Is Your House Toxic?

Common household products can have a negative impact on your health—find out which ones you should toss.
Photo by Morgan Maassen

By Jeffery A. Morrison, M.D.

You buy organic produce, avoid conventionally raised meat, but did you know your living environment can also have a tremendous impact on your health? Here’s how to limit your exposure to the toxins frequently found in everyday items—and some safer, healthier alternatives.

1. Plastics
Chemicals like BPA and phthalates are found in plastic bottles, bags, food containers and the lining of cans. These chemicals are considered “endocrine disruptors,” meaning they disrupt normal hormone function. They can leach into food and drinks when heated, agitated or stored for long periods of time.
Healthy Solutions:
• Never pour hot liquids into, or microwave anything, in a plastic container, even if it says it’s “microwave-safe.”
• Choose glass and ceramic food-storage containers instead of plastic.
• Prevent food from coming into direct contact with plastic.

2. Teflon pans
Another type of endocrine disruptor, perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) are used in nonstick surfaces, like Teflon. Heating them releases them into the air, where they are inhaled.
Healthy Solutions:
• Choose cookware made from stainless steel (All-Clad, Calphalon, Cuisinart MultiClad); ceramic enamel (Xtrema, Cuisinart Elements, GreenPan); ceramic titanium (Anolon, Scanpan); cast iron (Le Creuset, Staub) or oven-safe glass (Pyrex, Anchor Hocking).

3. Air fresheners and scented candles
You may think that these “cleanse” the air, but they’re actually pollutants. Burning paraffin produces harmful chemicals like toluene, which when inhaled over time may contribute to the development of health risks like cancer, asthma and allergies.
Healthy Solutions:
• Open windows to allow fresh air to ventilate rooms.
• Use fresh or dried lavender or eucalyptus to scent the air naturally.
• Try essential oil blends like Yamuna Wellness Booster Spray instead of chemical air fresheners.

4. Dry-cleaned clothes
Dry cleaning uses a cancer-causing chemical called perchloroethylene, aka “perc.” Perc lingers on dry-cleaned fabrics, including wool, cotton and polyester (but not silk) for up to a week. It is gradually released into the air, where it can be inhaled.
Healthy Solutions:
• Choose clothing that’s washable.
• Look for dry cleaners that use liquid carbon dioxide as part of a newer “wet cleaning” method.
• Let your dry cleaning air out outdoors, to avoid bringing perc into your home.

5. Fabric softener and dryer sheets
These work by coating your clothes in chemicals, such as quaternary ammonium compounds, which are known to cause asthma and allergies.
Healthy Solutions:
Don’t use them; instead add half a cup of white vinegar during the rinse cycle, which softens fabrics naturally.

Jeffrey Morrison, M.D., is the founder of The Morrison Center ( in New York City. To get the free e-book, Green Your Space, go to