The best way to avoid the dangers of toxins in your home is actually quite simple. Be proactive and remove them from your home. That means going through the garage, under the kitchen sink, in your bathrooms and throwing away potentially poisonous cleaners. To do this, it helps to know two things. First, you need to identify those items that put your family at risk. Second, you will need to replace everything you trash with a safer alternative. Below is a list of seven of the most dangerous household toxins you may have right now, along with better solutions you can use to steer clear of trouble. Many of the recommended products below may also provide the added benefits of saving you money and helping to save the environment.
#1 Ditch: Drain uncloggers and stove cleaners
It’s funny how we go to great lengths to eliminate germs and dirt from our homes, yet the very products we use to clean can actually pose a more serious threat. The first thing you need to do is trash heavy-duty cleaning products you have stashed under the sink. If children are exposed to them, they could get seriously burned and chemicals like ammonia can cause an asthma attack. Many drain uncloggers and stove cleaners contain sodium hydroxide, also known as lye, which can cause a sore throat when inhaled.
Switch to: Baking-soda paste, vinegar
Baking-soda paste is great for removing grime from your oven. It may take a little extra scrubbing effort, but you can rest assured that it won’t be harmful to your family. Got a clogged drain? Try mixing a cup of baking soda and a cup of vinegar down the drain and let it sit for 30 minutes. Once the bubbles subside, run hot water to clear out the drain.1 Also opt for a snake tool for deep clogs in the sink or bath tub.
#2 Ditch: Window, kitchen and multi-purpose cleaners
Some environmentally conscious brands are safe to use, but beware of those containing 2-butoxyethenol. Found in many popular household cleaners, this chemical gives formulas their sweet smell. Companies aren’t required to list it on the label, but 2-butoxyethenol can contribute to sore throats, narcosis, liver and kidney damage and pulmonary edema.2 Especially avoid using these types of cleaners in enclosed areas, like an unventilated bathroom.
Switch to: Vinegar-based solutions
To create a safe, do-it-yourself general cleaner, simply use one part white vinegar and nine parts water. This mixture will kill 90% of bacteria and germs.3 Pour it into a standard spray bottle and wipe down windows and mirrors with newspaper. You’ll find that a gallon of vinegar will last for up to 10 gallons of your cleaning solutions, which also saves you money as an added benefit.
#3 Ditch: Antibacterial soap
Even though it is thought to be an effective way to eliminate germs, antibacterial soaps are believed to affect people’s thyroid function and hormone levels. Some scientists also claim that the chemicals used in these soaps are responsible for the growth of more resilient bacteria that are resistant to antibacterial solutions.
Switch to: Regular, old-fashioned soap
Studies have shown using regular soap with warm water will kill just as many germs as antibacterial products.4 Though it’s best to avoid hand sanitizers, ones that are alcohol-based and don’t contain triclosan are a safer choice.
#4 Ditch: Driveway sealant made from coal tar
Cracks in the driveway can be a big pet peeve for any homeowner. But the most common remedy for these eyesores can be very hazardous to your family’s health. When you put a fresh coat of coal-tar sealant on your driveway, you are exposing residents and visitors to hydrocarbons that can be toxic and carcinogenic. Rain can wash the toxic chemicals into your yard and possibly the local drinking water supply.
Switch to: Gravel and other porous materials
When it comes to your driveway, think drainage. Gravel and similar porous materials enable water to drain through to the ground, as opposed to it all flowing to the water treatment plant. Still need to seal with blacktop? There are preferred products on the market. Choose an asphalt sealant that does not contain coal tar.
#5 Ditch: Synthetic fragrances
Be leery of products that have pleasant aromas. Sure, it’s nice to have your clothes, hair, sheets and counters smelling nice. But ask yourself if it’s worth introducing hundreds of chemicals into your home that contain toxics and carcinogenics. Some have even been known to be endocrine disrupters and negatively affect the reproductive system to a small extent. When you shop for detergent, air fresheners, sunscreen, body lotions, soaps, candles, dryer sheets and cleaning supplies, be sure to look for the terms “fragrance” and “parfum.”5 Those can hide potentially harmful chemical ingredients.
Switch to: Unscented products
For a breath of true fresh air, avoid scented products—soaps and detergents, especially. You can find many unscented options in the aisles of your grocery or hardware store. Instead of using air fresheners, try better ventilation combined with baking soda to clear out any bad odors.
#6 Ditch: Synthetic pesticides
Bugs and weeds: They’re two of the biggest pests in your yard. But before you keep them away at all costs, consider your methods. Researchers have connected chemical weed killers to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and other forms of cancer. And insecticides have been found to cause brain damage in children.6
Switch to: Pre-emptive measures
Bug problems in your home can often be solved by fixing holes in window screens, filling gaps in doors and cleaning up crumbs. For your yard, there are several ways to do away with weeds. You can get out your gloves and weed by hand. You can try replacing grass with native plants. Another good option is to ask the garden expert at your local hardware store for organic solutions.
#7 Ditch: Dry-cleaned clothing
Though it has been identified as a neurotoxin, perchloroethylene or “perc” for short, is still the leading chemical used by dry cleaning businesses. It has been known to cause dizziness and loss of coordination for people who reside in buildings where a dry cleaner is located. The Environmental Protection Agency has mandated that perc be phased out by 2023.7
Switch to: “Wet cleaners”
First of all, many garments that come with “dry clean only” handling instructions are really okay to wash by hand at home or in a gentle cycle. Another alternative is taking special clothes and materials to a “wet cleaner” that uses liquid carbon dioxide or other water-based solutions that are not an inhalation danger.
Disposing of hazardous products
So now that you know which products are problematic, it’s time to get rid of them. But don’t just throw them in the trash. If you think cleaners contain harmful chemicals, be sure to take them to a hazardous waste disposal center in your area. Contact your city or town hall to find the center nearest you.
What to do if you are exposed to chemicals
If you feel any uncomfortable symptoms caused by the chemicals in your household products, call the Poison Help Center at 1-800-222-1222 or call 911.
Depending on the nature of exposure, you can also follow these tips:
- If toxins are inhaled, get the person to fresh air right away.
- If toxins are on the skin, take off any affected clothing and rinse skin with running water for 15-20 minutes.
- If toxins are in the eyes, rinse them with running water for 15-20 minutes.8
To learn more about hidden household dangers, read our home safety tips!