Healthy Home & Yard
Maintain your home and yard in ways that support your health, the health of your family, and our community’s drinking water, rivers, lakes, streams, and Puget Sound. Learn how to reduce your and your family’s exposure to hazardous products and how to safely store household cleaners, garden products, automotive products, hobby chemicals, and so much more. Go to HazoHouse for free disposal of unwanted products with the signal words caution, warning, danger, and poison.
Dealing with Mold
To address mold, you must address the conditions that allow mold to grow.
- Use a bathroom fan or open a window while bathing and for 30 minutes after.
- Use a squeegee to wipe water down the drain after showering to reduce a great deal of moisture.
- Use a kitchen fan or open a window when cooking or boiling water.
- Fix leaks right away and dry out the area within 24-48 hours.
Increase ventilation. Air movement helps reduce mold growth.
- Open windows daily, even for just a few minutes. Even if it is cold or rainy outside.
- Keep doors between rooms open to allow air flow throughout your living space.
- Leave one inch between furniture and walls so air can flow between them.
- Do not cover windows with plastic unless it is a moveable frame or covered for safety reasons.
- During colder months, keep indoor temperature between 61-68 degrees F.
- Insulation should help keep the home warm and prevent condensation on walls.
- Insulate pipes to prevent condensation on them. Cold water going through a pipe surrounded by warm air can create condensation.
Clean up properly.
Clean up mold by creating a paste with a powder detergent (dish or laundry) and water. Scrub the mold off the surface and wipe clean. Bleach is not necessary to clean mold. Wear gloves and a mask when cleaning. If the area is not dried out within 24-48 hours, the material may need to be replaced. To prevent mold from returning, address the conditions that allowed the mold to grow.
- Allows moisture and indoor air contaminants to exit the home.
- Reduces indoor air pollution.
- Maintains air movement.
- Evenly distributes indoor air temperature.
- Helps prevent mold growth.
How do I ventilate?
- Make sure bathroom and kitchen fans work and are in good condition.
- Use a bathroom fan or open a window while bathing and for 30 minutes afterward.
- Use a kitchen fan or open a window (even just a crack) while cooking.
- Open windows daily, even during colder months.
- Use ceiling fans to help improve air flow.
- Try a daily “fresh air blast” – open each window in your home, then go back through and close each one. This allows for a quick exchange of air without letting the heat drop too much.
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
Oil-based paints and other petroleum-based products have vapors that are harmful when breathed. These vapors are called volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. Volatile organic compounds in paints can cause headaches, eye irritation, nausea, dizziness, and fatigue. Long-term exposure can lead to more serious health problems like central nervous system, liver, and kidney damage. Paint vapors pose a higher risk for pregnant women, young children, people with respiratory ailments, and commercial painters.
Additives to paints are another potential health risk. Preservatives and pesticides are added to kill mildew and bacteria. These additives can be harmful to environmentally sensitive people, who may want to order special low-toxic paints.
Latex paints contain crystalline silica, that can cause lung disease. To avoid breathing in silica, wear a respirator approved for protection against crystalline silica dust.
Heavy Metals: Mercury and Lead
Before 1990, mercury was added as a mildew-inhibitor, mainly to latex paint. Because mercury is highly toxic to people and builds up in the environment, it is no longer allowed in paint. Older paints (before 1990) may contain mercury and should not be used indoors. For disposal, bring old unused paint to HazoHouse at the Thurston County Waste and Recovery Center.
Lead, another highly toxic metal, was widely used in paint as a pigment and drying agent up until 1978. Breathing or eating lead can cause reduced growth, hearing loss, and impaired learning ability.
Test all surfaces that could contain lead by purchasing a test kit at a paint or hardware store. Any sanding, scraping, or remodeling planned for a house built before 1978 must be carried out with special precautions, or lead poisoning could result. Hire a professional to remove lead-based paint.
Before You Paint
Choose water-based over oil-based paint whenever possible.
- Select the least toxic, lowest VOC paints available, especially for indoor paint jobs. Ask staff at the paint store for help.
- Read the labels carefully before you buy. Even latex, low-VOC paints can contain toxic ingredients.
- Read all the directions on the label and follow them carefully.
- Avoid spray painting.
- Do not use exterior paint indoors.
- Test for lead on any surfaces that were painted more than 20 years ago. Use lead-safe preparation methods.
- Turn off air conditioning and cover with plastic. Air conditioners do not filter indoor air.
While You Paint
- Keep windows open and use an exhaust fan placed in the window to pull the inside air out of the room.
- Use the protective gear specified on the label, such as gloves, goggles, and a respirator with the proper filter. Dust masks do not protect against solvent vapors or crystalline silica.
- Take frequent fresh air breaks.
- Keep pregnant women and young children away from freshly painted rooms.
- Keep paint cans tightly closed when not in use.
- Take extra precautions if using oil-based paint (the label will say “Warning: Flammable” or “Caution: Combustible”). Not only are the health risks greater with solvent-based paints, there is an added danger of fire. Eliminate all sources of flames and sparks, and don’t smoke. Keep used rags in sealed containers until you can dispose of them.
- Keep paints and other hazardous supplies out of children's reach.
After You Paint
- Ventilate freshly painted areas for 48-72 hours (2-3 days).
- Children, individuals with breathing problems, and pregnant women should avoid freshly painted areas for 2-3 days. Even after paint looks dry and doesn’t smell, it still emits vapors for several days.
- Save small amounts of leftover paint for touch-ups.
Free, Safe Disposal
Unwanted paint can be recycled for free at several locations. For a list of accepted products, visit PaintCare – Recycling Made Easy.
Tips for Reducing Mildew
Painting over the mildew that grows on your siding hides the ugly black fungus temporarily, but it will quickly reappear. The trick to getting rid of mildew permanently is to kill the mold first, then prep and paint carefully to keep it from returning. Here's how:
- Never paint over existing mildew. Scrub it off with a mixture of dry detergent and a scrub brush. We don’t recommend that you use bleach.
- Always prime bare wood, which mold needs for nutrients. Paint experts recommend a high-quality acrylic-latex primer.
- Apply two substantial topcoats of satin-finish paint to seal off the siding. Avoid flat-finish paints, which are more porous, and use darker colors if possible.
- Avoid painting when it's breezy. Airborne mildew spores can get into the fresh paint. And, because brush marks can trap nutrients that mildew feeds on, smooth paint out.
Notes for Apartment Dwellers
Painting in apartments is a special issue because the paint vapors move as “shared air” between units. Painters should be aware that harmful gases can move through common walls through gaps around pipes and electrical outlets. For renovation projects where the building must be occupied during the work, zero- or low-VOC paint products allow work to go on without getting complaints from occupants in the building about odor, dizziness, or nausea.
- Give advance notice to neighbors that a unit is to be painted.
- Inspect painted units to ensure that ventilation is maintained during painting and for at least 2 to 3 days afterwards.
- Loan box fans to residents who are painting their apartments. Problems may be reduced if all apartments being painted, as well as neighboring apartments, are vented to the outdoors with box fans.
Choosing Low VOC Paints
Many paint manufacturers have paints that are either solvent-free or very close to it. According to industry studies, some of these zero- or low-VOC paints perform better than regular formulation latex paint. They reportedly are more durable, dry a little faster, and are easier to scrub than regular formula paints. If you are concerned about health effects or odors, look for a brand with a VOC content of less than 50 grams VOC per liter, including tinting. Low-VOC paint is available at most stores - ask staff at the paint store for help selecting a low-VOC paint.
What is the Problem with Mercury?
Mercury is a highly toxic element that can harm the brain, kidney, and lungs. Pregnant women and children are at the highest risk for health effects but mercury is toxic for all humans and wildlife.
Learn to Clean Up Mercury Spills
- Avoid breathing vapors. Quickly open a window and have everyone leave the room.
- Let vapors vent for 10 minutes while collecting clean up supplies.
- Do not touch, vacuum, or sweep broken materials.
- Use stiff paper or cardboard to pick up large pieces.
- Use duct tape to pick up small pieces and powder.
- Wipe the area clean with a damp paper towel.
- Place all materials in a sealed, airtight container, preferably a glass jar with a metal lid or a sealable plastic bag.
- Wash your hands.
- Dispose of at HazoHouse — not in your trash.
Mercury enters the air, land, and water from many sources. We add to mercury pollution if we throw a mercury product in the trash or wash it down the drain. Each year, broken fluorescent lamps in Washington release as much as 1,800 pounds of mercury. Thermostats and dental amalgam add an estimated 400 pounds each. Broken thermometers may add up to 300 pounds.
Products That May Contain Mercury
- thermometers (looks like a silvery liquid)
- blood-pressure cuffs
- fluorescent and high-intensity discharge (HID) lamps
- auto switch
- dental amalgam
- float switches
- button-cell batteries
- old latex paint (pre-1990)
- some oil-based paints
- old alkaline batteries (pre-1996)
- old light-up tennis shoes (pre-1997 LA gear)
- chemistry sets
- old fungicides for seeds and turf
- some imported jewelry (glass ampules with silver liquid)
- weight/counterweight in grandfather clocks
How You Can Keep Mercury from Rising
Avoid Buying Products with Mercury
Most products have a mercury-free alternative:
- Fluorescent bulbs — All fluorescent bulbs contain mercury. Some brands may contain less, and may be marked with green end caps or labeled low-mercury. Fluorescents are still a good choice for reducing mercury in the environment, because their use saves energy. Coal-fired power plants release a lot more mercury into the environment than broken fluorescent bulbs. Recycle fluorescent bulbs or bring them to HazoHouse.
- Thermometers — Most thermometers sold locally are mercury-free. Choices include digital, alcohol (usually a red liquid), solar, and card thermometers. Not sure if your thermometer contains mercury? Look for the SILVER mercury inside - not red, blue, or purple. Digital thermometers do not contain liquid mercury.
- Thermostats — The older, round thermostats have a mercury switch inside. You can replace them with a programmable, electric thermostat, which does not contain mercury.
- Dental fillings — The amalgam used for dental fillings can contain 50% mercury, 25% silver, and 25% a mixture of copper, zinc, and tin. Ask your dentist about alternatives.
Dispose of Mercury Products Responsibly
Take unwanted household products containing mercury to HazoHouse at the Thurston County Waste and Recovery Center. HazoHouse is open daily. This service is free to households, but businesses must register and pay a fee (call 360-867-2491). Do not break fluorescent bulbs; transport them in their original boxes if possible. Place thermometers in their original containers or in two zip-lock plastic bags.
Follow Fish Consumption Advisories
People are often exposed to mercury by eating contaminated fish. The mercury in fish has been converted to methylmercury, which is more toxic than the element found in household products. Unborn children are most at risk from methylmercury poisoning.
The Washington State Department of Health (WA DOH) has issued fish consumption advisories for Lake Whatcom, Eagle Harbor, Lake Roosevelt, and Sinclair Inlet due to mercury contamination. None of these sites are in Thurston County. Budd Inlet does have a warning not to harvest seafood due to creosote and other chemicals.
When WA DOH issues a statewide fish advisory.
This advisory warns women of childbearing age and children under six not to eat any shark, swordfish, tilefish, king mackerel, or tuna steak due to mercury contamination. Guidelines for the amount of canned tuna that women of childbearing age and children under six can safely eat are based on how much a person weighs. For example, a 135-pound young woman should eat less than one 6 ounce can of tuna per week, and a five year old child who weighs about 45 pounds should eat no more than two tablespoons of canned tuna per week.
For more information on fish advisories, see the WA State Department of Health, Fish Facts for Nutritious Health, or call 877-485-7316.
Storing, Transporting, and Recycling Mercury
Mercury in Consumer Products
NEWMOA - Mercury-Added Products Database
Mercury in the Environment
Types of Plastics
Concerns about chemicals that slowly dissolve out of plastics are rising. Here is a guide to two toxics in plastic: phthalates and bisphenol A.
Used in: polyvinyl chloride (PVC) products to make them more flexible and longer-lasting. Some medical tubing, shower curtains, rain coats, food wrap, bath toys, personal care products, and more.
Bisphenol A (BPA)
Used in: polycarbonate plastics, used to make some types of beverage containers (often the rigid water bottles and jugs), receipts, plastic dinnerware, impact-resistant safety equipment, automobile parts, and toys. BPA epoxy resins are used in the protective linings of food cans, in dental sealants, and in other products.
What You Can Do
- Purchase products marked "BPA-free" or "phthalate-free." If possible, check that these claims are backed up by a third party - not the manufacturer.
- Check the recycling triangle with the code number on the bottom of plastic containers. This tells you the type of plastic used. See our Guide to Safer Plastics to learn more.
- To avoid phthalates and bisphenol A, steer clear of #3 (PVC) and #7 (polycarbonate). Styrene, another toxin, is in #6 plastics.
- The safest plastic choices are #1 (PETE/PET – used for most 2-liter and smaller beverage bottles) and #5 (polypropylene, used for some cups, squeeze bottles, and yogurt containers). Also considered safe are #2 (HDPE) and #4 (LDPE – look for food wrap made of this).
- #1 and #2 water bottles are recommended for single use only.
- Do not heat baby formula or food in these plastics or store hot food in them. If you have heated breast milk or formula, allow it to cool to lukewarm before placing in a plastic bottle.
- Avoid heating food in plastics in the microwave, especially fatty foods such as meat and cheese.
- Cover food with paper towels instead of cling wrap in the microwave.
- Don’t put plastics in the dishwasher. Even if they say, “dishwasher safe.”
- For BPA and phthalate-free products, look for glass or stainless steel.
- For storing or heating food, try stainless steel, glass, and bamboo cookware.
- The older the plastics are and the more they are washed and scratched, the more they can leach chemicals into their contents. Discard (recycle if possible) old, cloudy, and cracked plastic containers.
Learn more at Toxic-Free Future: Be Picky With Plastics
Why are children at greater risk for exposure to toxic chemicals?
- Their bodies are smaller. Children under the age of five breathe more air, eat more food, and drink more water, per pound of body weight, than adults do.
- Children’s bodies are still developing, and they take in toxic exposures differently than adults.
- Children tend to put their hands in their mouths and often play on or near the floor, where toxics such as pesticides and lead settle and are tracked in from outdoors.
What can you do?
- Protect children and yourself from lead poisoning. Lead makes its way into the dust in our home, so controlling dust is key to reducing lead exposure.
- If concerned, ask your child’s healthcare provider about testing for lead exposure.
- Test your home for lead paint hazards if it was built before 1978.
- Wash children’s hands before they eat and wash bottles, pacifiers, and toys often.
- Inspect and maintain all painted surfaces. When old paint cracks and peels, it makes dangerous dust.
- Clean painted areas where friction can generate dust, such as doors, windows, and drawers with a wet sponge or rag.
- Run cold water for at least 30 seconds to flush lead from pipes.
- Protect children from mercury.
- Wash hands frequently.
- Ensure your child is getting proper nutrition, physical activity, and sleep. Children who get the recommended daily amounts of essential vitamins and minerals are less likely to absorb lead and other toxics. Visit www.choosemyplate.gov for great tips to keep your children healthy.
Follow these simple ways to reduce exposures:
- Choose the least hazardous products for household use and store them safely. Dispose of unwanted hazardous products safely and for free at HazoHouse.
- Choose organic produce when possible and always wash produce well before serving. Read EPA’s Food and Pesticides.
- Use plastic items safely. Choose non-plastic items when possible.
- Use safer personal care products.
- Choose safer building and home repair materials.
The following guidelines are suggested to help you reduce exposure to lead, arsenic, and other contaminants in dirt. For information on the Tacoma Smelter Plume, a source of soil contamination for some areas of Thurston County, visit State of Washington Department of Ecology Tacoma Smelter Plume project webpage.
Inside Your Home:
- Wash hands and face using water and soap after working or playing in the dirt, especially before eating.
- Use a shoe brush or quality doormat to remove dirt from shoes.
- Take your shoes off before entering your home.
- Damp mop and wipe surfaces often to control dust.
- Vacuum 2-3 times a week. Use a bag designed to filter "allergens" or a HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Arrestor) filter.
- Wash children’s toys and pacifiers often.
- Scrub or peel vegetables and fruits before eating.
- After working or playing in dirt, remove soiled clothing and wash them before wearing them again.
Outside Your Home:
Children's Play Areas
- Wash children’s hands and face using water and soap after playing in the dirt, especially before eating.
- Cover bare patches of dirt with bark, sand, grass, or other material.
- Do not eat or drink while playing in dirt.
- Rinse off toys used outside often and keep them away from areas of bare dirt.
- Wash hands and face using water and soap after working in the dirt.
- Wear gloves when working in dirt.
- Dampen dirt before gardening to reduce dust.
- Wear waterproof footwear when working in dirt; rinse them off after each use.
- Rinse dirt off garden tools and store them outside.
- Replace the top 18 – 24 inches of dirt in vegetable garden beds.
- Avoid growing root vegetables in your garden unless you’ve replaced your dirt.
Pet and Livestock Areas
- Keep pets away from bare dirt so they don’t track it into the house.
- Dampen soils with water when windy to reduce dust.
- Fence off and rotate areas of property to keep animals in vegetated areas, so they do not cause bare soil to be exposed.
Protect your health, the health of your family and friends, and the health of our community with Common Sense Gardening practices. Learn how to use the least-toxic products for pest and weed control. Chemicals used in your yard and garden can end up in our bodies and in our community’s drinking water, lakes, rivers, streams, and Puget Sound.
Visit our Healthy Gardening webpage to learn more:
Household Hazardous Products
Many of the products people use to clean and maintain their homes, cars, and hobbies can cause harm. The only way to know if something is hazardous and what steps are needed to protect yourself and your family is to carefully read labels.
The words Poison, Danger, Warning, or Caution on the product label tell you that the product is hazardous. Poison and Danger indicate the highest hazard levels:
- Poison means a product is highly toxic, and can cause injury or death if ingested, breathed in, or absorbed through the skin.
- Danger means a product is either highly toxic, flammable, or corrosive. Look for the word danger on cleaners, polishes, paint strippers, and pesticides. Danger means the product could poison you, cause serious damage to your skin or eyes, or easily cause a fire.
- Warning and Caution both indicate that a product may be mild to moderately toxic, corrosive, reactive, or flammable.
Products that do not have any of the above words on the label are considered the least hazardous.
Toxic — Poisonous or causes long-term illness (such as cancer). Pesticides, paint thinners, many auto products, and some cleaners are toxic. Look for words on the product label like:
- "Harmful or fatal if swallowed"
- "Use only in a well-ventilated area" (this means product fumes are toxic)
Flammable — Burns easily. Paint, thinners and other solvents, and auto products are the most flammable home products. Look for words on the product label like:
- "Do not use near heat or flame"
- "Do not smoke while using this product"
Corrosive — Eats through materials (acid, for example). Oven cleaners, drain cleaners, toilet bowl cleaners, and auto batteries are common corrosive products. Look for words on the product label like:
- "Causes severe burns on contact"
- "Can burn eyes, skin, throat"
Reactive — Can catch fire or create poisonous gases when mixed with other products (NEVER mix household products). Can also explode when exposed to heat, air, water, or shock. Except for fireworks, there are few consumer products still on the market that are explosive. Some older explosive products might still be stored in homes.
|Warning or Caution||
Protect your health and the environment by selecting the least toxic products available. Use and store them carefully.
Use Safer Alternatives
- Choose products with little or no scent. Perfumes and fragrances may be irritants for children and other sensitive people.
- Avoid aerosols. Try pump sprayers or wipe-on formulas.
- Paints and Solvents:
- Buy a pint or quart rather than a gallon when still deciding on paint colors.
- Use low odor, also called low-VOC latex paints.
- Re-use paint thinner.
- Look for paints and stains that are water-based (tip: they can be cleaned up with water).
- Take unwanted, leftover paint to a PaintCare drop-off site.
- If you can't find a non-toxic product to do the job:
- Buy only the amount you need.
- Read the label carefully and follow all safety instructions.
- Look for rechargeable batteries.
- Recycle old batteries. Non-alkaline batteries can be taken to HazoHouse for recycling. Please refer to the Where Do I Take My... website for locations of recyclers that will accept spent alkaline batteries.
Resources for Choosing Safer Products:
Common Sense Gardening
Toxic-Free Future: Tips for Safer Cleaning
Environmental Protection Agency: Reducing Household Hazardous Waste in Your Home
EPA Safer Choice
EWG's Healthy Living: Home Guide
Green Cleaning Recipes
Washington State Department of Ecology: What's hazardous in my home?
- When you do need to use a hazardous product, read and follow the precautions on the label.
- Some products produce greater harm if they mixed with other products. For example, never mix ammonia and chlorine bleach.
- This may sound like obvious advice—but many people assume they know the product's precautions and have never really taken the time to read them through.
- Next time you are doing a project using a spray can, stain, glue, or cleaner, notice cautionary statements such as:
- Wear gloves
- Wear goggles
- Use with adequate ventilation or fresh air
- Wear a respirator
- Avoid contact with skin and eyes
- Do not expose to heat
- Keep out of reach of children
Cautionary statements can only protect you and your family members (including future children) if you follow them. These statements are there to protect your health, as required by the:
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (for pesticides)
U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (for automotive, paints, cleaners, and most other household products)
U.S. Food and Drug Administration (for drugs and cosmetics)
Read the Label: Avoid products labeled DANGER or POISON
- Before You Buy — Read the safety precautions to see if you should be using this product at your home. Is it safe to use around children, pets, pregnant women, aquatic areas, etc.? If you know you won't be able to follow the warnings, cleanup, and disposal directions, look for another product!
- Check the signal word (caution, warning, or danger) before you buy. Buy and use the least hazardous product that does the job. Avoid products labeled DANGER or POISON which indicate the most harmful.
Check the ingredients
- Unlike food products, manufacturers of household products are not required to list all the ingredients.
- Many products don't list ingredients in the "inert" category, yet your family may be sensitive to these chemicals.
Store Hazardous Products Safely
- Store hazardous products in secure cupboards, out of danger of floods or spills.
- Place hazardous products in tubs or other leak-proof containers in case of accidental spills.
- Keep products in original containers with original labels.
- Don't store incompatible chemicals together—do not store acids, such as rust remover, with bases, such as toilet bowl cleaner.
Upcoming and Current Workshops
Staff Training for Early Childhood Learning Centers
We offer free STARS eligible on-site training for early childhood learning centers at no charge!
- Kids and toxics
- Simple ways to protect health and promote a healthier learning environment
- Cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting the safest way
- Safe alternatives to bleach use
You pick the date, time, and location and our staff comes to you!
Parent Night Educational Sessions
We offer free educational sessions for childhood learning centers’ parent night programs. Let us host your interested families and provide information about simple ways they can protect their children’s health. Each parent is offered a free green cleaning kit as a part of this program.
For more information, contact:
Education & Prevention Program
Thurston County Public Health & Social Services Department
412 Lilly Road NE, Olympia, WA 98506
Check back here for upcoming public workshops!
We are happy to come and talk to your homeowner or neighborhood association, gardening group, book club, or any group of 10 or more folks that would like a presentation about any of the Healthy Home and Yard topics listed on this webpage.
Education and Prevention Program
Thurston County Public Health and Social Services Department
412 Lilly Road NE, Olympia, WA 98506
Safer Cleaning Education workshops are being offered in 2023 for residents living in low-income housing.
For more information: Safer Cleaning Workshop Flyer
Contact us to schedule a workshop for your residents!
Education and Prevention Program
Thurston County Public Health and Social Services Department
412 Lilly Road NE, Olympia, WA 98506
EPA Safer Choice
Healthy Homes Vendor List
Healthy Home Companion
Green Cleaning Recipes
Toxic-Free Future: Tips for Safer Cleaning
Contact our Education and Prevention program for more information at email@example.com or call 360-867-2674 if you have additional questions.