7 More Household Toxins You Should Banish from Your Home

Take control of your food and indoor air for a safer ambiance.

January 26, 2011
RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Pollution is obvious when you see it belching out of factories and smokestacks, or even from the tailpipe of the car in front of you. But the sorry truth is, because of lax laws and many manufacturers' abandonment of the precautionary principle (making sure something is safe before introducing it to the general public), we now have to deal with a new kind of pollution, the kind that comes from seemingly innocent sources, such as candles and clean shirts. Chemicals you'd expect to be used in hazardous industrial processes are now commonly found in everyday household products like cleaners, furniture, cookware, and candles.

Harmful chemicals even lurk inside the food we eat. The good news, as we reported in 5 Household Toxins You Should Banish from Your Home, is that relatively simple, everyday choices can drastically cut down on your family's exposure levels.

Here are 7 Household toxins you can easily evict from your home:


Nonstick kitchenware




Flame retardants


Dry-cleaned clothing

#1: Nonstick cookware and bakeware

Polyfluoroalkyl chemicals commonly used to make surfaces stain resistant or nonstick have been linked to ADHD, high cholesterol, and thyroid disease. They're also potent sperm killers.

Better alternative: To keep nonstick chemicals out of your life, opt for safer cookware like made-in-America cast iron or stainless steel. If you already cook with nonstick pots and pans, replace them with safer choices when you start seeing scratches and chips in the finish.

#2: Roundup

You probably know that using Roundup (glyphosate) and other pesticides in your lawn and garden adds chemicals to your soil and water. But did you know that Roundup used on and around food crops also ends up inside the food you eat, according to plant pathologist Don Huber, PhD, professor emeritus at Purdue University. That's problematic because scientists are learning that Roundup affects defensive enzymes our bodies use to keep us healthy. Roundup also reduces a plant's ability to take up vital micronutrients that humans require for survival.

Better alternative: Corn, soy, and canola are common crops that have been genetically engineered to withstand heavy dousings of Roundup, and foods containing these ingredients tend to contain higher levels of Roundup than other crops do. To avoid genetically engineered (GE) foods and Roundup in your food, buy organic. If your find yourself reaching for chemical products like Roundup to zap weeds on your property, check out Organic Gardening's organic weed-control tips for safer alternatives.

#3: Vinyl

Some environmental health groups have dubbed vinyl the "poison plastic," due to its harmful production process and its effects on humans. Vinyl is laced with phthalate plasticizers, linked to hormone disruption, stunted growth, obesity, and other health problems, as well as low IQs.

Better alternative: When it's time to replace flooring in your home, opt for wood, bamboo, or cork that's Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified or for real linoleum, instead of vinyl. Avoid plastic shower-curtain liners, as well as fake leather furniture, clothing, and accessories, to cut down on phthalate exposure. Phthalates also lurk in anything with an artificial fragrance, including candles and many personal-care products.

#4: VOCs

A nasty culprit trashing your indoor air could emanate from your washing machine. Scented, petroleum-based laundry detergents contain high levels of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. These hazardous chemicals are linked to asthma and, in some instances, even cancer, and they add to indoor air pollution. Pressed wood and particleboard cabinets and other furniture are big emitters of the VOC and carcinogen formaldehyde in the home, too.

Better alternative: Choose unscented, plant-based detergents, or go old-school and use castile soap or washing soda and borax to clean your clothing. For new paint projects, choose readily available no-VOC paint, and avoid storing paint in your garage or basement—fumes can escape even tightly closed lids and enter your home. If you have leftover paint, take it to a waste-collection facility for recycling, or donate it to neighbors or a charity. Avoid plywood and particleboard when buying new household furnishings, and keep VOCs contained by sealing any plywood or particleboard furniture with a product like AFM Safecoat Safe Seal.

#5: Flame retardants

Flame-retardant chemicals can be found in electronics, carpets, carpet padding, and furniture foam. They've been associated with a wide range of health problems, including infertility, thyroid problems, learning disabilities, and hormone disruption. And the exposure to all these potential health threats could be for naught: Added to materials in the event they come in contact with a lit candle or cigarette, the chemicals only delay a fire, and for just a few seconds.

Better alternative: When shopping for new furniture, when you find product you like, call the manufacturer and ask if it contains flame retardants. If you see a tag that says "complies with California Technical Bulletin 117, avoid bringing home that piece of furniture (California requires furniture to be flame retardant). And since flame retardants and other household toxins make their way into household dust, it's best to invest in a vacuum that limits emissions. Take care when selecting electronics, too: Environmental Working Group lists electronics that are free of flame retardants.

#6: BPA

Bisphenol A, or BPA, is a hormone-disrupting chemical linked to male infertility, diabetes, heart disease, aggressive behavior in children, and other ills. It's so common in our environment that researchers aren't even sure what our biggest source of BPA exposure is. The chemical is used in some plastic bottles and food containers (even some labeled BPA-free), and the linings of most most canned food items. Some manufacturers are phasing the chemical out of their cans, but it's not clear if the replacements are totally safe either. Last year, scientists discovered that we absorb BPA from cash-register receipts through our skin.

Better alternative: Opt for fresh or frozen fruits and veggies, and bypass cans as often as possible. Don't store food or beverages in plastic containers. And say no thanks to receipts for minor purchases like gas and coffee, and at the ATM.

#7: Dry-cleaned clothing.

Sure, it's convenient to drop your clothing off with a dry cleaner, but the cleaning chemical of choice in this country remains perchloroethylene, also known as PCE, or perc. This chemical is classified a probable carcinogen and is linked to kidney, liver, and central nervous system damage. It's not something you want to wear or have holed up in your home closet. Although many states and cities are phasing out perc, it's still among the most widely used dry-cleaning chemicals.

Better alternative: You can work around "Dry Clean Only" instructions on clothing tags. You just need to know how to treat different types of fabric. Read Dry Clean Only? Nah, There Are Cheaper, Safer Ways for instructions on cleaning delicates like wool, rayon, and silk.

More: 5 Household Toxins You Should Banish from Your Home