The home is where the heart is, a sanctuary, a place of refuge and relaxation. Or is it? Our homes store common cleaning products that, when mixed, turn into deadly toxins. Foundations sit on top of soil that could be contaminated with lead, radon and diseases. Walls can be infiltrated by critters that aren’t just pesky, but can be killers too. Keep reading to discover what health dangers might be lurking inside your home. And for more on harmful home items, check out A New Study Says This Might Be the Most Dangerous Thing in Your Home.
When diluted and used in well-ventilated areas while wearing gloves, bleach is relatively non-toxic to humans. When chlorine bleach is mixed with other common household cleaners that contain ammonia or acid in their ingredients, there are serious dangers. These combinations create toxic gases that when inhaled can cause nausea, shortness of breath, chest pain, water in the lungs and pneumonia. Very high levels of exposure to toxic gases can even result in death. And for more things to know to keep your home safe, check out This Pest Could Cause a House Fire, Experts Say.
Most paints—whether latex or oil-based—contain some amount of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can cause symptoms ranging from headaches and nausea to kidney and liver damage. Recent studies also show that women exposed to paint chemicals during their first trimester have an increased risk of delivering a baby with autism. Low and zero VOC paints are now widely available, but using precautions, such as good ventilation, are still recommended because “…paints may contain other chemicals such as binders, corrosion inhibitors and preservatives that may contribute to their toxicological properties,” Erin McCanlies, an epidemiologist at the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, told Time.
Radon is the second highest cause of lung cancer and it’s responsible for more than 20,000 deaths each year. Radon is a naturally occurring gas that forms when radioactive metals break down in rocks, soil and groundwater. People are generally exposed to radon by breathing it in the air that sneaks into homes and buildings through gaps. Radon is odorless and invisible, so having your home or place of work tested is the only way to know if you’re being exposed to high levels of the gas. And for more on your respiratory system, check out 17 Warning Signs Your Lungs Are Trying to Send You.
Carbon monoxide, or CO, is another odorless colorless gas produced when things like cars, stoves, grills and furnaces burn fuel. Carbon monoxide poisoning occurs when high levels of CO build up in poorly ventilated spaces. Symptoms are often flu-like and include headache, dizziness, weakness, vomiting and even loss of consciousness. Continued exposure to high levels of carbon monoxide can lead to brain damage and death.
Mold is everywhere, but mold growth in the home usually appears on materials with high cellulose content like paper, drywall and wood. Some people are more sensitive to mold spores than others, but serious health problems will typically only develop in people with existing respiratory conditions and compromised immune systems. Infants may also be at risk. Despite popular belief, there is no evidence that stachybotrys chartarum, or toxic black mold, is any more dangerous than other molds.
Mosquitoes are the most dangerous creature on the planet. They’re responsible for transmitting malaria to more than 200 million people each year and millions more are sickened or killed by mosquito-borne illnesses like West Nile virus, Zika, equine encephalitis, meningitis and yellow fever. And most viruses spread by mosquitoes don’t have a vaccine. As outdoor temperatures begin to drop, mosquitoes look for warmth and may even attempt to move inside garages, sheds and other enclosed spaces around your home. And for more things that are hurting your house, check out 50 Ways You’re Ruining Your Home Without Realizing It.
Rats and mice can spread more than 35 different diseases to humans through direct handling or through contact with their feces, urine and saliva. When dry, mouse feces may even be ingested, spreading bacteria, viruses and disease as well as causing allergic reactions in some people. Rodent activity in homes is highest during winter months, when temperatures drop and critters begin looking for food and shelter indoors. And for more helpful information delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
Salmonella is a bacterial disease that affects more than a million Americans every year. It originates in the intestines of humans and animals before being dispersed through feces. We generally contract salmonella from contaminated meat, eggs, produce, nuts and spices. Bad hand washing habits are another frequent cause. Infections are more common in the summer when temperatures are warm and food spoils easily. And some medications like antacids and antibiotics make our bodies more susceptible to salmonella infections.
Escherichia coli is bacteria that lives in the intestines of humans and animals. Many strains of E. coli are harmless and even considered important to a healthy digestive system, but ingesting just a tiny amount of other strains can result in a nasty infection. We typically contract E. coli through contaminated water, raw produce, unpasteurized dairy and undercooked beef. It also spreads easily from person to person or from animal to person. The best ways to avoid an E. coli infection are to wash your hands often, keep kitchen utensils and surfaces clean, cook meat thoroughly and wash produce before eating it.
Asbestos are naturally occurring fibrous minerals that are strong, resistant to heat and don’t conduct electricity. For these reasons, asbestos has been used since ancient times in insulation, fireproofing, textiles and many other products. When handled, asbestos fibers can break up into tiny particles that are easily inhaled. And breathing in those fibers can lead to a host of serious problems including loss of lung function, lung cancer and tumors—all of which are often disabling if not fatal.
Natural gas is a fossil fuel that we burn to power household appliances including water heaters, furnaces, fireplaces and stoves. It has no natural odor, however, gas companies add a chemical called mercaptan in order to make leak detection easier. Mercaptan is said to smell like rotten eggs. Extended exposure to natural gas can cause symptoms ranging from headache and fatigue to loss of consciousness and death by suffocation.
Lint buildup in clothing dryers causes thousands of house fires, hundreds of injuries and roughly $35 million in property damage every year. There are a number of easy ways to prevent buildup, though: “Clean the lint from the dryer’s lint screen after every load. This helps prevent a fire, and it also helps your laundry dry faster,” Richard Handel, Consumer Reports test engineer, said in a statement. Also clean out the dryer duct, or vent pipe, several times a year, especially accordion style ducts that have lots of grooves for catching. And finally, check to make sure lint isn’t piling up behind or below your dryer.
Roughly 35 residential fires are caused by candles every day. Unmonitored and poorly placed candles are responsible for about five percent of all home fire deaths in the United States, and most of those fires originate in the bedroom. Not surprisingly, December is the peak season for candle related fires. Rather than forgo the glow of candles in a festive table setting or in religious observations, experts recommend using electric versions.