Pregnancy: what you need to know about chemicals

Pregnancy: what you need to know about chemicals
Information on using cleaning products, paint, and paint removers during pregnancy.

Many everyday products contain substances that pose a risk to fetal health. A developing fetus is more vulnerable to toxic substances because it is growing so quickly.

For this reason, pregnant women should limit their exposure to certain chemicals as much as possible, even if it may be impossible to avoid them completely.

Cleaning products

Avoid using aerosol insecticides inside your home.

Most everyday cleaning products, such as dish soap, laundry detergent, and all-purpose cleaners, are safe to use during pregnancy.

However, it’s important to follow the directions on the product label carefully to avoid exceeding the exposure limits. You should also do your best to limit your exposure to these products. For example, wear gloves when using them to reduce absorption through the skin and open a window for better ventilation.

You can also avoid using cleaning products that contain toxic ingredients by using water, vinegar, baking soda, or soap instead.

Keep in mind that some bleach-based products are corrosive and may irritate or even burn your airways. You should also avoid products containing ammonia.

There are no studies that prove that cleaning products labelled “organic” or “natural” are less risky to use during pregnancy. However, it can be assumed that products with few ingredients considered to be toxic are a safer, wiser choice.

Air fresheners

Home deodorizers and air fresheners made with solvents contain toxic substances. These can remain in the air for several hours after use, so it’s best to avoid them unless absolutely necessary. If you wish to use them, look for unscented products. You should also avoid home fragrance products, such as incense, scented candles, aerosol liquids, and plug-in diffusers.

Renovation work

Paints designed for indoor use are generally latex (i.e., water-based) paints. This type of paint is safe for pregnant women, as long as exposure is infrequent.

Wood-burning stoves
The smoke produced by wood-burning appliances contains several pollutants that contaminate the air. It’s preferable to use other heating methods, such as electricity.

That said, latex paint can contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The risk associated with these compounds is still relatively uncertain, so choosing paints with few to no VOCs is the safest bet. In any case, if you have a paint job in mind, it’s best to enlist a family member or a contractor. Ideally, schedule the work to be done while you’re away, and make sure the space is well ventilated.

Oil-based paints are to be avoided, as they’re more toxic and contain ingredients that can be harmful to your fetus. However, provided there’s good ventilation, spending a few hours in a freshly painted room poses little risk to your baby. If possible, wait until the paint is completely dry before going inside.

Until 1991, paints were often made with lead. If your home is from this era and you suspect the paint may be lead-based, apply a fresh coat of paint or wallpaper as protection. Lead paint is only dangerous in the event of direct contact.

Finally, avoid paint-removal projects during your pregnancy. Whether you use a paint stripper or a sand blaster, you could end up exposing yourself to old lead paint or to toxic substances found in paint removers. Turpentine-based solvents must be handled especially carefully.

Lead in water

Exposure to lead during pregnancy can have a significant impact on the unborn baby. High lead concentrations in your blood can cause miscarriage, premature birth, low birth weight, and developmental delays.

Lead can sometimes be found in drinking water in neighbourhoods with buildings constructed before the 1970s, as lead plumbing was used at the time to connect homes to the municipal water system. On the island of Montreal, the municipality is aiming to replace all lead pipes by 2026.

If you live in an area affected by this problem, it’s recommended to use a faucet filter or an NSF-certified water filter pitcher to reduce lead levels.

Lead concentrations are generally higher in hot water, so to limit the risks, use cold water for cooking and drinking. If you haven’t used any of the faucets in your home for several hours (as is usually the case in the morning), let the water run for 1–2 minutes before using it. This is especially important when you’re pregnant.


During pregnancy, avoid handling chemical products like pesticides or herbicides.

In addition, since animal feces could be buried in your garden, it’s recommended to wear gloves when gardening or when you have to touch soil or sand.

Pet care

If your pet needs to take medication such as a flea or tick treatment, have a family member administer it.

If you have a cat, it may carry a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii, which can be transmitted to you through its feces. This parasite is associated with toxoplasmosis, an infection that can, in rare cases, be dangerous for your fetus. For this reason, you should avoid cleaning your cat’s litter box yourself. If no one can do it for you, wear gloves and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.

To learn about other products that expectant mothers should avoid, read our fact sheet on body care during pregnancy. For information about foods to avoid, see our fact sheet on healthy eating during pregnancy.


Things to keep in mind

  • Most cleaning products are safe to use during pregnancy.
  • Latex paint is safe for pregnant women, but oil-based paint should be avoided.
  • If your home was built before 1970, it’s best to use a filter to limit the potential presence of lead in your drinking water.


Naître et grandir

Scientific review: Dave Saint-Amour, member of the Centre de recherche en neurosciences cognitives and Research Chair in Environmental Neuropsychotoxicology at UQAM
Research and copywriting:
The Naître et grandir team
Updated: March 2022

Photo: GettyImages/97



Note: The links to other websites are not updated regularly, and some URLs may have changed since publication. If a link is no longer valid, please use search engines to find the relevant information.

  • American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Reducing prenatal exposure to toxic environmental agents. Committee Opinion Number 832, 2021.
  • Doré, Nicole, and Danielle Le Hénaff. From Tiny Tot to Toddler: A practical guide for parents from pregnancy to age two. Quebec City, Institut national de santé publique du Québec.
  • Government of Ontario. Prenatal Education Key Messages for Ontario. “Safety during pregnancy.”
  • Horsager-Boehrer, Robyn. “6 in-home toxins to avoid during pregnancy.” UT Southwestern Medical Center. 2019.
  • Lévesque, Sylvie. Portail d’information périnatale. “Sécurité : produits et développement.” 2019.
  • Provost-Dubois, Raphaëlle, et al. “L’eau, source de vie! Parfois de maladies…” Perspective infirmière, vol. 13, no. 3, May–June 2015, pp. 35–41.
  • Stanford Children’s Health. “Pregnant? Why you should know about lead.”