Have you ever questioned the long list of chemical ingredients in your household cleaning products? Sometimes the products don’t even have an ingredient list, and you need to search online or call a phone number to get the list.
Since cleaning products aren’t food, beverages or drugs meant to be ingested, they aren’t exactly regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The only ingredients they are required to list are active disinfectants or potentially harmful chemicals. Otherwise, almost all other ingredients are kept secret.
Is this because manufacturers don’t want to scare off consumers by disclosing how many potential harmful chemicals their product contains? Or could it be because their recipe is “top secret”? In my opinion, it’s the former.
The worst part is that a good percentage of the population uses harmful household cleaning products without thinking twice. We’re fed the information day in, day out, that in order for a house to smell “clean” we need it so smell strongly like synthesized fragrance and other toxic chemicals. Perhaps it’s time for a change in perception!
Cleaning Products As Damaging As Smoking 20 Cigarettes a Day
Changing our perceptions around a ‘clean’ house smelling like strong scents would likely be made easier if there was a downside to these scents and other chemical smells. Fortunately, there is a downside, and it could be the key to getting people to quit their addiction to harmful household cleaning products.
A surprising new study on the long-term health effects of cleaning products found that inhaling sprays and other chemical cleaners at home or work may be as damaging to lungs as smoking nearly 20 cigarettes a day. The study is groundbreaking, because while science has repeatedly proven the dangers of chemical exposure, little research has been done on the effects of long-term use of common household cleaners.
The study, released in February of 2018, investigated the long-term effects of cleaning with commercial products, on lung function and airway obstruction (1). Data was analyzed from over 6,000 participants whose average age was 34 when they enrolled in the European Community Respiratory Health Survey. Using 20 years of data, researchers found that women who used commercial cleaning solutions experienced reduced lung function much faster than those who used them more seldom or not at all.
The findings were unexpectedly gender-specific. In men, cleaning was not significantly associated with lung function decline, or with airway obstruction. Researchers noted that this may be due in part, to men being under-represented in the sample in the sample group at just 47% of participants. They also postulated that women are more likely to do most of the household cleaning – and their results reflected this. Over 85.1% of female participants reported that they were the person cleaning at home, compared to just 46.5% of male participants. A larger percentage of women also reported occupational cleaning (8.9% compared to 1.9% in men).
The data was also adjusted for potential confounders, like body mass index, education and smoking history.
Senior author, Cecilie Svanes, Ph.D., professor at the University of Bergen Center for International Health said (2):
However, when you think of inhaling small particles from cleaning agents that are meant for cleaning the floor and not your lungs, maybe it is not so surprising after all. While the short-term effects of cleaning chemicals on asthma are becoming increasingly well documented, we lack knowledge of the long-term impact.
We feared that such chemicals, by steadily causing a little damage to the airways day after day, year after year, might accelerate the rate of lung function decline that occurs with age. The take-home message of this study is that in the long run, cleaning chemicals very likely cause rather substantial damage to your lungs. These chemicals are usually unnecessary; microfiber cloths and water are more than enough for most purposes.
Dr. Cecilie Svanes
The authors figure that decline in lung function could be attributed to the irritation most chemicals cause on the mucous membranes lining your lungs. Over time, this can result in persistent changes and airway remodeling.
Harmful Household Cleaning Products
The easiest way to detect whether you are using harmful household cleaning products is to check the labels. If the product doesn’t have a label, do some research online for ingredients for that product. Most, if not all cleaning products found in general grocery stores should be avoided. Instead, try to find greener products with small ingredient lists you understand. Always avoid fragrance in products when possible.
Household cleaning products you should steer clear from (and/or find alternatives for) are as follows:
Don’t be fooled by “green” advertising, though. Many products might claim to be “green” and “non-toxic”, but when you actually read the labels, you might find out that these products are very far from what they’re purported to be.
There are thousands of chemicals used in the manufacturing process of different household cleaners. Compare that to the amount found in cigarettes and you’ll be quite surprised at how similar they match up. When you see the word fragrance on your cleaning products, that usually means it’s a mixture of several dozen to several hundred chemicals (all of which don’t have to be disclosed, because of the rules surrounding the umbrella term “fragrance”).
Air fresheners are the worst offender when it comes to fragrance. They’re also the most chemically similar to the formulations used to make cigarettes. For example, acetaldehyde, fragrance, propylene glycol, methyl pyrrolidone, butylphenyl methylpropion al, ethyl acetate, geraniol, benzaldehyde, and ethylhezanol are all common ingredients found in air fresheners and cigarettes.
These chemicals are known carcinogens, nervous system depressants, allergens, immune system suppressants, skin, eye and lung irritants, and also cause organ system toxicity and reproductive toxicity.
The good news? There are alternatives.
Natural Alternatives to Air Fresheners and Cleaning Products
There are many safe, natural alternatives to your current, and potentially harmful household cleaning products. Here are some of the most popular cleaning products and their alternatives below:
1. Air Fresheners
One of my favorite ways to make a room smell good is by diffusing essential oils. Not only do they smell great, but they act as aromatherapy, so they can significantly impact the way you feel. I prefer nebulizing diffusers, because they are extremely effective. Just make sure you avoid essential oils that are toxic for cats, dogs and other pets, as some of them can be deadly – there’s a good article at the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association that lists out oils you should avoid if you have a pet.
A great alternative to bleach (one of the most harmful household cleaning products) for sanitization purposes is by spraying vinegar, and then hydrogen peroxide (not mixed, but separate). I personally use this for when I feed my cats (because they eat a raw food diet), and I’ve never had any issues with contamination. Spraying undiluted white vinegar and then spraying 3% hydrogen peroxide on a surface is “more effective than any of the commercial cleaners in killing bacteria” (3).
3. General Cleaning (Glass, Chrome, etc.)
Using microfiber cloths with water is also a great method of cleaning, especially for shining up surfaces like glass, chrome, granite, marble, and stainless steel. They’re also a clear choice when it comes to dusting. Nothing else can grab onto dust and dirt like microfiber!
4. Laundry Detergent & Dryer Sheets
Instead of conventional laundry detergent, fabric softeners and dryer sheets that are loaded with toxic
chemicals, consider using these alternatives instead. For laundry detergent, you can opt to use soap nuts (which are incredibly eco-friendly, come with no scent and are super cheap), or you can use essential-oil scented Zum Sea Salt Clean Laundry Soap. For a dryer sheet, try out Pur Eco Sheet Reusable dryer sheets – they remove static from clothes, soften them up and they’ve so far lasted me 3 years (plus they’re cheap!).
5. Dish Soap
My favorite eco-friendly and chemical-free dish soap is made by Yaya Maria’s. I’ve been using their product for over 2 years, and it is by far my favorite. Their formulation is made out of castile liquid soap, so it won’t suds up as much as regular dish soap, but that doesn’t mean it won’t clean as good. The added lavender essential oil disinfects dishes, and the formulation can also double as a hand soap.
What You Can Do To Clean The Air Inside Your Home
If you’re wanting a total home detox and you’re ready to make the switch to all-natural cleaning alternatives, you’ll want to do something about the toxic air currently in your home. After years and years of using harmful household cleaning products, the chemicals become engrained in the wood, walls, and essentially any area they have been used. As a result, these chemicals off-gas over time and can cause all sorts of nasty health problems.
My favorite way for cleaning the air inside my home is done with an air filter machine called the Intellipure. I would quite honestly be lost without it. I use it if someone comes into my home smelling like strong fragranced dryer sheets, or in the one case when our brand new oven was off-gassing for weeks every time it was turned on.
The Intellipure helps get rid of microorganisms (like bacteria, viruses and fungi), Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs; that come from paint and furniture) and microscopic particles including ultra-fine particles known to cause cardiovascular disease and stroke. Ultra-fine particles are only generated at very high temperatures such as combustion processes (like car engines, industry, cooking and cigarette smoke).
The Intellipure Ultrafine air cleaning device comes with revolutionary DFS technology that is quite literally transforming the way we breathe. And for good reason. The multi-step purification process turns polluted air into pure oxygen particles we were meant to breathe.
The first filtration step of the Intellipure is called the pre-filtration process. This step utilizes an enhanced VOC pre-filter, pre-absorbing the VOCs that are emitted from paints, furniture, and other harmful chemicals. Then, the cleanable poly-mesh pre-filter captures large particles like hair and lint.
Next, the patented DFS technology captures 99.999% of harmful viruses, bacteria, fungi, mold and dust mites, including particles smaller than what HEPA filters can capture — down to 0.007 microns in size. Ultrafine particles pass through a high energy field, where an electrical charge draws them closer together so they’re easier to trap. This same DFS technology prevents microbial growth in the filter and prevents secondary pollution (unlike standard HEPA filters, which are often attractors of bacterial growth).
Finally, the proprietary blend VOC filter finishes the job. This filter is specially designed to absorb VOCs including formaldehyde, benzene and toluene that come from furniture, chemical cleaners, and paints.
This powerful air cleaner also happens to be the worlds most energy efficient air cleaner. When on low or sleep mode, this machine only uses 1 watt per hour. Operation at 24/7 costs as low as $1 a month, saving you hundreds of dollars over traditional air cleaners.
Their touch control provides seamless fan speed operation, as well as filter replacement reminders. I’ve used my air filter 24/7 for over a year and a half and I have not yet had a replacement reminder – making this air filer incredibly efficient, and cost efficient, too!