It’s hard to forget the toxic, chemical smell of cleaning products, which have become the norm in most homes.
If you ever thought to yourself, “There is no way this is good for me” while trying desperately not to inhale too many cleaning fumes, your intuition was spot-on, a recent study suggests.
Exposure to toxic cleaning products regularly may be as damaging to the lungs as smoking 20 cigarettes a day, potentially leading to decreased lung capacity, damage to the lungs’ lining, asthma, and lung disease.
“We feared that such chemicals, by steadily causing a little damage to the airways day after day, year after year, might accelerate the rate of lung function decline that occurs with age,” said study author Dr. Cecile Svanes.
These fears were confirmed by the study, which highlighted just how important it is to opt for non-toxic and greener cleaning products.
Study Results: Cleaning Products are as Bad as Cigarettes
The study took place at Norway’s University of Bergen and looked at the health of 6,000 people who used cleaning products for two decades on average. The average age of study participants was 34, and most of them were women due to a lack of available male participants.
Women’s lungs were found to be the most susceptible to lung damage from cleaning chemicals.
The lungs of these women had decreased capacity; and they had higher asthma rates.
“When you think of inhaling small particles from cleaning agents that are meant for cleaning the floor and not your lungs, maybe it is not so surprising after all,” said lead study author Øistein Svanes.
Another study done in France based on data from 55,185 registered nurses found that using disinfectants to clean at least once a week could carry between a 24 and 32% higher risk for lung disease.
“Our findings provide further evidence of the effects of exposure to disinfectants on respiratory problems,” the study concluded.
The researchers of the Norway study suggested to not use commercial cleaning products and to use water and microfiber cloths instead.
Choosing Non-Toxic Cleaning Products
All of the studies highlight the importance of investing in purchasing or making non-toxic cleaning products.
In many cases, no products are even necessary; all one needs is water and the right microfiber cloth, as Norwegian scientists point out.
In some cases, using a cleaner is necessary, such as for grease stains, and surfaces that have bacteria.
A homemade solution is to use a few drops of eucalyptus oil for disinfection, lemon juice for grease, and vinegar for cleaning many surfaces (avoid using on polished furniture, marble and granite, or hardwood floors).
Another popular essential-oil based non-toxic household cleaner is called Thieves. Based in clove, lemon, cinnamon, eucalyptus, and rosemary essential oils, it kills bacteria, and is recommended to use for dusting, scrubbing, and spot-cleaning of most surfaces. This will take care of most of your cleaning needs around the house.
The other area that needs replacement non-toxic products is the laundry room.
Non-Toxic Laundry Products
A different study found laundry detergent just as bad as other cleaning supplies. Worst of all, the chemicals that were the most damaging and causing severe asthma were not even listed on the ingredient labels.
The culprit was the ingredient labeled as “fragrance,” which can mean almost any chemical.
The study, conducted in 2008 on the top-selling laundry products and air fresheners, found that all six products tested gave off one chemical regulated as hazardous or toxic under federal laws.
But none of these toxic ingredients were listed on the product labels, perhaps hidden under the “fragrance” moniker.
The biggest chemicals to watch out for are the following: Acetone, which is the active ingredient in paint thinner and nail-polish remover; limonene, which is a molecule with a citrusy scent; along with acetaldehyde, chloromethane and 1,4-dioxane.
Professor Anne Steinemann, a UW professor of civil and environmental engineering and public affairs, analyzed the study, and found several dozen harsh compounds were being given off by the products, which may explain why people’s health often suffers when using them.
“Nearly 100 volatile organic compounds were emitted…and none were listed on any product label. Plus, five of the six products [studied] emitted one or more carcinogenic ‘hazardous air pollutants,’ which are considered by the Environmental Protection Agency to have no safe exposure level.”
In a wider study, Steinemann also examined 25 different cleaners, personal care products, air fresheners and laundry products, and found that many brands contained similar chemicals.
The results piggybacked off of her earlier findings with a colleague in 2004 and 2005, which found that about 20 percent of people reported adverse health effects from exposure to air fresheners and 10 percent reported adverse effects from laundry detergent.
If your laundry detergent, air fresheners or other cleaning products and scented items contain any of the chemicals listed above, you may be harming your health in a cumulative way with each passing day, which is just part of the reason why so many people are switching to natural and non-toxic alternatives.
Where to Find Non-Toxic Laundry Detergent
Its scent comes not from fragrance but from essential oils, and it works as well as anything I’ve used.