Just the word home often conjures up thoughts of safety and security. It may make you think of your family, or maybe it's where you go to escape the stresses and demands of the outside world. But what you may not realize is that while you're enjoying the comforts of home, secret dangers may be lurking and potentially threatening the health of your family and your pets. So before you declare home sweet home, make sure you're your house doesn't contain any of these hidden hazards.

1. Clothes Dryers.

It's hard to imagine living without a clothes dryer, but if not maintained properly, these machines can also be fire hazards. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates that each year, more than 15,000 fires are attributed to dryers overheating, which occurs when lint builds up in the exhaust duct or dryer. The lint then blocks the flow of air, resulting in excessive heat, and possibly causing a fire.

To help prevent dryer fires and keep your machine running more efficiently, the CPSC recommends the following guidelines:

  • Whether before or after a load of clothes, make sure you clean out the lint screen or filter each time.
  • Never leave the dryer running when you're not at home.
  • Regularly clean behind the dryer. Link has a tendency to build up here. Additionally, have a qualified professional occasionally clean the interior of the dryer.
  • Vent the dryer to the outdoors (not to a wall or attic)
  • Don't place synthetic fabrics, plastic, rubber, or foam into a dryer. These materials retain heat, which can make a fire more likely.

2. Radon.

This odorless and tasteless radioactive gas is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. (second only to tobacco). Radon is responsible for more than 20,000 lung cancer deaths every year, making it one of the Natural Resources Defense Council's (NRDC) top five most dangerous household contaminants. Produced by the decay of radium (a naturally occurring element in soil), radon typically seeps into homes through cracks in the foundations. It then accumulates in lower level flooring-especially basements-and is typically worse in areas with poor ventilation.

You can test your home for radon yourself by using one of several EPA-approved kits, which are typically available in hardware stores for approximately $35. Or you can find a certified contractor through the National Radon Safety Board. If high radon levels are revealed, hire a professional to design and install a radon mitigation system.

3. Scented Laundry Products.


They make your linens and shirts smell deliciously fresh and clean, but according to a recent University of Washington study, the scents in your favorite laundry supplies could be hiding potentially toxic chemicals. According to the study, which was published by the journal Environmental Impact Assessment Review, each of six top-selling laundry products and air fresheners tested emitted at least one chemical that federal laws regulate as toxic or hazardous. However, the makers of these products are not required by law to list the chemicals used to make the fragrances, so none of the toxic chemicals were listed on the labels.

To help reduce exposure to these potentially dangerous chemicals, the researchers recommend choosing fragrance-free versions of laundry products-even if they don't smell quite as good.

4. Pool and Spa Drains.

Those fortunate enough to have a pool or a spa in their backyard should also be aware of the numerous potential hazards, especially if there are children in the household. Drowning, slipping, and falling are obvious risks, but CPSC notes that there are other risks. The unforgiving suction power of drains can trap anything from hands, feet, hair, and even the bodies of both adults and children. The ability of the swimmer is irrelevant if the individual is held under water for an extended amount of time.

To help reduce the possibility of these types of drowning incidents, the CPSC stresses the importance of closely supervising young children and recommends having your pool or spa inspected by a professional for entrapment hazards before using it for the season. Another option is to install a safety vacuum release system, which detects blocked drains and automatically shuts off the pool pump or interrupts the water circulation to prevent an entrapment.

5. Molds.

Part of the natural environment, molds play an essential part in nature when located outdoors, but when growing inside, they produce irritants, allergens, and potentially toxic substances (known as myotoxins). What's more, they can lead to a variety of health problems, ranging from allergic reactions and asthma attacks to skin rashes, fatigue, nausea, and even respiratory irritation and lung inflammation. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI), molds are among the most common allergens.

Because mold requires moisture to grow, it's important to regulate the moisture levels indoors. If you find a mold problem and it's contained to a space that is less than 10 square feet, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides guidelines for taking care of the situation yourself (found at http://www.epa.gov/mold/mold_remediation.html). If you choose to hire a contractor or other professional to do the cleanup, the EPA recommends checking references and confirming that they follow standard government guidelines.

6. Toxic Plants.

Often, pets are like part of the family. And nearly three-quarters of U.S. households own at least one dog or cat (according to an American Pet Products Manufacturers Association survey), so it's important to look out for their well-being, too.

In 2007, The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) Poison Control Center responded to more than 130,000 cases of poisoned animals, the top calls involving common goods and products, including popular household flowers and plants. Although the entire list of greenery that is potentially toxic or fatal to animals is extensive, some of the most common poisonous plants include lilies, oleander, chrysanthemums, tulip bulbs, and rhododendron.


The ASPCA recommends keeping all plants out of reach of pets. If your pet is exhibiting unusual behavior and it's possible they were exposed to a toxic plant, immediately contact your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center hotline at 888-426-4435.