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5 subtle ways your house might be making you sick

5 subtle ways your house might be making you sick

You probably know lead and asbestos are dangerous substances that can turn up in homes, but you might not know that other chemicals inside our houses, both natural and man-made, can make you sick. These substances can foul your air, water, food, and even the products you use to clean. Some symptoms of sick building syndrome can include irritated eyes, nose, throat, or skin, breathing trouble, fatigue, and confusion; building-related illness may include long-term problems like asthma and allergies. And then there are the chemicals that disrupt hormones or jumpstart cancer. Here are some things you can do that to make your house healthier and reduce your risks.

1. You have toxic dust

The dust in hard-to-reach corners or settled atop your furniture can do more than cause a sneezing fit, it can actually be toxic. Researchers from George Washington University analysed dust samples data from across the United States and found 45 potentially toxic chemicals hiding within, ten of which turned up in 90 per cent of the samples. One repeat offender was TDCIPP, a flame retardant frequently found in furniture and other household items that is thought to cause cancer; phthalates, often found in toys and vinyl flooring, as well as phenols, typically used in cleaning products, were also found in high amounts. Minimise dust by vacuuming frequently (use the proper attachments to reach into corners and under furniture) and regularly wiping down surfaces.

2. You’re addicted to air fresheners

If you’re obsessed with keeping your house smelling fresh, you could be affecting your health. Scented candles, oil diffusers, plugin fresheners, and scented sprays may contain phthalates, chemicals that may disrupt the endocrine system by interfering with hormones. “Phthalates can act as a synthetic hormone inside the body. When we have synthetic chemicals that interfere with natural processes, we start worrying about health issues,” says Lara Adler, an environmental toxins expert and certified holistic health coach. Safely freshen your home by using natural essential oils, buying flowers, or simply opening the windows.

3. Your kitchen is filled with plastic

Plastic storage containers often contain harmful chemicals like BPA, which can leach into your food when reheating or even by filling them when leftovers are still hot. Polycarbonate plastic items (hard and marketed as shatter-resistant) like reusable water bottles, drinking cups, or beverage jugs also often contain BPA, which may interfere with the body’s hormones and potentially raise the risk of developing cancer and diabetes. And don’t let “BPA-free” on the packaging fool you. “Many manufacturers simply replaced BPA with another similar chemical in the same family, which may be just as bad,” says Adler. Avoid plastic whenever possible, says Adler, and opt for glass storage containers or stainless steel water bottles.

4. You spray down your shower with bleach

Bleach will leave your bathroom tiles sparkling clean, but if mould is an issue, bleach could actually make it worse. “Bleach gets rid of mould in tile grout, but it’s very caustic and grout is permeable, so it actually eats away at grout over time and makes tiny holes for more mould to grow,” says Adler. Try using a solution of hydrogen peroxide and water to combat mould spores, be sure your bathroom has proper ventilation to cut back on the humidity mould thrives in and use a squeegee to wipe down the shower walls to get rid of excess water after bathing.

5. You have wall-to-wall carpeting

Wall-to-wall carpeting can be a big problem if you don’t take care of it. “It becomes a sink for all kinds of contaminants,” says Adler. Dust and pet dander can settle into the cushioning and cause allergic reactions. And if you don’t remove your shoes before walking through the house, you can track contaminants from the outdoors all over your carpet, like dirt, pesticides, heavy metals, you name it. “Then your kids or pets crawl on the floor and get it all over themselves,” she says. Regularly vacuum and wash carpets and rugs.

Written by Alyssa Jung and Tina Donvito. This article first appeared in Reader’s Digest. For more of what you love from the world’s best-loved magazine, here’s our best subscription offer.