10 Toxic Chemicals Found In Household Products To Watch, Assess, and Replace

One of the ways of shifting cultural attitudes toward a healthier lifestyle is to start at home. And where the burden of throwing out old attitudes and practices shouldn’t rest solely on the consumer, it can’t be denied that when millions of consumers change their minds, and their buying habits, industry is forced to listen.

With that in mind, and in thinking about ways to improve the health in our homes, I scoured the Internet in order to identify common household chemicals as found in everyday  products we regularly buy and use.

Here’s a rogue’s gallery of 10 toxic ingredients found in household products, along with the common uses for which you may regularly use them everyday. Of course, you still have to get things done around the house. So, also listed are some alternatives to consider instead of the chemical ingredient listed, should you decide to kick those potentially hazardous ingredients to the proverbial curb. And if you decide to stay the course with your choice of household product, a few ‘actions’ to consider investigating to keep you and your family safe are also listed.

So, let’s take a look at the list.


1. Ammonia
Product uses: household cleaning supplies, fertilizers, woodworking finishes, adhesives, fuel (experimentally).

Related health impact: irritating to mucous membranes that include respiratory systems and digestive tracts, irritating to the skin. Mixing ammonia with bleach is dangerous as it creates a toxic chlorine gas.

Actions and alternatives to investigate: Small amounts of ammonia solution can minimize impact, but it should never be used in combination with other chemicals, particularly bleach. For cleaning, vinegar and Borax (sodium borate) are two antiseptic options to choose over ammonia.

Read more:  Take a look at this article about ammonia from the New York State Department of Health.

2. Sodium hypochloride, AKA ‘bleach’
Product uses: Stain removal and fabric ‘brightening’, disinfectant, water treatment

Related health impact: tissue damage to skin and eyes in concentrated form, vapors caustic to sensitive respiratory systems.

Actions and alternatives to investigate: “Less is more” approach, lemon juice for stain removal, saltwater solution for disinfectant purposes, Hydrogen peroxide which breaks down into water and oxygen in wastewater.

Read More: The Good Human, eco-friendly alternatives to bleach (@theGoodHuman on Twitter)

3. Formaldehyde
Product uses: air fresheners, epoxy glue for furniture, lacquer for flooring and cabinetry

Related health impact: at 0.01 PPM (parts per million) or higher; eye, nose, and throat, nausea

Actions and alternatives to investigate: At this point in history, formaldehyde is a ubiquitous product in many industries.  A lot of work has been done to reduce it, but not replace it.  The best action to take is to do your research in discovering products that are held to E1 or E0 standards.

Read More: Many industries, including the flooring and furnishings industry, take the regulation of formaldehyde emissions extremely seriously. Visit the U.S EPA for more information about formaldehyde emissions in everyday household items.

4. DEET (diethyl-meta-toluamide)
Product uses: insecticide

Related health impact: Skin irritation (numbeness, burning sensations at the site of contact), respiratory irritation, digestive irritation (nausea, vomiting, etc), long-term organ damage (liver and kidneys) when exposed to concentrated levels.

Actions and alternatives to investigate:  To keep the bugs at bay while outside, try hanging citronella lamps. Citronella is a natural insect repellent which can also be found in skin applications as well.

Read more: Check out this article on avoiding DEETS and finding alternative insect repellents.

5. Mercury
Product uses: batteries, fluorescent light bulbs.

Related health impact: long-term vision impairment, lack of coordination, muscle weakness.

Actions and alternatives to investigate: buy zinc, silver oxide, or alkaline batteries, and mercury-free lighting like LED or low-mercury content bulbs.

Read more:  An article about uses of mercury, and safe, environmental ways of disposing of it from Green Coast Rubbish.  Also, ‘like’ the Green Coast Rubbish page.  And for more information about mercury-free lighting, take a look at this article about flourescent lighting by green architect Eric Corey Freed (@EricCoreyFreed on Twitter).

6. Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDE)
Product uses: household textiles, insulation

Related health impact: Unknown, although this substance is on the radar of the Agency for Toxic Substances and disease registry, with links made to behavioral symptoms.

Actions and alternatives to investigate: PBDE has been found in polyurethane foam insulation and in flame retardant materials. The presence of this substance is currently being phased out.

Read more: Read the full fact sheet on PBDE from eoearth.org (@EOEarth on Twitter).  And here is an article on the banning of PBDE from BuildingGreen.com

7. Aromatic Hydrocarbons (benzene)
Product uses: motor oil, gasoline additives, paint strippers

Related health impact: Drowsiness, dizziness,  headaches, tremors, confusion, connected to cancer-related illness

Actions and alternatives to investigate: When in enclosed spaces, use proper respiratory protection, ventilation, and proper storage of materials.

Read more: Find out more about benezne and its effects from cancer.org.

8. Sodium Hydroxide
Product uses: oven cleaner, drain cleaner, metal polish

Related health impact: Chemical burns on direct contact with the skin in concentrated form, breathing difficulty, airway swelling, etc

Actions and alternatives to investigate: Considering doing away with harsh chemical altogether, using natural ingredients instead such as baking soda, soap, and lemon.  This will involve more frequent cleaning, perhaps. But, the chemicals that are released into your breathing space, and then into the environment will be harmless.  And better smelling, too.

Read more: Consider this article about homemade cleaning products from Eartheasy.com.

9. Dioxin
Product uses: shampoo, soap, various plastics

Related health impact: Abdominal pains at high levels of exposure, skin irritation, etc

Actions and alternatives to investigate: Seek out dioxin free shampoo and soap firstly by avoiding scented products, or anti-bacterial products, both of which are known to contain higher levels of dioxins.

Read More: Read this extensive article about the benefits of using natural soap.

10. Perchloroethylene
Product uses: paint, household solvent

Related health impact: dizziness, fatigue, headaches, liver and kidney damage and memory loss over the long term,

Actions and alternatives to investigate: Paint and solvents that contain perchloroethylene and otherpotentially  harmful chemicals are closely monitored.  Seek out products that have a registry number of the EPA, or other government regulatory body that advises consumers on the issues of health and environmental impact.

Read more: Take a look at this article on eHow.com about how to buy non-toxic paint.


I should say a word about the health impacts listed above.  A lot of the time, the levels of these chemicals that may be in your home or workplace will be low, so as not to directly cause any of the listed symptoms above in the short term. When considering your health, this article is meant to be the start of a conversation or personal investigation on your part – not the end of one.   Should you be feeling any chronic occurrences of any of the above symptoms, my advice is to consult your physician right away.

Of course, another big area when it comes to all of the above is the issue of waste management and proper methods of disposal.  After all, some of you may conclude that you want to clear the decks when it comes to products that contain the above materials.  But you’re also going to want to make sure that eliminating what you perceive to be a problem in your own environment doesn’t become a potential problem in everybody else’s.

For more information about proper disposal of household chemicals and the products with which they are associated, investigate the EPA.gov, a site that served as my primary resource in the creation of this article.



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