Cancer in Your House: 15 Innocent-Looking Household Items That Can Cause Cancer

You may not know it, but plenty of everyday household items could contribute to your cancer risk. The objects you use to relax, eat, and play aren’t so innocent. Are any of these in your home? One living room staple, in particular, needs to go ASAP (page 10).

1. Your shower curtain

Shower curtain on shower curtain rod

This is one item you should never buy in bulk. |

  • Contains: PVC (polyvinyl chloride) and VOC (volatile organic compounds)
  • Use instead: hemp, linen, birch, or cotton shower curtains

In 2008, American scientists requested that all shower curtains containing PVCs be banned from stores. Although these curtains are no longer sold, if you still have one in your bathroom, it likely leaked toxic, cancerous chemicals. Another culprit? The shower liner, which can emit 108 chemicals into the air.

Next: Do you use this drinkware for parties and get-togethers?

2. Styrofoam cups

white Styrofoam cups

These are outdated anyway. | PamWalker68/Getty Images

  • Contains: styrene
  • Use instead: paper or glass cups

Styrene is the main ingredient in Styrofoam products. In 2014, it was officially labeled a suspected carcinogen. It’s also found in everyday products like various plastics and your refrigerator. The best way to avoid styrene? Stop purchasing Styrofoam products.

Next: This doesn’t mean you should stop reading.

3. Books on your bookshelf


Old books may be particularly risky. | iStock/Getty Images


  • Contains: ethylene oxide

Ethylene oxide is a chemical used to sterilize and fumigate old books, as well as medical equipment and food manufacturing supplies. It poses the biggest risk to those who actually use it, but it can linger on products like antique books.

Next: A trendy and possibly toxic kitchen product

4. Granite countertops

Granite countertop in contemporary white kitchen

They look nice, but are they worth it? | in4mal/Getty Images

  • Contains: radon
  • Use instead: quartz countertops

Radon, a gas that is the second leading cause of lung cancer, can be emitted from granite counters, which led researchers to question whether granite should be allowed in homes. Only a small fraction of countertops tested have radon levels higher than what’s deemed “safe,” according to WebMD. But if you hope to eliminate your risk, go with quartz instead.

Next: The cancerous fibers hiding in your walls

5. Insulation

Builder Fitting Insulation Into Roof Of New Home

Choose an alternative to protect yourself and your family. | Highwaystarz-Photography/iStock/Getty Images

  • Contains: glass wool fibers
  • Use instead: soy-based spray foam insulation

According to the National Toxicology Program, there is sufficient evidence that glass wool fibers found in insulation can cause cancer. But sufficient testing hasn’t been done on humans. Home improvement workers who install insulation face the highest risk of cancer.

Next: These lights aren’t flattering anyway.

6. Fluorescent lighting

flourescent lights

Not only is it unflattering, but it’s dangerous. | stocksnapper/iStock/Getty Images

  • Contains: mercury
  • Use instead: LED or halogen bulbs

Those CFL (compact fluorescent light) bulbs the government recommends actually could cause cancer. The bulbs contain mercury, a known carcinogen. Plus, the bulbs emit high levels of ultraviolet radiation. When the bulb’s protective layer is cracked, dangerous levels of UVA and UVB radiation can escape. This means you could get skin cancer — just from your lights.

Next: This affordable flooring can be dangerous. 

7. Vinyl flooring

Empty Living room in an old building, Apartment with parquet flooring

Stick with wood, rather than imitation wood made out of vinyl. | ah_fotobox/iStock/Getty Images

  • Contains: PVC and dioxins
  • Use instead: bamboo, cork, laminate, or porcelain flooring

Vinyl flooring contains PVC, a known carcinogen. Installing it in your home means exposing your family to its potential dangers. Also, dioxins, which are carcinogenic toxins, are produced during the vinyl-floor-making process. Although vinyl flooring companies have reduced the exposure to employees, homeowners with vinyl flooring are still at risk.

Next: Tread lightly with this cancer-causing item.

8. Area rugs and carpets

Crochet rag rugs in sunlight

Believe it or not, these can be toxic. | KerstinIvarsson/Getty Images

  • Contains: formaldehyde, acetone, and flame retardants
  • Use instead: all-natural wool, mohair, jute, cotton, or sisal rugs

Carpets are made with chemicals that cause cancer, like formaldehyde and acetone. Most carpets also contain carcinogenic flame retardants. Plus, that “new carpet smell” actually comes from a type of chemical connected to eye, nose, and respiratory complications.

Next: This area of your home could be filled with toxic chemicals. 

9. Your closet

Overstuffed clothing in wardrobe or closet

The dry-cleaner may be adding an unwanted chemical to your favorite shirt. | DLMcK/iStock/Getty Images

  • Contains: perchloroethylene, or “perc”
  • Use instead: wrinkle-free clothing

The process for dry-cleaning clothes is toxic, but most Americans aren’t aware. And when you store all your dry cleaning in a closet, the risk is greater. The chemical known as “perc” is used to dissolve stains on clothes. While it’s good at that, it’s also good at causing cancer. Look for a cleaner in your area that’s utilizing new technologies, like water-based cleaning.

Next: An innocent-looking living room staple  

10. Your comfy couch

Modern blue suede couch sofa

Yes, your favorite nap hangout is probably coated in chemicals. | Anthony Paz/iStock/Getty Images

  • Contains: flame retardants
  • Use instead: a couch made after 2014

In 1975, California passed a law requiring furniture to be coated in flame retardants to prevent fires caused by cigarettes. So most furniture companies coated all furniture in chemicals, no matter where it was being shipped. Later testing found that those chemicals could cause cancer.

“Newer laws have helped limit the use of flame-retardants in furniture,” explains Time. So most makers have phased out the chemicals. Your best bet is to replace your old couch.

Next: This type of furniture has cancer-causing properties. 

11. Leather furniture

Open layout kitchen and living room

Buttery soft leather may have secrets. | Jodie Johnson/iStock/Getty Images

  • Contains: chromium
  • Instead: Check furniture labels and buy accordingly.

About half of all leather furniture contains a carcinogen known as chromium. Plus, the process of dying leather has been found to cause cancer, making it dangerous to factory workers. Check the labels to figure out whether or not your furniture is chromium-free.

Next: These disinfectants are known carcinogens. 

12. Cleaning products

House cleaning product variety

Buy or make natural solutions instead. | Tatomm/iStock/Getty Images

  • Contains: carcinogens
  • Use instead: chemical-free cleaners

Many household cleaning products are known carcinogens. Although they can sterilize your home, they can also leave you inhaling toxic chemicals and allow those chemicals to build up on your home’s surfaces.

Next: This should only be used outdoors. 

13. Bug spray

Various brands of repellent

This stuff keeps the bugs away, but is extremely dangerous. | Miguel Schincariol/AFP/Getty Images

  • Contains: organophosphates and many other chemicals
  • Use instead: all-natural bug spray alternatives

Pesticides have cancer-causing properties. Bug spray is no exception. But the biggest risk is when the spray is used indoors. Outside, people are less likely to directly breathe in those chemicals. But inside, the residue is not only breathed in but can also linger on surfaces. Apply insect repellent outdoors to lower the risk of developing leukemia or lymphoma.

Next: Getting rid of pesky weeds could be dangerous to your health. 

14. Weed killer

Bottles and containers of gardening products for the growth of plants

This stuff is deadly. | Davizro/Getty Images

The World Health Organization  determined that glysophate, a chemical commonly found in weed killer, is likely carcinogenic to humans. Experiments in rodents showed that too much glysophate exposure caused tumors. However, some studies are controversial about whether the weed killer can actually cause cancer. For now, it is still under investigation.

Next: Your refrigerator might be hiding some cancer-causing foods. 

15. The food in your kitchen

Paper bag full of healthy food on a wooden table

Yes, even your favorite food could cause cancer. |

  • Contains: many different carcinogens
  • Instead: Eliminate certain foods.

There are several foods that have been classified as carcinogens by the FDA. Grilled red meat, microwave popcorn, and cold cuts are just three popular items that can cause cancer. Carbonated beverages and farmed fish are also on the cancer-causing list. You may be able to cut your cancer risk in half by eliminating carcinogenic foods from your diet.

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