Everyone wants a home that is fresh and clean, but few people take the time to consider just what chemicals are used to keep their homes in that state. Furthermore, how many people take the time to read through the ingredients in their cosmetics, perfume, deodorants or laundry detergent? Many of the standard household products on the market today contain harmful chemicals that are potentially dangerous to your health. The next time you go to the store, keep this information in mind in order to make smart choices about which household products you buy.
Household Products Containing Chemicals
Many of the household products available today contain at least one or two harmful chemicals, making them hazardous. For example, did you know that most cat litters contain crystalline silica, which is known to be carcinogenic? Additionally, most aerosol products are triggered by isobutene, a flammable substance which can be neurotoxic at high concentrations.
These are just two examples of chemicals that can make for hazardous household products. In addition to the chemicals listed above, here are some key chemicals to watch out for in your favorite household items:
- Soaps and laundry detergents: dioxcin, propylene glycol, sodium lauryl sulfate
- Cosmetics: propylene glycol, sodium benzoate, bentonite, DEA
- Paints: acetoxyphenylmercury, ethylene glycol
- Cleaning products: ammonia, calcium carbonate, deithanolamine (DEA), sodium hydroxide
- Air fresheners: ethanol, nitrogen, butane, propane
- Furniture polish: petroleum, propane, polydimethylsiloxanes
For a complete list of potentially hazardous chemicals in household products, see this list compiled by PreventCancer.com.
Potential Health Effects
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asserts that indoor air pollution is a serious problem in the U.S. Because houses are so contained, chemicals and toxic compounds are found in much higher concentrations inside a home. According to some research, that concentration can be as many as 200 to 500 times the concentration of similar compounds found outdoors.
Exposure to the chemicals from household products can lead to several immediate symptoms, including:
Unfortunately, the health problems related the chemicals in household products isn't limited to temporary symptoms. These chemicals may also contribute to more serious and long-lasting illnesses and health conditions, such as:
- Respiratory infections
- Damage to the liver, kidney or central nervous system
- Brain cancer
- Lung cancer
Children are especially susceptible to the harmful effects of the chemicals in household products. Studies have shown that children exposed to certain home and garden pesticides have 4-to-7 times the risk for developing leukemia. Additionally, about 4,000 toddlers are admitted to the hospital each year for household cleaner-related incidents.
Because of this, it is especially important to protect children from the effects of these chemicals. The following are a few tips for increasing child safety in your home when household cleaners are present:
- Limit chemical exposure as much as possible if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
- Keep containers in high cupboards which little ones are unable to reach. Or, put child locks on your lower cupboards.
- Never leave household products unattended while cleaning your home.
- Wash your hands well after using any product which may contain chemicals.
- Always ventilate any areas where you have used household cleaners.
Tips for Choosing Safe Household Products
Not all household products are dangerous, and in many cases there are less harmful versions of any typical household product. In fact, more and more companies are striving to make safer and healthier products available to the general public. Here are some tips for shopping smarter when you want safer products in your home:
- Try making your own household products. There are several resources online with tips for making your own laundry detergent, soaps, etc. from natural products like vinegar, water, baking soda or tea tree oil. These are often just as effective as store-bought cleaners and will save you money to boot.
- Look for natural or nontoxic products. These are usually healthier for you, your family and the environment. Look for products which have been approved by the EPA or are guaranteed to contain natural ingredients.
- Dilute your household cleaners. Consider adding some water to your household cleaners to make them less concentrated with chemicals.
- Do some research before you shop. The Department of Health and Human Services has an excellent online database of the chemical content of household products. Users can search by category, such as Personal Care, Inside the Home, Landscape/Yard, etc. Then, they can find specific products from hundreds of common brand names and see a full list of ingredients for each product.
- Cancer Prevention Coalition PDF
- Cancer Prevention Coalition
- US Department of Health and Human Services