The place where we hang our hat, where we expect sanctuary, refuge, and a safe haven, may actually be rife with toxins. According to the EPA, “the average American spends approximately 90 percent of their time indoors. And while most people are aware that outdoor air pollution can damage their health, many do not know that indoor air pollutants can also do the same.”
Studies of human exposure to air pollutants by EPA show disturbing news: Indoor levels of pollutants may be 2 to 5 times – and occasionally more than 100 times – higher than outdoor pollutant levels. They risk they pose is subtle however, and you can’t always recognize their immediate impact on your health.
There are many sources of indoor air pollution, including building materials and furnishings as well as HVAC systems, mold, and even radon. But there are significant sources of environmental exposures in the products you choose to buy—in other words, something you have a lot of control over. Here are two of the biggest areas of concern.
The most common type of chemical in your house is probably fragrance. From laundry detergents, fabric softeners, dryer sheets, cleaning supplies, disinfectants, air fresheners, deodorizers, shampoos, hair sprays, gels, lotions, sunscreens, soaps, perfumes, powders, and scented candles—as well as dozens of other often surprising products, such as baby wipes and diapers—fragrances are considered by the EPA as a probable carcinogen.
The National Toxicology Program also concluded that high levels of phthalates may adversely affect human reproduction or development. They are worth avoiding but can be challenging to, as they are included in synthetic fragrances without disclosure.
Look for chemical names that include the word “phthalate,” but typically what’s on the label deck are the words “fragrance” or “parfum.” These latter two ingredients are actually umbrella terms for the scents companies use (considered as trade secrets) and can include a variety of harmful chemicals, including phthalates. Phthalates are commonly used to stabilize (extend the life) of the scent.
Swap with: Either go the no fragrance route or look for products made from natural or organic essential oils. Look for claims such as: "no synthetic fragrance" or "scented with only essential oils" or "phthalate-free." Or contact manufacturers to find out if their fragrances are phthalate-free.
And always use only natural air fresheners. It’s a game changer for sure—kiss Febreze goodbye—but so worth it, especially if you pregnant, want to have children, or already have children (babies and toddlers are the most susceptible to environmental toxins).
Antibacterial soap and cleansers
According to the EWG, Triclosan is an anti-bacterial chemical found in many consumer products (including toothpaste). It’s a favorite ingredient in hand sanitizers and very common in liquid hand soap. Scarily, it’s linked to liver and inhalation toxicity and can potentially disrupt thyroid function. The American Medical Association suggest avoiding triclosan use in the home, as it may encourage the spread of mutated bacteria resistant to antibiotics.
Triclosan also taints wastewater and is proven to be very toxic to aquatic life. In the last few years, Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive and Avon have stepped up reformulate in order to rid their products of triclosan.
Eschew products labeled “antibacterial,” or make claims such as “odor-fighting”—typically they contain triclosan. Here are some products that you may be surprised to find triclosan in: mattresses, sponges personal care products, shower curtains, toothbrushes, phones, kitchenware and plastic food containers, shoes, flooring and carpets, cutting boards, clothing and fabrics, and toys.
Swap with: Washing hands with soap and water works just as well as using triclosan products. According to the FDA, there’s insufficient evidence that triclosan provides any health benefits over plain soap. If you must use a natural hand sanitizer, alcohol-based ones are a better choice. Make sure it doesn't list triclosan, triclocarban (another related antibacterial chemical) or other chemicals biocides described as "antimicrobial" or "antibacterial" on the label.
Tea tree oil, grapefruit seed extract, hydrogen peroxide, and vinegar are also safer alternatives to triclosan.