The answer may surprise you, but it’s dust! 

Believe it or not, household dust can be one of the biggest exposures to toxic chemicals in the home, especially for infants and toddlers, who crawl on the floor, chew on their fingers and toys, and spend up to 90% of their time indoors. And these chemicals could be affecting their brain development, or even lowering their IQ.

Studies have shown that some of the most common toxins found in household dust include flame retardants, phthalates, PFCs, fragrance chemicals, and lead. In addition to these toxins being associated with hindered brain development, they have also been linked with health issues such as hormone disruption, cancer, and reproductive damage.

Children are especially susceptible to toxins because their detoxification pathways are not fully developed, meaning that they can’t detoxify and flush the chemicals out as quickly as adults can. Being exposed at a young age to many of these toxic chemicals, many of which have never been tested, also means the chemicals have longer to do their damage over time. Important organ systems are still developing in children’s bodies, and toxins can affect or interrupt that development.

Neurodevelopmental problems such as ADHD and learning disabilities are on the rise and affect approximately 20% of school-aged children and adolescents. And according to Philippe Grandjean, adjunct professor of environmental health at the Harvard School of Public Health:

“The greatest concern is the large numbers of children who are affected by toxic damage to brain development in the absence of a formal diagnosis. They suffer reduced attention span, delayed development, and poor school performance. Industrial chemicals are now emerging as likely causes.”

Several of these toxic chemicals that can affect brain development are commonly found in dust, and they include:

Phthalates. These are linked to developmental issues, and are linked to lower IQ in children born to mothers who had the highest levels when tested. Phthalates are found in vinyl flooring, vinyl shower curtains/shower curtain liners, soft rubber toys, and hide in fragrances (in personal care/beauty and cleaning products, candles, air fresheners, etc).

Flame Retardant Chemicals. These chemicals have been shown to cause neurological effects in children, such as brain damage, lower IQ, hindered brain development, persistent behavior problems, and problems with memory and motor skills. They’re found in furniture with polyurethane foam, electronics and some brands of high chairs, mattresses, car seats, and some children’s pajamas.

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Associated with reduced cognitive function in infancy and childhood, and exposure to PCBs before birth is linked to “neurodevelopmental deficits.” Although they were banned in 1979, this family of chemicals can can still be found in the environment in foods, particularly fish, household dust, and even in breastmilk.

Lead. Neurological effects and lower IQ are the most common effects of lead exposure, and studies have shown that there are no safe exposure levels of lead. It is commonly found in paint (in homes built before 1978), cosmetics, art supplies, air, water, soil, certain careers and industry (lead can be brought into the home from those exposed at work).

The good news is there are simple things you can do, and it doesn’t mean you have to vacuum and dust 24/7. Don’t stress about dusting every room everyday. Do what you can, but especially concentrate on places where your family spends the most time, such as floors and play areas where your children play the most, and in bedrooms, the family room, and the other most-used areas of your home.

Here are some other things you can do:

  • Buy safer products as often as possible to cut down on overall toxins in your home.
  • Wash hands with soap and water frequently, especially before eating (hand sanitizers don’t count!).
  • Vacuum frequently with a HEPA filter.
  • Damp mop; don’t sweep. Sweeping moves dust around.
  • Damp dust; don’t dry dust with a Swiffer or feather duster. This also moves dust around. Dust with a safe dusting spray, or use a DIY dusting spray (using toxic chemicals just adds to the problem).
  • Take shoes off before entering your home. You’d be surprised what comes in on shoes!

Follow these tips, but most of all, don’t stress! Do what you can every day, but especially concentrate on places where your family spends the most time. Pretty soon you’ll have a more dust-free and healthier home!

For more information on toxins to remove to protect your child’s brain health, click here to get my free guide, “Behavior Issues or Tantrums? 5 Toxins to Avoid for a Calmer, Happier Child.” 


  • Tonya Harris, MSHN, BCHN

    Childhood Leukemia Survivor and Award-Winning Toxin Expert

    Tonya Harris is an award-winning environmental toxin expert and the founder of Slightly Greener, offering busy moms simple and doable solutions to reducing toxins, without turning their lifestyle upside-down. As a childhood leukemia survivor and the mother of three (one with multiple learning disabilities), Tonya’s path has led her to helping parents learn how toxins in the home can affect their child’s health. In addition to Board certification and a Master's degree in holistic nutrition, she holds multiple certificates in the environmental health field. She is the creator of the Slightly Greener Method™, and has been featured on ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, Reader’s Digest, Thrive Global, and Parents. When she’s not teaching parents about toxic products, Tonya can be found spending time with her family, or raising money for her organization Clubs to Cure Kids, from which she has donated over $160,000 for childhood cancer research and family support programs in the Chicago area.