Fast fashion isn’t a term limited to clothing, it’s also a huge issue in the building and design world. Such quick designs contribute to massive amounts of exposure to toxins in our home environment. Meanwhile, the process of plastic degradation leaves us with tiny particles small enough to be airborne, traveling through the earth’s environment where some of them enter our lungs. We know it ends up in our oceans, but did you know they’re in the water we drink, our clothing and even the dust we see in our homes?

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With these plastics being so pervasive, the harms of these little particles have an extensive reach and our homes are no exception. So what can we do to minimize our exposure to them in our living environments and help keep us from toxin overload?

Related: Microplastics contaminate human blood, says new study

Design process

When we’re designing a home, we often consider how some of the building materials will off-gas and potentially harm its future inhabitants. Some of these considerations are mandated by the city or state we live in, but the design world is starting to play a role in finding ways to introduce safer products to mitigate these effects.

Microplastics are present in the textile fabrics we use in design, including, but not limited to, our upholstery on sofas and chairs, curtains, pillowcases and rugs. Small children and pets crawl around and play closer to these surfaces than adults, leaving them at greater risk for harm with their smaller developing systems.

Recycling process

We often think of the recycling process as far away from our day-to-day lives and sometimes limited to the separate bin in our cabinet. But recycling and recycled products can play a big role in the construction and design process. 

When we introduce vintage or upcycled furnishings into the design execution, it is a more mindful design. We can also choose behind-the-scenes products like recycled jeans as our insulation.

The recycling process is expensive. These costs get passed on to the final product they are used in, which starts to add up in our design budget. While paper can be recycled up to seven times, plastics are limited to two or three cycles, making a safer paper product more expensive.

White living room with a center TV console

Indestructible super fabrics

“I need the sofa fabric to hold up to our kids and pets and not stain!” I’ve heard this sentence hundreds of times in my career, and for many years, complied without knowing the hidden dangers of fulfilling this request. 

Fabrics that have higher resilience to staining and wear and tear are often made with plastic polymers, then sprayed with a plastic coating to ensure their longevity. We use a term called double-rubs that indicates the fabric’s durability; that means the higher the number, the better it will respond to bouncing children, dog naps and wine stains.

But the higher that number goes the more toxic the off-gassing of the fabric. Looking for untreated fabrics might mean compromising on longevity for your upholstery but ultimately increasing your own.

There are millions of textiles to choose from when you don’t take their toxicity into account, but selections become highly limited when you add the untreated filter to your search. We have some great textile companies dedicated to a more sustainable product, and we need to support them at any cost.

Educating the end user

One question I ask my clients is: “How serious are you about reducing plastic use in your home?” Their response helps us to determine a budget that will reflect their dedication to a healthier home design and sets the stage for lifestyle considerations.

These considerations may mean having less stuff but a better quality of life

A white brick kitchen with wooden countertops

Box store vs. artisans

Commissioning an artisan, such as a woodworker, to build a table with locally grown lumber not only supports the shop local movement but also reduces the risk of bringing in a toxic product — never mind the quality of the overall piece.

You can discuss low-to-no VOC finishing options, such as oiling the wood for a seal in lieu of polyurethane. These lovingly crafted pieces can be passed down and will certainly add interest to your dinner party conversation. 

Stop it before it starts

As we think about the lifespan of all the textiles we put in a home, we have to consider their effects when they someday reach a landfill. That sofa with a stain guard will now be leaching into our ground waters and contributing to the deadly cycle of toxins in our bodies.

In addition, there is a demand that’s been fueled by our conscientious clientele to clean up the design practice. With that, many trades in the residential building world are now adding healthy home design to their calling cards.

The invitation is being extended to change the focus on how we define luxury in our homes. It’s time for the interior design practice to take a hard look at how we’re impacting the lives of those we serve as well as our planet. There will be costs associated with our decisions, and we need to decide what we want those costs to be.

Images via Pexels