Journalism of Courage

Cleaning Sprays May Cause Long-Term Lung Damage

By Nicky Broyd

Cleaning may be good for your home and finances, but it may not be as good for your health.

A new European study has found that women who work as cleaners, or who regularly clean the family home using cleaning sprays or other products, have a greater decline in lung cancer over time than women who do not clean.

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The researchers, from the University of Bergen in Norway, say the faster decline in lung health is comparable to smoking 20 cigarettes a day over 10 to 20 years.

The University of Bergen researchers analyzed data from 6,235 participants in the European Community Respiratory Health Survey, of which 53% were women. They followed them for more than 20 years.

Compared with women who didn’t clean, the study found:

  • The amount of air that women forcibly exhaled in 1 second (known as forced expiratory volume — FEV1) declined faster in those who cleaned at home and even faster in women who worked as cleaners. FEV is a measure of lung health.
    • Asthma was more prevalent in women who cleaned at home (12.3%) or at work (13.7%), compared with those who did not clean (9.6%)
    • Men who cleaned, either at home or at work, did not have a greater decline in FEV1 than men who did not.

    The researchers said that the decline in lung health may be due to the irritation that most cleaning chemicals cause on the mucous membranes lining the airways, which can cause long-term changes.

    Study limitations include the fact that very few women who did not clean were included. Also, the number of men who worked as occupational cleaners was small, and their exposure to cleaning agents was probably different from women who worked as cleaners.

    Lead study author Øistein Svanes says that in the long term, cleaning chemicals are very likely to damage your lungs. He says that usually, you don’t need chemical cleaners, and microfiber cloths and water are enough for most household cleaning.

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