Chemicals and You

Reducing toxic chemical use

We live in toxic environments. Whether at work or home we are affected by chemicals in our cleaning products, health and beauty products, furniture, carpets and paint.

This page is a developing resource to help you take action to reduce chemicals in your environment, and possible health effects.

Underkastelsen film

We have showed Underkastelsen to GSA staff & students working in partnership with SEDA, and the GSA’s MEARU The film graphically examines the effects new chemical compounds are having on us. Want to arrange a showing of the film? Contact John

Plastic Ocean.

To highlight the plastic issue, and its effects on our health and environment, we screened Plastic Ocean at the GSA in March 2018. Plastics harm our environment, but there is also an opportunity to design plastic-free options and systems. View the trailer.

River Blue

As part of Fashion Revolution Week 2018, the GSA’s Responsive Art + Design society screened River Blue. It highlights the damage chemicals used in clothes making do. Watch the trailer

Why be concerned?

Chemicals are a natural part of our environment, but modern life vastly increases the amounts and types of synthetic chemicals, many derived from fossil fuels, we are exposed to. As the effects of the mix of these chemicals are as yet unclear. it is a good idea to reduce your range and amount of chemicals you are exposed to. You can find plenty of research online, advice on how to avoid ‘green-wash’ lots on VOCs and why they are bad for you and expert opinion. There is also new research to say women who clean are showing decreased lung function due to the chemicals they are forced to inhale whilst cleaning Websites such as the Chem Trust offer advice on avoiding excessive artificial chemical use.

There are clear benefits to making working environments healthier and a growing understanding of how houses can affect our health

Everyone can take action on these issues, it’s easy. One option is to ditch the plastic bottles and simply make your own from natural ingredients.

Workplace Cleaning Chemicals

Most workplaces use a toxic mix of chemicals to clean – we have been conditioned by advertising to think it needs to be pink and smelly to have an effect, whilst the opposite is true. Simple water and salt can become an effective cleaning solution.

The Guardian looked at the issue recently, and check out fragrance-free workplaces. Workplaces can also put standards in place to make buildings better place to work and study in.

Multiple Chemical Sensitivity

If you feel very sensitive and are often ill due to chemical use, you may have MCS. Contact MCS Aware for support.

You may also like to read The Toxic Consumer which is available in the GSA Library and full of information and tips to healthier living.

Workplace Furniture, paint and flooring

All these items off-gas – they release harmful gases into your rooms when installed (that ‘new paint’ smell) and again when rooms are occupied by warm bodies. The US EPA has undertaken research into the issue.

You can take action, as a buyer or a building user, to demand higher standards to reduce your and colleagues exposure to harmful chemicals.

Consider buying carpets from environmentally-friendly suppliers or use natural materials such as linseed linoleum, or Marmoleum

Wall paints off-gas too, there are plenty of resources available to source paints better

Textiles, such as the material used to cover benches and chairs, can off-gas toxic chemicals, research into this is ongoing, but it’s a good idea to look at natural and less-processed options.

Plant it

Consider getting plants for your work place or studio, they are proven to positively affect your levels of comfort and attainment. They’re also shown to soak up the nasties you can’t eliminate from your environment.

Household Cleaning Chemicals

But you’re safe at home, right? Well, no. The average house is a toxic place, full of dozens of brightly coloured, heavily marketed chemicals to make you and your home clean, and all can be replaced with healthy, natural alternatives.

As a first step, research natural alternatives then go a step further and consider making your own

Household and workplace air freshners can cause problems There’s advice on making your own air freshener and as even some natural products can cause reactions please check out resources such as this and if in doubt check with a medical professional.


You spend a third of your life lying on one, so what are you breathing in? Does your mattress smell “new”? This could be harmful artificial chemicals entering your body, some might do you harm, and some will be persistent – they will never leave. Try a natural alternative and John Lewis sell natural mattresses – or there’s plenty more non-toxic options out there.

Health & Beauty Products

There are good environmental reasons to avoid most common brands, from suncream and moisterisers and the use of rain-forest destroying palm oil in almost all shampoos and soaps – but you can avoid them

You can also consider making your own – then you know exactly what you are putting on your skin, and it’s cheaper.

Got a suggestion for improvement or natural remedy for this page? Email John