Beware: 8 Common Toxic Household Products That Will (Probably) Kill You

1. Stress


Do you know why you’re stressed? Because you keep reading articles with titles like “8 Common Toxic Household Products That Will (Probably) Kill You.” Don’t you have enough to worry about without searching for eight more things to add to the list?

I tend to favor a stress-free, guilt-free approach to curating an eco-friendly existence, and while the remaining seven things on this list probably won’t kill you before any of your other bad habits do, adopting earth-friendly alternatives can mean a win-win situation for your health, your wallet, and the environment, too.

2. Dryer sheets

Not only are dryer sheets a one-time use item that you must continually buy and throw away, they work by coating your clothing in perfumed animal fat. Yeah. Stearic acid, derived from animal fat and often used in the manufacture of dryer sheets, coats fabric and gives the feel of softness, while the addition of chemical-laden fragrance disguises the smell.

A better way to get fluffy, static-free clothing naturally is to use wool dryer balls scented with essential oils.

Alternately, ditch the dryer altogether and rig up a clothesline outdoors. Line-drying your clothes is approximately 76 times as enjoyable as mashing them into a dryer, and has made laundry my favorite chore, hands-down, in the warm months.

3. Plastic

Where do we begin? The toxic-if-ingested BPA? The off-gassing? The fact that most plastic product are used for just a few moments yet languish forever in the environment, forming vast oceans of debris and contributing to the deaths of innumerable innocent birds who wanted nothing more than to snack on a little minnow, but ended up choking to death on a shiny pen caps instead?

Plastic has very few redeeming qualities. It is temporary, easily broken and tough to repair. Choosing metal, wood or leather alternatives for everything from furniture to footwear means you will probably end up paying a bit more upfront, but you’ll save in the long run by only having to buy something once, and with a clear conscience to boot.

4. Harsh household cleaners

We sacrifice a lot when we ask our cleaners to eat through dirt and grime while we hardly lift a finger. The same chemicals that promise to do all the dirty work can also irritate your hands, cause breathing difficulties, and are potentially fatal if ingested. That's a poor trade-off just to avoid a little elbow grease.

This is the age of information and there’s no reason you can’t make household cleaners for yourself. Extremely simple recipes for all-purpose sprays, tub scrubs, laundry detergents and more are easy to find on the Internet or at your local library.

5. Bath and body products

I don’t know about you, but I don’t just wake up looking this good; it takes a significant amount of effort.

Before you buy all of those bath and beauty products to disguise your natural decrepitude, run the product name through the Environmental Working Group's cosmetics database, SkinDeep.org. The site catalogs the ingredients of cosmetics, bath and personal care products and rates them on a toxicity scale. It can be quite alarming to discover the dozens of strange ingredients lurking in moisturizers, lipsticks and body wash, and the documented health risks associated with each one.

It’s up to you to decide what your sky-high lashes are worth, but after doing some research into what goes into your mascara you might be persuaded to support a brand that incorporates eco-friendly packaging, avoids animal testing, and uses natural ingredients less likely to irritate.

Also, creating your own products like shampoo, conditioner, deodorant and even toothpaste is simple, inexpensive and just as effective as the store-bought stuff.

6. Antibacterial hand soap

The FDA recently admitted what some of us have known for years: that antibacterial hand soaps aren’t any more effective than regular old soap and water, and may in fact pose significant health risks.

Recent evidence has shown that triclosan, the most common ingredient added to soaps to make them antibacterial, may contribute to bacterial resistance to antibiotics and even disrupt hormone function.

This means that now is the time to ditch liquid hand soap for good (if you haven’t done so already). Choosing natural, locally made bar soap means you can avoid excessive packaging while also nixing the strange chemicals, and supporting a local artisan, too.

7. Air

That’s right, the very air you breathe is trying to kill you. Plastic products, new furniture, mattresses, some clothing, and even fresh paint—many items in your home can off-gas contaminants that contribute to making indoor air quality two to five times worse than it is outdoors.

To combat this, buy secondhand as much as possible (off-gassing typically takes place in the first few years of a product’s life, so buying secondhand furniture or clothing significantly cut down on the amount you’ll be inhaling), choose zero-VOC paint, turn off your air-conditioning and open the windows to allow plenty of fresh air during the warmer months, and stock your home with house plants. Peace lilies, bamboo palms, weeping figs and spider plants all act like natural air filters, absorbing nasties like benzene and formaldehyde, and providing a fresh burst of life to neglected corners of your home.

8. Guilt

Seeing as we started with stress it just seems natural somehow to end with guilt. Not only is guilt a toxic substance that can kill any forward momentum you might have as you reach for a greener life, it is the endpoint in the life-cycle of most eco-friendly endeavors.

First you educate yourself about the terrible things you are doing to this luscious planet of ours, and then you disappear into a guilt-hole for the next eight hours ruminating about how ineffectual and paltry your efforts seem in comparison.

No more guilt, okay? Be kind to yourself. Be kind to your body, your environment and the life you have built. Make small, sustainable changes rather than barreling in head first, and remember to recognize yourself for the good you are doing, instead of the laundry-list of things you aren’t (yet).

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