As new reports suggest dental floss may not be as vital to our health as we have been led to believe, what other "essential" home and personal care products don't quite live up to their hype?

From fabric softener that could turn your children's sleepwear into a fire hazard, to polish that can dull your wooden furniture, I've found there are quite a few familiar products that you might want to ditch . . .

Air Fresheners that could be toxic

A host of studies now suggest many of these highly fragranced products emit potentially harmful chemicals that can be particularly toxic in enclosed spaces, and have been linked to conditions ranging from migraines and breathing difficulties to cancers of the nose and throat - and possibly changes in our DNA.

• The answer? Go as natural as possible. Experts at the Good Housekeeping Institute recommend simmering orange or lemon slices and rosemary in a pan of water to freshen up your kitchen, and tucking a cotton wool ball soaked in essential oils under the bathroom sink to keep the room smelling sweet for up to two weeks.


A light sprinkling of bicarbonate of soda on carpets, left overnight then vacuumed up, will absorb fusty smells and freshen the whole house.

• Try an alternative? A clean air study by Nasa scientists in the Eighties, still regarded as one of the most comprehensive and accurate of its kind, showed house plants can help to remove a raft of toxic chemicals from the atmosphere in our homes.

It recommended one house plant per 100 sq ft of home or office space. The best plants? Ivy, spider plants, red-edged dracaena and peace lily.

Softeners that can ruin clothes

Waxy residues from fabric softener could ruin your smart new workout wear.

Sally Dixon, founder of British sportswear brand Every Second Counts, says fabric softener can act "like kryptonite" on high-tech sportswear, degrading the sweat-wicking, anti-bacterial and elastic properties of yoga pants or sports bras in a handful of washes.

More worryingly, softener has also been shown to reduce the fire retardant qualities of specialist fabrics used in items such as children's nightwear (you can reverse all these effects by re-washing the clothes a couple of times in washing powder). It can also trigger skin and respiratory problems in some people.

If you can't live without its scent, use it sparingly - and check the fabrics' labelling. It's surprising how many advise against its use. Follow manufacturers' instructions on how much to add, too.

The experts at Good Housekeeping suggest using softener only when your fabrics really start to feel stiff and scratchy.

Try an alternative? "A cupful of white vinegar, added to your final rinse can help remove excessive fabric softener residue from clothing and will soften fabrics without leaving a vinegary smell on them," says Yvonne Manomano, operations manager at cleaning company

When Rinse Aid is a waste of time

With so many "all-in-one" dishwasher tablets, do we need rinse aid? The answer depends on the hardness of the water in your area.

A general rule is that the further south you are, the harder your water tends to be - so unless you live in the South-East, it's likely you'll be able to get away without using rinse aid.

Rinse aid helps crockery dry faster in the dishwasher, minimising water marks. It does this by lowering the surface tension of residual water in the final rinse.

If you have soft water in your area, or a water softener, Andy Trigg of says you don't need extra rinse aid.

But if your water is harder, you may need to calibrate your machine to release a small amount of rinse aid to help the detergent. (Your dishwasher handbook will tell you how to make this easy adjustment).

Try an alternative? If you run out of rinse aid or would like a "green" alternative, white vinegar should add sparkle to crockery, say many cleaning bloggers. Just fill the rinse aid dispenser with the vinegar.

Polish that makes furniture dusty

Aerosol polishes that promise to dust and shine almost every surface in your home are often packed with shine-enhancing silicone and other ingredients that can build up on the surfaces, and even attract dust, which can damage them over time.

The National Trust's housekeepers tend to polish wooden furniture only every seven to ten years (using their own beeswax-based polish, £4 from, and instead dust regularly with a soft lint-free cloth or brush.

If a wooden surface is dirty, a quick wipe with a barely damp cloth should do the trick, they say.

Modern painted and plastic surfaces can be easily cleaned with slightly damp microfibre cloth. Add a little washing-up liquid to the water if surfaces are particularly dirty.

Try an alternative? To make your own polish, the Good Housekeeping Institute recommends mixing two parts olive oil to one part lemon juice and putting it in a spray bottle. Then lightly spritz and buff wooden surfaces.

Dish cloths packed with bacteria

A recent study commissioned by the Global Hygiene Council discovered that UK dish cloths are contaminated with, on average, six times as much bacteria as loo handles, and that six out of ten of those cloths are likely to be harbouring E.coli bacteria.

Wipe your dish cloth over your kitchen surfaces and you risk spreading dangerous bacteria.

Instead, use disposable wipes or replace your dish cloth every week, says Simon Balckhurst, technical manager at cleaning product company Minky. "In between uses, rinse your cloth thoroughly in hot water and detergent, squeeze it out and hang it in a clean place to air dry."

Try an alternative? Cleaning guru Aggie MacKenzie suggests putting your dish cloth in the top basket of the dishwasher and give it a hot wash (minimum 60c). Just be sure to add detergent.