How to Avoid PFAS
'Forever chemicals' are in the products we use, food we eat, and water we drink. Here are some ways to reduce your exposure.
Consumer Reports recently found PFAS—chemicals that are linked to a growing list of health risks and that linger in the environment for years—in the packaging at many chain restaurants. We previously found them in drinking water, too. The chemicals—officially known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances—are also used in a host of other products, from nonstick pans to water-resistant clothing.
All these findings have prompted many readers to ask us if there are ways they can limit exposure to PFAS.
Tips for Avoiding PFAS
Because the chemicals are so widespread, it’s not realistic to think you can avoid all PFAS exposure. But by staying away from products that contain PFAS, you reduce not only your direct exposure but also the overall environmental burden created by these chemicals.
CR’s tests found PFAS in everything from burger wrappers at Burger King to salad containers at Cava to cookie bags at McDonald’s. And some research indicates that people who eat food cooked at home more often may have lower levels of PFAS in their blood than people who frequently eat out.
To limit exposure, CR’s experts suggest that you transfer food out of packaging as soon as you can and avoid reheating food in takeout containers, because both heat and time increase the likelihood of PFAS transferring from wrappers to food. It’s also worth favoring restaurants that have worked to phase PFAS out of packaging, because levels there tend to be lower. Restaurants that have made such pledges include Chipotle, Sweetgreen, and Wendy’s.
And many experts suggest avoiding microwave popcorn because the bags that contain it tend to have high levels of PFAS.
Fabrics and Textiles
PFAS are often found in stain- and water-resistant fabrics. Carpets, furniture, and clothing can all contain PFAS. When purchasing new carpets or furniture, favor retailers that have policies restricting the use of PFAS, as listed by the GSPI.
PFAS are also found in water-resistant outdoor gear, like jackets and hiking pants, though some outdoor companies have policies limiting use. Patagonia, for example, has said it will phase PFAS out by 2024.
When it comes to clothing or bedding items like mattress protectors, many water- or stain-resistant products may contain PFAS. Avoiding products with these features can limit exposure, experts say.
Recent research has shown that cosmetics frequently contain PFAS. Avoiding water-resistant products and products with PTFE or “fluoro-” in the ingredients can help limit exposure. And the Environmental Working Group maintains a database to help identify which shampoos, dental floss, makeup, and other personal-care products do and do not contain PFAS (and other concerning ingredients).
Most nonstick cookware is made with PTFE, a type of PFAS. But some nonstick pots and pans—such as the Blue Diamond Diamond Infused Ceramic pan and the Red Volcano Textured Ceramic pan—should not have any, because the nonstick surface is made from ceramic. Or you could opt for a more traditional cast iron or carbon steel pan.
CR’s experts say that nonstick products are less likely to release PFAS if they are used properly. That means don’t scrape them with metal cooking utensils or abrasive cleaners, or overheat them when cooking. And remember that the production and disposal of these items can still cause some PFAS to end up in the environment.
PFAS in Dust and Water
The air we breathe and water we drink can also contain PFAS, but you can still limit some exposure here. To avoid harmful chemicals in dust, the GSPI recommends using HEPA filters while vacuuming, dusting with wet cloths or a mop, and changing filters on your heating and cooling units as recommended.
CR also has a guide to testing and treating your drinking water for harmful contaminants. If tests or your municipal water report reveals PFAS in your water, consider using a water filter to remove the chemicals.