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Sources of Toxic Air in your Home

Updated: Dec 9, 2020

In our last blog, you learned about the signs and symptoms of toxic air inside your home; if you missed it, click here! These symptoms can present themselves in a number of ways, from as minor as a cough or fatigue to conditions as serious as cancer and heart disease.

Today, we will be discussing the sources from where this toxic air comes from. Unfortunately, the origin of toxins in your air is commonplace and in nearly every household.

Environmental toxicity is a serious health concern that is usually not diagnosed. How it affects you may be different from others due to your genetics and other factors such as nutrition, lifestyle, stress, sleep, and other health conditions. It is important to be aware of your surrounding environment and possible sources of toxins as they accumulate in your body over time.

Where do indoor air toxins come from?

  • Furniture

  • Flooring and carpeting

  • Cleaning products

  • Perfume and other aerosol beauty products

  • Gas appliances

  • Central HVAC systems

  • Mold

  • Paint

  • Humidifiers

  • Nonstick pots and pans

The chemicals most frequent in the list above are VOCs, volatile organic chemicals that vaporize and become gases at room temperature. This toxic cloud includes the chemicals toluene, styrene, xylene, trichloroethylene, and formaldehyde. These chemicals are odorless and colorless, leaving you unaware until serious side effects such as birth defects, endocrine disruption, childhood leukemia, cancer, and developmental problems occur after continued exposure. The most common products containing such VOCs include aerosol products, paints, polishes, spot removers, floor waxes, glues, dry-cleaned clothing, varnishes, art supplies, and air fresheners.

Many of these household items release toxins through off-gassing; chemicals within the products will slowly seep out into the air within your home, over months or years depending on the type of toxin. For example, newly installed carpeting will off-gas mainly within the first couple of months following installation, but traces can still be found lingering for up to 5 years. Most products that are applied wet, like paint and glue, will off-gas while it’s drying; which is why it is important to ventilate your home during and after painting. This is necessary because some paints contain levels of chemicals 5 times higher than the recommended amount.

Furniture and Flooring

Manufactured wood products like plywood, particleboard, and laminate flooring off-gas formaldehyde into your home. Unfortunately, given the prevalence of these types of wood in furniture made today, it is likely that the wooden desks, shelves, and cabinets in your home contain formaldehyde. The most common source of formaldehyde in the home in pressed wood products created with resin adhesives, specifically medium-density fiberboard.

As much as we love Ikea for its prices, many of its fiberboard products may actually be harming you. Studies have shown that short term exposure to formaldehyde can lead to a decrease in airway function, chronic cough, chest tightness, eye irritation, and fatigue. While long term exposure increases the risk of cancer in your nose and sinuses, lungs, and nasopharyngeal. To read a full list of products containing formaldehyde, click here.

Flame retardants have been added to numerous products like furniture cushions, pillows, carpets, mattresses, electronics such as computers and phones, insulation, and almost all children's clothes and products. There are many different types of flame retardants but all have been found to affect the immune system, endocrine system, and neurological system. Some have also been linked to cancer.


Scented candles, plug-ins, and other fragranced products heighten our senses and evoke pleasure. Unfortunately, these products are also harmful. The term “fragrance” or “parfum” on a product usually can include more than 3,000 chemicals. More concerning, these chemicals do not need to be listed separately due to the FDA classifying fragrances to be ‘trade secrets”. The fragrance industry regulates itself, so most of the 3,000 chemicals have not been tested for toxicity, alone or in combination.

Fragrance is used not only in perfume, candles, and room fresheners but in nearly every type of personal care product, laundry detergent and softeners, and cleaning products.

Almost all fragrances contain phthalates, which are chemicals that help the scents last longer. Health risks for phthalates are numerous and are listed below.

To avoid fragrances, the Environmental Working Group advises that consumers read the word “fragrance” or “parfum” and translate it to mean “hidden chemicals”. Also, don’t be fooled by products labeled with “natural fragrance” as there is no standard benchmark for this phrase. These can be just as toxic as those termed “fragrance”.

Fragrances have even been labeled as "the new second-hand smoke".

Associated Health Risks: May include cancer, human reproductive and developmental toxicity, endocrine disruption, birth defects, insulin resistance, obesity & respiratory problems

Water Repellants

Non-stick cookware is another major contributor to pollutants in the air inside your home. In 2019, the FDA confirmed that the chemicals from non-stick cookware contaminate the food you eat and the water that you drink, and the air that you breathe.

PFC's - perfluorochemicals - have oil and water-resistant properties making them very useful in numerous products. Some examples are cookware, clothes, mattresses, carpets, and food packaging. The 2003-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) carried out by the CDC showed that 98% of those tested showed PFCs in their blood.

Associated health conditions: disruption of endocrine activity, reduced immune function, linked to breast, prostate and ovarian cancer, liver and kidney toxicity.

Mold and Mycotoxins

Mold is an invisible epidemic that is making many of us very ill. Most buildings today are constructed in ways that promote the growth of mold. These are energy-efficient buildings that are using materials that mold can easily thrive on such as drywall, wood, and carpet. Add in moisture and poor ventilation and mold will thrive. It doesn’t even take a water leak into your home or basement; high humidity is all that is needed. Mold can grow behind walls and under floors so you may not know that it is there.

Molds produce chemicals called mycotoxins and microbial volatile organic compounds (MVOC’s). MVOCs are responsible for the musty odors but these chemicals can also be present when there is no detectable odor. Mycotoxins are not associated with any odors.

Mycotoxins are poisonous enough to be made into chemical weapons. Weaponized mold toxins are created and stored by militaries around the world.

Both mycotoxins and MVOC’s cause detrimental effects at very low doses. They cause DNA damage and are cytotoxic. Symptoms are numerous and related to many different organ systems and can include chronic fatigue, anxiety/depression, ADD/ADHD, insomnia, inability to lose weight, hormonal imbalance, migraines, unusual pains, GI symptoms, and many others.

Associated Health Risks: Very concerning now with Sars CoV-2 is that mycotoxins can weaken the immune system by reducing the immune system’s ability to fight infections.

Next Steps

While in this blog, we detailed many of the most common sources of toxic air within your home, to read a detailed description of household toxins and their effects published by the CDC, click here. In our next blog, we will discuss ways to cleanse your home of toxic air. But until then, be sure to keep your windows open and dispose of your toxic aerosol products.


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