The 7 Most Toxic Products in Your Home

Home, sweet, home…or home, sick, home? Everyday products in your home may be posing serious threats to your health. Here are seven common household items that may be doing more harm than good and what you can use instead.

1. Dryer Sheets

Why they’re bad: "Dryer sheets contain a slew of chemicals," says Robert Weitz, a certified microbial investigator and founder of RTK Environmental Group in Stamford, CT. What’s more, the fragrance may pose health risks. In fact, a single fragrance can contain hundreds of chemicals. According to a survey of 25 scented products by researchers at the University of Washington, Seattle, each product emitted one to eight toxic or hazardous chemicals, and 44% contained carcinogens (cancer-causing agents).

What to use instead: Add a quarter cup of white vinegar to the wash cycle to soften clothes and reduce static cling. (Warning: do not mix with bleach.) Or just live without it. After all, "Most of the cling happens when you’re folding the clean laundry, and goes away after the clothes have been hung up," says Weitz. If you truly can’t live without dryer sheets, try sheets from an eco-friendly brand, such as Seventh Generation or Honest.

2. Air Fresheners

Why they’re bad: "It doesn’t matter whether you choose liquid, spray, gel or a plug-in fragrance, air fresheners are loaded with chemicals," says Weitz. In fact, the Natural Resources Defense Council tested 14 air fresheners, and found that 12 of them contained phthalates, which are chemicals used to make plastics more pliable. Phthalates have been linked to cancer, infertility, and sex-hormone abnormalities, such as decreased sperm levels.

What to use instead: If you need to remove an odor, try good old fresh air. If it’s too cold to open a window, or the odor is stubborn, try placing a dish of white vinegar in the room. The vinegar will remove the offending odor without leaving an odor in its place.

3. Popular Cleaning Products

Why they’re bad: The chemicals used in cleaning products produce a range of side effects, from skin, lung, and eye irritation when used briefly to cancer-causing effects when used over long periods. And that fresh lemon scent? It’s not fresh and it’s not lemon. It’s chemical. "Allergies to cleaning products are uncommon," says QualityHealth allergy expert Karen Calhoun, MD, otolaryngic allergist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. "But the scents and other chemicals can trigger a runny nose and even asthma attacks—yet another reason to substitute healthier alternatives for more chemically-laden products."

What to use instead: There are many cleaning recipes that can be made using white vinegar, baking soda, lemon, and other safer substitutes. These more natural options may not always be safe for every surface, so be sure to test any new cleaning solution in a hidden spot. The Toxic Use Reduction Institute (TURI) at University of Massachusetts, Lowell has a list of 12 cleaning recipes to use in your home on their website.

4. Candles

Why they’re bad: Candles made with paraffin can release cancer-causing chemicals when burned. Plus, the core of the wick may be made of lead. The Consumer Products Safety Commission banned lead-cored wicks in 2003, but a small percentage of imported candles may still contain lead. "I would avoid candles made in any foreign country. There are no regulations and could likely be full of lead," says Weitz. Better to play it safe, especially if you have children in your home.

What to use instead: Look for candles made in the USA. Also consider beeswax candles or those made vegetable oils and natural dyes. Added dyes and fragrance contribute to more soot, reducing indoor air quality.

5. Non-Stick Cookware

Why it’s bad: Those Teflon-coated non-stick pans are easy to clean, but that convenience may come at high cost to your health. Teflon contains a small amount of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). Studies have linked PFOAs to liver toxicity, cancers, thyroid disease, ulcerative colitis, low birth weight and size, hormone disruption, and more. The material can wear or chip off and mix with your food, and if you cook over high heat, you may create gaseous fumes.

What to use instead: Aluminum, cast-iron, enamel cast iron, copper, stainless steel, and a little elbow grease when cleaning.

6. Plastic Food Containers

Why they’re bad: The plastic, and the chemical in it, bisphenol-A (BPA), can leach into the food that’s being stored in the container. That chemical is more likely to be released when the plastic container is used to reheat food in the microwave. BPA is a hormone disruptor, and a recent study linked higher exposure of endocrine (a gland that releases hormones) disruptors to diabetes and obesity.

What to use instead: Glass containers for food, and aluminum reusable bottles for beverages are good alternatives.

7. Weed Killer

Why it’s bad: "There’s a reason it kills weeds," says Weitz. "It’s poison." The chemical in weed killer, glyphosate, has been linked to birth defects, hormone disruptions, cancer, and neurological disorders. The International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, classified this herbicide, found in Roundup, as "probably carcinogenic [cancer-causing] to humans."

What to use instead: Pour boiling water on weeds, or apply undiluted white vinegar, or salt. If you're dealing with just a few offending sprouts, pull by hand. To limit pesticide exposure, remove shoes when coming in from outside to avoid tracking any residue into your home.

Karen Calhoun, MD, reviewed this article.


Robert Weitz. RTK Environmental Group. Phone interview with source on February 5, 2016.

Karen Calhoun, MD. Wexner School of Medicine, Ohio State University, Columbus. Email with source on Feb 11, 2016.

Potera, Carol. "Indoor Air Quality: Scented Products Emit a Bouquet of VOCs." Environ Health Perspect. 2011 119(1): A16. doi: 10.1289/ehp.119-a16.

"Toxic Air Fresheners?" Natural Resources Defense Council. Updated August 22, 2011.

"CPSC Bans Candles With Lead-Cored Wicks." U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Accessed February 6, 2016.

Blum A, Balan SA, Scheringer M, Trier X, Goldenman G, Cousins IT, Diamond M, Fletcher T, Higgins C, Lindeman AE, Peaslee G, de Voogt P, Wang Z, Weber R. "The Madrid Statement on Poly- and Perfluoroalkyl Substances (PFASs)." Environ Health Perspect 2015 123,5 :A107–A111.

"What You Should Know About 2,4-D." Natural Resources Defense Council. Updated March 8, 2012.

International Agency for Research on Cancer/World Health Organization. "Glyphosate." International Agency for Research on Cancer Monograph. Vol 112 p 78. 2015.

Toxic Use Reduction Institute. University of Massachusetts Lowell. Site accessed February 24, 2016.