lung function

Women who use common cleaning products at home or at work are at risk for a decline in lung function. The drop may be gradual, but it appears to be sustained.

European Respiratory Health Survey:

That is what Norwegian researchers discovered in analyzing results from 6,235 volunteers in the European Respiratory Health Survey (Svanes et al, American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, online Feb 16, 2018). These participants were tracked for more than two decades.

Are Cleaning Products as Bad as Cigarettes?

Inhaling chemicals from cleaning sprays and other chemicals used in cleaning appears to accelerate lung function decline over the years. Women who clean houses or offices for a living had lung function decline comparable to smokers. The researchers estimate that it is equivalent to 10 to 20 pack-years of tobacco smoking.

Cleaning was not associated with worsening lung function in men, but that might be due to fewer men reporting that they did home or occupational cleaning. (Only 57 men were professional cleaners.) Men who did report that they were the ones doing the cleaning in their households had more doctor-diagnosed asthma.

How Does Cleaning Affect Lung Function?

The authors believe that the deleterious effect on the lungs is due to chronic irritation of lung tissue by cleaning chemicals, particularly quaternary ammonium compounds. This could result in airway remodeling and persistent changes in the airways. That might explain the decline in forced expiratory volume (FEV1) and forced vital capacity (FVC).

Asthma was also more prevalent in women who clean either at home or at work than among those who did not clean. The authors suggest that cleaning activities represent a risk to respiratory health among women that deserves further study.

Household Cleaning Products as Sources of Pollution:

An independent study in the journal Science (Feb. 16, 2018) shows that the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from cleaning agents, pesticides, personal care products, printing inks and adhesives are catching up to vehicle emissions as sources of pollution. Partly, this is because regulation and technology are reducing the amount of pollution that cars, buses and trucks put out.

Exposure to air pollution is bad for people’s lungs and their general health. Now that VOCs from household and workplace compounds like oven cleaner, ink or shampoo account for half of urban air pollution, public health officials may need to turn more attention to controlling airborne chemicals from these sources.

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  1. Ellen

    Isn’t it true that ingredients do not have to be listed on non-food products?

    I am a professional housecleaner, but I use vinegar and water in a spray bottle, and a product from Seventh Generation which is supposed to be better. I hope that is true, but how can we know? Also Bon Ami is supposed to be a safer cleanser. Is that true?

    Part of the problem is fragrances. See this:

  2. Trish
    O'Fallon, MO

    My husband’s spray deodorant sends me into coughing spasms. I need to be sure I am not in the room when he sprays it.

  3. Marion

    Since I have recently been diagnosed with lung cancer, and I never smoked, I am wondering about the cleaning products I have used over the years. I am 71.

    • thai

      I’m so sorry to hear about your diagnosis, Marion. What a shock it would be! Which cleaning products have you used most, do you think? It’s definitely something we women, especially, should consider. I’m 70, and your story is shocking and sad. God’s speed in your recovery!

  4. Thomas

    Very interesting but how about a list of these dangerous products

  5. Ron

    I’ve used them all my life and no problem. 66 years old and still kicking strongly. I just don’t believe this is anywhere near as dangerous as cigarettes nor causing outdoor pollution. I think the article is nonsense and a scare tactic.

  6. Dagny
    Philadelphia, PA

    I’m with Bev from Texas when it comes to household cleaners, but just recently I noticed that some heavily scented personal care soaps were setting off sneezing, and that non-stick cooking sprays were triggering nasty coughing fits. I gave the unused soaps away and both hold my breath and turn my face away when using non-stick sprays. I also came close to falling several times when non-stick spray got on the floor. If anyone has an idea of what else to use, I’d love to hear about it. I tried using a paper towel with a smear of coconut oil to lubricate a frying pan, but that didn’t work.

    • Trish
      O'Fallon, MO

      You might try adding olive oil to a spray bottle and using that to spray your skillet.
      Also, try allowing the skillet to heat before adding the oil; that should help with the skillet being more non-stick than adding the fat to the cold skillet and then heating.

  7. Damita

    The cleaning person in our senior building cleans with pinesol, various scents and then sprays scented aerosols. We gag all the time. Maybe HUD should address this issue.

  8. Karen
    North Carolina

    Our local gym provides spray bottles of an quaternary ammonium cleaner throughout the area for exercisers to sanitize machines, equipment, and mats. Many people spray with abandon, thinking they are protecting themselves. Do you think frequent gym users might be affected by exposure? And would good old alcohol do the same job on the equipment without endangering anyone’s lungs?

  9. Bev

    I quit using most store bought cleaning products and rely on vinegar, bakzing soda, rubbing alcohol and castile soap for most of my cleaning. Even though I haven’t been diagnosed with a breathing problem, I would start coughing each time I used an aerosol cleaner – reason enough for me to change my ways.

  10. Marge
    West Allis, WI

    What about the scented detergents many people use to wash their clothes?? I can’t see how smelling that all that time is healthy. Especially when you can smell someone’s clean clothes even in a grocery line…….it’s all chemicals that are also used to create the scents in these detergents.

  11. Elizabeth
    Blacksburg, VA

    Is the term ” quaternary ammonium compounds” found on cleaning products labels? How can we find out which products have this agent? If this is not easily found on labels, your warning is worse than useless, it’s frightening, with no recourse given to avoid such products.

    • Trish
      O'Fallon, MO

      The only QUATS I ever used were in a foodservice environment in a hospital kitchen. I have never seen them listed in normal household cleaners. (That does not mean that there are not any; only that I have never seen them listed.)

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