Soap may seem to be keeping germs at bay, but in many homes, it’s doing harm. Surprisingly, there are items lurking in most homes that are unhealthy because they’re old or contain harmful ingredients. The good news? For the most part, these things simply can be tossed to make the home healthier.
Problem : Antibacterial soap with triclosan
Why it’s harmful: This was believed to be more effective than regular soap, but a 2013 Food and Drug Administration report found that long-term daily use of the active ingredient triclosan may have unanticipated hormonal effects and may lead to antibiotic resistance.
Make a healthy home: While the agency continues to collect additional information on antibacterial soaps and body washes, consumers should wash their hands with plain soap and water. If those aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol, said Andrea Fischer, FDA spokeswoman.
Why it’s harmful: Liquid makeup, including mascara, can harbor a lot of germs, Steinemann said. “If you think about it, each time you use mascara, you are brushing it and any germs on your lashes and also contaminating the brush even more with bacteria or viruses naturally present on your skin or eyelash hair,” he said. “In fact, one of the primary functions of eyelashes is to keep debris and germs from entering your eye, so then plunging into a moist room-temperature environment, like a mascara tube, encourages bacterial growth.”
Make a healthy home: Replace mascara every three months.
Problem : Contact lens case
Why it’s harmful: If you don’t replace your contact lens case every six months, you increase your risk of microbial keratitis by more than five times, and poor lens case hygiene increases your risk by more than 6 percent, according to a 2012 study from Ophthalmology, the journal of the American Academy of Ophthalmology. “The problem with keratitis, and also corneal ulcers, are that they can affect your long-term vision,” said Dr. Thomas Steinemann, clinical spokesman for the academy and an ophthalmologist at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland.
Make a healthy home: Because a dirty lens case is the primary risk factor for eye infections in contact lens wearers, Steinemann recommends changing the case at least every three months. Wash the case with disinfecting solution (not just saline), and then air-dry it upside down daily. “It’s important to note that even if you care for your lens case fastidiously, a film builds up on the surface of the case,” Steinemann said.
Problem: Older flooring
Why it’s harmful: Many people don’t realize that older flooring can contain cancer-causing asbestos, a significant threat. Especially in homes built before 1980, asbestos was used in a variety of construction products ranging from vinyl floor tiles to cement, said Elizabeth Ward, senior vice president of Intramural Research with the American Cancer Society Inc. Asbestos, which is a mineral fiber, was added to numerous products to provide heat insulation and to make them resistant to fire, but breathing asbestos can increase your risk of lung cancer and mesothelioma.
Make a healthy home: If the flooring is in good condition and you don’t need to touch it or bother it, you can leave it alone, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Asbestos in good condition won’t release asbestos fibers, and there’s no danger unless the fibers are released. But if it’s damaged or if you’re going to renovate your home, you need a professional to remove the asbestos. It’s tricky because you can’t tell if something contains asbestos by looking at it, so you should treat everything as if it contains asbestos or have a professional take a sample for analysis.
Problem: Pressed wood
Why it’s harmful: Formaldehyde is released from the resin, which could be on paneling or veneers, said Dr. Albert Rizzo, senior medical adviser to the American Lung Association and section chief of pulmonary/critical care medicine with the Christiana Care Health System in Delaware.
The average home has more than 25 parts per billion of formaldehyde in the air, and levels between 40 and 500 ppb can cause health issues, according to the California Air Resources Board, which said formaldehyde causes 115 cancer cases per million people because many homes have more than 200 ppb.
Make a healthy home: Newer pressed wood is the worst culprit. In older materials, the formaldehyde stops being released after it has been ventilated for a while.