chemicals in the home

5 Household Toxins You Should Banish from Your Home

To save money, protect your health, and help the environment, give these toxic tenants an eviction notice.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Cleaning house doesn’t mean nasty chemicals have to pollute your home. Your next home cleaning campaign or daunting do-it-yourself projects can be done without poisoning the air or tainting your local water supply. Most of our safer alternatives will even save you money, too.

Here are five chemical culprits to kick out of your house—and the nontoxic options that should move in instead.

1. Coal-tar driveway sealant.
If you plan to seal your blacktop driveway this spring, avoid coal-tar based sealants. They contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, which studies suggest can be carcinogenic, toxic, and mutagenic. When rainwater and other precipitation hit your driveway, the toxic chemicals run off into your yard and into your local drinking water supply. In fact, this situation has been compared to dumping quarts of motor oil right down a storm drain.
Better alternative: Gravel and other porous materials are best for driveways, because they allow rainwater to sink into the ground, where it’s filtered and won’t inundate water treatment plants. But if you do seal blacktop, pick asphalt sealant and stay away from any product that has coal tar in its name (or products simply called “driveway sealant”). Lowe’s and Home Depot have already banned the bad stuff, but smaller hardware stores may still carry it.

See also: Have the Healthiest Home on the Block, Part 3: The Patio.
2. Synthetic pesticides.
Chemical weed and bug killers both fit under this category and should be avoided both inside and outside of your house. (And dont' fall for the ones that pretend to be "natural.") Researchers link herbicides to various forms of cancer, including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma; insecticides have been connected to brain damage in kids. “This is a good time of the year to resolve not to use pesticides on lawns and gardens,” says Phil Landrigan, MD, an internationally recognized leader in public health, director of Mount Sinai's Children's Environmental Health Center, and advisor. “A few dandelions or buttercups or other little flowers in the middle of the lawn are not unsightly.”
Better alternative: Combating an indoor bug problem is as simple as cleaning up crumbs, sealing food in containers, and using wood shims and a caulking gun to fill pest entry points. If you’re spending big bucks on chemicals for a turflike lawn, reconsider. Pesticides and chemical fertilizers kill the health of the soil and create a lawn that allows for little rainwater absorption, which contributes to flooding. Try replacing some sod with plants native to your area; they don’t require as much water and maintenance.

If you’re dead-set on the idea of a perfect grassy lawn, get out there and weed by hand or with organic methods. The extra exercise will help you burn off your winter love handles. Check for advice on chemical-free lawn care, and see our story on chemcial-free fixes for common lawn problems.

3. Antibacterial soap.
The antimicrobial chemical triclosan in antibacterial soaps is believed to disrupt thyroid function and hormone levels in people; when it mixes into wastewater, it can cause sex changes in aquatic life. And health experts believe that overuse of this and other antibacterial chemicals is promoting the growth of bacteria that are resistant to antibacterial treatment.
Better alternative: Good old-fashioned soap and warm water will kill just as many germs, studies have shown. If you must use a hand sanitizer, pick one that’s alcohol-based and doesn’t list triclosan or other chemicals on its label.

See also: Suds Up, Spend Less.
4. Synthetic fragrances.
Fragrance may be the most common type of chemical in your house. Used in laundry detergents, fabric softeners, dryer sheets, cleaning supplies and disinfectants, air fresheners, deodorizers, shampoos, hair sprays, gels, lotions, sunscreens, soaps, perfumes, powders, and scented candles, fragrances are a class of chemicals that may take you extra time and effort to avoid. But it’s worth it. The term “fragrance” or “parfum” on personal care product labels can be a cover for hundreds of harmful chemicals known to be carcinogens, endocrine disrupters, and reproductive toxicants, even at low levels.
Better alternative: Go the unscented route whenever possible, especially with soaps and detergents. Avoid any kind of air freshener or deodorizer, including sprays, gels, solid disks, and oils, suggests Anne Steinemann, PhD, University of Washington researcher who focuses on water quality and fragrances in consumer products. She’s also a advisor. “These products do not clean or disinfect the air, but they do add hazardous chemicals to the air we breath,” she says. “Instead of chemical air fresheners, freshen the air with better ventilation and by setting out some baking soda,” she suggests. You also can place a bowl of white vinegar in a room to dispel a funky smell.

See also: CDC Proves You're Contaminated
5. Harsh cleaning products.
Isn’t it ironic that we actually contaminate our air when we use harsh chemicals—some of which are carcinogens—to “clean” our homes? Ammonia can trigger asthmatic attacks, and harsh oven cleaners and drain openers can cause terrible damage to children who come into contact with them. “Every year we have these dreadful third-degree burns of the throat and esophagus because kids got into cleaners under the sink,” Landrigan says.
Better alternative: Take any cleaner whose ingredient list reads like a chemistry textbook to a hazardous waste disposal center in your municipality and replace the cleaners with ecofriendly ones that have simple, natural ingredients.

Better yet, save tons of money and pull out Grandma’s homemade cleaning concoctions, including:

• A general cleaning solution of one part white vinegar and nine parts water will kill 90 percent of bacteria and many spores, explains germ expert Donna Duberg, assistant professor of clinical laboratory science at Saint Louis University. Spray it on and let it dry to a nice shine on its own. The best surprise about distilled white vinegar? “Store brands work just as well as brand names,” says Duberg. “You can buy a gallon for $1.89 and make more than 10 gallons of cleaning solution. The only other thing you need is a spray bottle.” When you’re finished using a vinegar cleaning solution, dump it down your garbage disposal or toilet for bonus odor control.

• For a window glass cleaner, mix one part white vinegar with one part water and spray. Duberg says you even can use newspapers instead of paper towels to wipe the glass clean and save money.

• When cleaning in the kitchen after prepping meat, use hot, soapy water first (we like simple, unscented castile soaps) and then follow with the vinegar-water solution. For more great cleaning tips, check out green-living guru Annie Bond’s book, Home Enlightenment: Create a Nurturing, Healthy, and Toxin-Free Home (Rodale, 2008).

See also: Don't Clean with a Cancer-Causer
Spring Cleaning, Naturally
Cleaning Makes You Nicer
How to Make Green Cleaners that Work


Published on: April 22, 2009

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cole tar contains polycyclic

cole tar contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, which studies suggest can be carcinogenic, toxic, and mutagenic.

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For Velvetaspirations: You

For Velvetaspirations: You are not overreacting. Every ONE person can make a difference. I wish more people were aware of what is in everything that we use. I am eliminating plastics from my home and replacing with glass, stainless steel or wood. This, of course costs money, but if you do it a little at a time it will pay off in the long run. I use wax paper in place of plastic wrap. At the same time I am replacing all chemical cleaning products. My husband understands and tries to help me replace items. He knows that my convictions are for the safety & health of the family & environment. And thank you Rodale Neighbor, for all the great information you provide.

To freshen the air in your

To freshen the air in your home, put up a pot of water on the stove on simmer. Add citrus peels, cinnamon sticks, cloves, etc. Keeps the air smelling fresh. (put a timer on to remind you to turn it off or add more water)

These are great tips - I have

These are great tips - I have been trying to go chemical free but my boyfriend is always saying men quotes like it doesn't matter and I'm overreacting.

I feel sometimes like lost love quotes from my past beau are the only thing keeping me going. I don't even know what to do anymore.

I've been using these

I've been using these products since forever and I never realized how harmful they are until now. Thanks for these helpful warnings and for putting alternatives.
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Namaste everyone. I also feel

Namaste everyone. I also feel we should clean all the toxins in the house to improve our health.

The comments here are very

The comments here are very useful yet high quality article information is really hard to find. Thanks for sharing this.
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I hope you can continue this

I hope you can continue this type of hard work to this site in future also..Because this blog is really very informative and it helps me lot.
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I have to admit I'm addicted

I have to admit I'm addicted to antibacterial products. Does the regular antibacterial stuff (not soap) that they have everywhere have the same effect? Not sure what's worse, the toxins in that stuff or bacteria from dirty hands when soap and water isn't available...Artikel-Marketing

good topic

No doubt it's really a great article and I felt really great going through your blog post. Great to read more articles from your side.
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Coal tar sealant is a chemical

Coal tar sealant is a chemical that should be absolutely exiled from the home. Similar to other household hazards like resin, breathing capacities can be compromised greatly; and may eventually contribute to long term, terminal illnesses as well. Replacing these options with gravel and other environmentally friendly materials, not only removes health hazards but also adds a tinge of aesthetic design to the area.


Plants are an amazing indoor air cleaner

Leave it to Skylab scientists to figure out that good old houseplants are an easy way to remove toxics from indoor air. Learned that and other great info at a Green Living Meetup - which I wrote up in my blog. Have a look:

hand sanitizers

The alcohol-based hand sanitizers are considered much safer than triclosan-based antibacterial products. However, even some alcohol-based sanitizers can contain harmful ingredients, like artificial fragrances, so it's best to pick unscented.

A ittle more detail, please

Could you please provide specific products we could buy to replace the chemicals mentioned? Not all of us can create our own so it would be nice to know which brands to look for. Thanks.

What about waterless hand sanitzers?

I have to admit I'm addicted to antibacterial products. Does the regular antibacterial stuff (not soap) that they have everywhere have the same effect? Not sure what's worse, the toxins in that stuff or bacteria from dirty hands when soap and water isn't available...

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