Common Household Toxins to Avoid in Your Home

Could harmful toxins be lurking in your home? These tips will help you identify and eliminate hazardous household items to keep your family safe.

Published on
May 1, 2024
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Common Household Toxins to Avoid in Your Home


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While many of us assume the household products we use are completely safe, the reality is often quite the opposite. Some of the items we use every day — including cookware, cleaning products, personal care supplies, and furniture — contain harmful toxins that present a danger to us and our families. Children are especially vulnerable to household toxins, as their brains and bodies are still developing. Young children are also prone to putting things in their mouths, which can present a risk if undetected toxins are lurking in your home. 

If you don’t know where to start with ridding your home of toxins, we’ve got you covered. Keep reading to learn which household supplies contain hazardous toxins and what you can do to eliminate them from your home! 

  1.  Plastics 

Many of us use plastic items to store food, but plastic food wraps, plastic storage containers, and frozen dinner trays can all contain Bisphenol A, also known as BPA. BPA is a chemical primarily found in various plastics, as well as in the lining of some metal food and drink cans. It has been linked to behavioral and fertility issues and accelerated physical development in girls (Memorial Hermann, n.d.).

Furthermore, some plastics contain phthalates, which are chemicals used to enhance the flexibility, durability, and longevity of plastics. Phthalates are most commonly used to soften polyvinyl chloride, also known as PVC or vinyl. PVC can be found in a variety of household items, including credit cards, garden hoses, shower curtains, children’s toys, and food containers (Memorial Hermann). Avoid plastics labeled with a number three inside the universal recycling symbol, as the number three plastic recycling code refers to PVC products; use plastics labeled with codes one, two, four, and five instead (NIH, 2016).

To avoid being exposed to BPA and phthalates, swap out plastic food containers for glass, and never microwave or freeze food in plastic. Additionally, check product labels for phthalates or fragrances, which often contain phthalates (Memorial Hermann, n.d.; NIH, 2016). 

Many personal care products, including body lotions, shampoos, soaps, hair sprays, hair gels, perfumes, deodorants, and nail polishes, also contain phthalates to enhance the fragrance of these items. While phthalates must be listed under the ingredients section on product labels in the U.S., they are sometimes listed only as “fragrance.” To avoid unintentionally using products containing phthalates, look for products labeled as “fragrance-free” or “phthalate-free” (NIH, 2016).

  1. Air Fresheners and Fragrances 

While air fresheners and candles might help keep our homes smelling fresh, they can contain multiple harmful chemicals. Candle wicks can contain lead, while paraffin wax releases benzene and toluene when burned. Exposure to lead is associated with behavioral disorders, benzene is a human carcinogen, and toluene is a hazardous substance that is “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen” (Memorial Hermann, n.d.).

Likewise, commercial air fresheners are often made with phthalates and volatile organic compounds, also known as VOCs. VOCs are known to impede reproduction and cellular regeneration, while phthalates are associated with endocrine disruption (Memorial Hermann, n.d.; NIH, 2016). 

To keep your home smelling good without exposing yourself to dangerous chemicals, try using a diffuser. Simply fill it with water and add a few drops of your favorite natural essential oil. Your home will smell just as great while eliminating harmful toxins (Memorial Hermann, n.d.). 

  1. Household Cleaning Supplies

While it may sound nonsensical, household cleaners can contain some of the most harmful toxins in your home. These cleaning supplies can be made with methylene chloride, nitrobenzene, and formaldehyde, all of which are suspected human carcinogens. Furniture polish, detergents, and aerosols may also contain terpenes and other VOCs. These products can lead to breathing problems, skin irritation, and disruption of reproductive hormones.

Make sure to read the labels on your cleaning supplies, and avoid products that include ethanolamines, triclosan, quaternary ammonium compounds, and sodium hypochlorite, also known as chlorine bleach. Look for natural, non-toxic, and fragrance-free products instead, but make sure to do your research, as some products that are marketed as nontoxic aren’t always what they claim to be (GoMacro, n.d.; Memorial Hermann, n.d.). 

Improper disposal of toxins can also cause toxic chemicals to leak into the environment and lead to pollution, so you should never dispose of toxic chemicals by pouring them down the drain or outside. Instead, find a local hazardous waste site to toss non-recyclable toxic household products or a local recycling program or mail-in take-back program for items like medications and electronics (Washington State Department of Ecology, n.d.). 

  1. Cookware

Perfluorochemicals, or PFCs, are synthetic chemicals used in a variety of everyday products. They are commonly found in nonstick cookware, waterproof clothing and mattresses, and stain-resistant furniture and carpets, as they make these products more resistant to water, grease, and stains. PFCs have been linked to developmental problems, poor immune system function, and disrupted hormone activity in animals; research suggests that PFCs could lead to kidney and testicular cancers, obesity, and low birth weight in humans (NIH, 2016).

Teflon, a material often used to make cookware, previously contained PFCs such as PFOA. Now, PFOA is no longer used to make Teflon because of the health risks it poses: PFOA is associated with testicular cancer, infertility, liver and kidney disease, and thyroid disorders. However, old cookware may still contain PFOA and other PFCs (GoMacro, n.d.; NIH, 2016).

As a safer substitute for nonstick pots and pans, try stoneware, ceramic, cast iron, or stainless steel cookware with nontoxic coatings. While they may not be as easy to clean as nonstick cookware, they cook your food just as well, and they’re free from the potential dangers of using Teflon (GoMacro, n.d.). 

  1. Laundry Supplies

While scented laundry detergents, fabric softeners, and dryer sheets may leave your clothes smelling delightfully fresh, these products can contain harmful chemicals such as phthalates, as well as chloroform, ethanol, and benzyl acetate, which have a possible connection to Multiple Sclerosis, Alzheimer’s Disease, and other central nervous system disorders. 

Instead, substitute your traditional dryer sheet for dryer balls free of chemicals to help speed up the drying time and reduce static electricity (GoMacro, n.d.; Memorial Hermann, n.d.). If you still want your laundry to smell fresh and clean, add a couple of drops of your favorite essential oil to the dryer ball (GoMacro, n.d.; Memorial Hermann, n.d.). 

  1. Furniture and Bedding  

You’d expect the furniture you sit and sleep on every day to be safe, but many carpets, curtains, fabric blinds, mattresses, and other upholstery contain flame-retardant chemicals that have been linked to various health problems in animals and humans. Memory foam, for example, is made with polyurethane and chemicals called isocyanates, which can result in asthma, irritation of the eyes and skin, and chest tightness.

Especially when buying items for children, look for furnishings made with nontoxic materials like organic cotton, wool, polyester, natural latex, and organic bamboo (GoMacro, n.d.; NIH, 2016). 

  1. Pesticides and Bug Repellents 

Although they’re very helpful at keeping pesky insects away, bug repellents and pesticides are believed to cause endocrine disruption, which can lead to reduced fertility, increased risk of cancer, and other health concerns. They’re especially dangerous to infants and young children, whose brains and bodies are still in the early stages of development (NIH, 2016). Rather than traditional bug sprays or pesticides, try using Citronella, Neem Oil, crushed lavender petals, or Diatomaceous Earth to repel insects (Memorial Hermann, n.d.).

Pesticide residue can also be found on the surface of fresh produce, so make sure to wash your fruits and veggies well before consuming. To ensure no pesticide residue is left on your produce, soak your fruits and vegetables in water mixed with a tablespoon of baking soda for at least two minutes (Memorial Hermann, n.d.). 

  1. Drinking Water and Paints 

One of the most dangerous toxic chemicals that may be found in your home is lead. Lead is poisonous and can lead to significant health issues, such as concentration and memory problems, joint and muscle pain, fertility problems, and high blood pressure. While lead can no longer be used in food cans, gasoline, or paints, it may still be found in drinking water that runs through lead pipes, as well as in lead-based paint used in older homes. 

Lead is especially dangerous for children, so if you live in an older home, contact your local health department with any concerns about your drinking water or paint. Exposure prevention is the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from lead poisoning (NIH, 2016).

It can be scary to think that so many toxic chemicals may be present in our daily items. Luckily, there are plenty of alternatives to hazardous household products, as well as numerous ways to detect and identify toxins in your home. You and your family deserve the peace of mind that comes with knowing your home is safe and toxin-free, which is why we’ve made it easy for you to eliminate potentially harmful products from your space. Follow the tips above to ensure your home is toxin-free, and breathe easy knowing your family is healthy and protected from dangerous chemicals! 

For more information on safe and sustainable home maintenance, check out our blog


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Photo by Ron Lach