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How household chemicals can affect your health

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  nconner's Photo
Posted Aug 28 2009 10:43 AM

The following table spells out health problems that common household chemicals can cause.

Tip

Household products are packed with potentially harmful substances, so this table can't cover them all. If you want to learn about a specific product or ingredient, check the Household Products Database from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services at http://hpd.nlm.nih.gov. Search for a product by name to see possible health effects and safe handling instructions. Search for an ingredient to get a list of products that contain it, along with links to information about its toxicity.

Chemical

Health Effects

Found In

Ammonia

Eye, nose, and throat irritation; skin problems; aggravation of asthma symptoms

Cleaning products, paint stripper, adhesive removers, some fertilizers

Ammonium hydroxide

Eye, nose, and throat irritation; aggravation of asthma symptoms

Cleaning products, disinfectants, metal polishes, car care products, carpet and upholstery cleaners

Benzene

Cancer

Adhesive removers, degreasers, interior paints, dry-cleaning solvents

Chlordane

With long-term exposure: kidney, liver, and central nervous system damage; cancer

Flea powders, pesticides

Chlorine bleach

Eye, nose, and throat irritation; skin problems; aggravation of asthma symptoms

Cleaning and laundry products, toilet-bowl cleaners

Chloroform

Central nervous system damage; possibly cancer

Dryer sheets; adhesive removers

Cresol

With long-term exposure: kidney, liver, and central nervous system damage

Antibacterial cleaning products, disinfectants, deodorizers, pesticides

Dichlorophene

With long-term exposure: kidney, liver, and central nervous system damage; cancer

Flea powders, pesticides

Ethylene glycol

Dizziness; heart, brain, kidney, liver, and central nervous system damage

Antifreeze, de-icers, brake fluid, adhesives, paints

Formaldehyde

Eye, nose, and throat irritation; aggravation of asthma symptoms; headaches; nausea; fatigue; memory problems; possibly cancer

Adhesives, sealers, paint, caulk

Glycol ethers

Infertility

Water-based paints

Hydrochloric acid

Eye, nose, and throat irritation; aggravation of asthma symptoms

Cleaning products, toilet-bowl cleaners

Lye

Blindness (from direct contact with eyes); skin irritation

Drain uncloggers, oven cleaners, dishwasher detergents

Methanol

With long-term exposure: kidney, liver, and central nervous system damage

Antifreeze, de-icers, car care products, shellacs, adhesive removers, paint strippers

Naphthalene

Cataracts (with long-term exposure); nausea

Carpet cleaners, car care products, paints, insect repellants

Oxalic acid

With long-term exposure: kidney, liver, and central nervous system damage

Toilet-bowl cleaners, car care products, cleansers, metal polish

Ozone

Respiratory system damage

Given off by printers and copiers

Pentane

Eye, nose, and throat irritation; skin problems

Solvents, dryer sheets, fabric softeners

Perchloroethylene (also called tetrachloroethylene)

Dizziness; headache; nausea; skin irritation. With long-term exposure: kidney, liver, and central nervous system damage;possibly cancer

Adhesives and sealants, car care products, polishes, spot cleaners; dry-cleaning solvents

Perfluorooctanoate and perfluorooctane sulfonate

Infertility in women

Pesticides, stain-resistant upholstery, adhesives, nonstick cookware coatings

Phenol (a.k.a. carbolic acid)

Skin irritation. With long-term exposure: kidney, liver, and central nervous system damage

Antibacterial cleaning products

Sodiumhypochlorite

Eye, nose, and throat irritation; aggravation of asthma symptoms; skin irritation

Cleaning products, disinfectants, drain uncloggers

Toluene

Eye, nose, and throat irritation; dizziness; nausea; central nervous system damage; cardiac arrest

Adhesives, solvents, paints, car care products.

Triclosan

Liver damage

Antibacterial soaps and cleaning products, pet shampoos

Trichloroethane

Dizziness; liver and central nervous system damage

Adhesives, lubricants, furniture cleaners

Xylene

Dizziness; eye, nose, and throat irritation; respiratory problems; nausea; kidney, liver, and central nervous system damage

Adhesives and sealants, car care products, paints, pesticides

Note

This list is overview of some of the health problems household chemicals can cause, but of course it's not diagnostic. If you're suffering from any of the symptoms mentioned here, see your doctor.

The kinds of symptoms you have depend on the type of chemical, how concentrated it is, and how long you're exposed to it. For example, people whose work exposes them to high levels of VOCs, like painters and cleaners, are most likely to suffer health problems. Over time, even low-level exposure can cause problems, especially in kids, the elderly, people with existing conditions such as asthma or allergies, and folks who are extra sensitive to chemicals.

If you use products that contain any of the chemicals in this list, buy small quantities so you won't have to worry about disposing of leftovers. Also, be sure to work in a well-ventilated area (fresh air reduces the concentration of VOCs) and follow the manufacturer's directions. Never mix different kinds of cleaning products: Mixing ammonia with bleach, for example, creates chloramine gas, which is highly toxic—and often fatal—when inhaled.

Tip

Because VOCs can leak from closed containers, don't keep old, half-empty bottles of cleaning products, paint strippers, or other VOC-filled chemicals in your home. But don't just toss them in the trash, either—read on to learn how to get rid of them safely.

Disposing of Household Chemicals

By now, you're probably ready to gather up all your cleaning products and dump them in the trash. Not so fast: While it's a good idea to remove harsh chemicals from your home, you need to dispose of them safely. The earth will thank you for it.

To get rid of household chemicals, don't throw them in the trash, pour them down a drain, or burn them. If your community has a day designated for hazardous waste pickup, unload them then. If you're not sure how to dispose of hazardous waste where you live, call your city's waste department or your garbage company or go to www.earth911.com. This helpful site lets you type in the kind of stuff you want to get rid of (such as paint or household cleaners) and your Zip code, and it finds a disposal facility near you.

Tip

Head to this book's Missing CD page at www.missingmanuals.com for a list of all the websites mentioned in this book.

When it comes to health—yours, your family's, the environment's—you don't want to take chances. Luckily, you don't need to expose your family to harmful chemicals and indoor air pollutants because there are simple, healthier alternatives. As the next section explains, you can make your home greener and healthier in no time.

Living Green: The Missing Manual

Learn more about this topic from Living Green: The Missing Manual.

Taking care of the earth is more important than ever. Living Green: The Missing Manual is an all-in-one resource packed with practical advice on ways you can help the environment by making relatively easy, earth-friendly changes in your home routine, work habits, and the way you shop and get around town. This book teaches you how a few small changes can have a big impact

See what you'll learn


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4 Replies

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  ericgarton's Photo
Posted Jan 27 2013 11:28 AM

A lot of people were exposed to harmful household chemicals because they did not know the security measures needed to prevent any unfortunate incident. Some of the compounds are so unstable that it is very easy to provoke an explosion, many people witnessed death and destruction when chemicals like Benzene and Methanol got into reaction.
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  alankegan's Photo
Posted Jan 27 2013 01:02 PM

You should be very careful when decorating your childs bathroom, the list you provided is very helpful if you want to stay away from harmful household chemicals. Usually these substances can be found in the bathroom, my younger son spilled Chlorine bleach on the floor when nobody was home and he could get intoxicated, luckily he told us in time and we managed to clean it up.
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  lennardgarnett's Photo
Posted Jul 26 2013 03:41 AM

I have discussed about this with my surgeon from Panama City plastic surgery center, I had a minor intervention and he suggested to stay away from household chemicals that can damage my skin. This list contain a lot of interesting facts about which household chemicals are harmful for us, I did not know that Chlorine bleach can cause aggravation of asthma symptoms.
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  veronicawrig's Photo
Posted Oct 05 2013 12:17 AM

Thank you for the post , that was really really an important detail to know. Using several things can deprive our health conditions and these household chemicals should be avoided, specially from children's. I was thinking of hiring some sydney carpet cleaning firm to clean all the floor carpets, Now I have to get an assurance that they are not using any harmful chemicals.