Toxic household products list

Chemicals in our everyday environment produce a toxic burden, which affects every system of our bodies right down to the mitochondria. Mitochondria make the energy our cells need to function properly. When mitochondria are exposed to environmental toxins, energy function fails and cells begin to die.

The high lipid content of mitochondrial membranes pull chemicals into the mitochondria like a magnet. This creates a disproportionate amount of these toxins inside the mitochondria. The higher or more frequent the exposure, the greater the likelihood of toxic effects occurring. The additive exposure to many of these chemicals coming from multiple sources spread out over decades is what’s most alarming.

Toxic chemicals to watch for:

1. Plastics and Fragrances (Phthalates)

Phthalates are used to soften plastics and help bind chemicals and scents (fragrances) together. Phthalates affect mitochondrial activities by altering the permeability properties of the inner mitochondrial membrane and inhibiting key enzymatic processes. These chemicals have been implicated in reproductive damage, depressed leukocyte function, and cancer. Phthalates have also been shown to impede blood coagulation, lower testosterone, and alter sexual development in children.

Phthalates are found in almost anything scented (shampoo, shaving lotion, nail polish, air fresheners, laundry detergent) cleaning products, insect repellent, carpeting, vinyl flooring, the coating on wires and cables, shower curtains, raincoats, plastic toys, and your car’s steering wheel, dashboard, and gearshift. Medical devices are also full of phthalates—IV drip bags and tubing are made from phthalates to make them soft and pliable, effectively pumping them directly into the bloodstream of patients.

How to avoid phthalates:

  • Check plastic products: Plastic products with recycling codes 3 and 7 may contain phthalates or BPA. Look for plastic with recycling codes 1, 2, or 5. Whenever possible, avoid using plastic containers!
  • Avoid using plastic in the kitchen: Opt for glass food storage containers, and choose bottles and sippy/snack cups that are made of stainless steel, silicone, or glass. Do not heat food in plastic containers because the heat can accelerate the leaching of chemicals.
  • Shop wisely: Check your cosmetics and household products for the words, “fragrance” or “perfume” on a label which almost always means phthalates. Instead, look for items that say, “no synthetic fragrance” or “scented with only essential oils” or “phthalate-free.”

2. Pesticides (OPs)

Organophosphates are one of the most toxic groups of substances used throughout the world. They are used in pesticides as well as biochemical weapons/agents. Organophospates target mitochondria and promote oxidative damage triggering cell death.

Organophosphates are also known as endocrine disruptors. They affect complex hormonal processes that regulate growth, metabolism, fertility and the immune system. OPs have also been linked to obesity, asthma, allergies and cancer. Children exposed to organophosphates have more than twice the risk of developing pervasive developmental disorder (PDD), an autism spectrum disorder.

How to avoid organophosphates:

  • EAT ORGANIC FOOD: Avoid exposure to pesticides in your diet, home and garden. Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables, nuts, and organic green tea that contain high amounts of antioxidants that can bolster your immune system.
  • Avoid genetically-modified organisms (GMOs): One of the goals of GMOs is to enable the use of more pesticides.
  • Supplement with antioxidants: Antioxidant supplements have been shown to restore mitochondrial dysfunction caused by organophosphates. Key antioxidants are Vitamins C, E, CoQ-10, and alpha-lipoic acid (ALA).
  • Monitor your surroundings: Living near agricultural areas or golf courses that are regularly sprayed with pesticides increases your exposure.
  • Sweat it out: Regular aerobic exercise and sauna treatments can accelerate the elimination of systemic toxins.

3. Plastics and Canned Foods (BPA)

Bisphenol A (BPA) is a plasticizer found in a wide variety of consumer products, including water bottles (recycle #7), canned foods, and in credit card and cash register receipts. BPA is a strong mitochondrial toxin and has been linked to infertility, breast and reproductive system cancers, obesity, diabetes, and behavior changes. It has even been associated with resistance to chemotherapy treatment.

Manufacturers of baby bottles, sippy cups and sports water bottles switched to other plastics in 2009 upon mounting consumer pressure. Though the FDA banned BPA in baby bottles and children’s cups in 2012, the FDA still allows BPA in food cans. Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health determined that volunteers who ate a single serving of canned soup a day for five days had ten times the amount of BPA in their bodies as when they ate fresh soup daily.

How to avoid BPA:

  • Limit your intake of canned foods: Choose fresh or frozen foods.
  • Go for powdered versus liquid baby formula: The packaging of powdered formula contains less BPA. If your baby needs liquid formula, look for brands sold in plastic or glass containers.
  • Check recycling labels: Favor plastic containers with recycling codes 1, 2, or 5..
  • Reheat foods properly: Do not microwave food in plastic containers.
  • Say no to receipts: If you handle a receipt, wash your hands before preparing or eating food. Keep any receipts in an envelope. Do not allow children to hold or play with receipts.

4. Flame Retardants (PBDEs)

Brominated flame-retardants are used in various products to increase their resistance to fire and/or high temperatures. Often found in televisions, computers, insulation, foam products, including children’s toys and baby pillows, PBDEs have been shown to cause mitochondrial damage by increasing the production of free radicals. Exposure has been associated with neurotoxicity and thyroid conditions.

How to avoid PBDEs:

  • Know your materials: Look for products advertised as “free of flame retardant”.
  • Avoid exposure: The foam in sofas and pillows may contain large amounts of PBDEs. Replace any furniture with exposed foam.
  • Rid your home of dust: Use a high-efficiency HEPA filter vacuum to clean up PBDE particles that have shed in dust around your house.

5. Antimicorbial Products (Triclosan)

Triclosan is an antimicrobial agent used in personal care products (soap, toothpastes, shampoos, hand and household sanitizers, etc.). It can even be infused into kitchen utensils, toys, and medical devices.

Triclosan is a potent mitochondrial toxin. It interferes with muscle function disrupts hormone regulation and alters immune function. Triclosan’s biggest danger is its possible contribution to the development of antibiotic-resistant germs, leading many companies to begin removing it from their products.

How to avoid triclosan:

  • Don’t go antimicrobial: Avoid using handsoap and other household products labeled as “antibacterial”.
  • Check ingredients: Check labels for triclosan.

While it’s been said you can achieve “better living through chemistry”, scientific research is revealing that many common household products contain chemicals that have toxic effects on our health. However, armed with the above knowledge and a growing number of “environmentally-friendly” products on the market, you can limit your exposure to these toxic chemicals and protect yourself and your family from their health-damaging effects. Start by reducing your exposure to those that are most obvious.


Household Chemical Products and Their Health Risk

What potentially dangerous chemicals can be found in the typical home?

Potentially dangerous chemicals can be found in every room in your home. If not properly stored or used, these products could cause minor to serious and even life-threatening health problems for you or your children.

What are these every day household chemicals? Let’s take a tour of the rooms of your home and discover what some of these chemicals are and what health harms they may cause.

Keep in mind that most household cleaning products and pesticides are reasonably safe when used as directed, and that the level of toxicity of a product is dependent on the dose of the product used (never use more than the amount listed on the label) and the length of exposure to the product.

In the garage

Antifreeze. Ethylene glycol, the main hazardous ingredient of antifreeze, is extremely poisonous. Though inhalation of the fumes can causes dizziness, swallowing antifreeze will cause severe damage to the heart, kidneys and brain. Antifreeze can be fatal if swallowed.

  • Safety tips: If you need to clean up antifreeze – the bright green or yellow liquid you find in your garage or driveway – make sure you wear gloves because ethylene glycol is absorbed through the skin. Also, keep your pets away from spilled antifreeze. Pets are attracted to antifreeze because of its sweet smell, but licking or drinking the fluid can kill your pet. A much safer alternative to ethylene glycol is propylene glycol. Before purchasing antifreeze, look at the label to identify products containing the less toxic chemical, propylene glycol.

Motor oil. Used oil or waste motor oil may be contaminated with magnesium, copper, zinc and other heavy metals deposited from your vehicle’s engine. Oil contains chemicals that can cause nerve and kidney damage and that are suspected of causing cancer.

Latex paint. Unless ingested in large quantities, water-soluble latex paints are not highly toxic. However, some latex paints emit formaldehyde when drying. High levels of formaldehyde can give you a headache and irritate your eyes, nose and throat.

Oil-based paint. Oil-based paint contains organic solvents that can be irritating to eyes and skin, and can cause cracking of skin. Inhaling paint fumes can result in headaches, nausea, dizziness and fatigue. Most of these symptoms go away once you go out into fresh air. However, frequent exposure to these chemicals in the presence of poor air circulation can cause kidney, liver and blood problems.

  • Safety tips: When painting, keep windows and doors fully open. Place a box fan in a window to direct air and fumes outdoors. Keep the fan on while painting and for 48 hours thereafter. Keep small children away from the room being painted and away from open paint cans.

Batteries. Most wet-cell batteries in use in today’s cars, SUVs and trucks are sealed so you cannot be exposed to the batteries’ contents, which include sulfuric acid and lead. However, when activated, the electrolyte solution in the battery produces explosive gases that can be easily ignited.

Batteries that contain sulfuric acid must be labeled. Sulfuric acid fumes are strongly irritating and contact can cause burning and charring of the skin, or blindness if you get it in your eyes. Lead is poisonous in all forms and accumulates in our bodies and in the environment.

  • Safety tips: Never break the seal of wet-cell batteries. If the seal is accidentally broken, keep children and pets away from the area until the battery’s acid is cleaned up. Wash your hands after any contact with wet-cell batteries.

Windshield washer fluid. Common chemicals in windshield washer fluid are methanol, ethylene glycol, and isopropanol. Collectively, these products can irritate the lining of your nose, mouth and throat and can cause damage to the nervous system, liver, kidneys, heart and brain. Ingestion can result in drowsiness, unconsciousness and death.

In the laundry room/utility room

Laundry detergents. These products contain enzymes (as noted by the names “cationic,” “anionic” or “non-ionic” on the label) to loosen stains and ground-in dirt. Cationic detergents are the most toxic when taken internally. Ingestion can result in nausea, vomiting, shock, convulsions and coma. “Non-ionic” detergents are less toxic but can irritate skin and eyes or make you more sensitive to other chemicals. Asthma can develop if a person is exposed to large quantities of detergent. Detergents are also responsible for many household poisonings from accidental swallowing.

All-purpose cleaners. There are numerous “all-purpose” cleaning products on the market. These products usually contain detergents, grease-cutting agents, solvents and/or disinfectants. The specific chemicals in these ingredients include ammonia, ethylene glycol monobutyl acetate, sodium hypochlorite and/or trisodium phosphate. Depending on the ingredients used, all-purpose cleaners can irritate the skin, eyes, nose and throat. They can be highly poisonous to both humans and animals if swallowed.

  • Safety tips: When working with an all-purpose cleaner, always wear rubber gloves to protect your skin. Also, be sure that there is good air circulation in the room. Open several windows or keep a fan running. Most importantly, NEVER mix two cleaners of different kinds together, especially products containing ammonia and chlorine (bleach). This mixture can result in the production of a gas called chloramine, which can cause serious breathing problems and be potentially fatal if inhaled in great quantities.

Bleach. Household bleach contains the chemical sodium hypochlorite in different concentrations ranging from 0.7 percent to 5.25 percent. These percentages are the amount of the chemical in the liquid; the rest of the liquid is mostly water. Chlorine bleach liquid and vapors can irritate the skin, eyes, nose and throat. Dermatitis may result from direct skin contact. Ingestion can cause esophageal injury, stomach irritation and prolonged nausea and vomiting.

Never mix chlorine bleach with any other household cleaning products and especially not with ammonia. Doing so can result in different types of poisonous gases being released, which can cause very serious breathing problems.

Pet flea and tick treatments. Many of the pet flea and tick treatment products contain pesticides that consist of the chemicals imidacloprid, fipronil, pyrethrins, permethrin and methoprene. These chemicals can cause headache, dizziness, twitching and nausea.

  • Safety tips: When using these products on your dog or cat, be sure not to pet them for at least 24 hours. If you forget and do pet them, wash your hands and skin immediately with a lot of soap and water.

Insecticides. Insecticides contain some of the same pesticides found in pet flea and tick treatments. In addition to permethrin, other pesticide chemicals commonly found in insecticides are diazinon, propoxur and chlorpyrifos. These chemicals can cause headache, dizziness, twitching and nausea.

  • Safety tips: When using an insecticide in the home, make sure it doesn’t get on food or substances that come in contact with food, like dish towels, dishes, silverware or counter tops.

In the kitchen

Dishwashing detergents. The main ingredient in automatic and hand dishwashing detergents is phosphate. Automatic dishwashing detergents are known to produce skin irritations or burns and may be poisonous if swallowed. Hand dishwashing detergents are milder than automatic dishwashing detergents. If swallowed, they may cause irritation to the mouth and throat, nausea, but they are not fatal if swallowed.

Oven cleaners. The basic ingredient in oven cleaners is lye (consisting of either sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide). Lye is extremely corrosive and can burn your skin and eyes. It can cause severe tissue damage and may be fatal if swallowed.

  • Safety tips: When working with oven cleaners, always wear an apron, gloves, and safety goggles. Do not breathe the fumes. Make sure the work area is well ventilated. The best tip: Non-toxic oven cleaners without lye are available. Look at the label and select a product that does not contain lye.

Antibacterial cleaner. Antibacterial cleaners usually contain water, a fragrance, a surfactant (to break up dirt), and a pesticide. The pesticides commonly used in antibacterial cleaners are quaternary ammonium or phenolic chemicals. Antibacterial cleaners can irritate your eyes and burn your skin and throat.

  • Safety tips: To help protect your skin when using these cleaners, wear latex dishwashing gloves. If you get some on the cleaner on your skin or in your eyes, wash it off immediately.

Window and glass cleaner. The basic ingredients of window/glass cleaners are ammonia and isopropanol. These products may be irritating to the eyes, skin, nose, and throat. If swallowed, they may cause drowsiness, unconsciousness or death.

  • Safety tips: Always wear gloves to use these products and use in a well-ventilated area.

Bait traps for ants, cockroaches, crickets and other insects. The insecticides commonly found in insect baits include abarmectin, propoxur, trichlorfon, sulfluramid, chlorpyrifos, and boric acid. Since most insect baits are enclosed in containers, it’s unlikely that you’ll come in contact with the pesticides within them. If you do, wash your hands with plenty of soap and water.

In the bathroom

Toilet bowl cleaners. Toilet cleaners contain the chemicals sodium hypochlorite or hydrochloric acid, or bleach. Most disinfectant cleaners are very irritating to your eyes and skin and will burn your throat.

Never mix a toilet bowl cleaner with any other household or cleaning products. Doing so can result in poisonous gases being released and can cause very serious breathing problems.

  • Safety tips: Always be sure when cleaning your bathrooms that the room has plenty of ventilation. Leave the door open and use the exhaust fan, if you have one. Wear latex dishwashing gloves to help protect your skin from splashes when using toilet cleaners. If you splash some on your skin, wash it off immediately.

Mold and mildew removers. Chlorine and alkyl ammonium chlorides are the common fungicide chemicals found in mold and mildew removers. Cleaners with mold and mildew removers may cause breathing problems and if swallowed, can burn your throat.

  • Safety tips: Wear latex dishwashing gloves to help protect your skin when using these products. If you get some on your skin, wash it off immediately.

Drain cleaners. Lye and sulfuric acid are the main ingredients used to unclog drains. Lye can cause burns to skin and eyes, and if swallowed, can damage the esophagus and stomach. Sulfuric acid can irritate the skin and eyes and can damage the kidneys, liver, and digestive tract. These chemicals produce dangerous fumes, can cause skin burns, and can cause blindness if they come in contact with your eyes. Drain cleaners can be fatal if swallowed.

  • Safety tips: Always use protective gloves and wear goggles when using these products. Also, make sure there is good air circulation in the room when these cleaners are used.

In the living room

Rug, carpet, upholstery cleaners. These cleaning products can contain perchloroethylene (used in dry cleaning), naphthalene and ammonium hydroxide. The fumes given off by these products can cause cancer and liver damage and have been known to cause dizziness, sleepiness, nausea, loss of appetite, and disorientation.

  • Safety tips: Use these products in well-ventilated areas and try not to breathe the fumes.

Furniture polish. Furniture cleaners for wood may contain petroleum distillates and oil of cedar. Furniture polish typically contains one or more of the following substances: ammonia, naphtha, nitrobenzene, petroleum distillates and phenol. These chemicals may irritate your skin, eyes, throat, lungs, and windpipe. If swallowed, furniture polish can cause nausea and vomiting; medical help should be sought.

Air fresheners. Air fresheners contain formaldehyde, petroleum distillates, p-dichlorobenzene and aerosol propellants. These chemicals are thought to cause cancer and brain damage. They also are strong irritants to eyes, skin, and throat. These ingredients are usually highly flammable. Additionally, solid fresheners usually cause death if eaten by people or pets.

  • Safety tips: Do not spray air fresheners around an open flame. Use them only in a well-ventilated areas. Baking soda, which is not toxic, can be used as an alternative to air freshener.

Household foggers. Like insecticide and pet flea and tick products, household foggers or “bug bombs” contain many of the same pesticide chemicals, such as pyrethrins, permethrin, and methoprene. Exposure to these chemicals could cause burning in your eyes or your skin or can result in breathing problems. The contents of foggers can be flammable.

  • Safety tips: Proper use of foggers requires that all windows and doors to the specific room or entire house be closed. Therefore, all people and pets need to get out of the house – even if the specific room being “bug bombed” is closed off. The gas emitted from these foggers will seep under doors and through air vents. Toys, food, plates, cups, silverware and cookware should not be left out anywhere. After the fogger is finished, clean all table and counter tops before using them. The house or room also should be aired out. Turn on your air conditioner or open the windows. Use fans to help air out the house.

In the bedroom

Mothballs. The pesticides in mothballs are chemicals known as naphthalene and p-dichlorobenzene. Breathing the fumes from mothballs may cause headaches and dizziness and may irritate the skin, eyes, and throat. Extended exposure to the vapors may result in cataract formation and liver damage.

In the backyard, pool and garden shed

Swimming pool chloride tablets. Disinfectants containing chlorine for use in swimming pools are the chemicals calcium and sodium hypochlorite. These chemicals are the same but in a higher concentration than those found in other household disinfectant cleaners because they will be diluted in a very large amount of water. Coming in contact with these chemicals before they are diluted cause breathing problems and a burning sensation to eyes and skin. If swallowed, the chemicals can burn the throat and could be fatal.

Algicides for the pool. The chemicals in algicides for swimming pools commonly include alkyl ammonium chlorides. These chemicals can cause breathing problems. If swallowed, they can burn the throat.

Insect repellents. The pesticides commonly found in repellents are pyrethrins and a chemical more commonly known as DEET. The chemicals in repellents may cause a burning sensation to eyes, skin and throat. The chemicals also may cause anxiety, behavioral changes, mental confusion and a loss of coordination.

  • Safety tips: If the label says that you can apply the repellent to skin or clothes, apply it only to your clothes. It will work just as well. Keep repellents away from the eyes and mouth and away from any cuts on the skin. Don’t spray the repellent on your face. When you come indoors, take a bath to wash off the chemicals and launder your clothes.

Weed killers. The common pesticides in weed killers are diquat, 2,4-D, and glyphosate. Some weed killers can irritate the eyes and skin. Some of these chemicals can be very harmful if swallowed or inhaled or if large amounts get on skin and are not immediately washed off.

Baits for rodent control. The pesticide commonly found in baits is known as warfarin. This chemical causes internal bleeding if ingested in large amounts.

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There are many unknown dangers around our home, most of which we have no control over. In a world of “going green” it’s hard to tell which products produce a threat to your health and which are simply natural alternatives. Here’s a list of common household items that truly put you and your health at risk.

1. Non-Stick Cookware. While it’s nice not to have to soak your pans overnight or scrape off burnt-on food, the ease of non-stick cookware comes with a price—your safety. Polytetrafluoroethylene, the coating that makes products “non-stick” is releases gases when heated, all of which have been linked to putting humans at higher risk for cancer and other harmful health effects.

2. Flea and Tick Products. Pet’s flea and tick products may save your pooch from unwanted bites but due to pesticides it can lead to nerve damage and more.

3. Mothballs. Naphthalene, found in mothballs and products alike, can destroy red blood cells and has been proven to cause cancer in animals but has not yet been proven to cause cancer in humans.

4. Air Fresheners. Toxins found in air fresheners can accumulate in the body over the time. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council those toxins may affect hormones and reproductive health especially in children.

5. Oven Cleaner. Many of these cleaners contain corrosive alkalis, which can have grave effects on your gastrointestinal track and respiratory system if inhaled or ingested.

6. Furniture Polish and Stain. Non-vegetable, oil-based stains and polishes are not only extremely flammable but contain the chemicals phenol and nitrobenzene, which can be absorbed by your skin and can cause skin cancer.

7. Toilet Bowl Cleaner. The corrosive ingredients that make acidic toilet bowl cleaners clean so well are the same ingredients that can cause burns on skin and eyes. They are also extremely dangerous when mixed with other types of cleaners.

8. Gas Space Heaters. Gas powered anything releases toxins and using them indoors is extremely dangerous and can lead to Carbon Monoxide poisoning —a condition that presents very little warning symptoms.

9. Cleaning Solutions. As the biggest offenders on the list, and the most commonly used, it’s no secret household cleaners contains hazardous toxins. What’s most concerning is it’s not required for cleaners to list their ingredients on the bottle, leaving consumers in the dark. Even those claiming to be “green” or “natural.”

10. Extension Cords. While an extension cord itself isn’t dangerous. The way they are commonly used is. Many people don’t realize there is a voltage capacity, and plug in as much as they can—creating a huge fire hazard. This, coupled with using warn out cords and running them under furniture and carpets, is why extension cords are a leading cause of fire in the US.

11. Antibacterial Soaps. For many years antibacterial soaps were assumed the “better” way to ward of harmful diseases and bacteria. However the triclosoan and triclorcarbon is actually harmful. According to theFDA, it can be linked to creating antibiotic-resistant bacteria and is not biodegradable.

12. Flaking Paint. Homes built as recently as the late 70s can have interiors covered in lead-based paints—hazardous when the paint starts to flake AND when it’s time to repaint. Inhaling these particles can lead tolead poisoning.

13. Flame Retardants. Often found in older couches, mattresses and carpet padding, flame retardant chemicals have been linked to infertility and birth defects. Lindsey Campbell I’m the Assistant Social Editor for Elle Decor, House Beautiful and Veranda.

When a pain in Beth Greer’s shoulder led her to a chiropractor nine years ago, she wasn’t that worried. After all, she led a healthy lifestyle: She watched her weight, meditated regularly, and ate mostly organic food. Greer’s chiropractor wasn’t worried either; he diagnosed her with a herniated disk. But after three sessions, not only was she not better, the pain was beginning to radiate down her arm and into her fingers.

An MRI revealed the true cause of Greer’s pain: a tennis-ball-size tumor in her chest. The good news was the mass was benign. Still, each of the three thoracic surgeons Greer saw strongly recommended she have it removed. One wanted to get at it by going in under her collarbone, one wanted to reach the mass through her armpit, and the third wanted to remove a rib to get the tumor from the back.

They all agreed on just one thing: The surgery was risky. Because the tumor was in such a nerve-packed place, there was a real possibility that removing it could cause Greer to lose feeling in her hand.

Greer opted out of the surgery, and instead focused on doing everything she could to support her body’s healing capacity. Curious by nature (she and her husband, Steven Seligman, owned the Learning Annex, a group of schools offering short-term classes on everything from relationships to real-estate), Greer decided to learn everything she could about her condition and discovered that tumors typically grow in response to irritation and inflammation. Eliminating environmental toxins that might be contributing to her tumor’s growth seemed like a practical first step.

First, she turned her attention to the conventional household cleaning products tucked away in her cabinets. “I’d look at a label and it would say ‘hazardous to humans and domestic animals,’” says Greer. “So why would anyone want to use that?”

She ultimately tossed her entire collection of toxic cleaning products and began making her own with ingredients like vinegar, baking soda and essential oil. She also swapped her commercial body-care products and makeup for nontoxic ones, and she cleaned up her already healthy diet by eating only whole, unprocessed foods — without any labels.

Nine months later, her tumor was gone. Completely. Although she can’t pin her results on any one environmental change, Greer’s confident that cutting down her exposure to toxins played a critical role — so much so that she’s made sharing that information with others a central part of her life.

Today, Greer consults professionally with others who want to detoxify their homes and offices. In 2002 she and Seligman sold the Learning Annex and she began writing about toxin-free living. The result is her book, Super Natural Home.

During her research for the book, Greer was shocked to learn that there’s no federal regulation of chemicals in household products. Rebecca Sutton, PhD, a senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group (EWG), explains, “In terms of household cleaners, neither ingredients nor products must meet any sort of safety standard, nor is any testing data or notification required before bringing a product to market.”

The average household contains about 62 toxic chemicals, say environmental experts. We’re exposed to them routinely — from the phthalates in synthetic fragrances to the noxious fumes in oven cleaners. Ingredients in common household products have been linked to asthma, cancer, reproductive disorders, hormone disruption and neurotoxicity.

Manufacturers argue that in small amounts these toxic ingredients aren’t likely to be a problem, but when we’re exposed to them routinely, and in combinations that haven’t been studied, it’s impossible to accurately gauge the risks. While a few products cause immediate reactions from acute exposure (headaches from fumes, skin burns from accidental contact), different problems arise with repeated contact. Chronic exposure adds to the body’s “toxic burden” — the number of chemicals stored in its tissues at a given time.

This toxic body burden is EWG’s chief concern about household chemicals. Sutton explains: “Our concern is daily, weekly, chronic exposure over a lifetime. Maybe if you’re exposed to a chemical a handful of times it wouldn’t cause harm, but some chemicals build up enough or cause enough harm in your body over time that it triggers some kind of disease outcome. The concept is that pollution is not just in our air and in our water — it’s also in us.”

No one can avoid exposure to toxic chemicals altogether, but it is possible to reduce it significantly. In the following pages, Greer, Sutton and other experts weigh in on the worst toxic offenders commonly found in household cleaning products, and offer ways to swap them for healthier, safer options.

1. Phthalates

Found in: Many fragranced household products, such as air fresheners, dish soap, even toilet paper. Because of proprietary laws, companies don’t have to disclose what’s in their scents, so you won’t find phthalates on a label. If you see the word “fragrance” on a label, there’s a good chance phthalates are present.

Health Risks: Phthalates are known endocrine disruptors. Men with higher phthalate compounds in their blood had correspondingly reduced sperm counts, according to a 2003 study conducted by researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Harvard School of Public Health. Although exposure to phthalates mainly occurs through inhalation, it can also happen through skin contact with scented soaps, which is a significant problem, warns Alicia Stanton, MD, coauthor of Hormone Harmony. Unlike the digestive system, the skin has no safeguards against toxins. Absorbed chemicals go straight to organs.

Healthier Choice: When possible choose fragrance-free or all-natural organic products. Greer recommends bypassing aerosol or plug-in air fresheners and instead using essential oils or simply opening windows to freshen the air. Besides causing more serious effects like endocrine disruption, “Aerosol sprays and air fresheners can be migraine and asthma triggers,” she says. Also consider adding more plants to your home: They’re natural air detoxifiers.

2. Perchloroethylene or “PERC”

Found in: Dry-cleaning solutions, spot removers, and carpet and upholstery cleaners.

Health Risks: Perc is a neurotoxin, according to the chief scientist of environmental protection for the New York Attorney General’s office. And the EPA classifies perc as a “possible carcinogen” as well. People who live in residential buildings where dry cleaners are located have reported dizziness, loss of coordination and other symptoms. While the EPA has ordered a phase-out of perc machines in residential buildings by 2020, California is going even further and plans to eliminate all use of perc by 2023 because of its suspected health risks. The route of exposure is most often inhalation: that telltale smell on clothes when they return from the dry cleaner, or the fumes that linger after cleaning carpets.

Healthier Choice: Curtains, drapes and clothes that are labeled “dry clean only” can be taken instead to a “wet cleaner,” which uses water-based technology rather than chemical solvents. The EPA recently recognized liquid carbon dioxide (CO2) as an environmentally preferable alternative to more toxic dry-cleaning solvents. Ask your dry cleaner which method they use. For a safer spot remover, look for a nontoxic brand like Ecover at a natural market, or rub undiluted castile soap directly on stains before washing.

3. Triclosan

Found in: Most liquid dishwashing detergents and hand soaps labeled “antibacterial.”

Health Risks: Triclosan is an aggressive antibacterial agent that can promote the growth of drug-resistant bacteria. Explains Sutton: “The American Medical Association has found no evidence that these antimicrobials make us healthier or safer, and they’re particularly concerned because they don’t want us overusing antibacterial chemicals — that’s how microbes develop resistance, and not just to these , but also to real antibiotics that we need.” Other studies have now found dangerous concentrations of triclosan in rivers and streams, where it is toxic to algae. The EPA is currently investigating whether triclosan may also disrupt endocrine (hormonal) function. It is a probable carcinogen. At press time, the agency was reviewing the safety of triclosan in consumer products.

Healthier Choice: Use simple detergents and soaps with short ingredient lists, and avoid antibacterial products with triclosan for home use. If you’re hooked on hand sanitizer, choose one that is alcohol-based and without triclosan.

4. Quarternary Ammonium Compounds, or “QUATS”

Found in: Fabric softener liquids and sheets, most household cleaners labeled “antibacterial.”

Health Risks: Quats are another type of antimicrobial, and thus pose the same problem as triclosan by helping breed antibiotic-resistant bacteria. They’re also a skin irritant; one 10-year study of contact dermatitis found quats to be one of the leading causes. According to Sutton, they’re also suspected as a culprit for respiratory disorders: “There’s evidence that even healthy people who are on a regular basis develop asthma as a result.”

Healthier Choice: You don’t really need fabric softener or dryer sheets to soften clothes or get rid of static: Simple vinegar works just as well. “Vinegar is the natural fabric softener of choice for many reasons,” explains Karyn Siegel-Maier in her book The Naturally Clean Home. “Not only is it nontoxic, it also removes soap residue in the rinse cycle and helps to prevent static cling in the dryer.” White vinegar is your best choice for general cleaning; other types can stain.

Alternatives to chemical disinfectants abound, including antibacterial, antifungal tea-tree oil. Mix a few drops of tea-tree oil and a tablespoon of vinegar with water in a spray bottle for a safe, germ killing, all-purpose cleaner. Add a couple of drops of lavender essential oil for scent.

5. 2-Butoxyethanol

Found in: Window, kitchen and multipurpose cleaners.

Health Risks: 2-butoxyethanol is the key ingredient in many window cleaners and gives them their characteristic sweet smell. It belongs in the category of “glycol ethers,” a set of powerful solvents that don’t mess around. Law does not require 2-butoxyethanol to be listed on a product’s label. According to the EPA’s Web site, in addition to causing sore throats when inhaled, at high levels glycol ethers can also contribute to narcosis, pulmonary edema, and severe liver and kidney damage. Although the EPA sets a standard on 2-butoxyethanol for workplace safety, Sutton warns, “If you’re cleaning at home in a confined area, like an unventilated bathroom, you can actually end up getting 2-butoxyethanol in the air at levels that are higher than workplace safety standards.”

Healthier Choice: Clean mirrors and windows with newspaper and diluted vinegar. For other kitchen tasks, stick to simple cleaning compounds like Bon Ami powder; it’s made from natural ingredients like ground feldspar and baking soda without the added bleach or fragrances found in most commercial cleansers. You can also make your own formulas with baking soda, vinegar and essential oils. See the “DIY Cleaners” sidebar for a list of clean concoctions.

6. Ammonia

Found in: Polishing agents for bathroom fixtures, sinks and jewelry; also in glass cleaner.

Health Risks: Because ammonia evaporates and doesn’t leave streaks, it’s another common ingredient in commercial window cleaners. That sparkle has a price. “Ammonia is a powerful irritant,” says Donna Kasuska, chemical engineer and president of ChemConscious, Inc., a risk-management consulting company. “It’s going to affect you right away. The people who will be really affected are those who have asthma, and elderly people with lung issues and breathing problems. It’s almost always inhaled. People who get a lot of ammonia exposure, like housekeepers, will often develop chronic bronchitis and asthma.” Ammonia can also create a poisonous gas if it’s mixed with bleach.

Healthier Choice: Vodka. “It will produce a reflective shine on any metal or mirrored surface,” explains Lori Dennis, author of Green Interior Design. And toothpaste makes an outstanding silver polish.

7. Chlorine

Found in: Scouring powders, toilet bowl cleaners, mildew removers, laundry whiteners, household tap water.

Health Risks: “With chlorine we have so many avenues of exposure,” says Kasuska. “You’re getting exposed through fumes and possibly through skin when you clean with it, but because it’s also in city water to get rid of bacteria, you’re also getting exposed when you take a shower or bath. The health risks from chlorine can be acute, and they can be chronic; it’s a respiratory irritant at an acute level. But the chronic effects are what people don’t realize: It may be a serious thyroid disrupter.”

Healthier Choice: For scrubbing, stick to Bon Ami or baking soda. Toilet bowls can be cleaned with vinegar, and vinegar or borax powder both work well for whitening clothes. So does the chlorine-free oxygen bleach powder made by Biokleen. To reduce your exposure to chlorine through tap water, install filters on your kitchen sink and in the shower.

8. Sodium Hydroxide

Found in: Oven cleaners and drain openers.

Health Risks: Otherwise known as lye, sodium hydroxide is extremely corrosive: If it touches your skin or gets in your eyes, it can cause severe burns. Routes of exposure are skin contact and inhalation. Inhaling sodium hydroxide can cause a sore throat that lasts for days.

Healthier Choice: You can clean the grimiest oven with baking-soda paste — it just takes a little more time and elbow grease (see recipes in “DIY Cleaners” sidebar). Unclog drains with a mechanical “snake” tool, or try this approach from the Green Living Ideas Web site: Pour a cup of baking soda and a cup of vinegar down the drain and plug it for 30 minutes. After the bubbles die down, run hot water down the drain to clear the debris.

Jessie Sholl has written about health for a variety of publications. She is also the author of Dirty Secret: A Daughter Comes Clean About Her Mother’s Compulsive Hoarding (Simon and Schuster/Gallery Books, 2010).

Photography by John Mowers

Harmful Chemicals in Household Products: 5 Terrifying Things You Need to Know


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How much thought have you given to the harmful chemicals in household products you use every single day?

It’s not something I personally LIKE to think about because it feels like something I have so little control over. In fact, I’m almost of the opinion that we can’t avoid harmful chemicals in household products… because they are in almost everything we use on a daily basis. It could actually be panic inducing, if a person over thinks it.

I was doing some research for this post, which was originally going to be about natural ways to keep your home clean, but the things I learned about the toxins in our homes are things I wanted to share with you first.

5 things you should know about the harmful chemicals in common household products:

1 ) The laws governing these things are WEAK.

There are currently almost no laws in place that force manufacturers to warn consumers about the potential dangers of chemicals in cleaning products. (This BLOWS my mind! It really does offer an insight into just how far we still have to go towards removing harmful chemicals and toxins from our everyday lives.)

As of early 2017, California is trying to pass such a law – which would be a HUGE leap forward… making them the first state in the country with this requirement. Canada also has no such laws in place.

Not only are there no laws about warnings or disclosures, there is also no federal regulation of chemicals in household products, according to this article. (And, ditto for Canada again. Europe has slightly better laws in place to protect people, but even they are lacking.)

2) The harmful toxins aren’t ONLY in cleaning products, they are everywhere.

Your cookware (non-stick frying pans for example), your shampoo, perfume, anti-antiperspirant (and just about any other cosmetic / hygiene item you can think of), your couch (likely treated with flame retardant or stain-proofing sprays), air fresheners, and plastic containers (just to name a few) are likely all adding to the chemicals that you’re exposed to on a daily basis.

Then throw in those cleaning products that we KNOW are toxic, and other things we are exposed to often: gas and anti-freeze for the car, or paint, varnish, glue, and pesticides on your veggies. The chemicals are everywhere, and we are going to be exposed to some of them no matter what measures we take to avoid them.

This list just makes me want to control the controllables all the more.

3) Most of the chemicals that we are exposed to everyday are never tested in conjunction with OTHER chemicals we are exposed to everyday.

We all know that there’s some danger in mixing chemicals – we’ve heard stories about women who passed out in the bathroom after accidentally mixing one product containing bleach with one containing ammonia. We know better than to do THAT.

But, that doesn’t mean that we know ALL the risks of all the chemicals we are exposed to on a daily basis – particularly when we’re exposed to them in conjunction with OTHER chemicals. It’s impossible to actually gauge ALL the risks, because the studies have never been done.

4) Toxic chemicals in household products are wreaking havoc on our hormones, and worst of all, on our children’s hormones.

BPA – remember that? The studies showed such a link between BPA and miscarriage, early puberty, and obesity (among other things) that the world basically boycotted BPA and now we all drink water from glass bottles and don’t send lunch for our kids in plastic and we never think about it anymore.

But BPA is FAR from the only toxin that affects our hormones in negative ways – why are we ignoring Phthalates, Triclosan, and Perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs)?

Let’s just talk ONE of these chemicals and how it might affect our children:

Prenatal PFC exposure has been linked to

  • reduced growth;
  • change in children’s thyroxine hormone levels;
  • suppressed children’s immune systems; and
  • hyperactivity

This is a scary list, and what’s more scary is the realization that if you cook with non-stick cookware (teflon) while you’re pregnant then yes – your baby has had prenatal PFC exposure.

(Here’s an interesting list of common harmful chemicals in household products and their effects on our health.)

5) We can’t stop our exposure to these toxins.

But we can drastically reduce the stress on our systems by making a few changes.

Basically if you’re alive today, you’re going to be exposed to chemicals. We can’t get around that. They’re in the air, they’re in our drinking water, and they’re in our food. (Going 100% organic isn’t really an affordable option for most people.) Even toilet paper comes with toxins. In fact, Phthalates are found in almost 100 percent of people tested.

This just means, that more than ever, we need to be aware of what sort of chemicals we are using and choose natural and safe alternatives when possible.

This is what happened that first brought the threat of harmful chemicals in household products to my attention:

My mom (who sings in a gospel group) announced one day that she didn’t think she’d be able to sing much longer. She wasn’t sure what was wrong with her tongue, but it burned constantly and it was starting to get weird “bald” patches on it.

Unfortunately, the Dr. couldn’t tell her what was wrong – or give her any idea of how to fix it. So she lived with her weird burning tongue for months… until a dental hygienist told her the probable cause: toxic chemical overload.

Her body was poisoned by chemicals, and “geographical tongue” is a not-uncommon symptom. The hygienist had experienced it herself, in fact. She went on to tell my mom that dentists see it all the time… probably because of the mercury used in dental fillings. (There’s a whole SWACK of weird symptoms you can get from mercury or toxic overload.)

It’s also common in women in general, because they tend to be exposed to chemicals almost every single day – IN THEIR HOMES!

Mom was thrilled that she had a diagnosis… but no idea where to look for a cure.

After much research on how to cleanse harmful chemical toxins from the body, she ended up buying a far-infrared sauna, and literally sweating out her toxins over the next six months. (You can do cardio like crazy – that helps too!)

Her tongue healed, but interestingly, the burning still comes back for few days when she is exposed to strong chemicals.

Your body WANTS to help you get rid of toxins.

There are a whole bunch of very expensive “cleanses” out there, but the truth is that our body is MADE to clean toxins from our systems – that is the nature of the liver + lymph system. A few toxins here and there won’t really hurt us. It’s only when we pile on more chemicals than our bodies can possibly processes on their own that we run into trouble.

(Like when we allow our homes to be over run with household products containing hundreds of dangerous chemicals.)

Sweating, drinking water, and cutting down as much as possible on our exposure to harmful chemicals in household products and everyday toxins is an excellent start to healing the body and preventing any toxic overload on our systems.

A person could go crazy if they thought about this TOO much, though.

Because I don’t want to live my life in a frantic panicked state, I don’t let the idea of the horrible toxins in my home ruin my life. I just do my best to avoid the ones I can avoid, accept the ones I can’t avoid, and keep my body as strong and healthy as possible. It’s my absolute goal in raising my son to protect him from as many harmful chemicals as I can – to give him the best shot at long term health possible.


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20 Toxic Things You Probably Use Every Day

Scientists are now realizing the chemicals found in a wide array of household goods are more toxic than previously thought. Since health and wellness is not simply about diet and exercise, but also about limiting exposure to toxic things, it’s a good idea to become aware of these items and take action steps to remove them wherever possible.

1. Perfumes

A study by the Environmental Protection Agency found that potentially hazardous chemicals can commonly be found in fragrances. Toxic chemicals like benzaldehyde, camphor, ethyl acetate, benzyl acetate, linalool, acetone and methylene chloride can, when inhaled, cause dizziness, nausea, drowsiness, irritation to throat, eyes, skin, and lungs, kidney damage and headaches. For more information on perfume toxins and some natural alternatives, read: Are chemicals in perfume and cologne harmful?

2. Mattresses

Many mattresses have high levels of a potentially harmful compound called PBDEs. The health problems associated with PBDE exposure include brain and reproductive damage, decreased sperm quality and thyroid problems, and this is particularly worrying since we spend a third of our lives in bed. PBDEs have been banned in Canada and several US states, so it’s a good idea check your mattress. If it has high levels of this toxic substance it would be prudent to invest in a new one.

3. Cleaning products

You are probably aware that many of the cleaning products you use every day have harmful chemicals in them, but you likely don’t think there is much alternative. However, natural products like baking soda, soap powder or lemon and hot water often work just as well without covering your home in toxic chemicals. Next time you are shopping for cleaning products check for chemical ingredients such as phthalates and chemical surfactants, and then consider a more natural alternative.

4. Air fresheners


­Like cleaning products, air fresheners help keep our homes nice, but a study by the University of California at Berkeley found that when used excessively or in unventilated area they release toxic levels of pollutants. Having air fresheners around your home shouldn’t make you sick, but you must ensure the area is ventilated to stop the toxic chemicals, such as ethylene-based glycol ethers and paradichlorobenzene, from circulating through the air and adversely impacting your health.

5. Plastic food containers

Many plastic containers are made from chemicals such as phthalates, which can interfere with the body’s endocrine system to produce adverse developmental, reproductive and neurological effects in humans (see and since the plastic breaks down over time it can cause the release of these dangerous chemicals into your food. Switch to glass containers wherever possible.

6. Plastic drink bottles

We’re all aware by now that plastic bottles aren’t great for the environment, but the they can also leak toxic chemicals into your drink. Most bottles are now BPA-free, which is a step in the right direction. However that isn’t the only harmful chemical so it’s always safer to use a glass if you can.

7. Cosmetics

The average person applies between six and 12 cosmetic items per day and most of these will include toxic chemicals that are potentially harmful to you. It’s always a good idea to look for cosmetics that are free of synthetic fragrances, are mineral-based or are made from natural oils. Buying organic products will greatly reduce your exposure to toxins.

8. Antiperspirants


Most people wear antiperspirant to avoid odor but one of the “sweat-blocking ingredients” found in many antiperspirants is aluminum. In recent years questions have been raised about whether the aluminum in antiperspirants can contribute to the development of breast cancer. While the studies are inconclusive the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does require a warning label on all antiperspirants.

9. Fabric softeners

Softeners work by coating your clothes with a thin layer of potentially toxic chemicals, such as quantenary ammonium salts. These can cause skin irritation, respiratory problems and headaches.

10. Non-stick Cookware

While non-stick cookware can save you some cleaning time, it comes at a cost. At high temperatures the polytetrafluoroethylene that makes Teflon non-sticky gives off a toxic gas that has been linked to reproductive problems and other health issues. It’s always best to opt for stainless steel or iron skillets!

11. Baby care products

Surprisingly the flame-retardants used in some baby care products, like high chairs, cribs and strollers, can leak toxic chemicals. The chemicals from flame-retardants include bromine and chlorine which have been linked to a number of sexual and neurological disorders.

12. Shower curtains

Phthalates are sometimes used to soften the plastic that goes in shower curtains. Phthalates has been associated with causing harmful effects in children and impacting brain functions, like learning and memory.

13. Bug sprays

Bug killers should be avoided inside (and ideally outside) of your house, as researchers have linked the insecticides to neurological damage in children. Wherever possible combat an indoor bug problem by cleaning up crumbs and sealing food in containers.

14. Canned food

Bisphenol A (BPA), found in most canned food containers, is a hormone-disrupting chemical linked to male infertility, heart disease and diabetes. Although some manufacturers are phasing the chemical out of their cans, it’s not clear that the replacements are totally safe either. If possible, opt for fresh or frozen foods.

15. Corn and soybeans

Roundup affects defensive enzymes our bodies use to keep us healthy and Roundup Ready Crops (RR Crops) are genetically engineered crops that have their DNA altered to allow them to withstand the herbicide–therefore they should be avoided. These crops include items such as corn and soybeans; it’s always better to buy organic.

16. Dry-cleaned clothes

While it may be more convenient to drop your clothing off with a dry cleaner, the cleaning chemical they use is usually perchloroethylene (known as PCE). It is classified as a probable carcinogen and has been linked to liver, kidney, and central nervous system damage. Many states and cities are phasing out PCE, but it is still widely used in others.

17. TV and games consoles

Phthalates are found in the power cords of devices and controller cables of game consoles, and flame retardants (BFRs) that have been linked to impaired brain development can be found in circuit boards and casings.

18. Desktop computers and laptops

The presence of the same toxic substances can be found in well-known brand laptops, but many people are also concerned about the potentially dangerous electromagnetic field (EMF) generated by your screen and machine, which could be seriously damaging your health. While it’s important to note that there has been no conclusive scientific evidence linking laptops and desktops to these diseases, it’s also prudent to have a digital detox every so often and walk away from your screen!

19. Cell phones

There has been a surge in radiofrequency (RF) exposure from wireless devices over the last decade, which has led to a huge increase in reports of hypersensitivity and diseases related to electromagnetic field and RF exposure. RF exposure has been linked with a wide variety of diseases such as cancer, immune dysfunction, neurological disease and reproductive disorders. While the World Health Organization has found there is no conclusive scientific evidence linking smartphones to these diseases, your phone still contains lead, mercury, arsenic and cadmium, which are all potentially harmful in large doses, so please be sure to dispose of your old phone in the proper manner.

20. Words


Ok, so this last one is probably not what you were expecting, but I have little doubt you are using toxic words every day. Try to cut down your use of and exposure to toxic words (and toxic people) and I bet if you do so–in addition to reducing exposure to the other items listed above–then your health, happiness and well-being will quickly improve!

Featured photo credit: Still Thinking via

Most recent

There are a lot of common household products almost everyone has on hand and probably never thinks much about. Your parents had them and now so do you. But a lot of these common products are toxic, something we know more about now than your family did back in the day. So you might want to avoid some of these items and look for some house-healthier substitutes.

Cleaning supplies often contain substances like bleach or ammonia, which can release toxic fumes that lead to respiratory distress. Photo credit:

1. Non-stick cookware may save you some cleaning time, some elbow grease and some scouring pads, but at high temperatures the polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) that makes Teflon non-sticky gives off toxic gases that have been linked to reproductive problems, cancers and other health issues. It’s best to opt for stainless steel or iron skillets, or if you must use non-stick pans, cook at lower temperatures.

2. We know how bad plastic bottles and other containers are for the environment, especially if you just toss them in the trash after using the contents. But they can also leach chemicals into whatever you’re drinking. Watch out especially for the hormone-disrupting, possibly birth defect-causing Bisphenol A (BPA). Many plastic products promote they are now BPA-free, but that isn’t the only potentially harmful chemical they can shed. It’s safer to use a glass.

3. When you see roaches or ants in your house, it’s natural to want to dash out and grab the first high-power pesticide you see on the shelf. Hold that disgust! Try a natural solution: one of many insect repellent herbs, such as mint or tansy, or some vinegar or lemon juice sprinkled along their entrance points and other places where they hide.

4. “Germ-killing” hand soaps and other antibacterial products are full of chemicals but have become widespread due to the public’s overblown fears of catching something (ebola! ebola!). In addition, killing off germs indiscriminately can hinder the immune system’s own defenses, eliminating good bacteria along with the bad. There’s a lot to be said for more environmentally friendly and healthful soap and water.

5. Cleaning supplies often contain substances like bleach or ammonia, which can release toxic fumes that lead to respiratory distress. It’s good to be aware of what is in those products; often the more instantly effective they are, the more toxic they are as well. And many common household products such as vinegar and baking powder can also be effective in tackling ordinary household cleaning jobs. And you don’t need a specialized product for each separate cleaning task!

Many common household products such as baking powder and lime can be effective in tackling ordinary household cleaning jobs.

6. Air fresheners contain a brew of chemicals such as phthalates, known to cause hormonal abnormalities, reproductive problems and birth defects. They also contain such little-defined ingredients as “preservatives,” “propellant” and the ever-popular “fragrance,” which could be just about anything. And no, the word “natural” doesn’t mean anything when it comes to fragrance. Try a big pot of some fragrant, flowering, house-loving plant like jasmine instead.

7. With so many natural moth repellants available, ranging from cedar blocks to sweet-smelling herbal solutions like lavender, mint, cloves and rosemary, there’s little need to resort to those old-fashioned mothballs. Not only do they smell like those old clothes of your grandmother’s that have been in the attic for years, but they’re little balls of toxic chemicals that can cause dizziness, headaches and nausea.

8. Dryer sheets and other fabric softeners work by coating your clothes with a thin layer of—you guessed it!—potentially toxic chemicals. A common one is quantenary ammonium salts which can cause skin irritation and rashes, respiratory problems, nausea, headaches and even vomiting. Likewise the undisclosed “fragrance” most contain can cause respiratory problems. Try tossing some wool balls or an old sweater in the wash to eliminate wrinkles and static cling.


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5 toxic household products you probably use every day

We love the convenience and the comfort they bring us, but some of our most popular consumer products can come at a heavy price to our personal health. We all try being careful, removing the known hazards from our households, yet there are many products that you likely have in your home that you probably didn’t know were toxic. Here are five that might shock you:

1. Candles. Few things are better at adding atmosphere to a room than candles. But as those candles fill the room with warm light, they’re also filling it up with harmful gases and sediments. And it doesn’t always matter whether the candle is paraffin, vegetable oil, or beeswax based. During combustion, all candles release some soot carbon particles that can lead to respiratory problems.


But paraffin wax comes with its own problems. It starts out as a byproduct of petroleum, coal, or shale. After it’s extracted from the mix, the paraffin bathes in industrial-strength bleach to give it its signature whiteness. However, this also infuses paraffin with dioxins. Another chemical, Acrolein, a compound linked to the risk of lung cancer from cigarette smoke, is added to paraffin as a solidifying agent.

While the candle industry insists that the final product is inert, studies have shown that the burning of paraffin candles releases benzene and toluene — both known carcinogens — into the atmosphere. And even if you buy a high-end candle, it doesn’t make it any safer. The vast majority of candles from retailers like Bed, Bath & Beyond, Yankee Candle Store, and Crate & Barrel are mostly made from paraffin.

To add to all this, artificial dyes and synthetic fragrances are often added to candles, especially those used in aromatherapy. The recipe varies from candle to candle, but the fragrances and dyes — which are often synthetic — can contain toxic plasticizers and solvents, which should be avoided. Also, those extra ingredients also burn, which means additional soot.


If you can’t live without your candles, consider those made of beeswax or vegetable oils, and with natural dyes and perfumes.

While most candles have all cotton wicks, a small percentage still have metal wire cores. Before 2003, many of those metal-cored wicks contained lead, but the Consumer Product Safety Commission banned lead in wicks that year. Today, these wire cores are mostly contain zinc. But if you’re worried that you have an old candle with a lead-core wick, try this test: Take a piece of notebook paper and rub it at the top of the unburned wick. If it makes a mark resembling that of a graphite pencil, it’s likely has lead. Otherwise the wick itself is likely safe.

2. Dryer Sheets. There are few scents as addictive as warm laundry pulled from the dryer, thanks to the olfactory magic of fabric-softener sheets. They’re simple enough products, nothing more than thin polyester sheets coated with chemicals to soften fabric fibers and give clothes that irresistible scent.


But like with candles, the fragrance found in sheets from brands such as Downy and Bounce might pose health risks, as toxins can permeate those sheets and transfer to your clothes and skin. It is also released into the air from dryer vent emissions, which are not regulated. And because the fragrances the manufacturers use are trade secrets, have no way of really knowing exactly what they contain.

A study, published in the August 2011 issue of the journal Air Quality, Atmosphere and Health, indicates that scented laundry items can contain numerous carcinogens, including acetaldehyde and benzene.


It’s probably best to ditch the dryer sheets altogether, but there are less toxic options if you insist on using them. Seventh Generation makes dryer sheets out of chlorine-free recyclable paper, instead of polyester. The company also discloses all the ingredients of their sheets, which includes a plant-derived softening agent. They contain no fragrances or masking agents.

3. Baby Wipes. Not only are baby wipes used by most parents to help keep their kids clean and comfortable, they’ve become a staple in many households without small children and used for many things, such as a toilet paper substitute, makeup removal, and to clean personal electronics screens.

While there is a lot of misinformation and panic posted on Internet sites about the actual ingredients of wipes, there are also some real causes for concern. Some baby wipes contain the compound Bronopol, which is also found in shampoos and other personal-care products. Bronopol, used in place of alcohol, is as an antimicrobial agent that can release low levels of formaldehyde as it breaks down. A volatile organic compound, formaldehyde can irritate the eyes and throat and cause headaches and dizziness. It has also been classified as a probable human carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency.


Baby wipes may also contain phthalates, a common family of household chemicals often used to soften plastics. You’ll often find phthalates in many plastic household products and toys, but they’re also used in some baby wipes to help soften the lotion and support the fragrance. As the manufacturers of wipes don’t need to disclose all their ingredients, its difficult to pinpoint which ones contain phthalates. However, suspects those that contain perfumes (notably some styles of wipes from Pampers, Huggies, Johnson’s, Rite Aid, and Publix) also contain phthalates.

The chemical industry maintains that there are no studies to suggest that routine phthalate exposure presents adverse health effects, but many consumer, environmental, and medical advocates disagree. Studies over the years have raised red flags. Phthalates are known endocrine disruptors, and unlike adults, infants do not have developed endocrine systems. Even more disturbing, researchers have found phthalates in the urine of infants whose mothers used baby products containing the chemical.

The Environmental Working Group, environmental health research and advocacy organization, has safer alternatives to baby wipes and other infant-care products on its Skin Deep Cosmetics Database. They point to Water Wipes, Honest Wipes, gWipes, Kinder By Nature, and Treehouse Natural Wipes as being far less toxic. They also give high marks to VADA Wet Wipe Solution, which can be used with organic cotton wipes.


4. Markers. Permanent and dry-erase markers from manufacturers like DriMark, Sharpie, Prismacolor and Crayola are both a favorite tool and toy in many households. But that pungent aroma they might emit can be a hint to their toxicity. Markers are often rich in chemical solvents, including xylene, which is a neurotoxic aromatic hydrocarbon that can leave people feeling sick even after exposure to trace amounts. You’ve probably noticed how it can irritate your eyes, nose, and throat when you first remove the marker’s cap. Other common complaints are headaches, breathing difficulties, dizziness and brain fog after exposure to markers, even those that are labeled as “Non-Toxic.”

Xylene is a byproduct of petroleum and coal tar. Beyond its use in markers, it’s used as an industrial solvent. It’s also found in gasoline, rust preventatives, and some paints and varnishes. It’s rapidly absorbed by the lungs and enters the blood system almost immediately after exposure.

Long term effects from low-concentrations xylene exposure aren’t as clear, but it’s recommended that pregnant women should avoid exposure to markers or other products that emit xylene fumes.

5. Carpets. As much as you may love that “new carpet smell” when it’s first installed, that famous scent is actually the carpet off-gassing hazardous volatile organic compounds including toluene, bromine, benzene, formaldehyde, ethyl benzene, styrene, and acetone. Routine exposure to these chemicals are known to cause headaches, throat and eye irritation, allergies, confusion, and drowsiness. Synthetic carpets that contain nylon and olefin fibers are typically the worst offenders.


Regular exposure to significant levels of these toxins can pose long-term problems, including learning and memory impairment, birth defects, decreased fertility, and diseases of the liver, thyroid, ovaries, kidneys, and blood. Benzene is a well-known human carcinogen and formaldehyde is probable human carcinogen. Some new carpets also contain the moth-proofing chemical naphthalene, which is known to produce toxic reactions, especially in newborns. Also, found in some carpets is p-Dichlorobenzene, a carcinogen also known to produce fetal abnormalities when tested on animals.

But it’s not just new carpets that cause a problem. While older carpets no longer off-gas these chemicals, over time dust mites and their droppings begin to permeate the nap. The droppings cause severe allergic reactions in many people, and researchers are just beginning to correlate dust mite exposure to asthma. Household dust can also have high levels of lead, as the heavy metal still permeates our soil from the days of leaded paint and gasoline. We also add toxins into our carpets when we walk on them with our shoes, tracking in contaminated dirt and pesticides from the outdoors. Also, almost any toxic substance we use at home, from paints, to bug sprays, to candle or fireplace soot, can settle into carpet fibers and stay trapped there for years.

If you’re not yet inspired to get rid of your carpeting, investing in a quality HEPA vacuum cleaner can help remove a lot of the toxins without throwing them back into the air.

You can also buy carpeting certified as “Green Label Plus” by the Carpet and Rug Institute, which evaluates them for low emissions of volatile organic compounds. However, those carpets tend to be on the expensive side. But a good alternative to wall-to-wall carpeting is to use area rugs made of natural fibers such as hemp and corn husks that can be removed from a room to be washed or beaten outdoors. And you don’t have to go to a specialty retailer for these rugs. Large retailers such as Wayfair,, Home Depot, and Staples sell both types of rugs.


In celebration of Salon’s 20th anniversary, we’re presenting some of our favorite and most popular stories from our archives.

Are there toxic chemicals lurking under your kitchen sink? Find out the 7 toxic household cleaners to avoid and the problem with “natural” store-bought cleaners.

Are you cleaning with conventional, store-bought household cleaners? You may want to think twice about using them. Why? They are toxic household cleaners. Check out the labels. There are often warning signs of toxicity and instructions to call Poison Control if ingested or exposed to skin. Read on for advice on how to avoid toxic cleaners and how to make non toxic cleaning products.

Types of Toxic Household Cleaners

Toxic chemicals in conventional household cleaners vary in their severity – from acute (immediate) hazards such as skin or respiratory issues, chemical burns or watery eyes to chronic (long term) hazards such as cancer, fertility issues, ADHD, compromised immune system and more.1

Most toxic chemicals found in household cleaners fall into these categories:

  • Carcinogens – which cause or promote cancer
  • Endocrine disruptors – which mimic human hormones and cause false signals within the body and lead to issues such as infertility, premature puberty, miscarriage, menstrual issues, ADHD and even cancer.
  • Neurotoxins – which affect brain activity and cause issues such as headaches and memory loss

7 Household Cleaners to Avoid

1. Air fresheners

The fragrances (even those marked unscented) can trigger asthma and allergies. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) reviewed 2,000 household cleaning products in 2012 and found that 53% of cleaning products contain ingredients harmful to the lungs AND 22% of cleaning products contain chemicals known to cause asthma in otherwise healthy people.

2. Fabric softeners and dryer sheets

The fragrances and other ingredients used to make them can cause asthma, allergies or lung irritation.

3. Cleaning products with artificial fragrances

The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health has found that one-third of the substances used in the fragrance industry are toxic, yet because the formulas used for these fragrances are trade secrets companies aren’t required to disclose the ingredients used.

4. Antibacterial products

The ingredients used to kill bacteria in these soaps can can encourage the development of drug-resistant superbugs.

5. Corrosive drain cleaners, oven cleaners and toilet bowl cleaners

These are the most acutely dangerous cleaning products on the market. The ingredients in these cleaners can cause severe burns on the skin and eyes, or if ingested to the throat and esophagus.

6. Bleach and ammonia

Separately these cleaners produce fumes with high acute toxicity to eyes, nose, throat and lungs and should not be used by people with asthma or lung issues. Used together, these products produce a a toxic gas that can cause serious lung damage.

7. Products that create suds (shampoo, liquid soap, bubble bath, laundry detergent)

Ingredients such as 1,4-dioxane, diethanolamine (DEA), triethanolamine (TEA), sodium laureth sulfate, PEG compounds, etc. are known carcinogens linked to organ toxicity.

In addition to acute and long-term health issues, many of these chemicals pose health hazards to the environment too. When these cleaners are used in sinks, bathtubs or showers, they go down the drain and may threaten water quality or wildlife. Sudsing agents in shampoos, liquid soaps and detergents and phosphates used to soften hard water in detergents pose a huge threat to our water supply. 2,3,4

Can Inhaling Some Cleaning Products Make You Sick?

Yes, ingestion can cause esophageal injury, stomach irritation and prolonged nausea and vomiting. Never mix chlorine bleach with any other household cleaning products and especially not with ammonia. Doing so can result in different types of poisonous gases being released, which can cause very serious breathing problems.

Can Household Cleaners Affect Pets?

Yes, cleaning products with ingredients such as bleach, ammonia, chlorine, glycol ethers or formaldehyde can put pets at risk for cancer, anemia, liver and kidney damage. Ammonia, found in oven cleaners and window cleaning formulations, is an irritant to the mucous membranes.

The Problem with “Natural” Store-Bought Cleaners

Even many “all-natural” cleaners found in grocery and some health food stores have harmful chemicals and may even score worse than conventional cleaning products. Mother Nature Network researched a few common natural cleaning products and found that a leading all-purpose cleaner fared worse in the EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning Guide. Check out the results.

The other problem with natural store-bought cleaning products is that they often cost twice as much as conventional store-bought cleaners. In many cases, old-fashioned vinegar, baking soda, essential oils and other inexpensive ingredients found in your pantry can clean just as well or better than conventional or natural store-bought cleaning products.

Make Your Own Household Cleaners

Instead make your own homemade cleaners for less than a dollar AND use natural ingredients you probably already have around your home. I’ve got 10 homemade household cleaners you can make right now with ingredients in your kitchen and check out my own recipe for an DIY natural household cleaner that can be used for everything from kitchen countertops to bathroom sinks.

Top Tips for Avoiding Toxic Household Cleaners

  • Check out the labels. There are often warning signs of toxicity and instructions to call Poison Control if ingested or exposed to skin.
  • The most acutely dangerous cleaning products are corrosive drain cleaners, oven cleaners, and acidic toilet bowl cleaners, according to the Washington Toxics Coalition.
  • Shop for cleaners, laundry detergents, and personal care products labeled “fragrance-free” or “unscented”. It does not always mean its fragrance-free.
  • Avoid store bought air fresheners. Identify the smell and eliminate or prevent it. Open a window. Ventilating your home with outdoor air has been shown to reduce symptoms associated with asthma, allergies and infections.
  • Make your own household cleaning products, it’s inexpensive and so much better for you.

More DIY Recipes You Might Like

  • Homemade Carpet Freshener
  • DIY Poo Pourri: After You Poo Spray
  • DIY Natural Disinfectant Spray (Homemade Lysol)

Have you ditched the toxic household cleaners yet? Don’t forget to comment below to let me know. You can also FOLLOW ME on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.

Photo credit: / Mirage_studio


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The Consumer Law Page lists the Top 12 Hazardous Household Chemicals:

  1. Air Fresheners – Don’t let the commercials fool you. Most air fresheners interfere with your ability to smell by disabling your nasal passages with an oil film or a nerve-deadening agent. Common chemicals in air fresheners include formaldehyde (a highly toxic known carcinogen) and phenol (which can cause hives, convulsions, circulatory collapse, coma, and even death).
  2. Ammonia is a volatile chemical that can damage your eyes, respiratory tract, and skin.
  3. Bleach is a strong corrosive that can damage the skin, eyes, and respiratory tract. NEVER mix bleach with ammonia, as the fumes can be deadly.
  4. Carpet and Upholstery Shampoos generally contain highly toxic substances like perchlorethylene (a known carcinogen that damages the liver, kidneys, and nervous system) and ammonium hydroxide (a corrosive that irritates eyes, skin, and respiratory passages).
  5. Dishwasher Detergents – Most of them contain highly concentrated chlorine, which is the #1 cause of child poisonings.
  6. Drain Cleaners commonly include lye (which can burn skin and eyes, and the esophagus and stomach if ingested), hydrochloric acid (a corrosive eye and skin irritant that damages kidneys, liver, and digestive tract), or tricholoroethane (eye and skin irritant and nervous system depressant).
  7. Furniture Polish is highly flammable and can cause skin and lung cancer. It often contains phenol as well as nitrobenzene, which is an extremely toxic chemical that’s easily absorbed through the skin.
  8. Mold and Mildew Cleaners often contain sodium hypochlorite (a corrosive which can lead to fluid in the lungs) and formaldehyde (a highly toxic, known carcinogen). To clean mold and mildew safely – and to prevent it from coming back – use M-1 House Wash and M-1 Sure Cote Sealant.
  9. Oven Cleaner contains lye (sodium hydroxide). Lye is often used to dissolve roadkill dumped in landfills; that can’t be healthy.
  10. Antibacterial Cleaners often contain triclosan, which is absorbed through the skin and linked to liver damage. Antibacterial soaps may also contribute to the development of drug-resistant bacteria.
  11. Laundry Room Products may contain sodium or calcium hypocrite (a highly corrosive agent that can irritate the skin and eyes), hypochlorite bleach (a corrosive that can burn the eyes, skin, and respiratory tract). If exposed to other chemicals, hypochlorite bleach may form chlorine fumes that could be fatal.
  12. Toilet Bowl Cleaners may contain hydrochloric acid or hypochlorite bleach.

Other Dangerous Chemicals around the House

  • Pesticides – Dimpylate, or Diazinon, is extremely toxic and impairs the central nervous system. Chlorinate hydrocarbons are suspected carcinogens and mutagens; they accumulate in fatty tissue and attack the nervous system. Organophosphates are toxic and poisonous; if you can smell it, that means your lungs are absorbing it.
  • Lice Shampoo – Inhalation, ingestion, or absorption of lindane causes vomiting, convulsions, and circulatory collapse and may cause liver damage, stillbirths, birth defects, and cancer.
  • Car Wash, Car Polish – Petroleum distillates are associated with skin and lung cancer, and they irritate the skin, eyes, nose, and lungs. Inhalation could cause fatal pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs).

Chemical Warning Labels

The information below is actually new to me, and it’s very interesting and helpful when you’re learning about toxic household chemicals!

DANGER means that the chemical is harmful or fatal if swallowed. Ingestion of a small taste to a teaspoon could kill an average sized adult.

WARNING means that the chemical is harmful if swallowed. Ingestion of a teaspoon to an ounce could kill an average sized adult.

CAUTION means that the chemical is harmful if swallowed. Ingestion of an ounce to a pint could kill an average adult. Stop using harmful household cleaning products and browse AchooAllergy for better alternatives.

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