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Seven toxic dangers to avoid in your home

Dominika Osmolska Psy.D.'s picture

Want to know how to maximize a healthy lifestyle in a world which is mined with a plethora of toxic products? Here are a few tips from Debra Lynn Dadd, author of "Toxic Free." She brings over twenty years of research and real-life experience to her work as a consumer advocate for health and the environment.

Antimicrobial chemicals

Skip the antimicrobial gels and soaps containing triclosan. It damages the liver and disrupts thyroid hormones. These products are actually a nursery for drug-resistant bacteria, making infections more difficult to treat down the line. Moreover, people who use triclosan gels and soaps turn out to get sick just as often as those who do not. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are best. Good old white table vinegar kills 99% of bacteria and mold.


You’ve probably heard it before, but it bears repeating: tobacco smoke contains ammonia, benzene, formaldehyde and 50 chemicals known to cause cancer. Smoking damages your lungs, kidneys and liver, the body's detoxifying organs, which also help filter out other chemical exposures.

Oil-based paints

Be wary of that fresh-paint smell, which can trigger migraines, dizziness and breathing difficulties. Research links it to birth defects and reproductive problems. Always choose low VOC (volatile organic compound) paint. VOCs are solvents that get released into the air as the paint dries. (Other products emit solvents, including adhesives, cleaning supplies, and even some home furnishings) . The federal government caps the VOC content in paint at 250 grams per liter (g/l) for flat finishes and 380 g/l for other finishes (low-luster, semi gloss, etc.). However, some manufacturers have opted to comply with more stringent limits—50 g/l for all finishes—set by California’s South Coast Air Quality Management District. These paints include such products as Benjamin Moore Aura, True Value Easy Care, and Glidden Evermore.

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Room fresheners and fragrances

Air freshening mists or sprays are essentially air pollution, containing synthetic scent compounds that have been implicated in birth defects and hormonal disruption. Specifically, the compounds contain xeno-estrogens – synthetic chemicals that mimic the action of human estrogens. And up to 20 percent of all people (and 34 percent of asthmatics) say they've had headaches, trouble breathing or other problems after inhaling room sprays, says researcher Anne Steinemann, Ph.D., professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Washington in Seattle. To get smells out of soft materials like sofas, Dadd advises, spritz on straight vodka from an atomizer.

The same wisdom extends to practically all scented products, including laundry detergent, dryer sheets, soaps and shampoos. Seek out unscented detergents and dryer sheets, as coating clothes with chemicals means you're exposed all day, all over your skin. Opt out of perfumes and perfumed water, as these products also contain “fragrances” that stand for any number of chemical compounds that contain phthalates and musks, endocrine disrupters that have been linked to reproductive dysfunction.

Canned food

Another synthetic estrogen lurks in most, if not all, canned food. The culprit? BPA (Bisphenol-A), which, unbeknownst to most people, is in the lining of most food and beverage cans, and it leaches out. Whether the food is organic doesn't matter, USDA tests show. Bisphenol-A will contaminate any food it encloses. When possible, buy fresh or frozen items; there's no BPA in plastic freezer bags, says Sarah Janssen, M.D., senior scientist at the NRDC.

Household cleaners

Chlorine bleach, cleaning sprays and disinfectants are linked to asthma, a 2010 Spanish review of studies indicates. Never mix chlorine bleach with ammonia, because the combo produces toxic fumes. Wear gloves, open the windows, and dilute every cup of bleach you use in 10 cups of water. Again, plain table vinegar diluted with water can work the same cleaning wonders as the more harsh chemicals.


Memorize the numbers 3, 6 and 7. These recycling codes mean plastic may have BPA. Never microwave in plastic containers, and store food in the fridge in glass containers or plastic ones with the numbers 4, 5 and 12. And remember that no plastic is "microwave safe." The claim simply means a container won't melt, not that chemicals won't seep into your dinner.