by Angela Cummings and Sophia Ruan Gushée
A clean home can be both healthy and a risk factor for developing asthma(1)(2)
How? The cleaning products you use is important.
The video below summarizes key findings from a recent study that found that "women who cleaned as little as once a week had an accelerated lung decline risk. In fact, they said using cleaning products for 20 years is equivalent to smoking 20 cigarettes a day for 10 to 20 years for women."(12)
Cleaning products—such as soaps, polishes, and disinfectants—often contain chemicals—volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs)—that may contribute to asthma(3) as well as other respiratory problems(7), allergies (5), cancer, birth defects, hormone disruption, and adverse effects on the nervous system.(6)
Even cleaners advertised as “eco-friendly,” “nontoxic,” or “green” can contain hazardous chemicals.(4)
While there is no standard definition or criteria for “eco-friendly,” “nontoxic,” and “green” (they are open to interpretation and free to be used by manufacturers), the Federal Trade Commission does require claims of “eco-friendly,” “nontoxic,” and “green” to be substantiated. But enforcement of this policy is difficult, and it relies on consumers to report concerns.(8)
Since there is not a common criterion for each definition, these labels can range in meaning. For example, "green" can mean that ingredients in the cleaning product biodegrades in an eco-friendly way; or that the product was made with renewable resources; or, less common, that the cleaning product was proven to be safe for human health and development.(9)
Since manufacturers are not required to disclose all the ingredients in their cleaning products (and few voluntarily disclose them), it's hard to learn which ingredients may trigger asthma. However, if you do know, then avoiding asthma triggers in cleaning products is one strategy for alleviating asthma symptoms.(10)
Choose Natural Cleaners Certified by a Credible Unbiased Party
Cleaning products that are evaluated and certified by a credible third-party provides better assurance that your cleaning products are safe.
Credible third-party organizations include:
Natural cleaners such as water, castile soap, baking soda, vinegar, and hydrogen peroxide have been used for years with little, to no, health risks.
Getting to know the properties of each ingredient is worthwhile. For example:
Also, remember that the effectiveness of their cleaning power may change when mixed. For example:
Asthma caused by household dust and cleaning products can be managed with a few simple strategies. When cleaning the home consider:
(3)(5) Berkeley Lab – VOC