Cleaning products: harmful for humans, but to what extent?

Ads boast that daily housework has been revolutionized thanks to the latest cleaning products. So we assume that the products on the market are safe for our health and the planet. In reality, many contain an array of potentially harmful ingredients. According to a recent Norwegian study involving 6,230 participants—published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine1—daily exposure to certain household cleaning products can cause respiratory problems comparable to those associated with cigarette smoking.

Worrisome, right?

The study demonstrated that after several decades, the lung capacity of women using cleaning products on a daily basis (either at home or working as cleaners) was significantly affected. While reduced lung function is to be expected with age, it was much higher in the study subjects, the equivalent of having smoked one to two packs of cigarettes per day for 20 years!

How is that possible?

Simple. Think of all the cleaning products we use in our homes: surface cleaner, glass cleaner, kitchen cleaner, floor cleaner, disinfectant, toilet bowl cleaner, laundry detergent, fabric softener, stain remover, air freshener… It adds up! A large number of cleaning products contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), atmospheric emissions in gas form composed of carbon and hydrogen2. When you spray your windows with a cleaner, for example, the VOCs in the product spread through the air you are breathing, which can cause health problems over time.

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