“Healthy” and seemingly innocuous items in your home may have hidden health risks
Antibacterial soap and toothpaste often contain harmful chemicals, and the former may increase antibiotic resistance
Other surprisingly problematic items include your chair, cotton swabs, humidifier, blender, rubber spatula, and more
Awareness is increasing that many household goods, from your personal care products and food packaging to your couch cushions, could harbor dangerous chemicals. Less well known is the fact that even seemingly healthy products may turn out to be bad for you.
If you have any of these “healthy” or at the very least innocuous-seeming items around your home, you may want to think twice…
10 ‘Healthy’ Items Your Home Is Better Off Without
1. Antibacterial Soap
Washing your hands is your number one protection against the acquisition and spread of infectious disease. But you do not need to use antibacterial soap to get the job done.
Studies have shown that people who use antibacterial soaps and cleansers develop a cough, runny nose, sore throat, fever, vomiting, diarrhea, and other symptoms just as often as people who use regular soaps.1
Part of the reason for this is because most of these symptoms are actually caused by viruses, which antibacterial soaps can’t kill. But even for symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea, which may be caused by bacteria, using antibacterial soaps will offer you no advantage over plain soap and water.2
So, the rational conclusion is antibacterial soaps are completely unnecessary for the purpose of washing away bacteria.
A 2007 systematic review published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases confirmed that antibacterial soap containing triclosan did not provide any additional benefit compared with a non-antibacterial soap.3
Antibacterial soap, will, however, expose you to triclosan, an antibacterial chemical that has been linked to concerns over antibiotic resistance and endocrine disruption.
Some animal studies showed that triclosan caused fetal bone malformations in mice and rats, which may hint at hormonal effects. Triclosan has also been found to cause estrogenic activities in human breast cancer cells, which may stimulate the growth and development of cancer cells.4
2. Your Chair
At the molecular level, your body was designed to be active and on the move all day long. When you stop moving for extended periods of time, such as by sitting, it’s like telling your body it’s time to shut down and prepare for death.
Research published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, for instance, showed that women who sit for 10 or more hours a day may have a significantly greater risk of developing heart disease than those who sit for five hours or less.5
Research published in Diabetologia also found that those who sat for the longest periods of time were twice as likely to have diabetes or heart disease, compared to those who sat the least.6 Sitting for more than eight hours a day has also been associated with a 90 percent increased risk of type 2 diabetes.7
Excess sitting may increase your risk of colon, breast, and endometrial cancers, and the more hours you spend sitting in a day, the shorter your lifespan may be.
One study found, for instance, that reducing the average time you spend sitting down to less than three hours a day could increase your life expectancy by two years.8
The evidence is overwhelming at this point — 10,000 studies and growing — that prolonged sitting will reduce your lifespan by promoting dozens of chronic diseases, even if you exercise regularly. I believe the answer is to stand up as much as possible (aiming for less than three hours of sitting daily).
If you work a desk job, a standing workstation will be instrumental for achieving this goal, and I also recommend getting 10,000 steps a day via daily walk, in addition to regular high-intensity exercises.
3. Whitening or Antibacterial Toothpaste
Whitening toothpastes may be grittier in order to scrub stains off your teeth, but the grit may actually wear away your enamel or make your teeth and gums more sensitive. Also be on the lookout for antibacterial toothpaste, like Colgate Total, which contains triclosan.
In addition, many commercial brands may be loaded with toxic toothpaste ingredients, like sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), artificial sweeteners, fluoride, propylene glycol, and microbeads. The latter pose a risk to the environment and have been found getting trapped under patients’ gums.
This gives food and bacteria an entrance to your gum line, which could actually cause gum disease.9 It’s possible to make your own toothpaste and avoid many of the pitfalls of commercial varieties. You can find two homemade toothpaste recipes here.
4. Cotton Swabs
Your ears should have a healthy amount of earwax, as they’re a self-cleaning part of your body. Excess earwax should move out of your ear canal automatically, as cells there actually migrate naturally.
The removal of earwax is also helped along by movements of your jaw (talking, chewing, etc.), and once it reaches your outer ear it will simply fall out or be removed when you shower or bathe.
According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery Foundation (AAO-HNSF), under ideal circumstances your ear canals should never have to be cleaned, especially with cotton swabs. They state:10
“Unfortunately, many people mistakenly believe that earwax should be routinely removed for personal hygiene. This is not so. In fact, attempting to remove earwax with cotton-tipped swabs, bobby pins, or other probing devices can result in damage to the ear, including trauma, impaction of the earwax, or even temporary deafness.
These objects only push the wax in deeper, and can block the ear canal entirely.”
Under normal circumstances, earwax is only produced in the outer one-third of your ear canal. One of the primary risks of cotton swabs is they can push the earwax into the deeper part of your ear canal, near the eardrum. As AAO-HNSF noted:11
“When a patient has wax blockage against the eardrum, it is often because he has been probing the ear with such things as cotton-tipped applicators, bobby pins, or twisted napkin corners. These objects only push the wax in deeper.”
When earwax is pushed deep into your ear where it doesn’t belong, it can bring fungus, bacteria, and viruses from the outer ear into the inner ear, increasing the risk of infection. It can also block your ear canal, leading to hearing loss, or even cause a ruptured eardrum.
It’s a vicious cycle, too, because the more you rub your ears with cotton swabs, the more histamine will be released, which makes your skin irritated and inflamed. This, in turn, may make you want to insert a cotton swab again, leading to additional dryness and irritation.12
During the winter months, heaters and cold temperatures may lead to dry air with low humidity. This dry air can lead to dry skin, irritated sinuses and throat, and itchy eyes. Over time, exposure to low humidity can even dry out and inflame the mucous membrane lining your respiratory tract. When this natural barrier is no longer working properly, it increases your risk of colds, the flu, and other infections.
You may be tempted to add humidity to your home’s air using a humidifier, and this is a sensible solution as long as it doesn’t backfire. You must be very careful about making sure your humidity levels are not too high, as high humidity will cause mold to grow, which could devastate your health.
Additionally, the moist, warm environment of a humidifier is a breeding ground for bacteria and fungi, which travel out of the unit via a “toxic mist” that you later breathe in.
Research has shown that breathing in dirty mist from humidifiers can lead to lung problems, including infection, and humidifier use is actually associated with an increased risk of developing asthma in children.13 So if you choose to use a humidifier, do so sparingly, making sure humidity levels do not get too high. A hygrometer, which you can find at most hardware stores, can measure the amount of moisture in your home’s air so you can adjust your humidifier use accordingly. Some humidifiers also have a hygrometer built in.
According to Dr. Robert Ivker, D.O., former president of the American Holistic Medical Association, the ideal level of relative humidity for sinus health is between 35 to 45 percent. This level is also generally recommended to avoid mold damage in your home. As far as using a humidifier goes, you’ll also need to make sure you clean it often, at least once every three days using hydrogen peroxide to remove any film or mineral deposits.
The water in the reservoir should be changed daily, and be sure the area around it (tabletops, windows, carpeting, curtains, etc.) are kept dry. If you have a central air heating system, the best humidifier is one that is built directly over your furnace and tied into a humidistat and water source so the entire process is automated and your home is evenly humidified.
A loofah provides a perfect environment for bacteria, fungi, and mold to grow, especially when kept in the warm, humid confines of your bathroom or shower. As you run it over your skin, it’s possible that small wounds (including tiny nicks from shaving) could be infected, leading to impetigo, folliculitis, or other skin issues.14 If you love to loofah, choose one made of a natural fiber, which will naturally contain enzymes to inhibit microbial growth, and replace it monthly. After each use, wring it out and allow it to dry thoroughly – and store it in a cool, dry spot.
Blenders are handy for whipping up healthy morning smoothies… but if you’re not washing yours properly, it could be a problem. The blender gasket (the rubber ring that holds the blade portion of the blender in place) has been found to be the third germiest item in the kitchen, and research showed it commonly harbored salmonella, E. coli, yeast, and mold.15 The solution is simple – when you’re done using your blender, be sure to disassemble it completely and wash each part, including the gasket, well.
8. Nail Tools
Pumice stones, cuticle clippers, and other nail tools harbor bacteria from your skin. If you neglect to wash them, they could potentially cause skin infections (this is especially true if you share your nail tools with friends or family members). Nail tools should be washed with soap and water after each use, and pumice stones should be replaced every three to four weeks.
9. Rubber Spatula
Rubber spatulas were found to be even germier than blender gaskets, coming in at the second germiest item in the kitchen. The problem is that most people do not pull the spatula head off the handle when cleaning, which allows E. coli, yeast, and mold to grow. If your spatula comes apart, always remove the head and wash each piece separately. If not, pay special attention to the joint between the head and the handle when washing.
10. Stuffed Animals
Stuffed animals are known to collect dust mites, which are a major cause of indoor dust allergies. If you’re allergic, exposure can lead to sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes, and other symptoms. If your child can’t part with theirs, cut the number down to one or two kept on the bed, with the rest stored on a shelf. You can also put the stuffed animals in a plastic bag and leave it in the freezer overnight, as the cold will kill the dust mites.
Do Scented Candles, Incense, and Air Fresheners Cause Cancer, Allergies, and Asthma?
Many people enjoy the ambience that scented candles, incense, and air fresheners can add to their home, but with that pleasant scent come some hidden health risks. Such products are known to contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), allergens, phthalates, and cancer-causing chemicals such as benzene and formaldehyde. Many of the chemicals emitted by these products have been linked to hormone disruption, allergies, asthma, and even cancerous mutations in DNA.
In one recent study, scented candles were found to act as potent sources of VOC emissions whether they were lit or not, and when lit, formaldehyde had the highest emission concentration.16 Incense sticks and air fresheners have also been shown to contribute to poor indoor air quality, including the release of benzene.17 The Daily Mail further reported:18
“In 2013, after a study of more than 2,000 pregnant women, the International Journal of Public Health reported that women who used air fresheners in their homes were significantly more likely to have babies that suffered from wheezing and lung infections. One study that followed 14,000 children from before and after birth found they had higher levels of diarrhea and earache, while their mothers had raised risks of headaches and depression, all linked to the frequent use of air fresheners and aerosols during pregnancy and early childhood.
A 2007 study also found that using air fresheners as little as once a week can raise the risk of asthma in adults. The same report found that the risk of developing asthma was up to 50 percent higher in people who had been exposed to air-freshener sprays.”
Chemicals in Personal Care Products Linked to Increased Risk of Miscarriage
Chemicals known as phthalates, which are used as plasticizers in everything from vinyl flooring to detergents, hoses, raincoats, adhesives, air fresheners, and toys — and even in many soaps, shampoos, lotions, nail polish, and other personal care products.
Phthalates are one of the groups of “gender-bending” chemicals causing males of all species to become more female. Research conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) discovered high levels of phthalates in all 289 adult Americans tested, and the levels of some phthalates in women of childbearing age exceeded the government’s safe levels set to protect against birth defects, leading scientists to conclude phthalate exposures are “much higher and more common than previously suspected.19
A new study also revealed that women with higher levels of phthalates in their urine were more likely to have miscarriages between 5 and 13 weeks of pregnancy than those with lower levels.20 These chemicals have disrupted the endocrine systems of wildlife as well, causing testicular cancer, genital deformations, low sperm counts, and infertility in a number of species, including polar bears, deer, whales, and otters, just to name a few. Scientists believe phthalates are responsible for a similar pattern in humans as well, and they have been linked to:
Impaired ovulatory cycles and polycystic ovary disease (PCOS) “Decreased dysgenesis syndrome”: A syndrome involving cryptorchidism (undescended testicles), hypospadias (birth defect in which opening of urethra is on the underside of the penis instead of at the end), oligospermia (low sperm count), and testicular cancer Interference with sexual differentiation in utero Enlarged prostate glands Disturbed lactation Numerous hormonal disruptions Early or delayed puberty Breast cancer and uterine fibroids
How to Create a Healthier Home
While it’s important to carefully wash items like your blender to remove germs, and replace loofahs regularly to avoid infections, by far the greatest risks in your home come from the chemicals in common household products. The fewer ingredients a product contains, the better, and try to make sure anything you put on or in your body – or use around your home – contains only substances you’re familiar with. If you can’t pronounce it, you probably don’t want it anywhere near your family. The following tips will help you to create a healthier home, naturally.
- As much as possible, buy and eat organic produce and free-range, organic meats to reduce your exposure to added hormones, pesticides, and fertilizers. Also avoid milk and other dairy products that contain the genetically engineered recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH or rBST).
- Rather than eating conventional or farm-raised fish, which are often heavily contaminated with PCBs and mercury, supplement with a high-quality purified krill oil, eat smaller fish, or fish that is wild-caught and lab tested for purity. Wild caught Alaskan salmon is about the only fish I eat for these reasons.
- Buy products that come in glass bottles or jars rather than plastic or canned, since chemicals can leach out of plastics and into the contents.
- Store your food and beverages in glass rather than plastic, and avoid using plastic wrap.
- Use glass baby bottles and avoid plastic sippy cups for your little ones.
- Eat mostly raw, fresh foods. Processed, prepackaged foods (of all kinds) are a common source of chemicals such as BPA and phthalates.
- Replace your non-stick pots and pans with ceramic or glass cookware.
- Filter your tap water — both for drinking and bathing. If you can only afford to do one, filtering your bathing water may be more important, as your skin absorbs contaminants. To remove the endocrine-disrupting herbicide Atrazine, make sure the filter is certified to remove it. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), perchlorate can be filtered out using a reverse osmosis filter.
- Look for products that are made by companies that are earth-friendly, animal-friendly, green, non-toxic, and/or 100% organic. This applies to everything from food and personal care products to building materials, carpeting, paint, baby items, upholstery, and more.
- Use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter to remove house dust, which is often contaminated with traces of chemicals.
- When buying new products such as furniture, mattresses, or carpet padding, ask what type of fire retardant it contains. Be mindful of and/or avoid items containing PBDEs, antimony, formaldehyde, boric acid, and other brominated chemicals. As you replace these toxic items around your home, select those that contain naturally less flammable materials, such as leather, wool and cotton.
- Avoid stain- and water-resistant clothing, furniture, and carpets to avoid perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs).
- Minimize your use of plastic baby and child toys, opting for those made of natural wood or fabric instead.
- Only use natural cleaning products in your home or make your own. Avoid products that contain 2-butoxyethanol (EGBE) and methoxydiglycol (DEGME) — two toxic glycol ethers that can damage fertility and cause fetal harm.21
- Switch over to organic brands of toiletries such as shampoo, toothpaste, antiperspirants, and cosmetics. You can replace many different products with coconut oil and baking soda, for example. EWG has a great database22 to help you find personal care products that are free of phthalates and other potentially dangerous chemicals. I also offer one of the highest quality organic skin care lines, shampoo and conditioner, and body butter that are completely natural and safe.
- Replace feminine hygiene products like tampons and sanitary pads with safer alternatives.
- Avoid artificial air fresheners, dryer sheets, fabric softeners, or other synthetic fragrances.
- Look for products that are fragrance-free. One artificial fragrance can contain hundreds – even thousands – of potentially toxic chemicals.
- Replace your vinyl shower curtain with one made of fabric.
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