While there’s no way to get an exact count of all the different harmful chemicals lurking in any given home, one thing is sure: in today’s world, unsafe chemicals are all but impossible to avoid.
They’re sneaky. Chemicals cling to the bottoms of our shoes on the stuff we track inside. They float in on our water. They catch a ride in the form of air pollution we can’t always see. They off-gas into the air when we repaint or bring home new carpet, mattresses and electronics. Chemicals are good at finding their way into our havens.
And we certainly don’t help matters by welcoming harmful chemicals into our homes. Toxic compounds are prevalent in household cleaners, furniture polish, “fragranced” items, non-stick pots and pans, plastic containers, vinyl shower curtains, air fresheners, dryer sheets, pest control products, dry cleaning—the list goes on and on.
While an estimated 62 toxic chemicals typically reside in the average home, there are things we can do to get that number down. Here are a few tips for dealing with some of the worst offenders:
Flame Retardant Chemicals — These could be in your couch, carpet, mattresses or even your baby’s car seat. These types of chemicals are endocrine disruptors, and they’re associated with reduced fertility as well as cancer. Dust, mop and/or vacuum often, and read furniture and upholstery labels before purchasing.
Phthalates — “Fragrance” on a product label usually means phthalates are present. Phthalates are also known endocrine disruptors, and exposure to them occurs mainly through inhalation or via the skin. Use essential oils, plants or good candles to freshen the air. And if you notice “fragrance” on a label, put the product back on the shelf and walk away.
Glycol Ethers — Associated with various health problems as well as low sperm motility, these grease-cutting endocrine-disruptors show up in personal care products, multi-purpose household cleaners and dry-cleaning solutions. Since labels aren’t required to list them, you may not even be aware they’re in your home. Use microfiber and water for cleaning, and save money by hand-washing delicate clothing rather than having it dry-cleaned.
Lead — Entering our bodies as a result of lead-based paint and old water pipes in our homes, this endocrine-disruptor has been linked to brain damage, lowered IQ, hearing loss, miscarriage, premature birth, increased blood pressure, kidney damage and nervous system problems. Avoid lead-based paints and help ensure your family stays safer by investing in a lead-removing water filter.
Disinfecting Ingredients — Also known as antibacterials, these chemicals are often found in cleaning wipes, hand cleaners, food storage containers, exercise mats and even some school supplies. They are designed to kill or inhibit the growth of microbes, but certain ingredients like triclosan have also been shown to disrupt thyroid hormone function in animals and may weaken heart and skeletal muscle. Choose high-quality microfiber cloths for household cleaning; all you need is water to lift up dirt, bacteria, grime and stains. For personal care, avoid “antibacterial” soaps and liquids.
Blog updated February 11, 2021