Phthalates: The Indoor Air Pollutants in Everyday Products

Until very recently, phthalates (pronounced “THAL-ates” ) haven’t gotten a lot of coverage. Since they’ve been linked to a number of health issues, it’s a good idea to take a look at some of the common sources of this hidden danger.

The bad news is that list of dangers is pretty long. Phthalates, which are chemicals added to plastics to improve their durability, can be found in literally hundreds of products, many of which are found in most American homes.

Food containers, personal care products, kids’ toys, and shower curtains – the list of products containing phthalates is seemingly endless. But what exactly are they, and why are they so dangerous? And most importantly, how can we avoid them?

What are Phthalates?

According to the Environmental Working Group, “Phthalates, called ‘plasticizers,’ are a group of industrial chemicals used to make plastics like polyvinyl chloride (PVC) more flexible or resilient and also as solvents.” Because products containing plastics and solvents are so prevalent, exposure to phthalates is as well. Phthalates are everywhere:

  • Furniture
  • Cleaning products
  • Hair spray
  • Nail polish
  • Food containers
  • Packaging
  • Skin care products
  • Adhesives
  • And more..

Why Avoid Phthalates?

Research indicates that phthalates  are carcinogenic. They have also been linked to reproductive problems, immune suppression, and nervous system issues. Pregnant women, infants, and those with immune disorders seem to be particularly vulnerable.

How to Avoid Phthalates

Many of the products containing phthalates are used directly on or in the body, while others damage indoor air by leeching chemicals into the environment. For example, that “new car smell” is due to phthalates in the vehicle’s interior. While avoiding them completely is difficult, there are a number of ways you can reduce your exposure:

  • Avoid buying plastic products, particularly those labeled with recycling code 3. Glass, natural fibers, and certain metals are healthier (and more eco-friendly) alternatives.
  • Don’t buy products containing “fragrance.” This umbrella term often hides phthalates.
  • Ditch plastic toys made before 2009—they were more than likely made with phthalates. The Healthy Toys database is a handy resource.
  • Use natural personal care products made with food grade ingredients.
  • Replace vinyl flooring in your home.

Because current laws allow the use of harmful chemicals in products on the market, it’s important to make healthier choices. I’m eager to go through my kids’ toys to make sure they are all safe. Where can you lower your phthalate exposure in your home?

Photo Credit: Kitchen by Mike_tn on Flickr.

Leave a Reply


  1. Alice Rodas

    I wonder if the government is doing something to regulate the selling of products with phthalates because this is alarming. I hope that today’s products are phthalates-free.

  2. Andrew Hollis

    It is so hard to avoid exposure from Phthalates because they are present in almost all plastic products. Hope there will be other chemicals that are safer that can be used as a replacement for phthalates to prevent people from having those health problems.

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