bucket of cleaning suppliesJust in time for spring cleaning comes a new study reminding us that how you clean and what you clean with matter. A lot.

Researchers looked at the long-term effects of cleaning chemicals among 6230 women and men. Lung function was measured. Frequency of exposure was documented.

They found that

Women cleaning at home or working as occupational cleaners had accelerated decline in lung function, suggesting that exposures related to cleaning activities constitute a risk to long-term respiratory health.

In fact, the damage over time was equivalent to a pack-a-day smoking habit.

Interestingly, the authors didn’t see the same kind of damage in men. Significantly fewer men, however, reported cleaning at home, and less than 2% reported cleaning as their occupation. It’s possible they simply had less overall exposure than women in the study. Women who worked as cleaners experienced the most decline.

One possible mechanism for the accelerated decline in cleaners is the repetitive exposure to low-grade irritative cleaning agents over time, thereby causing persistent changes in the airways. Also, some cleaning agents may have sensitizing properties through specific immunological mechanism; quaternary ammonium compounds are known to have sensitizing effects in the airways, as well as also having an irritative effect. Repeated exposure could lead to remodelling of the airways, thereby over time causing an accelerated decline in [lung function]. Also, one could hypothesize that long-term exposure to airway irritants such as ammonia and bleach used when cleaning at home could cause fibrotic or other interstitial changes in the lung tissue, thereby leading to accelerated decline….

The paper was published in Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

Fortunately, there are quite a few nontoxic options in stores these days. Even better: You can make your own simple, effective cleaners at home – and save a good bit of money in the process.

Below are a few good resources we found online for nontoxic cleaners you can make yourself. One note: Some of the links below include cleaners that contain borax. This ingredient is at the center of some debate, as some animal studies have suggested it may be a hormone disruptor. Wellness Mama offers a great overview of the issue, so you can make an informed decision whether to use it or not. (She ultimately comes down in favor of its safety for cleaning.)


Image via Alpha Stock Images

Updated 7/5/19

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