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Study finds cleaning chemicals are as harmful as smoking 20 cigarettes per day for women

Researchers say exposure to these chemicals reduces lung function over time

Photo (c) Choreograph - Getty Images
A new study suggests common cleaning sprays could lead to long-term health consequences for frequent users, especially in women.

Researchers from the University of Bergen in Norway found that regular use of cleaning sprays -- as little as once a week -- may cause a decline in lung function that’s comparable to smoking 20 cigarettes per day.

Women at greater risk of lung function decline

For the study, researchers tracked more than 6,200 people from 22 health institutions over the course of two decades. Participants were asked to keep a record of what cleaning products they used and in what quantity.

Findings showed that the decline in lung function in women who clean appeared to be greater than the decline experienced by men who clean.

In women working as cleaners, the accelerated lung function decline was comparable to smoking “somewhat less than 20 pack-years.” The team also found increased rates of asthma among women who used cleaning chemicals regularly.

No effect was found on the lung function of men who cleaned, either professionally or at home. The authors speculate that this may be because men's lungs are more resistant to damage from irritants found in cleaning chemicals.

Irritates mucous membranes

The researchers said they were initially surprised by the level of cleaning chemical-derived lung impairment. However, they added, “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."

Repeatedly inhaling small particles from cleaning chemicals irritates the mucous membranes lining the airways, which can lead to an ongoing change in the airways and airway remodeling, the authors explained.

But despite that finding, the researchers say that the long-term effects of cleaner exposure are uncertain.

"While the short-term effects of cleaning chemicals on asthma are becoming increasingly well documented, we lack knowledge of the long-term impact," said lead author Cecile Svanes.

Chemicals are ‘usually unnecessary’

“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,” the researchers said.

The researchers recommend skipping the sprays and instead opting for microfiber cloths and water.

To mitigate harmful effects on consumers, they say public health officials should “strictly regulate cleaning products and encourage producers to develop cleaning agents that cannot be inhaled.”

The full study has been published online in the American Thoracic Society's American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

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