Are These Potential Cancer Risks In Your Home?

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You want your home to be a healthy environment for your family and yourself, a place where you can recover from everyday minor illnesses, not a place that could actually increase your chances of a major disease like cancer.

Yet just about every household contains some common chemicals that are linked to an elevated risk of certain cancers. Learn what items are potentially hazardous, and take steps to remove them from your home.

Cigarette Smoke

Cigarette smoke is one of the most common carcinogens in the average home. With more than 25 known components that can cause cancer, including lead, formaldehyde, arsenic, benzene and vinyl chloride, cigarette smoke is one of the most dangerous, yet most avoidable, cancer causers.

Reducing the risks of cigarette smoke in your home is easy in concept, yet not so easy for those who may have to quit smoking. Obviously, quitting smoking is the best way to get rid of cigarette smoke, but stopping can be very difficult. If you are unable to give up your smoking habit entirely, then smoke outside, away from windows and doors, or consider switching to electronic cigarettes, which do not produce smoke.

Household Cleaners

It’s ironic that many of the household cleaners that you use to make your home more fresh and sanitary are actually harmful to your health. Though there is more research needed, a study published in Environmental Health in2010 indicated a link between the use of household cleaners, particularly mold and mildew removers, and breast cancer. Until a definitive link is proven, you can avoid the risk by using natural products to deal with bathtub grunge. A 50/50 mixture of white vinegar and water sprayed on bathtub surfaces, then wiped away ten minutes later, is quite effective at removing mildew.

Related: 10 Little-Known Household Uses for Vinegar

Wax Candles

Though they may be romantic, wax paraffin candles release small amounts of fumes that are linked to lung cancer and asthma. While admittedly the risk is quite low, if you love to light a candle each night while you soak in the tub or enjoy a glass of wine, it’s easy enough to switch to soy or beeswax candles, neither of which have been shown to release lung-harming fumes.

Related: The Four Best Natural Air Purifiers

Air Fresheners

Many commercial air fresheners contain formaldehyde and naphthalene, both known carcinogens. Frequent use of air fresheners in your home increases your risk of lung and other cancers, as well as respiratory irritation. Instead of using a commercial spray, you can remove unpleasant odors from your home with small bowls of baking soda, a few cotton balls soaked in essential oils, or organic potpourri in pretty glass jars.


Nonstick Cookware

There has been much concern over Teflon, used to give a nonstick surface to cookware. The main chemical in Teflon is perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a known carcinogen. Though there is dispute about how easily PFOA can enter the body, it does appear that the chemical is released from nonstick coatings when the pans are heated to temperatures over 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Reduce the risk by keeping your nonstick pots and pans over low or medium heat only, throwing them away if they are scratched or damaged, or switching to pans with PFOA-free nonstick coatings.

Beauty Products

They might make you appear more beautiful, but makeup and hair products might also be harming your health. Numerous carcinogens are in common use in cosmetic products, including chemicals such as mercury, lead, petroleum, formaldehyde, parabens and phthalates. Don’t think you have to go barefaced to be safe though, or give up your favorite hair products. Look for all-natural beauty lines that clearly list all ingredients, and are labeled free of fragrances, heavy metals, phthalates or harmful chemicals.

Paints, Varnishes and Wax

If you are remodeling, or just doing a little home improvement, watch out for the paint or varnish you use. Many release volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are known carcinogens. If you are painting, look for brands labeled “low-VOC”. If you are using paint thinners, adhesive removers, spray paint or varnish, work outside if possible, or open all the windows and turn on fans if you must paint indoors.

You might not be able to remove every possible carcinogen from your home, but by reducing your exposure to these seven common household products, you will go a long way toward lowering the odds of adverse health effects. Combine that with a healthy diet and regular exercise, and you will have made huge steps toward a lowered risk of cancer.

Last Updated: November 18, 2012
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About Michelle Ullman Michelle Ullman has lived and gardened in Southern California since childhood. A freelance writer, she covers topics ranging from gardening to home improvement to health issues. She also has experience as a catalog copywriter and poet. Michelle has trained and worked as a respiratory therapist and surgical technologist, but prefers to spend her time gardening, and walking with her dog. Michelle holds a Bachelor's Degree from Redlands University in Business Management. 

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