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Lung Health & Clean Homes

Did you know that our everyday cleaning products are a major source of air and surface pollution in our homes and environment? And that a recent study has found VOC's – volatile organic compounds - from everyday cleaning products can be as harmful to our health as smoking?

According to, indoor air pollution is a little known yet very toxic problem. They tell us that indoor pollutants come from multiple sources such as gas and wood burning stoves, personal care products, nail varnish and cleaning products – to name but a few.

We spend up to 90% of our time indoors indoors yet a recent study found that “lung function was markedly impacted in people who regularly clean around the home or are employed in cleaning jobs, to the extent of being compared with the effects of having smoked 20 cigarettes a day for 10-20 years”

The report stated that symptoms can include irritation of the eyes, nose or throat and any number of respiratory symptoms such as shortness of breath, coughing, wheeze, nausea, headaches, skin problems and allergic reactions.

The report also stated that women, who are typically the main cleaner in domestic settings and in commercial cleaning jobs, along with anyone with pre-existing respiratory conditions such as asthma or COPD, were at most at risk of health issues associated with VOC’s.

Researchers at Smartline, a research project funded by the European Regional Development Fund, suggest that the presence of VOCs around the home can increase the risk of adults developing asthma by up to 40 per cent.

There is also increasing evidence to suggest VOCs in our home – from a wide range of sources and not just from cleaning – are also having a detrimental affect on the health of children. More information can be read here state that cleaning and household products that may contain VOCS include, but are not limited to, Aerosol spray products including beauty goods, air fresheners, detergent and dishwashing liquid, furniture and floor polish, oven cleaners and dry-cleaning chemicals.

It is important to note that VOC’s can also come from a wide range of items, not just our cleaning products, and can include everyday furniture made from chipboard for instance! For those of you who want to know more about other causes of indoor air pollution, you might find this article by the British Lung Foundation informative.

Household cleaners can often contain an array of chemicals such as butyl cellosolve, also known as ethylene glycol and monobutyl ether which have been linked to damage to the brain and nervous system. Some contain Alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs) which have been found by some studies to affect the reproduction abilities of fish and other water-based creatures. Some everyday cleaning items like shoe polish are predominantly made using petroleum-based chemicals that are harmful to both humans and the environment.

Did you know that drain cleaners are considered one the most dangerous chemicals that you can have in your home. Even small amounts of ingestion can cause severe medical problems in your mouth, throat and stomach and in some cases, death can occur.

There are also risks associated with mixing household cleaners. For instance, mixing bleach with ammonia releases chloramine gas which can be deadly and both chemicals are found in a number of common and everyday cleaning products.

While we have all heard of bleach-based cleaning products, some of us may be wondering how common ammonia is and how likely you are to have an accidental chemical poisoning. Perhaps the risks are more common that you might think, with ammonia found in a number of cleaning products that include types of window cleaners, floor polishing waxes, drain cleaners, toilet cleaners, bathroom cleaners, multi-surface cleaners, glass cleaners, oven cleaners and stainless-steel cleaners – so it would be quite easy to make mistakes.

It is for this reason that it’s also advised not to clean litter trays, pet urine stains or nappy bins with beach-based cleaning agents because urine contains small amounts of ammonia.

For those of you with pets in the home, did you know that it’s not just bleach and ammonia that you should avoid. A number of ingredients in cleaning products could be harmful to your animals. Disinfectants containing benzalkonium chloride and air fresheners containing phthalates, which is sometimes simply listed as fragrance can all cause illness and irritation in pets and should be avoided.

The dangers of anti-freeze are commonly known. It poses a risk to our pets, humans and wildlife if ingested. Consuming anti-freeze can cause damage to major organs and even death. Even small amounts of ingestion can cause damage to the central nervous system and in the USA, it is estimated that around 10,000 cats and dogs are accidentally poisoned by anti-freeze each year. The risks are associated with a chemical ingredient called Ethylene Glycol which can be found in a range of other products including cleaning and even cosmetic products. For those worried about antifreeze poisoning in their cats and dogs, these articles might be of interest.

Knowing that household cleaning products might be harming our health is one thing, but knowing what to do about is a different matter entirely. Have you ever read the ingredients list of your preferred cleaning products and seen the unpronounceable list of words beside the hazard warnings. It feels like you need a degree in chemistry just to try and make sense of it all.

But, there is another way. There are so many natural based and eco-conscious cleaning products available today that even most high street stores carry more sustainable alternatives. But beware the greenwash! Or atleast of claims that might not add up.

But what about homemade cleaning solutions? A quick internet search of “homemade natural cleaners uk” produced 48,700,000 results with many quick, simple and cheap recipe ideas for making your own natural cleaners from commonly available items like lemon, white vinegar and bicarbonate of soda.

We know that everyone is on their own eco-friendly journey and not everyone can or will change every single cleaning product that they use but, we hope this blog gives some insight into the often-unknown risks associated with cleaning our homes.

For those of you however, who will stick with your tried and tested commercial products, opening windows and cleaning in well ventilated spaces will help reduce your exposure to VOCs. As too, will ensuring you know what chemicals are in each product and following all safety precautions as advised on the container.

Thank you for reading. This blog is for information only and should not be considered advice. We would urge you to carry out your own research. If you are considering embarking on making your own cleaning products, we urge you to consider all safety precautions. If after reading this article you have questions about your health, we would strongly recommend you discuss these with your doctor.

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