Speaking as someone who was raised by a recovering hippie, I’m rarely surprised when a national news source announces the many ways in which seemingly benign household items can be bad for your health. Thanks to my mom, I knew about the potential health risks of antiperspirants long before celebrities like Cameron Diaz and Bradley Cooper started talking about why they don’t use the stuff. I’ve known about the dangers of using plastic water bottles and certain makeup products for years, too. But I only recently learned that everything from the mattresses I sleep on to the baby powder I’ve used on my nieces’ butts can contain toxic, health-jeopardizing chemicals.
Although the U.S. has made some progress concerning the banning of harmful chemicals in our everyday items, there are still so many household items that contain harmful chemicals. Recent studies show that canned foods contain Bisphenol A (BPA) — a chemical that’s been associated with everything from diabetes to reproductive health problems. On top of that, even non-toxic items (like environmentally-friendly sponges) can be bad for you if you don’t clean them properly.
Fortunately, there are plenty of healthy alternatives to the toxic items we use everyday, so there’s really no reason to freak out super-hard about all of this. That said, you should try to stay away from the following items. Here are six household items that can be bad for you.
Though the chemical is becoming less and less common, (it's been banned in several states) retailers have been using polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) to make their mattresses fire-resistant since 1976. Incidentally, PBDEs have been associated with thyroid issues. So if you haven't already done this, maybe double check that your mattress doesn't contain PBDEs. If it does, don't freak out. There are plenty of affordable retailers who carry non-toxic mattresses these days.
If you need a good excuse to go out and replace all your non-stick pans, then you're in luck! Well, sort of. Here's the deal: if your non-stick pans contain any perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), then you need to put them in the garbage. PFOA is commonly used in Teflon pans and other non-stick cookware, but it's been linked to multiple cancers.
Fortunately, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been working to end the use of PFOA for years. Further, some reports claim that non-stick pans emit fewer toxins than our clothes and furniture. That said, it wouldn't be a bad idea to invest in a cast iron skillet. (Or do what I did, and wait until your grandma gifts you her old one.) If you use enough coconut oil, cast iron skillets are super-easy to keep clean. Plus, in my experience, skillets usually make cooking easier.
Last summer, CNN reported that eating canned food is an actual health risk. This discovery was the result of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which looked at 7,669 people, ages six and older, in the U.S. between 2003 and 2008. By conducting urine tests, researchers found that participants who consumed one canned food item in the past day had about 24 percent higher concentrations of BPA in their urine compared with those who hadn't eaten anything from a can. Further, researchers found that eating two or more cans of food resulted in about 54 percent higher concentrations of BPA. Evidently, the lining that helps preserve canned foods contains BPA — and BPA exposure has been linked to diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and even reproductive development issues.
Baby Care Products
Just last year, a Missouri jury demanded that Johnson & Johnson pay 72 million dollars to the family of Jacqueline Fox — a woman whose death by ovarian cancer was linked to her daily use of Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower products. It should be said, however, that Johnson & Johnson started removing many harmful chemicals from their products back in 2013. It's also worth noting that Johnson & Johnson isn't the only baby care company that has used toxic chemicals in some of their products.
For reasons that I will never understand, the U.S. just doesn't have that many restrictions on what companies can put in their baby care products. As Time reported in March of 2016, "Companies in the U.S. are allowed to put ingredients into personal care products with no required safety testing, and without disclosing all the ingredients."
On the bright side, there's a figurative ton of baby care companies out there (like Finn + Emma) that sell only non-toxic baby care products. So if you or someone you care about has a baby on the way, don't worry. There are plenty of non-toxic baby shampoos and pacifiers to choose from.
Believe it or not, the FDA barely regulates menstrual hygiene products. As Rebecca Alvandi, activist and co-owner of the natural feminine hygiene company Maxim, told Bustle back in 2015: "The FDA does require that claims on the packaging match the performance of the product... [But] there are no regulations around ingredients, really."
What's worse is, not only are tampons legally permitted to contain bleaching chemicals and cancer-causing carcinogens, the FDA doesn't even require feminine hygiene companies to communicate their ingredients to consumers. Companies legally don't have to list tampon ingredients on their packaging — so unless you stick with organic tampons, you could be unknowingly putting toxic cotton in your vagina every month.
Fortunately, there are plenty of affordable, environmentally-friendly alternatives to toxic tampons. Personally, I'm ready to say goodbye to tampons completely and buy some THINX period panties. If period panties aren't for you, though, that's OK. Menstrual cups are only about $30, and Maxim and LOLA are just two of several companies that offer organic pads and tampons at reasonable prices. I've actually used LOLA tampons myself, and I think they're great.
Personally, when it comes to doing the dishes, I highly prefer sponges over washcloths. Washcloths just don't seem to scrub as effectively as sponges do — and they're kind of gross. Sponges aren't super-sanitary either, though. In fact, Huffington Post reports that an average kitchen sponge can grow new bacteria every 20 minutes. What's more is, harmful pathogens (like E.coli and salmonella) can fill the holes of your sponges if you're not careful.
So if you (like myself) want to keep using your sponge but you also don't want to get sick, then you should probably start sanitizing your sponge after each use. Not sure how? Here's an entire article about the best ways to clean your kitchen sponges.