Research published in American Thoracic Society's American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine has found that regularly inhaling the noxious cocktail of chemicals used in most cleaning products is bad for lung health – but, apparently, only if you’re a woman.
Researchers compared the respiratory fitness of 6,235 respondents who took part in the European Community Respiratory Health Survey over 20 years. Each individual could be categorized into one of three groups: those who cleaned professionally, those who cleaned domestically, and those who did not clean at all.
Forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) – essentially, the amount of air you can exhale in a second by force – decreased 3.9 milliliters (ml)/year more in women (but, interestingly, not men) who cleaned for work and 3.6 milliliters (ml)/year in women who cleaned the home.
Forced vital capacity (FVC), which is the total volume of air you can exhale in a second by force, also declined in women who cleaned either professionally (7.1 ml/year) or domestically (4.3 ml/year faster).
The researchers noted that asthma rates were higher among women who cleaned regularly, whether at work (14 percent) or at home (12 percent). In comparison, 10 percent of women who did not clean had asthma (a lower percentage than any other category, male or female).
To put that into perspective, people who smoke 20 cigarettes a day can expect a drop of 6.1 ml/year in FEV1 and 8.9 ml/year in FVC – so, unlike what some publishers are saying, regularly using cleaning products is not as bad for your lungs as smoking 20 cigarettes a day but it’s certainly not good.
“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," Øistein Svanes, lead author and a doctoral student at the Department for Clinical Science, said in a statement.
Most striking, perhaps, is the gender gap. The study did not find any association between decline in expiratory function and cleaning among men who cleaned for work or domestically. There could be a biological reason, the study authors suggest, but the American Council on Science and Health disagrees.
More likely, is the fact that 85 percent of women involved in the study cleaned at home compared to 47 percent of men. Nine percent of women surveyed worked with occupational cleaning. Only 2 percent of men could say the same. Other limitations the authors highlight are that it's likely that women who did not clean were better off financially, meaning there could be several other lifestyle factors at play.
"The take home message of this study is that in the long run cleaning chemicals very likely cause rather substantial damage to your lungs," Øistein Svanes explained. "These chemicals are usually unnecessary; microfiber cloths and water are more than enough for most purposes."