Are Your Cleaning Products Contributing to Asthma?Feb 17, 2018
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)
“Nontoxic” and “green” cleaners can be risky too
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 biodegrade in an eco-friendly way; that the product was made with renewable resources; or, less commonly, that the cleaning product was proven to be safe for human health and development.(9)
Tips to avoid cleaners that may contribute to asthma
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:
- Environmental Working Group (EWG). The EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning rates over 2,000 products for their health hazards.(11)
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA). The U.S EPA’s Safer Choice program lists over 2,000 cleaning products that meet labeling criteria.
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:
- baking soda has a scouring ability to cut grease and bathroom slime
- hydrogen peroxide is a good replacement for bleach and can kill bacteria
- white vinegar has an odor- and some bacteria-fighting abilities
- Castille soap and hot water can get most of the cleaning done, and the ingredients above can fine-tune your cleaning goals
Also, remember that the effectiveness of their cleaning power may change when mixed. For example:
- When castile soap and vinegar are combined (in a bucket of water for cleaning floors, for example) the castile soap returns to its original state of being an oil instead of soap.
- When baking soda and vinegar are mixed they cancel each other out making their effectiveness neutral—like that of water.
Asthma caused by household dust and cleaning products can be managed with a few simple strategies. When cleaning the home consider:
- Using products made from natural ingredients that have proven to be the safest options: castile soap, baking soda, vinegar, and hydrogen peroxide
- Using 100% pure essential oils for added cleaning properties (like tea tree or lemon oils), or for fragrance
- Using products that have been proven safe for people by a credible third-party organization
- Not solely depending on labels—like “nontoxic”, “eco-friendly,” or “green”—to find products that are safe, as the meaning of these labels vary
- Getting to know asthma triggers, and avoiding them altogether
(3)(5) Berkeley Lab – VOC
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