11 Subtle Ways Your House Might Be Making You Sick

Toxic chemicals and other harmful substances could be hiding all over your house. Here's how to protect yourself and your family.

You have toxic dust

The dust in hard-to-reach corners or settled atop your furniture can do more than cause a sneezing fit, it can actually be toxic. Researchers from George Washington University analyzed dust samples data from across America and found 45 potentially toxic chemicals hiding within, 10 of which turned up in 90 percent of the samples. One repeat offender was TDCIPP, a flame retardant frequently found in furniture and other household items that is thought to cause cancer; phthalates, often found in toys and vinyl flooring, as well as phenols, typically used in cleaning products, were also found in high amounts. Minimize dust by vacuuming frequently (use the proper attachments to reach into corners and under furniture) and regularly wiping down surfaces. Use these tips to get rid of tricky dust.

You’re addicted to air fresheners

If you’re obsessed with keeping your house smelling fresh, you could be affecting your health. Scented candles, oil diffusors, plugin fresheners, and scented sprays may contain phthalates, chemicals that may disrupt the endocrine system by interfering with hormones. “Phthalates can act as a synthetic hormone inside the body. When we have synthetic chemicals that interfere with natural processes, we start worrying about health issues,” says Lara Adler, an environmental toxins expert and certified holistic health coach in Portland, Oregon. Safely freshen your home by using natural essential oils, buying flowers, or simply opening the windows. Consider making these natural stovetop potpourris that make your house smell like fall.

Your kitchen is filled with plastic

Plastic storage containers often contain harmful chemicals like BPA, which can leach into your food when reheating or even by filling them when leftovers are still hot. Polycarbonate plastic items (hard and marketed as shatter-resistant) like reusable water bottles, drinking cups, or beverage jugs also often contain BPA, which may interfere with the body’s hormones and potentially raise the risk of developing cancer and diabetes. And don’t let “BPA-free” on the packaging fool you. “Many manufacturers simply replaced BPA with another similar chemical in the same family, which may be just as bad,” says Adler. Avoid plastic whenever possible, says Adler, and opt for glass storage containers or stainless steel water bottles. There's a hidden danger lurking in those BPA-Free plastic products.

You spray down your shower with bleach

Bleach will leave your bathroom tiles sparkling clean, but if mold is an issue bleach could actually make it worse. “Bleach gets rid of mold in tile grout, but it’s very caustic and grout is permeable, so it actually eats away at grout over time and makes tiny holes for more mold to grow,” says Adler. Try using a solution of hydrogen peroxide and water to combat mold spores, be sure your bathroom has proper ventilation to cut back on humidity mold thrives in, and use a squeegee to wipe down the shower walls to get rid of excess water after bathing. Be sure not to make these other bathroom cleaning mistakes.

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You have wall-to-wall carpeting

Wall-to-wall carpeting can be a big problem if you don’t take care of it. “It becomes a sink for all kinds of contaminants,” says Adler. Dust and pet dander can settle into the cushioning and cause allergic reactions. And if you don’t remove your shoes before walking through the house, you can track contaminants from the outdoors all over your carpet, like dirt, pesticides, heavy metals, you name it. “Then your kids or pets crawl on the floor and get it all over themselves,” she says. Regularly vacuum and wash carpets and rugs.

 All your cookware is non-stick

More research needs to be done, but what scientists know so far is that the synthetic chemicals used to prevent food from sticking in non-stick cookware can be released during high-heat cooking and potentially be harmful, even causing flu-like symptoms. Opt for stainless steel or cast iron.

Your upholstery is ancient

If you can’t bear to part with your favorite couch or big comfy chair, take a look at its little white tag; if it says “TB 117” you could be in danger. “TB 117 is a flame retardant that for years was typically found in upholstered furniture. It can act as a carcinogen,” says Adler. In 2013, California passed a law banning the use of flame retardant chemicals, so items manufactured since then say “TB 117-2013 on the label. “Consumers should buy furniture with TB 117-2013 on the label,” she says.

Your pantry is packed with canned food
ways_house_might_making_sick_canned_foodiStock/Warren Price

Canned food can make for a cheap meal with a side of toxins. Some cans are lined with a substance containing BPA, which can migrate into food, especially ones that were hot when packaged or are acidic, says Adler. “These are staples in people’s kitchen yet are a significant source of BPA exposure,” she says. Research companies that pledge not to use harmful chemicals in the manufacturing process and many brands now sell beans (try Better Bean Company, sold in refrigerated plastic tubs), soup, and tomatoes in boxes, she says. (Create these zones in your pantry to keep it amazingly organized.)

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You burn incense to relax

Burning incense can send large amounts of particulate matter into the air, which can then settle in the respiratory tract, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. It also often contains trace amounts of chemicals that may cause skin irritation.

You don't have houseplants

Houseplants can do more than brighten your home, they can also reduce indoor air pollution. Just ask NASA. NASA research found that greenery like English Ivy, Gerbera Daisy, Bamboo Palm, and Chinese Evergreen are effective in absorbing and removing harmful contaminants like carbon monoxide from the air. These are the best indoor plants for reducing air pollution.

Your laundry room smells good

If your laundry routine consists of scented detergent, fabric softener, and dryer sheets to keep your clothes smelling cozy fresh, you could have a triple whammy of toxins on your hands. “These products with fragrance often contain phthalates or other harmful chemicals, which may cause health issues over time,” says Adler. Look for products with a short list of ingredients that that don’t include the words “fragrance,” “perfume,” or “parfum.” Avoid these other mistakes on laundry day (some could ruin your clothes!).

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