YOU may think that frequently cleaning your house protects you from nasty bugs and germs.
But constant exposure to toxic chemicals in cleaning products is damaging our health, experts have warned.
An “alphabet soup of toxic chemicals” found in a range of products from floor cleaners to bleach and washing up liquids could harm your lungs and create breathing problems and allergies.
That’s according to a new report by biochemists called Do You Know What You Are Breathing?, which looked at the dangers associated with common cleaning products.
Family GP Dr Gill Jenkins, one of the authors of the report, said: “Sadly, familiarity breeds complacency, and many people routinely under-estimate the risks associated with household cleaners.
“Many contain ingredients which are highly irritant to both the skin and respiratory system.
“A number of studies have shown that fumes from cleaning products exacerbate asthma and undermine lung function, and a growing number of scientists and medics believe they are to blame for the explosion in asthma which began in the second half of the 20th century.”
Biochemist, Dr Chris Etheridge, added: “As the warning labels point out, many of the chemicals and preservatives used in household cleaners can also trigger dermatitis and other skin problems, and again, many experts believe they are responsible for the steep rise we have seen in contact dermatitis and other skin conditions.”
Last year scientists at the University of Bergen, found people who regularly clean their homes are at 14 per cent greater risk of experiencing a decline in their lung function over the next 20 years.
The study looked at a sample of more than 5,000 people from The European Community Respiratory Health Survey, over a period of two decades.
RISKY CHEMICALS TO WATCH OUT FOR – AND HOW TO AVOID THEM
There are many ingredients in cleaning products that can cause breathing problems and asthma.
Some of the more common are:
- Benzalkonium chloride (quaternary ammonium compound) – typically used as a disinfectant in household cleaners for floors and hard services
- Chlorine-based agents (sodium hypochlorite) – used as the active ingredient in bleach
- Some scents within cleaning agents e.g. limonene, which gives some products their ‘citrus’ smell
- Isothiazolinones – used in some washing up liquids and laundry washing liquids
To reduce exposure, the Healthy Lungs for Life campaign recommends you check the ingredients and avoid products that will put you at risk.
You should always follow the instructions on labels, use wipes rather than sprays so there are fewer airborne particles to inhale, open doors and windows to ventilate while cleaning and go and seek advice from your GP if you are concerned about the impacted of chemicals in products on your lungs.
The data revealed those people who clean for a living experienced a 17 per cent greater decline in lung function compared to the average person on the street.
Around 1.2 million people in the UK have been diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, or life-threatening breathing problems including emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
The disease claims 24,000 lives a year.
The most common culprits that cause irritation include bleach, ammonia and variants of the quaternary ammonia compounds, called “quats”.
But it is not just respiratory problems that are on the rise – cleaning products have caused a spike in eczema cases as well.
As many as one in three children will experience eczema.
And cases overall have tripled in the last 30 years, according to the report.
Many experts believe a major factor driving this increase is the widespread use of chemicals called isothiazolinones, which are used in polishes, fabric softeners and detergents.
Dr Jenkins added: “If you read the small print on labels you will see that many supposedly skin-friendly non-bio products also carry warnings that they can cause skin irritations — which makes a mockery of their supposedly skin-friendly claims.”
So what are the alternatives?
If you want to avoid the nasty chemicals in your cleaning products, there are a few natural alternatives you can use.
1. Baking soda
A paste of baking soda, mixed with water, can be used to clean ovens without using harsh chemicals.
It can also reduce odours in your fridge and carpets.
And because it is alkaline it dissolves grime, plus its texture makes it great for scrubbing.
You’ve probably heard this one before.
Vinegar is acidic so can cut through grime and dirt.
It can also be used to make glass sparkly clean.
Simply mix one part vinegar to one part water and clean away.
3. Olive oil
This can help your surfaces look shiny and new again.
Especially stainless steel.
Just pop a few drops on a rag and wipe down your surfaces.
4. Castile soap
This soap is made with nothing but vegetable oils.
Like olive oil, it can wipe down grimy surfaces and cut through the dirt.
It can also double as a homemade washing detergent and dishwasher soap.
5. Lemon juice
Like vinegar, lemon juice is acidic so works wonders on grime and dirt.
It can also be used to remove stains from clothes and Tupperware containers.
The citrus fruit also cuts through mildew and mould – so is great for cleaning the bathroom.
On top of that, it leaves your home smelly clean and fresh.
6. Essential oils
Essential oils can be used in very small quantities to clean the surfaces in your home.
That’s good news if you like the smell of flowers.
Try adding a few drops of lavender oil to some baking soda to make a homemade cleaner. The oil’s antibacterial properties – as well as eucalyptus’ – is a natural germicide for soft surfaces like cushions and mattresses.
7. Microfibre cloths
Microfibre clothes are becoming more and more popular.
They can be used to clean almost any surface using nothing more than water.
That’s because their tiny fibres manage to pick up dirt and germs as they are used.
And unlike kitchen clothes and sponges, which have been proven to be a breeding ground for bugs, they don’t retain bacteria.
Another bonus is that they can be put through the washing machine and reused over and over.