Household dust contains a wide range of chemicals that pose known or potential health risks, especially for children who inhale or ingest it, according to a comprehensive analysis that pooled data about dust samples from homes in 14 states, published recently in Environmental Science & Technology.
These hazardous chemicals are released by many cleaning and personal care products—as well as by materials used for flooring, building, and furniture—and then combine with dust particles. They have been linked to reproductive and developmental problems, hormonal disruption, cancer, and other adverse effects (the study did not focus on allergens in dust). Among the 45 leading toxic chemicals found in most dust were a variety of phthalates (from, for instance, cosmetics, vinyl flooring and blinds, and toys), flame retardants (from upholstery and baby products), environmental phenols (from cleaning and other products), and fluorinated chemicals (from cell phones and nonstick or stain-resistant surfaces).
Many of these compounds pose the same risks, such as cancer or developmental problems, and may act together, so even low-level exposures, when combined and repeated over time, may lead to amplified dangers.
Best advice: Use a good vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter; wash hands frequently; try to avoid products that contain risky chemicals; and provide good ventilation in rooms. These resources can help you evaluate household products: the Detox Me app from the Silent Spring Institute and the website of the Green Science Policy Institute.
Also see 20 Indoor Air Pollution Tips.