Regular Use of Cleaning Products is Just as Bad as Smoking Cigarettes

My husband and I stayed at an organic bed and breakfast this summer. Because of the self-proclaimed “organic” in the B and B’s name and because I’m always trying to live as healthy as possible, I asked the owner if they use commercial varieties of cleaning products. She replied that they don’t use a lot but they insist on ensuring their guests’ health by using the chemical varieties, not just natural ones.

I was surprised by her clear misunderstanding of the highly-toxic nature of commercial cleaning products and that she had bought into the myth that natural cleaning products are less effective than the toxic varieties.

Naturally, when I saw a study showing how chemical cleaning products are damaging peoples’ lungs as much as smoking cigarettes, I was reminded of that B and B owner and the many people that still mistakenly believe the only way to truly clean is to use harsh chemical cleaning products. Yet, in doing so, are clearly damaging their health.

According to the a study, entitled, “European Community Respiratory Health Survey” (ECRHS), researchers followed 6230 people with an average age of 34 for 20 years. The participants underwent various testing methods, including bronchodilator tests to assess lung capacity. Those participants with regular use of spray cleaning products or other chemical cleaning products were more likely to have been diagnosed with asthma. They found that regular use of cleaning sprays (once a week or more) or other cleaning products was as damaging to the lungs as smoking 20 cigarettes daily for 10 to 20 years. That’s an enormous amount of lung damage.

Related: How to Make a Non-Toxic Cleaning Kit

We’ve come to associate use of toxic cleaning products replete with poison labels as normal, a sign of a cleanliness, and like the B and B owner, an indication of healthiness for occupants. But, as this study showed, that’s not the case.

In an interview with British newspaper The Independent the study author Professor Cecile Svanes, a medic at the University of Bergen said: “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.”

Lung damage is not really surprising when you consider the amount of volatile organic compounds released by many common household cleaning products. Dr. Gaurab Chakrabarti, MD, PhD at the Philadelphia-based biotechnology company Solugen, conducted a study measuring the amount of VOCs released by common household products. VOCs are gasses that enter the air through the routine use of a wide variety of products, including: paints, cleaning products, pesticides, body care and personal care products, and many other commonly used products.

The company found that the inappropriately-named “air fresheners” were by far the worst culprits, releasing 697.6 milligrams of VOCs per year per household, based on average use. That amount was followed by disinfecting wipes (358.2 mg), insecticide sprays (238.2 mg), face cleaners (105.4 mg), general glass cleaners (104.2 mg), wood cleaners (52 mg), dish soap (21.7 mg) and other household and personal care products. Most people choose low or no VOC paints but are filling their homes with toxic VOCs through cleaning and personal care products.

The company also assessed the number of VOCs in commonly used cleaning and other household products. Shockingly, they found that products like Febreze One Air Freshener spray releases more VOCs than Raid Ant & Roach, which is designed to kill insects. Also, surprisingly, Mrs. Meyers air freshener and glass cleaner products released high amounts of VOCs, although the company’s products are often equated with being natural and a healthier alternative to other commercial varieties.

Products with High VOCs according to study

VOCs have been found to have a wide range of health effects, including: headaches; eye, nose and throat irritation; loss of coordination, asthma exacerbation and nausea; with longer-term effects that include: liver, kidney and central nervous system damage, and cancer.

I’m hoping that as more of these types of studies are released, people will realize that chemical cleaning products or air fresheners do not offer superior cleaning, they simply offer the incredibly real potential for serious health damage.

Unlike cigarette smoke, manufacturers of cleaning products are not required to label their ingredients on the label. If you think that needs to change, please sign this Care2 petition.

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Dr. Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD, DNM is the publisher of the free e-news World’s Healthiest News, the Cultured Cook, president of ScentsationalWellness, and an international best-selling and 20-time published book author whose works include: The Cultured Cook: Delicious Fermented Foods with Probiotics to Knock Out Inflammation, Boost Gut Health, Lose Weight & Extend Your Life.


heather g
heather g18 days ago

Best to stick with vinegar, baking soda, etc. Your lungs will appreciate your choices.

heather g
heather g18 days ago

North American manufacturers have a love affair with chemicals - never mind the effect on the health of the population.

Mostapha Z
Mostapha Z20 days ago

Thank you.

K M20 days ago

Wow, surprising. I guess most of us don't really think about how strong most cleaning agents are. Thank you

Angela G
Angela G20 days ago

yuck. I use either vinegar or hydrogen peroxide (natural products) to clean, also baking soda.

Natali m
Natali m20 days ago

Thank you! Very surprised by Mrs. Meyers!

Janis K
Janis K21 days ago

Thanks for sharing.

Leo C
Leo C21 days ago

Thank you for sharing!

Mike R
Mike R21 days ago


Lorraine Andersen
Lorraine A21 days ago

Thanks for sharing