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. But just because you eat foods that are good for your body doesn’t mean you’re avoiding everything that can harm your health. In fact, the average household can contain gallons of toxic chemicals, most of which are found in everyday cleaners. Many of these items contain known carcinogens, cancer-causing substances, but that’s really just the beginning.
It’s hard to find a balance between the desire to maintain a clean, well-stocked home and the need to protect yourself and those you love from potent chemicals. Start small by banishing the following toxic household products from your home, then swapping in some better alternatives.
1. Laundry products
Why they’re bad: The multitude of chemicals found in laundry detergents that work to clean and de-stink your clothes may be doing more harm than good, according to The Huffington Post. Some of the most trusted brands — like Ajax, Dynamo, and Fab Ultra — contain formaldehyde, which can cause asthma and allergies. Your detergent’s partner in crime, scented dryer sheets, aren’t any better. According to Mother Earth Living, researchers have found that dryer vents can 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 whatever infusion you want to create the scent you find most appealing.
Next: Be careful what you cook with.
2. Nonstick cookware
Why it’s bad: Nonstick pots and pans can be handy, especially if you’re trying to cut back on oil and butter, which are typically used to keep food from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Unfortunately, nonstick pots and pans contain trace amounts of perfluorooctanoic acid. Everyday Health explains this chemical has been proven to cause cancer in lab animals. Also, when you’re cooking, 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 some quality cooking sprays or oils as well.
Next: Don’t cover up the odor with chemicals.
3. Air fresheners
Why they’re bad: They sound like a dream come true, especially when you have to deal with a wet dog or live with a smelly teenager. But Global Healing Center reports air fresheners have some 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 also common ingredients. As you might have guessed, formaldehyde is a known carcinogen, and phenol, when it comes in direct contact with your skin, can cause it 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 of choice with some water, then put the mixture in a spray bottle to keep things smelling fresh (without causing you or your fur babies any harm).
Next: There’s a better way to clean your toilet.
4. Toilet bowl cleaners
Why they’re bad: It’s no one’s favorite job, but everyone knows cleaning the toilet is made a whole lot easier with the assistance of a good cleaner. However, sulfates and bleach are commonly found in toilet bowl cleaners, and as you get down and scrub, you’re probably breathing in a toxic chlorine gas. Not surprisingly, this is extremely dangerous to your respiratory and circulatory systems.
The fix: Mix together a half cup of vinegar and a tablespoon of baking soda to create a homemade toilet bowl cleaner that works just as well as the stuff from a bottle.
Next: You’ve been storing your food all wrong.
5. Plastic food containers
Why they’re bad: The fact that plastic containers release chemicals into the food and liquid you store inside is nothing new. And research has found most plastics — including cups, food wrap, and containers — still release a hormone similar to estrogen into the substances it stores. One study reports even those supposedly safe BPA-free containers may be leaking chemicals into your food and drink.
The fix: Store your leftovers in glass containers with lids — they’re easy to keep clean and are fully reusable. When you’re reheating food in the microwave, simply cover your plate with another plate to keep things from getting messy.
Next: Clean your oven the right way.
6. Oven cleaners
Why they’re bad: Like toilet bowl cleaners, oven cleaners are popular household products because they make one of the hardest household chores easier. Unfortunately, corrosive alkalis, poisonous ingredients that can lead to difficulty breathing, swelling of the throat, vision loss, abdominal pain, and vomiting, are found in many such products.
The fix: Baking soda and vinegar can clean more than just your toilet. This oven-cleaning method isn’t quite as simple as using a bottle of chemicals, but it’s definitely safer.
Next: Definitely don’t put this on your face.
Why it’s bad: Now, just to be clear, not all makeup is bad — and we know you’re not tossing out that $40 blush. But The Huffington Post reminds us up to 60% of what we put on our skin reaches our bloodstream, so keeping nasty chemicals out of your daily routine is a must. Many liquid foundations from major drugstores contain propylene glycol, methylparaben, and propylparaben — all of which can disrupt your endocrine system. This system manages all biological processes in your body, so you don’t want to mess it up. Your lipstick and mascara may also contain these ingredients.
The fix: It’s best to pay a little extra for high-end products that don’t contain harmful chemicals. Just take good care of them so they last.
Next: Don’t do this to your beloved furniture.
8. Furniture polish
Why it’s bad: We all want furniture that looks shiny and new, but we don’t advise achieving this with store-bought polishes. These products contains hydrocarbons, an ingredient common in many waxes, oils, and organic solvents that can be extremely poisonous, says MedlinePlus. If you accidentally breathe in or swallow liquid furniture polish, you may experience blood pressure that lowers rapidly, confusion, vomiting, or even a coma. If the product comes into contact with your eyes or skin, you could have resulting burns or vision loss.
The fix: Take a pass on this risky stuff and make your own instead.
Next: Don’t spray your windows with this.
9. Window cleaner
Why it’s bad: Windex makes the glass sparkle, but it can also cause major issues if you accidentally 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 never a good idea — it can cause your eyes to burn and give you a lot of respiratory irritation.
The fix: To give your windows a touch-up, homemade cleaners are the best ways to avoid inhaling or ingesting toxic chemicals. Also, clean your windows more frequently to cut back on the amount of product you have to use each time.
Next: A better way to use coffee grounds.
Why it’s bad: There’s nothing like looking at your garden and seeing the fruits (literally) of your labor poking out from the soil. Some of us enlist the help of fertilizer to feed our plants and keep them happy. Unfortunately, Healthline explains fertilizers used in homes and gardens can be harmful if you touch, inhale, or accidentally ingest them. If you touch this product, you’ll probably experience some itchiness, a burning sensation, or irritation around your nose, eyes, or throat. If you ingest it, things get a little more serious — you could lose oxygen to different body parts or experience low blood pressure.
The fix: Don’t toss your leftover coffee grounds at the end of the day. Use them as fertilizer, which is good for both the environment and your family’s well-being.
Next: Be careful what you pour down the drain.
11. Drain cleaners
Why they’re bad: You might not think of this product as being all that toxic, especially since you probably don’t use it as much as your Windex or laundry detergent. But drain cleaners usually contain sodium hydroxide — an incredibly harmful chemical that can do damage if inhaled or ingested, Healthy Child Healthy World explains. If drain cleaner is swallowed, it can cause serious issues with your digestive system or esophagus. Even if it gets nowhere near your face, it can still cause skin irritation or a burning sensation in your respiratory system.
The fix: Baking soda and vinegar — remember them? Turns out they’re pretty good at cleaning out your drains, too.
Next: Keeping the mosquitoes away doesn’t have to put you in danger.
12. Insect repellent
Why it’s bad: There’s some good news and some bad news about insect repellent. The good news is the Environmental Protection Agency only deems DEET-containing repellents as “slightly toxic,” meaning they consider it generally safe to use, The Huffington Post says. The bad news is if you’re traveling to a place where you’ll be slathering the repellent all over yourself to ward away mosquitoes, then it could cause problems. Long-term, frequent use could lead to skin irritation and a possible risk of brain damage from DEET absorbing into your bloodstream through your skin.
The fix: If you’re concerned about products containing this ingredient, look for repellents with picaridin instead. You can also make your own using a mix of essential oils, if you’re up to the challenge.
Next: Your shower’s a mess, but you’re using the wrong solution.
13. Mildew removers
Why they’re bad: We all want a clean shower, but scrubbing down the tiles with your lemony-fresh mildew remover could come with some health consequences. The Environmental Working Group uses Tilex Mold and Mildew remover as an example. This product contains sodium hypochlorite, an ingredient that could cause respiratory issues or eye and skin irritation if you’re not using it in a well-ventilated area. Since scrubbing your shower requires close proximity, the Tilex is quite concerning.
The fix: White vinegar is mildew obliterator. Tea tree oil is another effective alternative, but it’s more on the expensive side. Consider giving both a try to see which you like better.
Next: Do you really know what’s in your hand lotion?
14. 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 wanting to smell 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 that disrupt your endocrine system, like pthalates and BHA. You’ve probably heard of pthalates before, and that’s because they’re also in insecticides and wood finishes. You’ll also find parabens, which are carcinogenic, in your scented lotions.
The fix: Coconut oil may not be stupendous for eating, but it’s a glorious scented lotion substitute. Olive oil and cocoa butter can also do the trick.
Next: There’s a better way to keep your clothes pest-free.
Why they’re bad: Storing mothballs in your clothes? This is your official warning to remove them. There are two common chemicals found in this product, and both can be extremely toxic if you’re exposed to high concentrations, says WebMD. And because mothballs turn from a solid product to vapor over time, you could be breathing in those 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. And both toxins are thought to be possibly carcinogenic.
The fix: Use cloves or cedar chips in place of mothballs to keep your clothes moth-free without endangering yourself or your loved ones.