Many widely held beliefs about home safety and savvy are more fiction than fact.
Myth: Standing in front of the microwave oven while it’s on will give you cancer.
Fact: Federal regulations have established strict limits on the amount of energy that can be emitted by microwave ovens. These standards are much lower than the level at which any adverse health effects are believed possible. Even if an oven leaks, you may feel some warmth but you will not be at risk for cancer, says Sharon Franke, the Institute’s expert on microwave cookery and food appliances. Unlike X rays and ultraviolet light, microwave energy is non ionizing, meaning it can’t damage genes or cells.
Myth: When wrapping foods in aluminum foil, the shiny side of the foil should face outside.
Fact: It doesn’t matter which side of the foil you use when you’re cooking, freezing, or storing foods. While there’s a slight difference in how much light is reflected off the two sides, it has no effect on the food you’re covering, says Franke. So why is one side shinier? It has to do with the manufacturing process.
Myth: Using antiperspirants containing aluminum and cooking with aluminum pots can give you Alzheimer’s disease.
Fact: There is no scientific evidence that aluminum from pots, pans or antiperspirants causes Alzheimer’s, explains Sandra Kuzmich, Ph.D., director of the Institute’s Chemistry Department. While some studies have found increased concentrations of aluminum in the brain cells of Alzheimer’s patients, it is not known if this is a cause or effect of the disease, or whether there is any relationship at all. Because aluminum is found in the air, water, and soil, it’s present in most foods we eat. It’s also found in many over-the-counter medicines, including antacids and buffered aspirin: According to the Food and Drug Administration, the amount you absorb through everyday items is extremely small–and safe.
Myth: Toothpaste is a good substitute for silver polish.
Fact: Your regular toothpaste (not the gel kind) can be used in a pinch, says Carolyn Forte, director of the Home Care Department. But because it’s more abrasive than silver polish, repeated use can leave fine scratches. For on-the-spot emergency polishing, rub a little on with your finger, then rinse well with hot water and dry with a soft, clean cloth.
Myth: Never put aluminum foil in the microwave.
Fact: “Older ovens–those made twenty or more years ago–couldn’t handle foil because of a problem with energy reflection and would become damaged,” says Franke. “But you can use foil safely in newer models.” For instance, small pieces can be folded around corners of foods like brownies and lasagna to keep them from overcooking. Note that you should keep the aluminum foil smooth and at least one inch away from oven walls; pieces that have jagged edges may cause some sparking. Other metals, such as wire twist ties, should never be used in the microwave.
Myth: Rechargeable batteries will last forever.
Fact: There is a limit to how many times you can replenish rechargeable batteries because the chemicals inside will eventually wear out, explains John M. Sun, director of the Institute’s Engineering Department. The life expectancy of nickel-cadmium rechargeable batteries, for instance, is determined by an estimated number of charge cycles. So each time you remove your cordless phone and put it back on the base, you’re using up one of the cycles. To make the battery last longer, don’t put the phone back on the base after each call. Instead, wait until the end of the day.
Myth: Don’t use plastic wrap in the microwave; toxic substances in the plastic can get into your food.
Fact: Under very high temperatures (300 [degrees] F. or higher), plastic wrap can melt into food. However, it’s highly unlikely that food will ever get that hot unless you’re cooking–not just reheating–something that contains large amounts of sugar or fat, says Franke. Even if you do eat heated plastic particles, experts say there’s no scientific evidence they will make you ill. But to be extra safe, advises Franke, put food in a microwave safe bowl, then cover with plastic wrap.
Myth: Moths eat only wool, so you don’t have to worry about other fabrics.
Fact: First, it isn’t the adult moth hut the larva or worm that hatches from the moth egg that causes the damage to your clothes, explains Associate Textiles Director Nancy V07ar. Second, larvae will attack even synthetic fabrics to get to food stains. So make sure all your clothes are clean before you store them.
Myth: If a stain has ruined a garment, just dye it a different color.
Fact: “Before you dye your clothes you must remove the stain,” says Vozar. If you don’t, the dye will color the stained area differently from the rest of the fabric and you’ll still see the spot.