100 Ways Your Home Could Be Making You Sick
Your trip home every day is a matter of life and death. You're dodging other cars. You're worrying about what to eat. You're ducking your neighbor, the one with halitosis. When you finally shut your front door, a sense of calm prevails: You made it. You're home.
But are you safe?
Shocking new research proves there are health dangers lurking in every house, with threats found in your dishwasher, shower, bedroom and more. In fact, there's not a room untouched by scary substances that might make you sick. We asked the country's top researchers for exactly what the issues are and how to solve each problem, so you can be happier, healthier, and safer—where it matters most.
Your Shoes Track in Fecal Matter
A scataological study by Dr. Charles Gerba, a microbiologist and professor at the University of Arizona, found that your shoes may contain a large number of bacteria, both on the outside and on the inside. In the study, 10 people wore new shoes for a week. At the end of the week, the outside of the shoes averaged 421,000 units of bacteria and 2,887 units were found on the inside. (For context: That's less dirty than a pet bowl but filthier than a door knob.)
Disgustingly, 96 percent of the bacteria found on the shoes was fecal matter, which may have been picked up from the floors of public restrooms or from animal excrement on sidewalks and in grass. If this fecal matter is tracked into your home, your family members may be exposed to it. E. coli and other bacteria in fecal matter can cause gastrointestinal problems, diarrhea, pneumonia or urinary tract infections.
Recommendation: Make it a house rule to take off your shoes before entering the home. Clean your floors regularly with a disinfectant that targets these bacteria. And encourage your family members to wash their hands regularly with antibacterial soap—especially after taking off their Crocs.
Your Purse Could Spread Bacteria
You get home after a long day, toss your purse down on the kitchen counter and start brewing a cup of tea. Unfortunately, that might come with a side of bacteria. According to another study conducted by Dr. Gerba, the bottom of your purse could be teeming with germs, including, you guessed it, fecal matter. After swabbing the outside bottom of 10 womens' purses, each one tested positive for some type of bacteria. This is because many women set their purses down on public restroom floors, on the subway or on grocery store counters. This bacteria can easily be transferred to food or utensils in the kitchen if the purse is placed on the kitchen counter. If transferred to hands and into mouths, these germs can cause a number of illnesses.
Recommendation: Be careful where you place your purse and keep it away from surfaces that may contain food. Wipe down the exterior and interior of your purse with a disinfecting wipe that doesn't contain alcohol or bleach. If your purse is made from cloth, wash it in your washing machine on the "delicate" cycle with cool water and a bit of baby soap.
You Might Have Hidden Mold
"I wish that more people were aware of the dangers of mold, as they extend beyond simple mold allergy," says Dr. Lauren Tessier, a mold specialist. "Many commonplace home issues can be related to mold/water damage:
- those sweating pipes / sweating toilet tank
- the creaking floor in front of your tub
- the stained caulking in your tub/sink
- that closet with the poor ventilation
- that clogged gutter/winter ice damming
- that weak bathroom exhaust fan
- that rarely cleaned dehumidifier filter
- those poorly sealed windows (leading to condensation)
- the uncleaned spot behind the fridge (dust + damp air + poor ventilation = perfect for mold growth)
- those failing French drains
….essentially anything that can lead to water damage and thus mold growth" which could lead to respiratory issues.
Recommendation: "As for action steps: Never clean mold with bleach—although it's widely suggested, it's not the best or safest choice," says Dr. Tessier. "The best choice is to clean mold with hydrogen peroxide, and let it sit in place for 3 minutes before wiping up. Keep in mind, when cleaning mold, people should wear personal protection including a face mask not rated less than p100, in additional to gloves and eye protection. Mold, when stressed, releases toxic metabolites called mycotoxins—these mycotoxins can make people and animals very sick."
Your Home May Have Cancer-Causing Asbestos
"Older homes may have lead or asbestos and those can lead to lifelong illnesses and terminal diagnosis," says Stephanie Cauller, a realtor. According to the EPA, "three of the major health effects associated with asbestos exposure are:
lung cancer; mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer that is found in the thin lining of the lung, chest and the abdomen and heart; and asbestosis, a serious progressive, long-term, non-cancer disease of the lungs."
Recommendation: "Shop for your home carefully, first and foremost," advises Cauller. "Work with a real estate team you can trust including a home inspector and roofer. If it's in a home you have been living in, finding the source is the most important step. No point in remediating the attic if you are not going to repair the roof."
Your Washing Machine Could Make Your Clothes Dirtier
Your washing machine may be teeming with bacteria from dirty clothes you've washed in the past. According to Gerba, "If you wash a load of just underwear, there will be about 100 million E. coli in the wash water, and they can be transmitted to the next load of laundry." This fecal matter carries several types of harmful bacteria, including hepatitis A virus, norovirus, rotavirus and salmonella.
Recommendation: Simply washing your clothes in hot water with detergent isn't enough to combat this harmful bacteria. If appropriate, add bleach or a product that has peroxide when loading your laundry into the washing machine. If you don't want to add these chemicals to your laundry, add bleach to the washer drum and run it through a cycle while it's still empty.
Your House Cleaning Products Could Be Toxic
"Some people think that more products for house cleaning they use, they will be safer. However, some of those products contain serious health hazards and can be quite toxic," says Dr. Nikola Djordjevic, MD.
Recommendation: "That's why you should read the declaration carefully and avoid anything with formaldehyde and perchloroethylene. A good idea would be to turn to home-made cleaning products such as the one we can make with lemon, vinegar or baking soda."
Your Plastic Containers Could Be Hazardous
"Plastic containers we often use for storing food can contain hazardous chemicals like BPA which can be filtered in our food if we store it in those boxes when it's still hot or when we're reheating them," says Dr. Nikola Djordjevic. "Also, containers for liquid might contain BPA which is also very harmful to our overall health."
Recommendation: "Make sure you're using glass or metal containers instead of plastic ones to protect yourself." Or find plastic ones that are clearly marked "BPA free."
Your Laundry Detergents May Cause Psoriasis
"High efficiency laundry detergents are known to help save electricity, water and money but it may come at the cost of your skin," says Julia Eze, MSN, RN, NP-C, an Atlanta-based Family Nurse Practitioner. "These detergents are high in fragrances and soap and have the potential to cause or exacerbate skin issues such as atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, eczema and sensitive skin."
Recommendation: "Fragrance free and noncomedogenic detergents are safe alternatives for this group of people," she says. "Also people should be mindful of how much high efficiency detergent they're using as these only require a fraction of the traditionally recommended use amount."
Your Fragrances Could Cause Central Nervous System Disorders
"Fragrances—like sprays and plug-ins—changed in the 1970s and are now 95% synthetic," says Mary Ann Block, DO, PA. "Numerous chemicals commonly used in fragrance products include: acetone; benzaldehyde; benzyl acetate; benzyl alcohol; camphor; ethanol; ethyl acetate; limonene; linalool; methylene chloride, one or all of which, or in combination with one another, can cause, when inhaled, central nervous system disorders, dizziness, nausea, poor coordination, slurred speech, drowsiness, irritation to the mouth, throat, eyes, skin, lungs and GI tract, kidney damage headache, respiratory failure, ataxia, and fatigue, among other symptoms and illnesses."
Recommendation: Avoid these air fresheners, or find one that does not include chemical ingredients.
Your Child May Need Braces—Because of the Dog
"If your child becomes allergic to pets, their nasal passages can become obstructed, forcing the child to breathe through their mouth," says Dr. Sharona Dayan, a Harvard-trained board certified periodontist and founder of Aurora Periodontal Care. "Mouth breathing is a risk factor for sleep apnea, ADHD, poor facial development and crooked teeth. The mouth closed and the tongue on the roof of the mouth is the key to proper development of the face, teeth and airway. As soon as the mouth opens during mouth breathing the tongue drops and the upper jaw starts to fall down, the lower teeth go back to get away from the upper teeth, the palate collapses and then so does the nose airway."
Recommendation: This is very important in infants up to age 9 when the face and airway are developing to close the mouth, breathe through the nose and place the tongue against the roof of the mouth. "An easy and effective remedy is to avoid keeping pets in the bedroom," says the doctor. "If you notice behavioral changes or crooked teeth in your child be sure to have them tested for allergies and sleep apnea."
Your New Carpet May Give Off Gas
"A new report by Changing Markets, GAIA, and the Ecology Center finds toxic substances" in tons of carpets, including ones you may have in your home, says Mary Ann Block, DO, PA. "These toxic carpets are harming human health." According to the Environmental Protection Agency, many carpets are made of synthetic fibers that have been treated with chemicals that "off-gas"—literally, give off gasses into your home.
Recommendation: Steer clear of rugs made of polypropylene, nylon, or acrylic—and go with healthier options like wool, jute, sisal, mohair, or organic cotton.
You Might Get a Dust Mite Allergy
"Dust mites are one of the most common indoor allergens and a year-round annoyance," according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. "Those allergic to dust mites suffer most in their own homes. Often, you'll notice your symptoms immediately after vacuuming, sweeping or dusting, when you've stirred up dust. Molds, pollen, pet hair, fur or feathers can also contribute to a dust allergy."
Recommendation: "You can lessen or avoid your symptoms by removing items that cause dust allergies. Choose wood floors instead of carpet, clean your house with a vacuum that has a HEPA filter, use mite-proof cases on your mattresses and pillows and wash your linens regularly in hot water. Consider installing a high-efficiency disposable filter in your HVAC system. The filter should have a MERV (minimum efficiency reporting value) rating of 11 to 13 — the higher the MERV rating the better."
Your Door Mat May Contain Fecal Matter
Dr. Gerba also concluded that "bacteria can be tracked by shoes over a long distance into your home or personal space after the shoes were contaminated with bacteria." This means your door mat is susceptible to these high levels of fecal matter and other bacteria as well.
Recommendation: Consider purchasing a doormat made from a material that is easily cleaned, such as plastic or rubber. Use an antibacterial cleaner to wipe down the mat at least once a week. If your doormat is machine-washable, place it in the washing machine at least once a week using hot water.
You Have Pollen Inside the House
"Most people aren't aware that during allergy season, pollen can get into your house and settle on furniture and bedding," reports the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
Recommendation: "Here are some tips:
- One of the best ways to avoid allergy symptoms is to avoid offending allergens. If pollen and mold are seasonal triggers:
- Keep windows closed during pollen season, especially during the day.
- Know which pollens you are sensitive to and then check pollen counts. In spring and summer, during tree and grass pollen season, levels are highest in the evening. In late summer and early fall, during ragweed pollen season, levels are highest in the morning.
- Take a shower, wash your hair, and change clothing after working or playing outdoors.
- Don't wear shoes in the house—the soles can attract pollen which can be left on carpeting and other surfaces."
Your Cockroaches Trigger Asthma
"Cockroach droppings can not only trigger allergies but can trigger and bother asthma," according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. "Since cockroaches require food and moisture to survive, you can help reduce exposure by getting rid of sources of each. In some cases, you may need to hire an exterminator to get cockroaches under control."
Recommendation: "The following steps should be taken:
- Keep your kitchen clean and wash dishes promptly.
- Make sure all food is stored in sealed containers.
- Empty garbage and recycle bins frequently.
- Avoid leaving food out.
- Set roach traps.
- Seal cracks in your home to prevent infestation."
Your Home May Be Filed With Irritants
The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology has a resource on their website—HOME Allergy Management—which goes room by room in terms of indoor allergens. Among those you may find:
- "Smoke—Avoid tobacco smoke and do not allow anyone to smoke in your home or car. If you smoke, try to quit. Do not use woodburning stoves or fireplaces.
- Odors—Stay away from strong odors such as perfume, hair spray, paint, cooking exhaust, cleaning products and insecticides.
- Room air fresheners and electronic air cleaners also can trigger symptoms.
- Cold air—Cover your nose and mouth with a scarf.
- Colds and infections—Wash hands frequently.
- Exhaust—If you have an attached garage, don't start the car and let it run in there. Fumes can make their way into the home even when the garage door is open."
Your Pantry is Making You Fat
"Basically, easy access to a lot of processed packaged foods that don't have good nutritional content. The snack foods are empty calories that have high levels of added salt," says Dr. Eliza Chakravarty, M.D., an immunologist and a rheumatologist at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation. "Yes, they fill you temporarily, but when you are full from snacking on little things, may not be enticed to go have a healthy meal."
Recommendation: "Eat a frozen banana instead of ice cream, eat vegetables with hummus instead of chips," she says. "Your body will thank you."
Your Smoking is Hurting Your Family
"When you're the smoker, it's obviously very bad, but smoking in the house is bad for everyone there," says Dr. Chakravarty. "Second-hand smoke is really dangerous, especially when you have children whose lungs are still developing."
Recommendation: "Stop smoking, and if you don't, at least do it outside where you aren't hurting anyone else, never in confined spaces."
You Air Fresheners May Give You a Rash
"I often see patients for rashes on their eyelids, necks, and hands and they feel as though they try to change a number of products to identify the culprit," says dermatologist Erum Ilyas, MD, MBE, FAAD. "Although it is true that contact dermatitis can be the result of a number of sources, one of the interesting ones that we usually discover through patch testing—a form of skin allergy testing—is airborne contact dermatitis to air fresheners and aerosolized products. Sometimes when you walk into a room and it smells fragrant it can be the result of air fresheners or cleaning agents. For those allergic to fragrances this can be a big problem."
Recommendation: "The exposed areas of their skin and often the thinnest skin areas such as eyelids and necks are frequently affected," says Dr. Ilyas. "This can also occur from allergies to formaldehyde that can be found in smoke from fireplaces and cigarettes. If you suffer from frequent rashes over the face, neck and hands and have trouble identifying triggers, it may be worth considering a trip to your dermatologist for patch testing to identify causes to help pinpoint what to avoid."
You Light Bulbs Might Damage Your Skin
"Another common issue that we frequently discuss these days is sun damage," says Dr. Ilyas. "Many people focus on outdoor exposure to UV light. I have many patients that tell me: 'I never even go outside, I'm at work all day—why am I still seeing new freckles and new evidence of UV damage?!' The reality is that many energy efficient lightbulbs, fluorescent lighting in particular, may have UV that escapes the bulb." How could that be? "Fluorescent light has mercury vapor and emits UV when it is turned on by an electric current," she says. "There is a layer of phosphorus that coats the inside of a bulb that is meant to absorb the UV. However, many studies have shown that there are often cracks in the phosphorus coating that are common and UV escapes these bulbs."
Recommendation: These bulbs "emit UV often in the UVA range," says Dr. Ilyas. "The UVA range does not cause sunburns however it does damage the skin deeply leading to thinning of the skin and freckles and discoloration. Thinking about UV protection indoors or re-evaluating your light sources is important to think about." Look for an LED lamp that produces lower levels of UV (and UVA in particular).
Your Dry Air May Flare Your Eczema
"Dry air in the home can exacerbate or aggravate those with eczema prone skin," says Dr. Ilyas.
Recommendation: "It can help to use moisturizers more frequently and consider adding a humidifier to your home environment to alleviate this issue," she says.
Your Razor May Cause Boils
"Staphylococcus aureus"—a bacterium that can cause infections—"can find its way onto razors," says dermatologist Erum Ilyas, MD, MBE, FAAD. "Once this colonizes our skin, we can find frequent breakouts of pustules and boils over your thighs, buttocks, under arms and nose. It often lives inside our nostrils, under the arms or the fold between the hip and groin."
Recommendation: "When you rest your razor down after shaving, it would help to place it upright in a cup to allow it to air dry instead of face down on the counter or shower ledge to avoid colonization," she says.
Your Bath Towels May Be Infected
The bacteria Staphylococcus aureus may also be in your towels, says Dr. Ilyas.
Recommendation: "Washing towels at least once weekly—if not a couple times a week—will help reduce this exposure," she says. "Once colonized, however, it may be helpful to see your dermatologist to consider a prolonged course of oral antibiotics and a routine topical antibiotic to treat the carrier state over the course of a couple of months to clear this out."
Your Hot Tub Could Give You "Green Nail"
"Green nail syndrome is quite literally when your nails can actually turn green," says Dr. Ilyas, MD, MBE, FAAD. "This can occur from exposure to Pseudomona bacteria in your hot tub or shower."
Recommendation: "It can be easily treated with vinegar soaks but it is a sign that it's important to thoroughly clean water sources in your home that are at a warmer temperature. This bacteria tends to thrive in warm water environments."
Your Shower Floor Might Give You—And Your Family—Warts
"Plantar warts are caused by the wart virus—that's HPV, but not the same one that is considered an STD," says Dr. Ilyas. "The wart virus can find its way onto your shower floor and lead to warts on the feet of other family members!"
Recommendation: "It's helpful to spray the shower down with a cleaner after showering to reduce exposure if you have plantar warts while you have them treated," she says.
Your Doorknobs Could Carry Poison Ivy
With poison ivy making headlines—there's an outbreak in New York City of all places! — "I wanted to mention it for one big reason—the resin from the leaves that causes poison ivy can stay on inanimate objects for years if not washed off," says Dr. Ilyas. "I often find cases of poison ivy in people insistent that they never came into direct contact with it. There can be indirect contact via objects such as doorknobs, rakes and items that had exposure to the resin."
Recommendation: "It's helpful to take a soapy washcloth and wipe down door knobs, rake handles, etc to avoid exposure."
Your Home Remodeling Materials May Pollute You
"Home remodeling and building materials contribute to the quality of your indoor air quality, since chemicals are used in many construction and remodeled buildings," says Dr. Erica Steele DNM ND CFMP BCND of Holistic Family Practice. "Lumber, vinyl, veneers, adhesives, sealants —volatile organic compounds in new or remodeled homes can overwhelm systems with autism and multiple chemical sensitivity. Among the culprits is formaldehyde:
- Lumbar and pressed wood products tend to contain standard adhesives that often contain formaldehyde, which is classified as a human carcinogen.
- Formaldehyde emissions are often recognized by the sweet smell in most new kitchen and bath cabinets.
- Fiberglass insulation is made from mostly silica and when heated to high temperatures releases formaldehyde."
Recommendation: "There are many greener options available that are formaldehyde free, such as insulation made of recycled cotton or cellulose from recycled newspaper which poses no known cancer risk. Both the cotton as well as the cellulose is treated with borate which makes the material resistant to fire. Recycled content fiberglass insulation is also becoming more available—just ask for a minimum of 25 percent post consumer recycled content with a minimum of 50 percent total recycled content. Many floor coverings can also be found in bamboo, cork, or linoleum which omits low volatile compounds."
Your Radon Levels May Be Too High
"Radon is a harmful radioactive gas that develops through the release of uranium when soil and rocks break down underground. This gas can then be released into the home through the cracks of your foundation or even through the water supply, like your faucets," says Alex Berezowski, a, well, foundation repair expert and founder of The Foundation Experts. "It's dangerous because it is virtually undetected by your senses, and it can have detrimental effects on your lungs. For instance, if it is breathed in, it can cause damage to the tissue or in severe cases, lung cancer."
"Radon is a very dangerous carcinogen that is the #2 leading cause of lung cancer, after smoking," agrees Dr. Herman Williams MD. "It can't be detected without special equipment, but it is completely preventable."
Recommendation: "The only way to know for sure if your home is affected is to test for it, either through an at-home test kit or through a radon testing contractor," says Berezowski. "If there is radon detected in the home, you will need to hire a radon mitigation expert. They will set up a ventilation system to pull the radon from beneath the home outside. Additionally, you should ensure your foundation is in good standing—any holes or cracks should be sealed to prevent gas leakage throughout the home."
Your Dry Home May Cause Dry Eye
"Dry eye can be caused or exacerbated by a dry home environment," says Joshua Frenkel, MD, MPH, an ophthalmologist with the Wang Vision 3D Cataract & LASIK Center in Nashville, TN. "If the air in the home is dry, often this is worst during the cooler months, the eyes have a tendency to get dry. This can cause dry eye in those who don't have it or make dry eye worse in those who do. Symptoms of dry eye include:
- Foreign body sensation
- And intermittent blurred vision."
"Another source of dry eye," he continues, "can be ceiling fans, particularly overhead when sleeping at night. Though many enjoy the feel and sound of a ceiling fan over their bed, the eyes use sleep to recharge and get hydrated. For this reason, when people sleep with a ceiling fan, they may wake up with dry eye."
Recommendation: "A solution for this include not sleeping with an overhead fan, but instead to use a tower or table fan that can be directed so it doesn't blow over the eyes. If this is not possible, for instance your spouse is particular, then wearing a sleep mask is also an option to keep the air from blowing into the eyes. Finally, a humidifier in the bedroom (or in the whole house) is a good idea from anyone suffering from dry eye, and can be considered year round."
Your Dander May Cause an Eye Allergy
"Many cases of eye allergy are environmental, and often related to the home environment," says Dr. Frenkel. "Pets are a particular problem for many with eye allergies. Hair, dander, and dust can collect on rugs, couches, and pillows. Exposure can then cause eye allergy. Symptoms include redness, watering, itching, swelling of the white part of the eye (conjunctiva), or the eyelids."
Recommendation: "Over the counter or prescription eye drops can help relieve symptoms and identifying and avoiding exposure can help as well."
Your TV May Cause Sleep Cycle Disruption
"Nighttime exposure of blue light—for instance use of a television, computer, or a cell phone—right before trying to fall asleep can lead to sleep disorders as the eyes are integral to the cycle of melatonin regulation," says Dr. Frenkel. "Light that leans toward the blue end of the spectrum is similar to the natural daylight that we'd see around midday. That's the time when we're supposed to be most productive, so our bodies react to that light by being alert. Exposure at night can prevent someone from being able to fall asleep or get a complete night's sleep".
Recommendation: "I people are having difficulty with this, they should consider reducing or eliminating exposure to blue light. The best way, is simply to avoid the devices. More practically, is adjusting settings on devices to avoid blue light exposure (for instance, on Apple devices, this is called 'Night Shift'). Alternatively, glasses or screen filters that block blue light ('blue blockers') can be worn or used for this purpose."
Your Pills, Products and Cleaning Items May Be Abused
"With substance abuse on the rise, three silent killers in the home are prescription pills, personal care products, and cleaning items," says Dr. Emily Eckstein, PSY.D, LMFT, and Executive Director of the Beach House Treatment Centers. "Prescription medications (benzodiazepines, opiates), personal care items (certain hairsprays, pain relief sprays, nail polish removal), and certain cleaning sprays (computer duster, white board cleaner, spray adhesives) are commonly abused. "
Recommendation: "Of note, if your loved ones are abusing some of the inhalants listed above, you might also notice the misuse of plastic bags, rags, and paper bags which are used in the process of huffing these items," she warns. "While locking up many of these items from youngsters and teens is one form of safeguarding your home, early education is still the most effect method in educating youth."
Your Weight Set Could Harm You—Especially Parents
"Lifting an ever-growing weight set raises the likelihood of lower back injuries over time," says Dr. Alex Wolfe, an upper cervical chiropractor. "Most young parents become less physically active with the birth of their child and deconditioned core musculature makes them more prone to these injuries."
Recommendation: Follow a sensible workout plan, including these 40 Great Exercises For Adding Muscle After 40.
Your Tap Water May Be Unsafe
"In the United States, nearly one-in-four households risk having unsafe tap water to drink or their local municipal water systems have not been properly monitored for contaminants by federal law," according to Dr. Elena Villanueva of Modern Holistic Health. "Just one example is the water crisis happened in Flint, Michigan. Sky-high levels of lead were found in the local tap water and was never publicized or corrected by the FDA back in 2015 when Flint residents finally discovered what was making them and their children sick. It was Marc Edwards, a scientist at Virginia Tech, who played a major role in bringing the crisis to national attention."
Recommendation: "I strongly advocate my clients consume purified water. I personally prefer water that has gone through reverse osmosis, UV filtration, ozonation, AND carbon filtration — all of them. It's easy to find, in fact many grocery stores including Whole Foods has a water machine where you can fill up about 5 gallons for less than 3 dollars. Be sure to use BPA free containers!"
"Water purification systems that remove both chlorine as well as chloramine is critical as well as various heavy metals, chemicals, etc, within the water supply for the home," adds Dr. Erica Steele. "Not only should all drinking water be filtered, shower water needs to be filtered as well as up to 50% of the water we take in comes from our shower through absorption through our skin."
Your Cookware May Cause Infertility
"Many food serving containers contain many chemicals that can leach into our food supply through containers and or for packaging materials. Containers made from plastics contain phthalates, BPAs," says Dr Erica Steele DNM ND CFMP BCND. "These chemicals when leached in to the food supply can affect the male reproductive system, increase prostate and breast cancer risk, as well as effects brain development and can create early onset puberty. Anytime that you place hot food or foods that contain fast, oil, or are acidic in plastic you increase the odds of the number of toxins eaten within your food."
Recommendation: "To prevent exposures avoid storing or using plastic containers to store your food, and/or find plastics that are BPA and Phlataes free. When unavoidable, remove plastic wrapping immediately upon getting home and or cut off the area next to the plastic wrapping. Using lead-free glass, enamel, ceramic, or stainless steel food containers eliminates the risk of chemicals leaching into the food overall."
Your Food May Contain Aluminum
"With standard cookware, many pots and pans are made from aluminum," says Dr. Erica Steele. "If untreated aluminum is used to prepare salty or acids foods, large amounts of aluminum can be released within the food. Many common foods and food additives also contain aluminum, such as anti caking agents, baking powders, baking mixes, buffered aspirin, as well as antacids. It does not appear aluminum is absorbed with ease through the digestive system and it is seen the greater risk lie within personal care products that often contain aluminum."
Recommendation: "Yes, you can still use aluminum, and aluminum foil," she says. "And now they have Thermolon cookware which seems to be a safe alternative for those concerned of aluminum. It also contains no lead and cadmium."
Your Decanters May Contain Lead
"Lead can be found in many glassware and ceramic in products produced before 1990," says Dr. Erica Steele. "It is important to update your cookware products with the updated new materials as they are determining safer and safer options by the year."
Recommendation: "If you still have older decanters, glassware, etc. be sure to never store wine or other beverages in them as the liquid makes it easier to leach metals."
You Clothing and Textiles May be Poisonous
"Many textiles, such as bed linens, couch cushions, and clothing, have been treated using many chemicals," says Dr. Erica Steele. "These chemicals are absorbed and inhaled directly on a daily basis. They not only create toxicity within the body but also leach into the environment leaving an impact on ground water, wildlife, air, and soil. Synthetic fabrics create a huge amount of hazardous chemical waste to include sodium hydroxide and carbon di-sulphide—a neurotoxin found in rayon production that produced thousands of deaths in early rayon manufacturing."
She goes on: "Most synthetic fabrics have also been treated with fire retardants, water repellents, and permanent press chemicals which all emit volatile organic compounds including formaldehyde. Many other fabrics such as polyester, acrylic, nylon etc are also made from petroleum derivatives. These are suspected carcinogens and can perpetuate many skin issues."
Recommendation: "There are many textile companies that are more conscious of the chemical treatments," she says. "Soy fiber can be blended with other fibers to enhance the benefits. Vegetable cashmere is rich with 45% protein content. Many organic textiles are available in wool, silk, hemp, linen, plant fibers as well."
Your Rodent Feces Can Cause Disease
"Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) is a potentially deadly respiratory disease," says Stephanie Cauller, a Re/Max realtor who has seen it all. "And can be caused by contact with rodents or rodent feces. Make sure that any home you live in is free of critters and if there was a problem at one point have it professionally cleaned."
Recommendation: "Hire professionals to remediate mold, infestations or dirty ductwork to a clean and healthy condition!" she says. "Monitor air quality and visually inspect for mold or other issues on a regular basis as part of routine home maintenance. Also be sure to maintain your own personal health and monitor yourself for symptoms. Seek medical attention if needed."
Your "Indoor Time" Might Give You Myopia
"When children spend too much time in the home and indoors they have the tendency to become more myopic, or nearsighted," says Dr. David M Roth, an optometrist and orthokeratologist. "Myopia is an epidemic worldwide. And when you are indoors surrounded by four walls in the ceiling your eyes are never exposed to infinity."
Recommendation: "Children need to be outdoors at least one or two hours a day to help prevent Progressive myopia. Or: One way I stop the progression of nearsightedness is by prescribing special contact lens retainers that the patient sleeps with at night time takes off in the morning and has perfect vision all day long. It works for adults and children."
Your TV Binge Can Ruin Your Posture
"Some of the things that we regularly educate our patients on to evaluate or change within their homes to improve spinal health or overall health are the position of seating relative to the television," says Dr. Alex Wolfe, an upper cervical chiropractor. "With binge watching now the newest endurance sport in most household, leisure posture is of utmost importance."
Recommendation: Sit up straighter when watching the latest Queer Eye. Karamo would be proud.
Your Poor-Grip Surfaces May Break Your Bones
"Falls are one of the most common injuries requiring hospitalization in older people. Lack of stabilizing bars in the home increases the likelihood of these injuries," says Dr. Wolfe.
Recommendation: Equip your home with stabilizing bars in key areas where a fall is likely—the bathtub, for example, or stairwells. And when travelling, ensure your hotel room as these features. Most hotels offer this feature.
Your Pet is Making You Sick
"It's a heartbreaking situation for pet lovers if they have allergy symptoms after being with their pets," reports the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. "Allergy symptoms can be constant because exposure can occur anywhere—in pet-friendly workplaces, restaurants and stores, at school, in daycare, anywhere a pet owner has been."
Recommendation: "Avoidance is the best way to manage a pet allergy, but you don't have to part with your furry family members. Keep your pet out of your bedroom, wash your hands with soap and water after petting or playing with your pet, vacuum with a HEPA vacuum and bath your pet once a week. Once you know the cause of your symptoms, you can take control of your allergies and asthma and start enjoying life again. To find an allergist in your area, use the Allergist Locator tool on the ACAAI website."
Your Couch Sucks You In
"Beware a sedentary lifestyle," says Dr. Eliza Chakravarty, M.D., an immunologist and a rheumatologist at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation. "It's not necessarily secret germs laying in wait as much as it's the temptation to lay down, relax and just stay there. Before you know it, you've spent several hours sedentary and it makes it progressively harder to get the willpower to get up and move. The dangers of an inactive lifestyle are associated with a slew of bad health outcomes, including heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and all of those related conditions. These can not only affect how long you live, but also your quality of life."
Recommendation: "Paradoxically, sitting around and not exercising actually makes you more tired," she says. "Exercising gives you more energy throughout the day. You don't need to start off with a marathon or intensity training, just walk out the front door and move around. Get your heart rate up to where you can still speak but are a little winded." Log off Netflix and try these 25 Easy Exercises That Boost Health Fast.
Your Low Frequency EMF Exposure May Increase Cancer
"Technology advancements for human convenience and efficiency have created a steady increase in man-made low frequency EMF (electro-magnetic field) radiation," says Dr. Rudy Gehrman, DC, Executive Director and Founder of Physio Logic NYC. "Examples of devices that emit EMF radiation are cell phones, microwaves and Wi Fi routers. Research is showing increasing negative health effects due to this type of radiation. Adverse effects are proportionate to the amount of time, strength of exposure levels and distance from these devices. Some of the known health risks to chronic exposure levels are insomnia, headaches, and more recently, the potential to cause cancer or increased cancer risk. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has already categorized low frequency EMF radiation as a class 2B possible carcinogen."
Recommendation: "In order to protect yourself and your loved ones from this health risk, a few simple steps can be followed:
- WiFi routers: Minimize how many you have in your home and keep them out of your children's bedrooms. In our home, we have installed timers to turn off our routers at night, as there is no need to be 'blasting' WiFi while sleeping/not using.
- Microwaves: Keep at least 10 feet away from a microwave while it is on.
- Cell Phones: Power them OFF at bedtime, as the radiation emitted can lead to decreased REM sleep and other possible health issues."
Your Pesticides Might Cause…Don't Ask
Mary Ann Block, DO, PA, quotes the Pesticide Safety Education Program, Cornell University, about the dangers of certain big killers. They can be responsible for:
- "Reproductive effects: effects on the reproductive system or on the ability to produce healthy offspring.
- Teratogenic effects: effects on unborn offspring, such as birth defects.
- Carcinogenic effects: produces cancer in living animal tissues.
- Oncogenic effects: tumor-forming effects (not necessarily cancerous.)
- Mutagenic effects: permanent effects on genetic material that can be inherited.
- Neurotoxicity: poisoning of the nervous system, including the brain.
- Immunosuppression: blocking of natural responses of the immune system responsible for protecting the body."
Recommendation: Consider a natural pest-killer like insecticides made from oil, garlic, chili peppers, or, in your garden, use tomato leaves or diatomaceous earth, a naturally-occurring rock sold in garden shops.
You Might Have Mold in Plain Sight
"Molds live inside and outside your home. They thrive in moist places like bathrooms and kitchens, and unfortunately, many molds aren't visible to the naked eye," according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. "As the spores become airborne, they can cause allergic reactions and worsen asthma symptoms."
Recommendation: "Wear a mask when doing yard work, and once inside, take a shower and rinse your nose with a saline solution to remove mold spores. In the kitchen, clean up any spills or leaks quickly to prevent mold from growing. Use a dehumidifier to reduce moisture in areas like bathrooms and basements. Clean your garbage cans and fridge drawers. For serious mold problems, call a professional."
Your Dirty Air-Conditioner May Cause Respiratory Illness
"This summer, the item you need to be mindful of in your home is your air-conditioning ducts," says Dean C. Mitchell, M.D., Clinical Assistant Professor at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine. "I know in my own home, I saw mold growing around condensation around the air ducts—and fortunately detecting this and getting them cleaned avoided respiratory and skin problems that mold can cause."
Recommendation: "To avoid this, make sure you're frequently cleaning the A\C and other cooling or heating systems in your house," says Dr. Nikola Djordjevic, MD. Clean or change your filters every 90 days, or every 60 days if you have a pet.
Your Home May Have Cancer-Causing Lead
Many homes built before 1978 have lead-based paint. According to the EPA, "Adults and children can get lead into their bodies if they breathe in lead dust (especially during activities such as renovations, repairs, or painting that disturb painted surfaces); swallow lead dust that has settled on food, food preparation surfaces, and other places; eat paint chips or soil that contains lead."
Recommendation: If you think your home has lead-based paint, the EPA provides this checklist:
- "Don't try to remove lead-based paint yourself.
- Always keep painted surfaces in good condition to minimize deterioration.
- Get your home checked for lead hazards. Find a certified inspector or risk assessor at epa.gov/lead.
- Talk to your landlord about fixing surfaces with peeling or chipping paint.
- Regularly clean floors, window sills, and other surfaces.
- Take precautions to avoid exposure to lead dust when remodeling.
- When renovating, repairing, or painting, hire only EPA- or state-approved Lead-Safe certified renovation firms.
- Before buying, renting, or renovating your home, have it checked for lead-based paint.
- Consult your health care provider about testing your children for lead. Your pediatrician can check for lead with a simple blood test.
- Wash children's hands, bottles, pacifiers, and toys often.
- Make sure children eat healthy, low-fat foods high in iron, calcium, and vitamin C.
- Remove shoes or wipe soil off shoes before entering your house."
Your Candles May Emit Chemicals
"Candles contain many volatile organic compounds and omit soot as well as VOCs," says Steele. The EPA goes on: "Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids. They include a variety of chemicals, some of which may have short- and long-term adverse health effects. Concentrations of many VOCs are consistently higher indoors (up to ten times higher) than outdoors."
Health effects, according to the EPA, "may include:
- Eye, nose and throat irritation
- Headaches, loss of coordination and nausea
- Damage to liver, kidney and central nervous system
- Some organics can cause cancer in animals, some are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans."
Recommendation: "Soy candles are a healthy non toxic alternative that burn clean and last 50 to 60 percent longer than the average candle," says Steele. "May older candles made before 2001 contain lead which is volatile once it is burned. Metal wicks not only burn longer but also prevent mushrooming."
Your Old Thermometer Might be a Neurotoxin
"Older thermometers"—those with the neurotoxin mercury—"within the home leaking vapors can create shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, skin rashes, etc," says Steele. "It can also lead to damage to the central nervous system." They're banned in more than 20 states.
Recommendation: "Most thermometers these days are digital and if not should be replaced."
Your Home's Humidity Could Make Your Nose Run
Sudden changes in humidity can cause swelling in the membranes of your nose, leading to a runny or stuffy nose. When the humidity rises outdoors, it can also lead to higher humidity inside your home. Living with a constantly stuffy or runny nose is not only annoying, it can also decrease your ability to focus and can cause sinus infections.
Recommendation: If your home's humidity has increased, set up a dehumidifier to regulate the air quality. Bring the dehumidifier into the room as you sleep and be sure to follow the cleaning and care instructions for the machine.
Your Broken A/C Could Cause a Heat-Related Illness
If your air conditioning system is currently not functioning or if your home is not equipped with an air conditioning unit, you're at risk for developing a dangerous heat-related illness. Exposure to consistently high temperatures can cause your body to fail to regulate its temperature, resulting in electrolyte imbalances and dehydration. The symptoms you experience may vary, but generally include:
- Muscle cramps
Heat-related illness is most likely to develop in the elderly, infants, young children and those with chronic medical conditions.
Recommendation: Keep yourself hydrated! According to the Mayo Clinic, men should drink about 15.5 cups of fluid per day while women should consume about 11.5 cups of fluids. Ensure your air conditioning unit is running soundly. If you don't have a unit, consider installing a window unit to lower your home's temperature during the summer months.
Your Home Could Breed Bedbugs
While bedbugs don't carry disease, they can be a nuisance that compromises your physical and mental health. According to the EPA, bed bug bites can cause allergic reactions, which may be as simple as a mark on the skin or as a severe as anaphylaxis. In some cases, bedbug bites can cause secondary skin infections, such as lymphangitis, ecthyma or impetigo (don't image search those!). It's also been found that living in a home environment with bed bugs can cause residents to experience insomnia and anxiety.
Recommendation: Search your house for bed bug infestations by looking for rusty or red-colored stains on your sheets or mattress. Check the seams and tags of the mattress for infestations and examine the seams of your couches, cushions and the folds of your curtains. If you find bedbugs, contact a pest control professional immediately to eradicate the infestation.
Your Dust Could Give You an Asthma Attack
According to Dr. Alain Jacquet from Faculty of Medicine, Division of Research Affairs, Chulalongkorn University: "House dust mites are one of the commonest sources of airborne allergens worldwide." His study goes on: "Not only can these dust mites cause sinus irritation and inflammation, they can also exacerbate the symptoms associated with asthma. If you suffer from even a mild case of asthma, dust particles and the mites contained in these particles may cause you to experience an asthma attack or a more severe case of this respiratory condition. It was also found that the larger dust particles were more prone to causing these asthmatic problems."
Recommendation: Says the study: "Keep the dust to a minimum in your home by vacuuming and dusting every few days. Bedding and curtains can collect dust and dust mites. Wash these items regularly in the washing machine, if possible. Consider using an air purifier to reduce the amount of airborne dust particles in your home. Keep closet doors closed as much as possible to prevent dust from settling on clothes."
Your Pool Could Be Contaminated
"Pools and hot tubs contain a host of chemicals that include disinfectants, algaecides, clarifiers, surface cleaners, defamers, etc." says Steele. These can lead to skin irritations or worse. (Of course, if you don't disinfect your pool at all, dangerous bacteria can form.)
Recommendation: "Ozone is a more powerful oxidant than chlorine and leaves no harmful by-products," she says. Ask your pool center about it.
Your Vacuum Cleaner Bag May Be Spewing Allergens and Mold
A recent study conducted by the American Society for Microbiology found that vacuum cleaner bags are a "reservoir of bacteria, molds, endotoxins, and allergens." When a vacuum cleaner is operated, these particles can become airborne, attaching to household items. In some cases, these particles can contain harmful bacteria, including Salmonella and Clostridium botulinum. Exposure to these bacteria can cause a variety of ailments, including gastrointestinal infections.
Recommendation: Empty your vacuum cleaner bag or reservoir regularly, specifically after each use. Ensure the vacuum bag is attached properly. Follow the cleaning instructions in your vacuum cleaner's manual so you can take it apart and thoroughly sanitize all parts. Be sure to clean the brush roll and internal filters each time you sanitize your vacuum.
Your Bath mat Could Be Spreading Athlete's Foot
You don't have to be LeBron James to get this: Athlete's foot is a fungal infection that causes itchy feet, sometimes accompanied by rashes, blisters or dry skin. This common infection is contagious and can be spread through direct contact with the infection itself, or through contact with skin particles left behind on surfaces. If a family member contracts athlete's foot, your bath mat can be a breeding ground for this infection. Since you'll more than likely come into contact with your bath mat while barefoot, athlete's foot can easily be spread to other members of your family.
Recommendation: Ensure your family members are practicing good hygiene, including washing and drying feet frequently and thoroughly. At the first sign of athlete's foot, treat the infected area with an over-the-counter antifungal spray. Do not use your bath mat until the infection has been cured. Keep your bath mat clean by washing it in hot water with an anti-bacterial detergent in the washing machine. Thoroughly dry the bath mat after each use.
Your Garage Could Be an Electrical Hazard
The U.S. Fire Administration identified electrical malfunctions as the leading cause of garage fires. It is common for garages to have faulty wiring or other general electrical issues. This is especially dangerous because your garage may store excess household items, many of which are flammable. If faulty wiring begins to heat up or smolder, a fire can easily start in the garage and quickly spread to the rest of the home.
Recommendation: Older homes are more likely to have garages that are wired incorrectly. Seek the assistance of an electrician and ask for a wire and electrical outlet inspection in your garage. Have any old or incorrect wiring fixed by a professional as soon as possible.
Your Canned Foods Might Be Full of Chemicals
The Center for Environmental Health (CEH) released a recent report stating that 40 percent of canned goods tested still contain traceable levels of the chemical bisphenol A (BPA). While the overall percentage of canned goods containing BPA has decreased, it's still apparent in canned goods on grocery store shelves throughout the country. This chemical is linked to:
- Birth defects
- Breast cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Heart disease
BPA is present in the lining of these contaminated canned goods, allowing it to leak into the food and be ingested.
Recommendation: Use fresh or frozen alternatives and avoid canned foods altogether. Examine your canned goods and only use those that are labeled as "BPA Free." Consult with grocery store employees to ensure the canned goods you're purchasing are free of BPA.
Your Shower Curtain Could Make You Sick
PVC shower curtains and liners are popular because they're waterproof and inexpensive. However, results from a study conducted by the Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ) found that these liners may contain harmful chemicals, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs), phthalates and organotins. Shower curtains and liners can release these chemicals into the air. Consistent exposure to these airborne toxins can cause negative health effects, including:
- Respiratory irritation
- Central nervous system damage
- Adverse effects on the liver and kidneys
- Loss of coordination
- Young children, elderly family members and those with compromised immune systems are more likely to experience these negative health effects.
Recommendation: Before purchasing a shower curtain, check the label and ensure it was not made with PVC. If the shower curtain label does not include a list of materials used in its construction, avoid buying it. Look for shower curtains that are labeled as "PVC free" and consider replacing your old curtain or liner if you suspect it was made with PVC.
Your Cat's Fur Can Make it Hard for You to Breathe
If you have an indoor cat, your home is riddled with pet dander, microscopic flecks of skin shed by animals with feathers or fur. Even short-haired or hairless cats carry dander, which can easily become airborne and stay suspended in the air, since each particle is lightweight and tiny. They can also easily stick to furniture and other household items. If you have the slightest allergies related to pets, excessive pet dander can make your symptoms worse. You may experience:
- Runny nose
- Chest tightness
- Itching and/or watery eyes
- Eczema or skin rashes
Even if your cat no longer lives in the home, it can take weeks or months for the pet dander to subside and your symptoms to clear.
Recommendation: Sorry Garfield! The best way to eliminate pet dander is to remove your cat from the home. After removal, clean the home thoroughly, including couches and bedding. If you cannot remove the cat from the home, keep the animal out of the bedrooms of any household members who experience these symptoms. Keep your cat brushed and clean and vacuum the home frequently.
Your Bar Supplies Might Lead to "Overpouring"
"What are the things in your home that can make a person sick? Alcohol, first and foremost," says Dr. Tarek Hassanein from the Southern California Liver Center. "However, not just having the alcohol, but the other aspects that contribute to consumption of it. For example, many people do not measure our drinks, or use standard size shot glasses. By overpouring, you are overdrinking—this means the liver is now working overtime because of the excess. This, combined with poor diet and low mobility, which a lot of Americans see today, are all contributing to this issue."
Recommendation: "Prevention, attention, and retention are the name of the game when it comes to this. Getting things like proper sized shot glasses, or making sure to take note of how much alcohol goes into a glass is the first step," says Dr. Hassanein. "Attention is the next facet—this means you are paying attention to your preventative measures you take. Do not falter and pour a drink carelessly, or pick up something at the store that is clearly an unhealthy treat every time you go out. Finally, retention is the final step in the process—this means that you are retaining the new mindset you have of preventiveness, and balance. By practicing these lifestyle changes, it will greatly impact how you not only feel, but how your body operates too."
Your Screens May Damage Your Skin
"High energy visible light comes from your computers, LEDs, synthetic lights, cell phones, and TVs, and this wavelength penetrates deeper and is more damaging to your skin because the rays reach further down in the dermis—the deep layer of your skin," says Dr. Wendy Kar Yee Ng, MD, FRCSC. "It is responsible for up to 50% of macular degeneration. This type of light is likely the reason why more children are nearsighted earlier now—from playing too many video games or excessive amounts of screen time. HEV light also causes premature skin aging."
Recommendation: "If you have an iPhone, you should put it on night shift mode in order to protect your eyes from these rays," she says. "Certain brands of sunglasses, such as Maui Jim sunglasses, also protect your eyes from HEV light. And some medical-grade sunscreens, such as the ZO line of preventative and therapeutic skin care products, contain fractionated melanin which protects from this wavelength of light. In contrast, standard over the counter sunscreens may only protect against UVA and UVB light." And above all else: "Minimize your screen time. Protect your eyes and your skin!"
Your Old Carpet May Reduce Your Home's Air Quality
Even if you vacuum your carpet regularly, if it's been in your home for a while, it may still be home to allergens, dust mites and dirt. Vacuuming old carpet only eliminates the particles on the surface. However, bacteria and allergens are still present within the layers of the carpet, including the padding. These allergens can become airborne and negatively impact the air quality in your home. Poorer air quality can exacerbate the symptoms of asthma and cause additional health problems, such as allergies or sinus infections.
Recommendation: Replace older carpet with hard surface flooring, such as hardwood or tile, if possible. Eliminate wall-to-wall carpeting wherever possible and update old carpeting every few years. Ensure bedrooms, especially children's bedrooms, have newer carpeting or hard surface flooring.
Your Kitchen Towel Could Give You an Infection
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a type of bacteria that can survive on surfaces for weeks. It's commonly found on kitchen towels, furniture or athletic equipment. This bacteria can be spread by contact with the surface. If it's exposed to a cut, scrape or open wound, MRSA can cause an infection.
Recommendation: Keep your hands clean by frequently washing with antibacterial soap for at least 20 seconds each time. Keep any open wounds covered at all times. Wash your kitchen towels with an effective detergent in the washing machine regularly and change them out frequently.
Your Kitchen Sponge Could Spread Germs
Since your kitchen sponge is used to clean up food particles, it's considered one of the germiest items in your home. Your sponge usually spends most of its time in a wet and dark environment in your sink or kitchen drawer, which is the ideal place for bacteria and mold to grow. Using this sponge to wipe down different surfaces in your kitchen only spreads this bacteria to other places in your home. Depending on the type of bacteria your sponge has, it could make you and your family members sick.
Recommendation: Consider using paper towels or a clean cloth to wipe down surfaces in your kitchen. The cloth should only be used once before it is thoroughly washed and dried or thrown out. If you still plan to use a kitchen sponge, soak it in a solution of one cup of bleach to one gallon of water, or vinegar and water for 20 to 30 minutes between uses. Rinse the sponge thoroughly and allow it to dry before using it again.
Your Toilet Water Can Make You Sick
When you flush your toilet without closing the lid, particles from inside the toilet water can become airborne and land on other bathroom surfaces, such as counters. C. difficile is a bacteria that may be found in toilet water and is one to be most concerned about. It can cause gastrointestinal issues, from diarrhea to life-threatening inflammation of the colon. The U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health conducted an experiment to better understand the bacteria omitted by flushing a toilet without a lid. It was found that "surface contamination with C. difficile occurred within 90 minutes after flushing."
Recommendation: If your toilet does not have a lid, install a new seat that includes a lid. Always close the lid before flushing the toilet and encourage all family members to do the same.
Your Cutting Boards May Not Be Clean
Cutting boards can be another source of bacteria in your kitchen. If you're using the same cutting boards to prepare meats, such as poultry, as you are to chop up vegetables or other foods, you can spread bacteria like Escherichia coli (E. coli). If this bacteria is ingested from raw food, it can cause severe abdominal cramps, diarrhea or vomiting. Cut it out!
Recommendation: Have a few different cutting boards available in your kitchen and label them for raw meats, vegetables and bread. Washing your boards in the dishwasher isn't enough to disinfect them. Instead, soak them in a solution of no more than one cup of bleach or vinegar to one gallon of water for about 30 minutes. Rinse them with hot and soapy water, then place them in the dishwasher for the entire cycle.
Your Toothbrush Could Transmit Diseases
Well of course it could! Your toothbrush is stored in a dirty room and then used to clean your dirty mouth. According to researchers Michelle R. Frazelle and Cindy L. Munro: "Toothbrushes of healthy and oral diseased adults become contaminated with pathogenic bacteria from the dental plaque, design, environment, or a combination of factors." It was found that bacteria contaminated brushes early on in the lifecycle and the contamination increased after repeated use. The bacteria found on these toothbrushes can transmit diseases and spread microorganisms when used.
Recommendation: Don't share your toothbrush and take a few seconds to rinse it off with water after each use. Store your toothbrush upright and allow it to dry thoroughly after using it. When it's dry, keep it covered, if possible. Replace your toothbrush with a new one every three to four months.
There May Be Bacteria in Your Refrigerator
You may think that the job of a refrigerator is to keep bacteria away. However, the cold environment of a fridge generally just slows down the process of bacteria growth. The more times you open and close the door of your refrigerator, the more it's exposed to warmer and more humid air. This makes it more likely to grow mold and bacteria faster. If your refrigerator is home to these contaminants, they could easily spread to the food inside, making you or your family members sick.
Recommendation: Use a vinegar solution to wipe down all surfaces inside your fridge, at least once per month or whenever you notice dirt or grime inside. Don't forget to clean the racks, shelves and drawers thoroughly with this solution. Make sure the refrigerator door handles are also clean and free from food particles. Try not to keep your refrigerator door open for too long when taking items out.
Fleas Could Give You Typhus
If you live in a subtropical environment, such as southern California, Hawaii or Texas, you may be susceptible to flea-borne typhus, or murine typhus. This is a disease caused by the bacteria Rickettsia typhi and spread to humans through contact with infected fleas. Fleas can become infected by biting infected animals, including rats, opossums or cats. If you're bitten by an infected flea or you rub your eyes with hands that were exposed to infected flea dirt, you may contract this disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control, symptoms show two weeks after contracting the disease and may include:
- Fever and chills
- Body aches
- Muscle pain
- Loss of appetite
- Stomach pain
- Rash (usually shows after the 5th day of illness)
Recommendation: While there is no vaccine to prevent the contraction of flea-borne typhus, you can reduce your risk by eliminating exposure to fleas. Use high-quality flea control products for your household pets. Keep rodents and other wildlife away from your home and yard. Also, use safe insect repellent when going outside.
Your Garbage Disposal is Breeding Bacteria
If you use your garbage disposal frequently, it may still have food particles that can easily breed bacteria. When decaying food is left in this wet and dark environment, it's the perfect breeding ground for mold spores or other types of bacteria, which can easily become airborne. This can produce an unpleasant smell and can attract flies or other bugs to your kitchen sink.
Recommendation: Run your garbage disposal thoroughly with running water to ensure food particles go completely down the drain. Use a brush and bleach solution to scrub as far down into the disposal as you can safely at least once a week.
Your Dry-Cleaned Clothes May Be Toxic
Some dry cleaning facilities use a chemical called Perchloroethylene (PERC) in their process. This manufactured chemical is considered a volatile organic compound (VOC) and long-term exposure to it can cause health concerns. People with a disease of the heart, liver, kidneys or lungs are usually more susceptible to the negative health effects associated with PERC, including:
- Respiratory failure
- Memory loss
- Dry and cracked skin
Recommendation: When you first bring home your dry cleaned clothes, unwrap them outside and let them air out for a few minutes before bringing them in. If you notice a strong smell on your dry cleaned clothes, bring them back and ask them to be drycleaned again. Or even better: Find an organic dry cleaner, or avoid dry cleaning if possible and hand wash or use wet cleaning, liquid carbon dioxide cleaning or silicone-based cleaning machines instead.
Your Dishwasher May Be Growing Fungus
You may notice a black fungus on the seal around your dishwasher door. If so, you may be looking at Exophiala dermatitidis. This is a fungus that grows well in high heat and is resistant to most detergents. With excessive exposure, this fungus can cause pulmonary infections.
Recommendation: Any time you notice this black fungus on your dishwasher's seal, scrub it away using a paste made of baking soda and vinegar. To ensure the rest of the dishwasher is clean, pour a few cups of vinegar into the machine and run it through a cycle.
Your Can Opener Might Contaminate Your Food
It's easy to use your can opener to open a can of beans or corn and then simply throw it back into the drawer. However, by reusing the opener without washing it, you could be spreading germs to your food. According to NSF International, a can opener is one of the six germiest items in the kitchen because it usually contains food particles. These particles can allow bacteria, such as Salmonella, E. coli, yeast and mold, to grow. If these bacteria enter your food, it can make you and your family members sick.
Recommendation: Always clean your can opener after each use with warm, soapy water. Allow it to dry thoroughly before placing it back in a drawer. Complete a thorough cleaning once every few weeks using a cotton swab and vinegar to ensure the crevices are free from food particles. If your can opener looks dirty or rusty, replace it with a new one as soon as possible.
Your Garden Hose May Not Be Safe to Drink From
You may have been safe drinking water form a garden hose a kid, but garden hoses these days may be made from materials that make water unsafe to consume. The Ecology Center completed a garden hose study that found PVC garden hoses contained dangerous contaminants, including the following:
- Your body can be exposed to these contaminants if you drink or use water from these hoses.
Recommendation: Check the label on your garden hose and look for a warning not to drink from it or a California Prop. 65 warning. This means the hose contains lead and may provide water that is not safe. PVC hoses are more likely to contain these contaminants so purchase a hose made from polyurethane instead. Always run the hose water for a few seconds before using it to ensure the water that has been sitting in the hose is cleared out first.
Neglected Gas Appliances Can Make You Feel Sick
According to Dr. Erica Steele, DNM ND CFMP BCND, if you have a malfunctioning, unvented or backdrafting gas appliance, you may be putting yourself at risk. If you have a furnace, stove, dryer, water heater or other appliance that runs on gas and is not functioning properly, your home may be exposed to carbon monoxide, nitrogen and sulfur dioxides. These chemicals can make you feel like you have the flu, with symptoms such as:
- Impaired vision
- Ear, nose and throat irritations
Recommendation: Have all gas appliances inspected by a professional annually to ensure they are functioning properly. If one of your gas appliances breaks or doesn't seem to be working correctly, contact a local repair professional immediately. Keep up with all maintenance for your appliances, as suggested by the manufacturer.
Your Home Office Could Make You Dizzy
According to the EPA, home office supplies and equipment, including printers, copiers, correction fluids (like white-out) and carbonless copy paper may contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs can affect the air quality in your home and can have adverse health effects on you and your family members, such as:
- Nose and throat irritations
While using equipment or supplies that contain VOCs and directly thereafter, the levels of compounds in the air are known to be higher.
Recommendation: Increase ventilation when you use products or equipment that you know may increase VOCs. Keep windows and doors open when using the printer, copier or correction fluid. Follow the manufacturer's labels for warning and follow the proper directions for use and storage. Always throw away or tightly seal unused products.
Your Paper Towels May Contain Formaldehyde
Dr. Steele warns that your paper towels may contain formaldehyde, a harsh chemical toxin. While formaldehyde is not toxic when exposed in small amounts, consistently using products that contain this chemical may lead to overexposure. Some people are more sensitive to formaldehyde than others and they may experience irritation of the eyes, nose and throat or an increased tearing of the eyes. In some cases, children are more sensitive to this chemical exposure.
Recommendation: Dr. Steele recommends purchasing green or recycled paper towels that are chemical-free. Check the label on the product to ensure they are 100 percent free of chemicals. You can also use washcloths instead of paper towels to reduce waste.
Your Hair Dryer Exposes You to Harmful Radiation
You use your hair dryer extremely close to your head so it's concerning that this device may emit harmful radiation. According to Dr. Steele, you are exposed to close excessive electromagnetic fields when you use this common appliance, which can negatively impact your health and wellbeing.
Recommendation: Dr. Steele recommends that you skip using the hair dryer and allow your hair to towel or air dry. You can also place it in a braid to reduce frizz.
Your Coffee Maker Might Be Full of Mold
According to the 2011 NSF International Germ Study, a coffee reservoir was found to contain 50,585 average normalized microorganisms per 10 square centimeters. These counted microorganisms can include many types of bacteria, such as yeast, mold, Staph or Coliform. Whether you use a classic coffee maker or a "pod-based" machine, the reservoir may not be as clean as you think. Since this area is usually moist and dark, it's the perfect home for mold and other types of bacteria to grow and thrive. If you ingest these types of bacteria in large, you are at risk for getting sick.
Recommendation: Clean your classic coffee maker or pod-based machine's reservoir everyday by swirling warm soapy water and rinsing it with clean water thoroughly. Decalcify monthly by running vinegar through the coffee making cycle, then clean water through the same cycle.
Your Pet's Accessories Could Give You a Disease
The NSF International Germ Study found that a pet bowl had 473,828 average normalized microorganisms per 10 square centimeters. A pet toy (tennis ball) measured in at having 29,365 average normalized microorganisms per 10 square centimeters. In many cases, the microorganisms found on these pet accessories may contain particles of fecal matter. According to Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, contact with even microscopic pet fecal matter may put you at risk for contracting an enteric disease, such as Campylobacter or salmonella. These diseases affect the intestines and lead to illness.
Recommendation: It's important to consistently wash your hands, especially after touching any pet accessories or pets in general. Wash your pet's food and water bowls with soap every day. Keep pet toys out of the home if possible, or replace them once they're dirty. Never let your pet lick your mouth or open wounds.
Your Blender Could Have Salmonella
Your blender gasket is a hard component to clean and according to the NSF International Germ Study, it may be contaminated with Salmonella, e. Coli, yeast or mold. As a small rubber part that is generally moist, these contaminants find it easy to grow in this environment. Your blender gasket comes in direct contact with the food you eat and if you ingest enough of these harmful bacteria, you may become sick.
Recommendation: Your blender should be thoroughly cleaned every time you use it. Read the manufacturer's cleaning instructions to ensure you are cleaning the machine properly. If your blender components are machine washable, take them apart and run them through your dishwasher. However, it is important to not submerge the base of the blender in water or you may damage the electric components.
Your DIY Project Could Expose You to VOCs
The EPA found that many common hobby supplies contained VOCs, which can be harmful to your health. The most common DIY items that were found to contain these compounds include:
- Wood preservatives
- Aerosol sprays
- Glues and adhesives
- Permanent markers
- Photographic solutions
Recommendation: If you plan to embark on a DIY project using materials or products you know may contain VOCs, be sure you are in a well-ventilated area. Keep windows and doors open and increase ventilation as much as possible. Read all product labels for warnings and throw away unused product carefully and as recommended by the manufacturer.
Your Wrinkle Spray May Have Formaldehyde
Urea-formaldehyde resins are used to stimulate stiffness and Dr. Steele warns these harsh chemicals can be found in wrinkle-resistant sprays and products. Excessive exposure to formaldehyde can cause eye, nose and throat irritation to those who are sensitive to this chemical.
Recommendation: Dr. Steele suggests ditching these chemically-enhanced products and using a steam iron or a clothing steamer that uses water to eliminate wrinkles instead.
Your Wood Stove or Fireplace Can Threaten Your Air Quality
"Wood stoves and fireplaces emit carbon monoxide, nitrogen, and sulfur dioxides, while also adding heavy load to the air quality," says Dr. Steele. While fireplaces and wood stoves are helpful for warming up the home and provide a comfortable feel, they can greatly reduce the quality of the air inside the room. This can lead to negative short-term effects, including irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, headaches, dizziness and fatigue.
Recommendation: If you still want to use an additional heat source in your home, Dr. Steele recommends an infrared heater, which has no effect on air quality. She says: "The new far infrared heaters provide high efficiency with safety while reducing heating costs."
Your Bed Is Killing Your Immune System
If your bed is old or uncomfortable and you can't seem to get a solid sleep in, it could be affecting your health. According to the National Sleep Foundation, a good night's sleep is not only important for your energy level and body function, but also for your immune system. Without sufficient sleep, the body makes fewer cytokines, which are a protein responsible for your immune response. Without these important protein, you are more likely to get sick, especially during influenza season.
Recommendation: Ensure your bed is comfortable and your bedroom provides you with the right environment to invite sleep. Get at least seven to eight hours of solid sleep per night to ensure your body produces enough cytokines to keep your immune system working properly.
The Food in Your Pantry Has GMOs
According to the Non-GMO Project, GMOs are "living organisms whose genetic material has been artificially manipulated in a laboratory through genetic engineering." Most animals, plants and bacteria that are genetically modified are changed so they can withstand the application of an herbicide or insecticide. While the harmful effects to humans are inconclusive, these genetically modified organisms usually are ridden with chemicals from pesticides and should be avoided.
Recommendation: According to Dr. Steele, due to cross pollination, even organic foods may have been tainted. She suggests "avoiding foods with corn, corn flour, dextrin, starch, soy, so sauce, margarine or tofu to greatly reduce your GMO exposure."
Your Makeup Bag Is Causing Skin Irritation
Makeup brushes that are used frequently without being washed can breed bacteria. According to Gemma Clare, a holistic makeup and skincare expert, makeup brushes can be riddled with "bacteria and skin pathogens, skin parasites, yeast and fungus." These contaminants can lead to skin irritations, including "boils, impetigo, pimples and rosacea, as well as infections in the body and loss of vision, and even life-threatening illnesses including meningitis and sepsis."
Recommendation: Clare recommends paying attention to the expiration dates on your products and throwing them out when expired. She also suggests you clean all makeup brushes with lukewarm water and a brush cleaning solution or a gentle soap once every week.
Your Houseplants Are Triggering Your Allergies
While houseplants are generally known to contribute to the air quality inside your home, they may also be enhancing your allergy symptoms. According to the EPA, it is important not to overwater your house plants because "overly damp soil may promote the growth of microorganisms which can affect allergic individuals."
Recommendation: Follow the watering instructions for your specific house plant. Generally, if the soil is dry, you should add water until it becomes damp. However, do not let the water overflow or puddle around the plant.
Your Air Ducts Are Making You Ill
Your home's air ducts should stay clean, free from mold, pests, moisture and dust. If your air ducts are dirty and grow mold, you and your family members can begin to experience symptoms of allergies, asthma or respiratory illness. When air ducts are filled with dust or mold, these contaminants are distributed throughout the home when the air conditioning unit is circulating air.
Recommendation: While the EPA states that duct cleaning cannot prevent health problems, it may help with the air quality inside the home. If you or your family members are suffering from these symptoms or you can visibly see mold or dust in your or ducts or on your register grills, you should consider getting a professional air duct cleaning.
Your Remote Control is Spreading Germs
In the NSF International Germ Study, it was concluded that 68 percent of the participating families had yeast and mold on their home's computer keyboards. Additionally, 59 percent of these participating families had these contaminants on their video game controllers. Coliform was also found in 81 percent of the families' homes. Remote controls were where five percent of this bacteria was located. Exposure to yeast, mold and Coliform may elicit allergic responses in some sensitive residents.
Recommendation: Use hand sanitizing wipes to wipe down your remote controls, video game controllers and keyboards when they start to look grimey or dirty. Once a month, take apart the controls using a small screwdriver and use a duster to eliminate any dirt. You can use an air duster to clean between the keys on your computer keyboard.
Your Fridge's Meat Compartment Can Give You Food Poisoning
The NSF International Germ Study labeled the refrigerator meat compartment drawer as one of the germiest places in the kitchen. These drawers were found to have Salmonella, E.coli, yeast and mold present. When ingested, these bacteria can cause the symptoms of food poisoning, including vomiting and diarrhea.
Recommendation: Wipe down your fridge daily, especially if you have a spill or notice an item has leaked. If your meat compartment has any types of liquids in it, use antibacterial spray and a paper towel to eliminate it. Every few months, remove all items from the fridge and use a cleaner and paper towels to thoroughly clean all components.
The Handles in Your Kitchen Are Exposing You to Germs
The same NSF International study also found that the knobs and handles in your kitchen are full of bacteria and germs. The elements that mostly tested positive for Coliform, yeast, mold and staph include:
- Stove knobs
- Refrigerator handle
- Microwave handle
- These bacteria are easily spread to countertops and the food that's being prepared in the kitchen. This puts family members at risk for sickness.
Recommendation: Use a food-safe antibacterial wipe to clean your kitchen countertops and appliances everyday, especially before you prepare a meal. Don't forget to wipe down all handles and knobs with your wipe. Every week, use a disinfectant to thoroughly clean the kitchen.
Dust Mites in Your Bed Are Affecting Your Allergies
Believe it or not, dust mites can still affect you, even when you sleep. Dr. Steele states that: "Dust mites feed on human skin flakes and can create allergic responses to include common allergy symptoms, such as runny nose, sneezing, watery eyes, etc." If your bedroom or bedding is affected by dust mites, you may feel these effects when you first wake up in the morning.
Recommendation: Dr. Steele recommends "wearing a cotton protective clothing layer while sleeping." She also reiterates the importance of dusting and vacuuming regularly, especially if your allergies are affected by the presence of dust mites. Using a wet cloth to dust furniture before you vacuum can ensure you don't scatter dust around your home.
Your Rubber Spatula Could Give You a Foodborne Illness
In the NSF International 2013 International Household Germ Study, a rubber spatula tested positive for three out of five contaminants, including e. Coli, yeast and mold. Since a rubber spatula contains components that can be hard to clean, these contaminants can find a breeding ground on this common kitchen tool. If they are not removed before use, this harmful bacteria could get into food during the preparation process and cause foodborne illness.
Recommendation: If your spatula is dishwasher safe, clean it in the machine after each use. If it's a two-piece spatula, remove the wooden handle and place both pieces separately into the dishwasher. To hand wash the spatula, soak it in hot, soapy water and scrub off all food particles. Pay close attention to where the wood handle meets the rubber spatula and allow it to dry thoroughly before using it again.
The Products in Your Garage Could Give You a Headache
Chances are, your garage is full of automotive and home improvement related products, including oil, gas, paint or other chemicals. If you often find that you get a headache or feel dizzy after spending time in your garage, these products might be to blame. The EPA names these types of household products as sources of VOCs. While exposure to VOCs do not affect everyone, those sensitive to these compounds can complain of headaches, dizziness and nausea.
Recommendation: If you plan to spend time in the garage, keep the doors and windows open, if possible. Keep products closed and sealed when not in use and never mix these products together.
Your Knife Block is Spreading Allergens to Your Food
The 2013 NSF International Household Germ Study concluded that moist and dark places in the kitchen were the most susceptible to mold and yeast growth. While it may not be the first place you think of, keep in mind your knife block creates the perfect environment for these bacteria to thrive. If you put a knife away while it's still damp, you've essentially contributed moisture to the already dark space of the knife block slit, encouraging these bacteria to grow. Once your knives are contaminated, yeast and mold can easily spread to the food you're preparing.
Recommendation: Clean and sanitize your knife block once a month. Take all the knives out, then handwash the block in soapy, warm water. Rinse it with solution of one tablespoon of bleach to a gallon of water for about a minute before rinsing thoroughly. Allow all components to dry before putting the knives back in.
Your Refrigerator's Vegetable Tray Is Contaminating Your Food
The same NSF International study also found that refrigerator vegetable trays are likely to contain salmonella, Listeria, yeast and mold. Even if you buy organic vegetables, if you place them in a contaminated vegetable tray, they could make you or your family sick.
Recommendation: Be sure your refrigerator temperature is under 41 degrees and you're keeping washed vegetables away from unwashed vegetables. Empty and clean your vegetable tray at least once a month with soap and water. Remove rotting vegetables immediately from the tray and thoroughly clean the tray after removal. And to live your happiest and healthiest life, don't miss this essential list of the 50 Unhealthiest Habits on the Planet.