Your house may harbor more dangers than you think

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Soap may seem to be keeping germs at bay, but in many homes, itís doing harm. Surprisingly, there are items lurking in most homes that are unhealthy because theyíre 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 itís 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 arenít available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol, said Andrea Fischer, FDA spokeswoman.

Problem: Older flooring

Why itís harmful: Many people donít 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 donít need to touch it or bother it, you can leave it alone, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Asbestos in good condition wonít release asbestos fibers, and thereís no danger unless the fibers are released. But if itís damaged or if youíre going to renovate your home, you need a professional to remove the asbestos. Itís tricky because you canít 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 itís 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. The time it takes varies depending on the degree of ventilation of the room and the size of the item. If you canít get rid of the pressed wood, try airing the room out as often as possible. You will know the air is improving if you feel better in it (you wonít cough as much or feel stuffy, especially if youíre susceptible to asthma or hay fever, Rizzo said).

Problem: Contact lens case

Why itís harmful: If you donít 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. "Itís 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. "Itís called a bio film, and itís a magnet for dirt and germs. If you donít change it out for a new one, you end up with this grimy layer that puts you at risk of a potentially serious eye infection." He also said not to clean the case with water, which is not sterile and can also cause serious eye infection; thatís the same reason you shouldnít shower or swim in your lenses.

Problem: Mascara

Why itís 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: Dust

Why itís harmful: Indoor air quality is 25 to 100 times worse than it is outdoors, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Thatís because the average 1,500-square-foot house contains 40 pounds of dust.

Make a healthy home: You canít remove your air, but you can clean it. Philip Tierno, professor of microbiology and pathology at the New York University School of Medicine, suggested using a HEPA air filter to remove tiny materials in the micron range. Even a small portable HEPA filter for the bedroom will lessen the number of allergens that youíre exposed to, he said. Tierno said to change the air filter once or twice a year or else it will prevent efficient airflow.