For the general population, the word pesticide typically conjures images of toxic chemicals that are bad for your lungs, skin, and general well-being. Our fruits and vegetables are often covered in pesticides, but, for the most part, we can try avoid these by buying certain brands that don't dose their products in pesticides. What happens when we’re exposed to common household pesticides, like insecticides used inside our homes?

A new study, published in Pediatrics, examines how indoor pesticides impact the health of children. The researchers reviewed 16 studies that had linked indoor pesticides to childhood cancers, and found that kids who were exposed to insecticides in their homes were 47 percent more likely to be diagnosed with childhood leukemia. In addition, children exposed to these chemicals were 43 percent more likely to be diagnosed with childhood lymphoma.

“Remember that pesticides are designed and manufactured to kill organisms,” Chensheng Lu, an author of the study, told LiveScience. Indeed, pesticides are toxic to pests like insects or weeds. Pesticides can be natural, organic, or synthetic, and they can include insecticides, herbicides (which kill plants or weeds), fungicides, and even rodenticides, which get rid of mice or rats.

But rats, plants, and insects aren’t the only living things impacted by the chemicals. Children in particular, with their developing immune systems, might be vulnerable to pesticides; past research has shown that pesticide exposure has been linked to damaging effects on kids’ respiratory, stomach, nervous, and endocrine systems. One study, for example, found that common household pesticides could increase the risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in kids. Some pesticides also contain carcinogens, and while scientists can’t completely prove that pesticides directly cause cancer, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Alternatives To Harmful Pesticides

That being said, there are natural ways to solve your garden or home problems — without having to resort to chemicals. The University of California Agriculture & Natural Resources department suggests simply being resourceful. For outdoor issues, rework your cultural control (pruning, fertilizing, or watering plants); physical control (stomping out weeds with mulch); mechanical control (using traps or barriers to keep critters out); or even biological control (introducing natural ways to remove insects, like other insects or critters that will eat them).

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), meanwhile, notes that “because pesticides typically treat pest symptoms, and not the underlying causes, they often don’t work as well as prevention-based alternatives.” This should only provide you with more incentive to avoid pesticides completely, and instead follow some of these NRDC suggested steps.

First, keep your house clean and dry — as insects, creepy-crawlers like cockroaches, or rodents tend to be attracted to food and water. Keeping a clean home is common sense, but being more conscientious than usual can make a big difference. Sweep or vacuum your floors as much as possible, take out your garbage daily, and keep ripe fruit in the fridge. Don’t let holes, cracks, or leaky faucets allow water to accumulate in corners. Then, seal all entryways to prevent critters from making their way into your home.

The NRDC then suggests to vacuum up any lingering bugs, spider webs, or bests; lay traps around the house, or use swatters to kill insects. If you have pesticides that have been sitting on the shelf for years, it’s better to check their chemicals to make sure they are still safe and in service; many pesticides have been discontinued due to safety concerns over the years.

When choosing the right pesticide, be sure to do your research on each brand. It’s also important to note that organic and so-called “non-toxic” pesticides aren’t always the safer option, as they too have been linked to health problems. Organic pesticides may also be just as dangerous to the environment.

Less harmful options include boric acid, which can be used on cracks to kill insects, or bait boxes that use boric acid. For more suggestions — such as preventing termites, fruit flies, or moths — check out GreenHome or Beyond Pesticides.

Source: Chen M, Chang C, Tao L, Lu C. Residential Exposure to Pesticide During Childhood and Childhood Cancers: A Meta-Analysis. Pediatrics. 2015.