These 6 popular household items contain toxic chemicals

Cleanliness is next to godliness — or, perhaps, cancer.

Health experts are warning consumers to avoid everyday products like certain household cleaners because they contain chemicals that have been linked to cancer, hormone imbalances, respiratory problems, and other health concerns.

Many of the more popular name-brand products have been in households for generations, despite their link to health problems.

“It’s hard for humans to accept that something I bought at the store could actually be harming me and my family or my pets,” Ryan Sullivan, associate professor of chemistry at Carnegie Mellon University, told the Washington Post.

And while many household products are now labeled “green,” “all-natural” or “unscented,” they still may contain chemicals suspected or known to cause health issues.

“The regulations in this country around what you can put in cleaning products and certainly in air fresheners are pretty loose,” Sullivan said.

While some products are safe for most people, young children, pregnant women, people with pre-existing health conditions and households with pets should exercise caution with the following products.

Air fresheners

Aerosol and plug-in air fresheners contain compounds that create artificial fragrances and help those scents linger in the air for a longer period of time.

Many contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) including formaldehyde, benzene, toluene and xylenes, which have been linked to several different types of cancer, migraine headaches, asthma attacks, breathing difficulties, and neurological problems.

Some also contain hormone disruptors like phthalates, which have “toxic effects at low doses and low concentrations because our natural hormone system is designed to respond to low levels of hormones,” Sullivan said.

Even "green" household products may contain harmful chemicals, experts warn.
Even “green” household products may contain harmful chemicals, experts warn.
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Household bleach contains sodium hypochlorite in concentrations up to 5.25%, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Chlorine bleach liquid and the vapors it emits can irritate the skin, eyes, nose, and throat. Direct skin contact can result in dermatitis, while ingestion can cause serious injury to the esophagus and stomach, plus prolonged nausea and vomiting.

People are warned to never combine bleach, or any product containing bleach, with ammonia or vinegar. That combination can release chloramine gas, which is poisonous in any amount and can cause death.

Oven cleaners

Oven cleaners typically contain lye, which consists of either sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide. Lye is extremely corrosive and can burn skin and eyes. It can also cause severe tissue damage — and if swallowed, it can be fatal.

Always wear gloves and eye protection when using oven cleaners that contain lye, and make sure the work area is well-ventilated to avoid breathing the fumes.

There are also non-toxic oven cleaners made without lye: These may be a safer alternative, but read the label and follow the manufacturer’s recommendations before using the product.

Hand sanitizers

Post-pandemic, hand sanitizers are found in virtually every home, business, church, and school, but most contain hefty amounts of alcohol — at least 60% in most cases.

That’s far more alcohol than is found in high-octane liquors like Wild Turkey 101 bourbon. Therefore, children ingesting even small amounts of hand sanitizer could suffer the effects of alcohol poisoning.

“Hand sanitizer is sometimes packaged in a way that is very appealing to children,” pediatrician Dr. Eva Love told the Washington Post. “Many of these products come in bright colors, contain eye-catching glitter or smell enticing to children.”

Therefore, kids should only use hand sanitizer under adult supervision with just a small, dime-sized drop in their hands while watched as they rub until their hands are dry.

The EPA lists safer household products on its "Safer Choice" website.
The EPA lists safer household products on its “Safer Choice” website.
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Antibacterial cleaners

Antibacterial cleaners typically contain water, a fragrance, a soapy surfactant to break up dirt and a pesticide.

The pesticides used in antibacterial cleaners are usually quaternary ammonium or some type of phenolic chemical. These antibacterial cleaners can irritate eyes and burn the skin and, if accidentally swallowed, the lining of the throat.


Mothballs contain a toxic chemical, either naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene, according to the Connecticut Department of Public Health. Both chemicals become a gas when exposed to air, creating that signature “mothball smell.”

These gases are irritating to the eyes and lungs and can cause headaches, dizziness and nausea. Moreover, they are both suspected of causing cancer. Naphthalene is considered to be more toxic as it causes red blood cells to break apart, a condition known as hemolytic anemia.

Stay safe with alternatives

“Avoid using air fresheners altogether,” advises the American Lung Association, which lists safer cleaning products such as baking soda and diluted vinegar as smart options.

Reading and following package directions will also help avoid health problems, and storing cleaning products in pet- and child-safe cabinets will keep them safe.

Experts also advise against mixing products, or even pouring one product into another product’s container, to avoid creating volatile or dangerous combinations.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a comprehensive website of “Safer Choice” household products that contain ingredients that are safer for human health as well as the environment.