dangerous household chemicals

10 Potentially Harmful Chemicals Used at Home

From seemingly innocuous ingredients to more serious household neurotoxins, here are 10 chemicals in your home that probably shouldn't be there.

Written by Stacey Kelleher. Reviewed by Sean Busch.

Because of Covid-19, we understandably retreated to the safety and sanctuary of our homes. We explored new ways of learning and working from home, tackled long-overdue household projects, and enjoyed the beauty of our own backyards.

Since we spend more time at home than ever before, it makes sense to consider the products and chemicals we bring into it. What could be lurking in your cabinets and under sinks?

Potentially Hazardous Chemicals in Your Home

chemicals in your home

Our homes often contain potentially hazardous chemicals, especially when it comes to the cleaning and personal care products we use every day.

While many of the substances contained in these materials and products are approved for consumer use by government agencies – like the FDA and EPA – that doesn’t necessarily mean you want to risk exposure.

1. Bisphenol A (BPA)

where is BPA found

Bisphenol A (commonly known as BPA) has been around since the 1960s. Used to produce different types of resins and plastics, this chemical has a wide range of industrial uses. But as useful as BPA is, this controversial substance comes with significant potential health risks.

BPA in plastics can leach into the food/liquids they contain and be ingested by humans. This is especially true when these products are heated. Research on the health risks of BPA also show a link between exposure and endocrine disorders, infertility, and certain types of cancers.

Where BPA Is Found

BPA is found in a wide variety of products such as medical devices, the lining of cans, and in plastic food and drink containers.

Which Plastics Are BPA Free?

There are plenty of BPA-free alternatives that are easy to find. Avoid items with the “recycle number” 7 which may contain bisphenol A as well as multiple types of materials.

Instead, opt for safer plastics numbered 1, 2, 4 or 5. If you’re unsure, avoid plastics whenever possible and opt for reusable items made from glass, stainless steel, and wood.

Note: Puracy uses a combination of BPA-free plastic and vinyl for our refill pouches. While recycling options aren't as widespread yet, certain municipalities do offer this option. Contact your local government office to learn more.

2. Phthalates

phthalates in shampoo

Phthalates are a group of synthetic chemicals primarily used to make plastics more flexible and tougher to break. Phthalates are also used as dissolving agents for other chemicals, especially in synthetic fragrances.

Look for the following acronyms that identity their chemical structure:

  • DBP: dibutyl phthalate
  • DEP: diethyl phthalate
  • DMP: dimethyl phthalate

Are Phthalates Bad for You?

A lot is still unknown about how phthalates affect the human body. Certain phthalates, however, have been linked to altered hormone levels and cause birth defects in rodents.

Which Products Use Phthalates?

Phthalates are used in hundreds of different consumer goods including:

  • Cosmetics and personal care products (like soaps, lotions, and shampoos)
  • Household cleaners
  • Food wraps and containers
  • Children’s toys
  • Medical devices
  • Vinyl wall and floor coverings

Phthalate Free Products: How to Find Them

Did you know that manufacturers aren’t required to disclose ingredients in a product’s “fragrance”? Phthalates may also be in some products (like cups, bottles, and food storage containers). To be certain, purchase products from companies with transparent ingredient lists, look for labels that say “phthalate-free”, or use this handy chart to identify safe plastics by number:

Phthalate free shampoo, conditioners, lotions, and soap are now widely available. From our body care to natural cleaning products, Puracy is committed to producing only phthalate free products. Even the fragrances we use are sourced from organic essential oils.

3. Parabens

paraben free cleaner

Parabens are typically used as cheap, effective preservative agents in various beauty items. They help prevent the growth of mold and other organisms and extend the shelf life of personal care products.

Which Products Use Parabens?

You can find parabens in a wide variety of products, including:

  • Hair care products
  • Makeup
  • Lotions
  • Moisturizers
  • Shaving creams
  • Skin cleansers
  • Preserved foods
  • Medications

Look for the four most common parabens on product labels:

  • Butylparaben
  • Ethylparaben
  • Methylparaben
  • Propylparaben

Are Parabens Safe?

are parabens safe

Recent research has found potential links between paraben exposure and multiple health issues.

  • Male rats exposed to high levels of parabens showed reproductive complications.
  • Pregnant women who used paraben-containing personal products increased their chance of giving birth to female infants with a higher body mass index.
  • There have also been concerns about the potential connection between parabens and breast tissue tumors. At the time of writing, however, there were no definitive links between the two.

How to Choose Paraben-Free Products

Avoiding parabens doesn’t have to mean buying products with shorter shelf lives. Puracy chooses only to use paraben and phthalate free products which contain plant-based preservatives like:

4. Dimethicone

dimethicone alternative

Dimethicone is a man-made silicone that makes products smoother and more spreadable. It adds moisture without feeling heavy and gives products that “soft-to-the-touch” feeling.

Is Dimethicone Safe?

There isn't any reason to think that dimethicone is unsafe for topical use, and it’s FDA-approved for use as intended (in certain concentrations).

However, there are plenty of environmental concerns since it's not biodegradable. The National Center for Biotechnology recommends reducing the use of dimethicone and other low molecular weight silicones.

Which Products Use Dimethicone?

Dimethicone can be found in a variety of personal care products such as:

  • Body washes
  • Face creams
  • Conditioners
  • Hair dyes
  • Serums
  • Shampoos
  • Sunscreen
  • Deodorants
  • Anti-aging creams

Dimethicone Alternatives

dimethicone free shampoo

Look for products that contain biodegradable ingredients like jojoba oil, shea butter, and aloe vera that nourish and smooth skin naturally.

When reformulating our Natural Shampoo, it was tough to find a dimethicone alternative that did a similar job. However, LexFeel N5 is a 100% biodegradable, plant-based ingredient that enhances hair texture and shine.

5. Formaldehyde

reduce formaldehyde exposure

Formaldehyde is a highly-flammable, colorless chemical used in a wide range of household products.

What Formaldehyde Does to the Body

Formaldehyde can be absorbed by inhaling fumes, skin contact, or even ingesting foods and drinks that contain it. In 2011, the US government officially classified formaldehyde as a carcinogen.

Research on workers exposed to formaldehyde cleaning products on a regular basis showed a clear link between exposure and a host of health problems including:

  • Asthma
  • Eye, nose, & upper respiratory irritation
  • Nerve palsy
  • Cancers including leukemia
  • Decreased white blood cell count

Where Formaldehyde Is Found

Formaldehyde is often used to make home building materials like cabinets, furniture, and paneling. When used as an antibacterial agent and preservative, formaldehyde can be found in nail polishes, soaps, shampoos, deodorants, and body lotions.

Tobacco smoke also contains this substance, posing a risk to both smokers and secondhand smokers. The human body also naturally produces small (but safe) amounts of formaldehyde as well.

How to Reduce Exposure to Formaldehyde

Choose wood products that are CARB-compliant (either phase 1 or 2), or made with ULEF (ultra-low-emitting-formaldehyde) or NAF (no-added-formaldehyde).

If exposure is unavoidable, increase ventilation by opening windows and running fans. Humidifiers and air conditioning units should also be used to reduce humidity and maintain cooler temps, as heat increases emissions from formaldehyde-containing materials.

Pro Tip: For products that touch your body, choose natural personal care brands that utilize plant-based ingredients that extend shelf lives (like cocos nucifera oil).

Pesticides are a group of compounds used to kill or repel unwanted organisms that are considered to be harmful to cultivated animals and/or plants. In some cases, organic, naturally-derived substances work just as well to remove fungus, insects, and rodents. When those aren’t effective, synthetic chemical pesticides are often introduced.

What Are Synthetic Pesticides Made from?

Synthetic pesticides have been used in the US since the 1930s. Once farmers realized how much larger their crop yield could be, chemical pesticides became the most commonly used method to reduce pests. The most common types include:

Are Synthetic Pesticides Harmful?

Toxicity to humans depends on the specific synthetic pesticides used and the exposure level. However, certain common pesticides have been linked to serious, chronic health problems including:

Synthetic Pesticides Commonly Found on Produce

avoid synthetic pesticides

Fruits and veggies are the most common sources of synthetic pesticides. To reduce exposure to pesticides, buy local and organic whenever possible. Always wash fruits and vegetables before eating – especially the “dirty dozen” like apples, strawberries, and grapes.

Pro Tip: Our Disinfecting Surface Cleaner has been approved for use as a fruit and vegetable wash in commercial organic food facilities. Spray raw, fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs, or spices with a liberal amount of this product, let stand for one minute, and rinse (optional).

Avoiding Synthetic Pesticides

Consider growing your own produce by using natural pest control. If you’re trying to control pests in the home, opt for insect bait or traps. For pesticides outside of your home, use a pump and wand sprayer on a windless day. Focus on exterior bases/corners of exterior doors and windows to keep these chemicals outside.

Research shows weed killers and other pesticides can be tracked in on shoes. It’s a good idea to leave them at the door.

7. Glycol Ethers

Glycol ethers are a group of solvents or substances that dissolve other substances to form a solution. Both colorless and flammable, glycol ethers are used as colorants, plasticizers, and lubricants. Some glycol ethers are neurotoxins.

Where Glycol Ethers Are Found

where glycol ethers are found

Glycol ethers are used as solvents in a variety of products including paints, lacquers, dyes, perfumes, liquid soaps, and cosmetics.

The most commonly used glycol ethers are:

  • 2-Methoxyethanol
  • 2-Ethoxyethanol
  • 2-Butoxyethanol.

Are Glycol Ethers Safe?

There are certain glycol ether exposure risks when it comes to home and beauty products. According to the EPA, glycol exposure can cause both acute and chronic health problems, including:

  • Anemia
  • Fatigue
  • Liver and kidney damage
  • Narcosis
  • Nausea
  • Pulmonary edema

Scientific research also suggests a correlative relationship between prenatal exposure and cerebral changes resulting in neurodevelopmental issues.

8. Perfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)

Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) are two widely-used perfluorinated chemicals that are often used in coatings to resist grease, oil, water, and stains.

What Products Contain PFOA and PFOS?

how to avoid pfoa

Waterproof, stain-resistant, or nonstick items around your home use PFAS, like baking pans, stain-resistant carpeting, and waterproof clothing. You can even find PFAS in shampoo, body wash, and makeup!

Are PFAS Safe?

Exposure to PFAS occurs through ingestion of food and water which contain these chemicals, as well as inhalation of soil and dust containing PFCs. In lab animals, these chemicals have been shown to cause liver damage and have a strong correlation with inhibited growth, development, and reproduction.

How to Avoid PFOA and PFOS

Until more research is done to determine their exact effects on human health, it’s wise to avoid PFCs whenever you can. When cooking, opt for cast iron skillets and copper, ceramic, stainless steel, and glass dishes, pans, and pots.

Filtering your water is another way to reduce exposure to PFCs. Try a convenient water pitcher with a replaceable filter or invest in an under-the-sink reverse osmosis water filtration system that continuously monitors your water quality.

9. Ammonia

household neurotoxins

Ammonia (ammonium hydroxide) is a colorless gas with a distinct, pungent odor. Ammonia is considered extremely corrosive and is one of the most notorious household neurotoxins.

Most ammonia is produced specifically for fertilizers, but it can also be used in plastics, textiles, and dyes. In the home, it's typically found in oven cleaners, glass and window cleaners, and toilet bowl cleaners.

Potential Effects of Ammonia Exposure

dangers of ammonia

There are plenty of natural cleaning alternatives that are incredibly effective. For example, we developed our 99.51% Natural Surface Cleaner to be safe to be used on every non-porous surface.

10. Triclosan

Triclosan is an antibacterial and antifungal agent added to many different consumer products like body washes, toothpastes, cosmetics, dishwashing liquids, as well as some clothing, toys, and furniture.

In recent years, the most common triclosan-containing products have been antibacterial hand soaps and hand sanitizers.

Effects of Triclosan Exposure

Triclosan is generally absorbed in small amounts through the mouth or skin. Animal studies show that symptoms of triclosan exposure include altered hormone regulation, immune system disruption, and the development of antibiotic-resistant germs.

In 2017, the FDA determined that triclosan was not effective for the antiseptic products used in health care settings. The agency went a step further to ban triclosan-containing antiseptic washes, lotions, and gels from being marketed to consumers (though these products can still be found on the market).

Choose Effective, Plant-Based Cleaners & Body Products

Puracy works with PhD chemists, physicians, and dermatologists to develop safe and effective products for families. You don't need to spend hours looking for paraben free cleaners or phthalate free shampoo: Our plant-based items are developed to work really, really well.