Home Cleaning Products Bombshell: Exposure Equivalent to Smoking 20 Cigarettes a Day
Did you know cleaning your home with household cleaners available in most stores can actually create hazardous air conditions inside of your home?
Like many Americans, I grew up in the age of oversanitation in a house full of home cleaning products. My mom regularly scrubbed down our kitchen counter with household bleach. The sink was so shiny that it sparkled, and our floors were spotless. She didn’t do this to hurt us; she thought it was keeping us safe. Years later, many of the clients I met in my practice had the same “kill-all-germs” standard for their homes. After all, it’s what they thought would best protect their families.
In reality, there are lots of reasons to forgo store-bought home cleaning products. The latest example? Regular, long-term exposure to spray cleaners increases a woman’s risk of lung damage similar to that of smoking a pack of 20 cigarettes a day.
Home Cleaning Products Study: The Main Takeaways
The study, published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, investigated home cleaning products, including sprays and other cleaners. Although the study didn’t look at products’ impacts on lung cancer risk, it did aim to find out how cleaners damage the lungs and impair function.
In the first-of-its-kind study on home cleaning products, Norwegian researchers turned up some important findings. Here are the key takeaways: (1)
- The study looked at 6,000 women over a 20-year span.
- It investigated the long-term impact of cleaners on respiratory health, including lung function decline and airway obstruction.
- Scientists looked at both people cleaning at home and people who cleaned as a profession.
- The study looked at forced expiratory volume in one second, which is how much air you can blow out of your lungs in a second.
- They also looked at forced vital capacity. That’s how much air you can blow out of your lungs after taking a big, deep breath.
- Although both of these breathing factors declines naturally with age starting in the mid-20s, the study found regularly using cleaning chemicals accelerated lung decline.
- Cleaning as little as once a week from home over 20-years initiated significant lung damage.
- People cleaning professionally for a job experienced lung damage on par with smoking 20 cigarettes daily for 10 to 20 years.
The researchers hypothesize that cleaning products’ irritating ingredients cause damage through different avenues, including:
- Triggering immune system dysfunction
- Setting off inflammation in mucous membranes
- Damage to the airways on the cell, structural and tissue level
Environmental Working Group’s science review of the study provides some recommendations: (2)
- Save money and your lungs by simply using fewer cleaning products. Store-bought cleaner manufacturers aren’t required to disclose all ingredients, so there’s no way of really knowing what’s in a specific mixture…and how it’ll affect your health in the short- and long-term.
- Avoid spray cleaners when possible. If you must use them, spray onto a cloth first to reduce the number of tiny droplets you breathe in.
- Use microfiber cloths or microfiber cloths and water to do your dusting.
The Dark Side of Home Cleaning Products
The study linking cleaner use to cigarette lung damage should certainly give you pause. But there are dozens and dozens of other peer-reviewed, published studies outlining how harmful cleaning products impact our bodies. Perhaps the scariest part? Cleaner manufacturers don’t have to disclose all of the ingredients in products. And we just don’t know what health effects stem from the way all of these questionable ingredients mix with each other. Here’s what we do know. Let’s take a look at some of the ways toxic cleaning products can damage your body.
Immune System Dysfunction
One animal study published in Science in 2012 demonstrated the harm that can result from living in a too-sterile environment. Researchers observed two groups of mice: the first group was bred with “germ-free” immune systems that lacked gut bacteria; the second group was given normal, healthy exposure to good and bad bacteria. When they were tested, the germ-free mice had much higher levels of inflammation in the colon and lung regions compared to the mice with normal germ exposure (who had healthy immune responses).
The germ-free mice had also developed symptoms similar to ulcerative colitis and asthma. But the good news is, once the germ-free mice were exposed to normal amounts of bacteria two weeks after birth, their immune system response balanced out, and the animals healed from their inflammatory conditions. (3)
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