 5-pack; food52.com
These BPA- and plastic-free food-storage bags are dishwasher-safe, too.
To buy: $50 for a 4-pack; amazon.com
Handmade in the USA from 100 percent cotton flannel, the single-ply towels cling to each other naturally, so they can be rolled onto your existing paper-towel holder. One 24-pack of UNpaper Towels can replace up to three rolls of paper towels repeatedly for years.
To buy: $54 for a 24-pack; marleysmonsters.com
To get our top stories delivered to your inbox, sign up for the Healthy Living newsletter