Are Your Cleaning Products Contributing to Asthma?

asthma cleaning hormones immunity labels 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:

  • 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.

DIY Approach

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.

In Summary

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



(1) American Lung Association – Dust Mites

(2)(7) American Lung Association – Cleaning Supplies

(3)(5) Berkeley Lab – VOC

(8)(9) Federal Trade Commission – Green Guidelines

(10) American Lung Association – Reduce Asthma Triggers

(11) Environmental Working Group – Guide to Cleaners

(12) The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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About Ruan Living

Ruan Living simplifies a nontoxic lifestyle through its Practical Nontoxic Living podcast, free detox workshops, online D-Tox Academy, and transformative 40-Day Home Detox. It aims to help you avoid toxic chemicals, heavy metals, and electromagnetic fields (EMFs) from what you buy, own, and do— without compromising your joy and convenience. Ruan was founded by Sophia Ruan Gushée, author of the bestselling critically acclaimed book A to Z of D-Toxing: The Ultimate Guide to Reducing Your Toxic Exposures and several detox workbooks. A graduate of Brown University and Columbia Business School, Sophia has served on the Brown University School of Public Health Advisory Council and Well+Good Council. A popular nontoxic living speaker, consultant, and teacher, Sophia lives in New York City with her husband and three daughters. Her passion for empowering others to enjoy nontoxic living began with the birth of her first daughter in 2007. Everything she creates is a love letter to her children and for the healthiest, brightest future possible. You can learn more here: Sophia’s Impact.


This article is for informational purposes only. This information is provided “as is” without warranty.

It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. We do not offer medical advice, course of treatment, diagnosis, or any other opinion on your conditions or treatment options. To the extent that this article features the advice of physicians or medical practitioners, the views expressed are the views of the cited expert and do not necessarily represent the views of Ruan Living.

In no event will Sophia Ruan Gushee or Ruan Living be liable for any damages or loss of any kind resulting from the use of this website. Anyone relying upon or making use of the information on this website does so at his or her own risk.

Some of the services and products recommended on this website provide compensation to Sophia Ruan Gushee or Ruan Living. All recommendations are based foremost upon an honest belief that the product, service, or site will benefit our site visitors in some way.  

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