They say that home is where the heart is, but unfortunately, it's also where everyday products pose health dangers to you and your family. More than 33 million people are injured by common consumer products each year, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which oversaw 563 recalls of 60.8 million individual consumer products in 2008. (Make sure your home is safe by checking Recalls.gov.)And those are just the documented hazards. What may be the hidden ones?
The slinky little dryer sheets that keep clothes fresh are chock full of chemicals, including scary‐sounding ingredients like ethanol and alpha‐Pinene. Industry representatives says the exposure levels are too low to impact people but we think better safe than sorry. If only for peace of mind, try a few drops of essential oil on a washcloth instead.
Household bleach contains a concentrated form of chlorine. When people use chlorine bleach and an acidbased or ammonia‐based cleaning product together, or even one after the other, they produce a cloramine gas that can be fatal. Short term effects of chlorine exposure include vomiting, difficulty breathing, coughing,and eye, ear, nose, and throat irritation. Experts say the single most important thing to remember about cleaning products is that you need good ventilation when using them.
Scientific tests have shown that fragranced home products, everything from spray disinfectants to scented candles, contain known carcinogens and other dangerous additives. Some fragrances can contain 100 or more different chemicals ‐‐ none of which are required by law to be listed on the label ‐‐ and can cause nose and throat irritation, headaches, shortness of breath, nausea, and dizziness. Experts recommend making your home fragrant with scents straight from the source, such as mint leaves or cinnamon sticks.
In addition to containing known harmful ingredients like ammonia, lye, phosphate, and chlorine, the majority of home cleaning products (just about everything under your kitchen sink) contain a vast array of chemicals, including toxic ethylene‐based glycol ethers and noneffects of "second hand scents" in everything from air toxic terpenes that become dangerous when they interact with ozone in the air.Experts say the single most important thing to remember about cleaning products is that you need good ventilation when using them.
Dr. Anne Steinemann, a professor of engineering at the University of Washington, has long warned about the fresheners to laundry detergent, spray disinfectants to scented candles. In 2007, she performed a chemical analysis of 30 of the bestselling scented household products and found that they contained known carcinogens and other dangerous chemicals. (The study appeared in 2008 in the Environmental Impact Assessment Review.) The products she studied contained more than two dozen volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, which the EPA says can cause nose and throat irritation, headaches, shortness of breath, nausea, and dizziness. Together, the products Steinemann tested contained more than 100 different chemicals, none of which were listed on the labels. "The labels look benign," Steinemann says. "But some of these chemicals are classified as toxic under federal laws and can be affecting you even without your knowledge." She recommends making your home fragrant with scents straight from the source, such as mint leaves or cinnamon sticks.
The slinky little dryer sheets that keep clothes fresh are chock full of chemicals, including ethanol and chloroform. The ingredient benzyl acetate has been linked to pancreatic cancer and benzyl alcohol is known to cause upper respiratory irritation. When it reacts with ozone, the ingredient limonene can form formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, or cancer‐causing agent. "We have gotten used to these wonderful lifestyles with 'better living through chemicals,'" says Kathy Loidolt, a consumerhealth advocate and author of the Shopper's Guide to Healthy Living. "But our bodies are being overloaded with toxins. We don't need to be scared of everything. We just need to get different habits."
"Watch warning labels," says Robin Kay Levine, the founder of Eco‐Me green cleaning products. No one expects consumers to be experts, however, or to know which funny‐sounding chemicals are known carcinogens. Levine advises, "Look for products that give away the ingredients. Stay away from anything with a color in it. Labels that say 'keep windows open' and 'use in a ventilated room' are a dead giveaway."