If you’re over age 50, you grew up loving any product with a pleasant fragrance–sachets, air fresheners, scented body products, fragrant shoe inserts, potpourri, incense, the list goes on. Well, many of these fragrant products can actually harm you healthwise and do quite a bit of damage. Do you really think the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have the manpower or testing facilities to screen the thousands upon thousands of products that contain illness-causing chemicals?

Well, they don’t!

According to environmental scientists, average household items contain about 62 toxic chemicals. We are exposed to these hazards day-to-day. The ingredients in some very common household products have been linked to such illnesses as respiratory diseases, hormone disruption, cancer, and neurological disorders.

Rebecca Sutton, Ph.D. a senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group (EWG), an organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment, explains how the toxins in everyday household products are a major worry for EWG. “Our concern is daily, weekly, chronic exposure over a lifetime. Maybe if you’re exposed to a chemical a handful of times it would not cause harm but some chemicals build up enough to cause enough harm in your body over time that can trigger some kind of disease outcome.”

You can help to eliminate many of the toxins found in your home by switching to natural alternatives. Here is a list of the most common household items that contain illness-causing chemicals:

Air fresheners (especially plug-ins)—These oh-so-common products contain a toxin that can be found in fragranced items. Companies do not have to disclose what’s in their product’s scents due to propriety laws. If you see the word “fragrance” on a label then phthalates are probably somewhere in the mix. Not only does this toxin disrupt reproduction but it is an asthma and migraine trigger. Studies have shown that the phthalates can also raise blood pressure, and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes.

Opt for…vinegar, a tried and true bacteria zapper and natural air freshener; fill an empty spray bottle with one part white vinegar to four parts water and spritz it into the air to freshen any room. Try placing a bowl of vinegar in the kitchen to remove cooking odors.

Detergents: The clean, fresh and cancerous cleaners contain such toxic ingredients like phthalates, petrochemicals, chlorine, sulfates, and parabens that linger in fabric, and then rub off on your skin. These chemicals can lead to such health issues as cancer, neurological damage, allergies, liver and kidney disease, respiratory problems and hormone disruption. And don’t be fooled by the term ‘natural or unscented’ in detergents because these products are not necessarily safe. A study analyzing the top 25 selling products found that those with ‘eco-friendly’ labels emitted just as many toxins and used a masking chemical to kill fragrance.

Opt for…detergents without the laundry-list-labels of nasty ingredients such as Seventh Generation, Biokleen, GreenShield Organic and Greenworks

Hand sanitizers—Just fyi…there’s no evidence that anti-bacterial products are more effective than plain soap and water in preventing the spread of certain illnesses, according to the FDA. But there are those in certain professions that must keep a hand disinfectant handy when they can’t get to soap and water. With few exceptions, hand sanitizers across the board consist of three active ingredients: alcohol, benzalkonium chloride and benzethonium chloride. Of the three, alcohol has a long proven track record of minimal hazard with maximum effectiveness. Many of the ingredients in hand sanitizers can bring on allergies, reproductive issues, respiratory illnesses, and even cancer.

Opt for…making your own hand sanitizer—take a 2 oz. container, fill it 1/3 of the way with vodka (that’s right, the spirit!), 10 to 15 drops each of tea tree essential oil and lavender oil (both have anti-bacterial properties and smell great too!), then fill the container the rest of the way with aloe vera gel, shake and voila!

Ammonia—The powerful cleaning agent that can be found in many glass cleaners, and polishing agents is quite a potent irritant. Its effect is sudden once inhaled and those who are elderly, or have respiratory problems should steer clear of this chemical. Workers who are routinely exposed to ammonia-like housekeepers, for example, tend to develop health issues like asthma or chronic bronchitis. If ammonia is mixed with bleach, it can form a gas that is poisonous if inhaled.

Opt for…a non-gel toothpaste that will restore the shine to any chrome fixture like faucets; vodka is also great for not only polishing chrome but for combating soap scum, water spots, mold/mildew, and as a streak-free glass cleaner

Chlorine—You can find this chemical in laundry whiteners, cleaners, mold/mildew removers, scouring powders, some municipalities even add this to their drinking water to kill bacteria. Exposure to chlorine is in the form of fumes that are inhaled or absorbed through the skin. It irritates nasal passages, the respiratory system and is a major cause of thyroid dysfunction.

Opt for…vinegar which is an old tried and true natural disinfectant, it can help whiten clothing in a wash, and disinfect germy surfaces like toilets; installing a house filter can also help cut down on the chlorine exposure in your water system.

Candles—They contain harmful gases and sediments and when lit, they can release soot carbon particles that can lead to respiratory issues and even lung cancer. Certain types of candles have been found to discharge the dangerous chemicals benzene and ketones, both known cancer-causing agents.  The scented candles are even more toxic! The chemicals emitted by the heavily-fragranced candles are similar to the fumes released by automobile exhausts.

Opt for…candles made of beeswax, soy or vegetable oils

Plastic shower curtains–The new plastic shower curtain smell you’ve grown to love is actually toxic. The component in plastic shower curtains can emit as many as 108 different types of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that are known to cause damage to the central nervous system, the liver, kidneys, and the lungs.

Opt for…shower curtains made from natural materials such as linen, cotton, birch, or hemp.

Deodorants—Many of these products contain cancer-causing chemicals such as aluminum chlorohydrate. The majority of antiperspirants also contain parabens, which imitate estrogen in the body and encourages the growth of cancer cells. Items placed on the skin are absorbed directly into the blood which is one reason why breast cancers have become so prevalent in our society. The exposure to parabens has also been linked to nausea, depression of the central nervous system, and damage to the digestive system.

Opt for…apple cider vinegar or witch hazel to detoxify smelly armpits; the healthy acids helps neutralize the bad bacteria (funk) in armpits. After showering, use a cotton ball to apply either of these acidic ingredients to your armpits, then air-dry.