You can go to great lengths (and spend plenty of money) protecting yourself from harmful substances. Most people start by buying organic fruits and veggies or avoiding processed foods. Even still, the average household contains gallons of toxic chemicals, mostly found in everyday cleaners. Many of these items contain known carcinogens (cancer-causing substances), but that’s just the beginning.
It’s hard to find a balance between maintaining a clean home and protecting your family from potent chemicals. Start by banishing the following toxic household products from your home, then swapping for safer alternatives.
1. Plastic cutting boards
Why they’re bad: Chopping food on plastic cutting boards creates little nicks and divets, which are perfect little caves for dangerous bacteria. Things like E.coli and salmonella will hang out in cracks long after you wipe down the board, which could make you really sick. Some plastic boards also have BPA, which could get in your digestive system as you consume food that was cut on the boards.
The fix: Use bamboo or glass cutting boards, which have natural antibacterial properties. Bacteria will still get in the nicks, but it’ll eventually die off.
Next: Cutting yourself isn’t the only dangerous part of shaving.
2. Shave gel
Why it’s bad: Polytetrafluoroethylene, or PTFE, can be found in many shave gels because it helps create a smooth formula that fills lines and creases in the skin. However, this chemical is actually Teflon — the same stuff used in nonstick frying pans — and it’s associated with hypertension and many cancers.
The fix: Look for “Polytetrafluoroethylene” on the list of ingredients — and then don’t buy that shave gel. Look for an all-natural shave gel or use a (safe, all-natural) hair conditioner.
Next: If it shines leave it behind.
3. Aluminum foil
Why it’s bad: Wrapping your protein or veggies in aluminum foil to roast your food is a go-to for many. But unlike aluminum cookware, which is oxidized, aluminum foil can leach into your food when cooked at a high temperature. Eat This, Not That! explains,”This is especially true when cooking with acidic foods like tomatoes since they expedite the leaching process.” And The Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease links consuming aluminum to neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s.
The fix: Use parchment paper when wrapping food, and stick with cooking meals in a glass pan or crockpot.
Next: Your health may take a hit from where you sit.
4. Your couch
Why it’s bad: Due to a law passed in the ’40s, many couches and pieces of furniture were treated with flame-retardant chemicals and filled with flame-retardant materials. According to Time, some studies associate these chemicals with endocrine disruption and neurotoxic effects. Although the laws received updates in 2013 and 2014, a lot of furniture still has flame-retardant chemicals. (Couches may also be treated with stain repellants, which may be immunosuppressant and immunotoxic.)
The fix: Time says you should ask your furniture store to skip treating your new couch with stain-repellant and antimicrobials. Clean your home often to these chemicals don’t stick to dust particles.
Next: Cook carefully.
5. Nylon cooking utensils
Why they’re bad: Diaminodiphenylmethane, or DDM, is an epoxy hardener often used in kitchen utensils (especially black nylon ones). When DDM meets food prep, things go awry. Your nylon spatula or ladle could melt, causing you to ingest the chemical, which caused cirrhosis and tumors in rats when researched.
The fix: Never use a melted nylon spoon, whisk, or other tool. Look on the nylon utensil package for a heat rating of at least 450 degrees. And opt for stainless steel utensils when you can.
Next: There’s a better way to keep your clothes pest-free.
Why they’re bad: Storing mothballs in your clothes? This is an official warning to remove them. This product hosts two chemicals, and both can be extremely toxic if you’re exposed to high concentrations, says WebMD.
Mothballs turn from a solid to vapor over time, so you could breath in toxins pretty regularly. If you come into contact with large amounts of these chemicals, you may experience nausea, dizziness, difficulty breathing, and eye and nasal irritation. In severe cases, one of the ingredients, naphthalene, can damage or destroy your red blood cells and cause hemolytic anemia. Both toxins are considered possibly carcinogenic, too.
The fix: Use cloves or cedar chips to keep your clothes moth-free without hurting yourself or your loved ones.
Next: Your shower’s a mess, but you use the wrong solution.
7. Mildew removers
Why they’re bad: Scrubbing down shower tiles with lemony-fresh mildew remover could come with health consequences. The Environmental Working Group uses Tilex Mold and Mildew remover as an example. This product contains sodium hypochlorite, which could cause respiratory issues or eye and skin irritation if you don’t use it in a well-ventilated area. Since scrubbing your shower requires close proximity, Tilex is quite concerning.
The fix: White vinegar is a mildew obliterater. Tea tree oil is another effective alternative, but it’s more expensive. Consider trying both to see which you like better.
Next: Don’t spray your windows with this.
8. Window cleaner
Why it’s bad: Windex makes glass sparkle, but it can also cause major issues if you breathe it in. MedlinePlus explains that while newer versions of window cleaner tend to contain less toxic ingredients, older ones may have ammonia, isopropyl alcohol, or methanol. Ingesting ammonia is obviously not a good idea. It can cause your eyes to burn and irritate your respiratory system.
The fix: Homemade cleaners will help you avoid inhaling or ingesting toxic chemicals. Also, clean your windows more frequently to cut back on the amount of product used each time.
Next: Be careful what you cook with.
9. Nonstick cookware
Why it’s bad: Nonstick pots and pans are handy, especially if you want to cut back on oil and butter, which keep food from sticking to pans. Unfortunately, nonstick pots and pans contain trace amounts of perfluorooctanoic acid. Everyday Health explains this chemical causes cancer in lab animals. Also, when you cook, the pan’s nonstick surface may chip off into your food and enter your body.
The fix: Rather than falling for misleading nonstick cookware, stick with cast iron or stainless steel pans. Invest in quality cooking sprays or oils, too.
Next: Food storage may save money but it won’t save your life.
10. Plastic food containers
Why they’re bad: The fact that plastic containers release chemicals into the food you store inside is nothing new. Research finds most plastics — including cups, food wrap, and containers — still release a hormone similar to estrogen into the substances they store. One study reports even those supposedly safe BPA-free containers may leak chemicals into your food and drink.
The fix: Store your leftovers in glass containers with lids; they’re easy to clean and fully reusable. When you reheat food in the microwave, simply cover your plate with another plate to prevent a mess.
Next: Do you really know what’s in your hand lotion?
11. Scented lotions
Why they’re bad: We get it. You want to smell like a freshly picked daisy one day and a vanilla cookie the next. There’s nothing wrong with smelling desirable, but rubbing scented lotions all over your body isn’t the way to go. Rodale’s Organic Life explains these products typically contain ingredients (pthalates and BHA) that disrupt your endocrine system. You’ve likely heard of pthalates before; they’re in insecticides and wood finishes. You’ll also find carcinogenic parabens in your scented lotions.
The fix: Coconut oil may not be stupendous for eating, but it’s a great scented lotion substitute. Olive oil and cocoa butter also do the trick.
Next: Cleaning your clothes isn’t as “clean” as you think.
12. Laundry products
Why they’re bad: The chemicals found in laundry detergents clean and de-stink your clothes but may do more harm than good, according to The Huffington Post. Some of the most trusted brands — like Ajax, Dynamo, and Fab Ultra — contain formaldehyde, which causes asthma and allergies.
Your detergent’s partner in crime, scented dryer sheets, aren’t any better. According to Mother Earth Living, researchers found that dryer vents emit hazardous air pollutants called volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, when scented laundry detergents and dryer sheets are used.
The fix: Apartment Therapy recommends spraying your clothes with lavender or rose water before washing to keep them smelling fresh even after they’re dry. You can use an infusion to create a scent you find appealing.
Next: Don’t cover up the odor with chemicals.
13. Air fresheners
Why they’re bad: They sound like a dream come true, especially when you have a dog or smelly teenager. But Global Healing Center reports air fresheners have nasty side effects. They interfere with your body’s ability to smell by releasing a nerve-deadening agent or coating your nasal passages with an oil film. Formaldehyde and phenol are common ingredients. As you may guess, formaldehyde is a carcinogen, and phenol; when it comes in direct contact with your skin, it can cause skin to swell, peel, burn, and break out in hives.
The fix: You can use homemade freshener for both your laundry and home. Mix your essential oils with some water, then put the mix in a spray bottle to make things smell fresh (without causing anyone harm).
Next: Don’t do this to your beloved furniture.
14. Furniture polish
Why it’s bad: We all want shiny furniture that looks new, but we don’t advise using store-bought polishes. These products contains hydrocarbons, an ingredient that can be extremely poisonous, says MedlinePlus. If you accidentally breathe in or swallow liquid furniture polish, you may experience low blood pressure, confusion, vomiting, or even a coma. If the product touches your eyes or skin, you could have burns or vision loss.
The fix: Pass on this risky stuff and make your own instead.
Next: There’s a better way to clean your bathroom.
15. Bathroom cleaners
Why they’re bad: Bathroom cleaners contain dangerous chemicals that can affect your body’s basic functions. When you scrub with toilet cleaner (made with sulfates and bleach), you breathe in toxic chlorine gas that can harm your respiratory and circulatory systems. When you clear out pipes using drain cleaner you’ll likely inhale or ingest sodium hydroxide, according to Healthy Child Healthy World. Swallowing it could seriously hurt your digestive system and esophagus. Getting the fumes near your face could irritate your skin.
The fix: Baking soda and vinegar — remember them? Turns out they’re good at cleaning out your drains, too. For homemade toilet bowl cleaner, mix together a half cup of vinegar and a tablespoon of baking soda.
Next: Clean your oven the right way.
16. Oven cleaners
Why they’re bad: Like toilet bowl cleaners, oven cleaners are popular household products that make one of the hardest household chores easier. Unfortunately, corrosive alkalis (poisonous ingredients that can cause difficulty breathing, throat swelling, vision loss, abdominal pain, and vomiting) are found in many such products.
The fix: Baking soda and vinegar can clean more than your toilet. This oven-cleaning method isn’t quite as simple as using a bottle of chemicals, but it’s safer.