Discover the many hidden sources of toxic chemicals in the home and the easy actions you can take to make sure your home is safe, healthy and non-toxic.
Peek-a-boo! Where are you?
Remember how fun a game of peek-a-boo or hide-and-seek was when you were a little kid? I remember stuffing myself into the back of a closet, sure that no one would find me, but then giving myself away by giggling!
Not to drastically change the subject, but there’s a game of hide-and-seek going on in your home and it is no laughing matter. Chemicals that can harm your health are hiding in products you use in your home and life every day. It’s totally uncool (more about that below), but fortunately if we play the game right, we can make swaps and changes so that our homes will be safe, non-toxic and healthy.
Toxic Chemicals in the Home – Why It Matters
A few questions might be popping into your head right about now. What exactly is hiding in the products I use? Which products should I be worried about? And how can this happen? Let’s answer that last questions first: Why the heck are toxic chemicals in our home and products anyway?
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is the government agency meant to watch over the food, water, drugs, cosmetics and consumer products we use in our lives. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), also governs chemicals used in consumer products. Both organizations do a lot of good work to be sure, but unfortunately, they are lacking when it comes to truly regulating the thousands upon thousands of chemicals out there.
The governing philosophy is that chemicals are safe unless proven otherwise and manufacturers are allowed to be basically “self-policing”. Because of this, there is very little scientific testing and rarely is any chemical actually banned from the marketplace.
As a result, many of the products we buy, use, eat and drink every day contain health-harming chemicals including known carcinogens (cancer-causing agents), endocrine-disruptors (messing with our hormones and fertility), and chemicals linked to asthma, behavioral problems, lower IQ and other adverse health effects.
Ugh!!! Isn’t that maddening?
Toxic Chemicals in the Home – Where They Hide
So it looks like we’re gonna have to play a game of toxic hide-and-seek. I’ve put together a list of 10 of the most common sources of toxic chemicals in the home, as well as some easy actions you can take and helpful resources for more information. Be sure to get my free checklist too:
I may receive commissions from purchases made through links in this article. Full Disclosure
1. Cleaning Products
Have you ever had a headache after cleaning the bathroom? Chances are it was chemically induced and not just because cleaning is your least favorite chore. Conventional cleaning products contain some pretty nasty chemicals – many that are bad to breathe (and cause those headaches) and some that you don’t even want to touch with your bare hands.
Action: Switch to safe, non-toxic cleaning brands or make your own homemade cleaning products.
- EWG’s guide to safer cleaning products
- My favorite green cleaning brands
- Safe replacements for the 3 most toxic cleaning products
- Non-toxic tub & tile cleaning remedies
- DIY cleaning recipes
2. Drinking Water
It’s easy to assume that water that comes out of our taps is pure and safe. Unfortunately, the government’s idea of a safety threshold is very different from many scientific experts. Industrial and agricultural contaminants make their way into water sources and are perfectly legal under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
Action: 1.) Check the EWG’s tap water database to see how your local water ranks. 2.) Test your water for contaminants. 3.) Choose a filter that best meets your needs – ranging from a simple carbon filter pitcher, to a faucet mount filter, a separate tap under sink model to a reverse osmosis filter system.
- EWG’s water filter guide
- Drinking water analysis kit
- How to choose a tap water filter (and the one I use in my kitchen)
The last thing you want to do with your fresh, healthy ingredients is to cook them in a toxic pan. Traditional non-stick coatings are made with perfluorinated chemicals that not only leach into food but are persistent in your body and the environment – meaning they never go away. It’s not just pots and pans – stay away from most non-stick versions of bakeware, rice cookers and other cooking appliances.
Action: Toss out your non-stick cookware and switch to safe, non-toxic cast iron, stainless steel, enamel or ceramic cookware.
- Best non-toxic cookware brands
- How to use cast iron
- My favorite cast iron skillet
- My favorite stainless steel pan
- My favorite ceramic non-stick pans
4. Personal Care Products
When it comes to body wash, deodorant and face cream, there are a lot of choices on the market. But underneath the appealing fragrances and impressive claims, are some pretty scary chemicals linked to cancer, reproductive problems, allergies and more.
Toxic chemicals are easily absorbed through the skin and can even get into the bloodstream. Repeat exposure makes it all the worse.
Action: Read up on ingredients and certifications for body care products. Use the Skin Deep Database to find safer, non-toxic versions of products you use.
- How to Buy Non-Toxic Beauty & Personal Care Products
- Get my Non-Toxic Personal Care Challenge when you sign up for my mailing list
- Top non-toxic shampoos
- Natural deodorants that work
- Natural & organic face moisturizers
- Natural body lotion brands
Since when did food become so complicated? There is so much bad stuff hiding in our food – from pesticides and preservatives, to artificial colors and flavors, and a myriad of chemicals to make food into something it was never meant to be. Sure, it might taste good, but it’s not good for you.
Action: Go through your cupboards, fridge and freezer. Look at the foods you eat most often and ask yourself if there is a fresher, healthier, less processed way to buy those foods. Read ingredient labels and avoid additives as much as possible. Make a commitment to cooking more and eating out less.
- The 12 Worst Food Additives and How to Avoid Them
- EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce
- EWG’s Food Scores Database
- How to Buy Healthy Food on a Budget
- Best Places to Buy Organic Food Online
6. Mattress & Bedding
Given the fact that we spend 1/3 of our lives in bed, it’s important that it be a healthy place to rest. Sadly, the time you spend in bed each night may be harming your health rather than enhancing it. Toxic flame retardants, formaldehyde and other chemicals used in mattresses, pillows and bedding may be slowly off gassing into the air you are breathing while you sleep.
Action: If you are in the market for a new mattress or bedding, make sure it is flame retardant free and made with natural and organic materials. If a new mattress is not in your budget, cover your mattress with a natural latex mattress topper or an organic cotton mattress pad.
- Non-Toxic Mattress Buying Guide
- Top Non-Toxic Mattress Brands
- Organic & Natural Bedding
- Tips for a Non-Toxic Bedroom
7. Food Storage Containers
Plastic food containers and water bottles sure make life easy, but there is a dark side to that convenience. Plastic is a compound made of chemicals and those chemicals can leach into food and drink.
Chemical migration is even more likely 1.) when food is heated (even a plastic water bottle that gets hot in the sun), 2.) with oily foods like cheese or meat and 3.) as plastics wear down over time.
Action: Make the switch to glass and stainless steel food storage containers – or use ceramic mixing bowls or dinnerware. If you do use plastic, make sure it has the #5 recycling code on the bottom, meaning it is more durable and less likely to leach. And remember – never put plastics in the microwave and preferably not the dishwasher either (although some say top-rack is OK).
- Understanding plastic codes
- Safer Alternatives to Plastic Wrap
- Favorite Reusable Lunch Containers
- Tons of Ways to Use Less Plastic
8. Laundry Room
As if doing laundry wasn’t bad enough, if you are using conventional laundry products you are infusing your clothes with chemicals like artificial fragrances, chlorine and optical brighteners that can cause headaches, skin reactions and hormone disruption.
Action: Avoid scented dryer sheets, fabric softeners and conventional laundry detergents. Find safe, non-toxic options below.
- Safe alternatives to dryer sheets
- Best eco-friendly laundry detergent
- Non-toxic stain remover review
- Non-toxic laundry freshener ideas
- Ideas for a sustainable laundry room
9. Makeup Bag
They may help you design a pretty face but most cosmetics are loaded with yucky ingredients like paraben preservatives, FD&C dyes, synthetic fragrances and even heavy metals. So many better options exist so it’s a no-brainer to start swapping out the bad for the good!
Action: Replace your old favorites with cosmetics made with natural & organic ingredients – they are healthier for your skin and you will almost certainly like them better!
- EWG’s Skin Deep cosmetics database
- Think Dirty phone app
- Clean beauty brands that are sustainable too
- Awesome non-toxic nail polish brands
10. Furnishings & Finishings
Furniture, paint and carpet are some of the bigger investments we make in our homes and we certainly don’t want them to be a health hazard. But a host of toxins come along with these investments – like flame retardants, formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
Action: When you can afford it, invest in flame retardant free furniture, and low or no-VOC paint and floor finishings. In the meantime, make sure your home is well ventilated and dust and vacuum frequently because toxic chemicals accumulate in dust.
- How to find flame retardant free furniture
- How to find non-toxic flooring
- Tips for airing out your home
Which one of these sources of toxic chemicals in the home surprised you the most?
Which ones are you already working on and which ones will be the hardest for you? Leave a comment and let’s discuss! And don’t forget to download the checklist!