You probably already know that many everyday things pose security risks, including these common home hazards you’ll regret ignoring. But you may not realize that other favorite products—ones that make our lives easier or allow us to live more healthfully—can also pose a health risk. “A number of common everyday household items that one might think are innocuous can become hazards,” says James H. Dickerson, PhD, chief scientific officer at Consumer Reports.
You might be surprised to learn that the following helpful—or even healthful—items can actually be deadly if used incorrectly.
These germ killers have become staples of life during the coronavirus pandemic. “The active ingredient for most proper hand sanitizers is ethanol or isopropanol,” Dickerson explains. But with demand for hand sanitizers at an all-time high, some companies have begun manufacturing knockoffs using a different type of alcohol, called methanol. Dickerson says methanol can be lethal if too much is absorbed through the skin. The FDA has warned consumers about these toxic products.
To be safe, buy hand sanitizers from verified sources that will stand behind their product, and keep the product away from children or others who might be tempted to ingest it.
These “cool mist” humidifiers have grown in popularity in recent years, thanks to their nearly silent operation and affordable price points. They’re great at making dry rooms more comfortable by turning water into mist—but they can pose considerable respiratory risks if not used properly. That’s because they aerosolize everything that’s in the water—from minerals in hard tap water (often seen as a white dust that lands on nearby objects) to mold and bacteria that may build up without routine cleaning. Dickerson recommends following any manufacturer instructions carefully, particularly if they advise using distilled or filtered water. He also recommends cleaning humidifiers frequently.
So-called “forever chemicals,” scientifically known as PFAs or perfluoroalkyl substances, are present in everything from reusable food storage and takeout containers to the liners on bottle caps and paper-based food packages, Dickerson says. Heating (or reheating) food in such containers is especially problematic. “As you increase the cooking temperature,” he explains, “the chemicals can leach from containers into the food.” These chemicals are also present in many nonstick pans, which is why you should never heat them to more than 500° F or use utensils that could scratch the coating and release the chemicals. Exposure to these forever chemicals—which never break down and accumulate in the body over time—may have detrimental health effects, such as low infant birth weight, thyroid problems, immune system issues, and may even contribute to cancer. You won’t be able to tell if the food packages you purchase contain PFAs, but you can resolve to use glass storage containers at home and never reheat food in plastic.
Laundry and dishwashing detergent pods
Bright candy colors, a fun squishy texture, and shiny packaging–what’s not for a kid to like? Unfortunately, many kids are drawn to these pods, and with dire consequences. Once the pods are exposed to saliva or even wet hands, they begin to dissolve and release their liquid. People who have swallowed them have died from poisoning and respiratory failure. It’s not just kids, though, who are at risk. Deaths among elderly people with dementia have also occurred.
If you use detergent pods, it’s best to keep them in a locked cabinet. These are the safest laundry detergents.
Human Spraying Air Freshener
Everyone appreciates a clean-smelling home, but commercial air fresheners are not the healthy way to achieve it. Air fresheners release volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, including formaldehyde and other gases. VOCs are considered indoor air pollutants and can trigger allergies, asthma, migraines, and more. In addition, they often contain a class of chemicals called phthalates, which are known hormone disruptors, meaning they can cause birth defects and other medical problems. If you’re trying to rid your home of unpleasant smells, start by opening windows, or try making your own air freshener.
If you have allergies, your safe haven for sleep might actually trigger symptoms. Dust mites love snuggling into mattresses and bedding, so use an airtight plastic cover on your mattress if you’re prone to sneezing. Some mattresses are also made with chemicals such as polyurethane and formaldehyde that can off-gas while you sleep. And if your mattress is more than eight or ten years old, consider replacing it. Otherwise, it may no longer provide the support you need and lead to back pain.
Rotate your mattress frequently, and when it’s time to buy a new mattress, look for one made with organic materials.
Originally Published: May 11, 2018
Originally Published in Reader's Digest by Laurie Budgar
Laurie is a lifestyle writer for RD.com covering current events, finance, technology, and pets. She has spent decades traveling (often solo) around the world, using the latest personal technology, and loving on her pets – and writes about these topics often
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