Photo by Kelly Sikkema

(credit: Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash)

WASHINGTON — If buying “green” products hasn’t been a priority for you, some alarming new research might just do the trick. A study warns of the potential health risks of common household cleaning products that emit hundreds of dangerous chemicals into the air.

Conducted by scientists from the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the study examined 30 different cleaning items including multi-purpose and glass cleaners, as well as air fresheners.

The researchers found that these everyday items release volatile organic compounds, commonly known as VOCs. These VOCs can be hazardous and potentially cause health problems like respiratory issues, increased cancer risk, and developmental and reproductive issues. The study discovered a total of 530 unique VOCs in the products tested, with 193 of them classified as “hazardous.”

“Our findings emphasize a way to reduce exposure to hazardous VOCs – by selecting products that are ‘green,’ especially those that are ‘green’ and ‘fragrance-free,” says Dr. Alexis Temkin, a senior toxicologist at EWG, in a statement.

Cleaning product chemicals linger in the air

VOCs don’t just affect outdoor air quality; they have a more significant impact indoors. According to the study, indoor air can be contaminated two to five times more than outdoor air by these products, with some estimates going as high as ten times more. What’s even more concerning is that some products can continue emitting VOCs for days, weeks, or even months.

graphic with three different spray bottles, each representing convetional cleaning products, green products and green fragrance-free products.
Graphical Abstract
(credit: Environmental Working Group)

Choosing ‘green’ cleaning products, particularly those labeled as “fragrance-free,” can substantially reduce exposure to these harmful compounds. The study found that on average, green products emitted around half the VOCs compared to conventional products. The researchers note that, on average, green cleaning products without fragrance released far fewer hazardous chemicals—just four, in fact—compared to their fragrant green counterparts, which emitted around 15 hazardous chemicals. Conventional cleaning products were found to release as many as 22 hazardous chemicals.

The study also highlights increased health risks for those working in the cleaning industry, including a 50% higher risk of developing asthma and a 43% higher risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Pregnant women and infants exposed to indoor cleaners may also face a higher risk of developing asthma and wheezing in childhood.

Going green with your cleaning products is an easy way to reduce exposure to harmful chemicals. This may be especially important for women’s and children’s health,” suggests Samara Geller, EWG’s senior director of cleaning science.

The researchers also note that consumer products can contribute to outdoor air pollution, adding to existing environmental concerns. “This study is a wake-up call for consumers, researchers and regulators to be more aware of the potential risks associated with the numerous chemicals entering our indoor air,” adds Temkin.

The study is published in the journal Chemosphere.

South West News Service writer Stephen Beech contributed to this report.

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2 Comments

  1. Mark says:

    I had a roommate that used a battery operated air freshener misting device with cans of replaceable fragrances. One day I decided to read the ingredients on the can of fragrance and looked up the health effects of the chemicals in the fragrance.

    I was shocked to find out the chemicals in the cans of fragrance caused numerous health damaging effects, including cancer. And we both had been inhaling theses chemicals for over a year as this device sprayed a mist of these dangerous fragrance chemicals into the air every 5-10 minutes. That’s when I switched to a essential oil diffuser.

    I tend to believe artificial flavors, colors and scents are causing many diseases. I’m done using products that contain pesticides, artificial flavors, colors and fragrances. The cheaper price is not worth the eventual exorbitant cost on your health.

    If people stopped buying these products loaded with disease causing artificial chemicals, companies would stop selling them. People would become exponentially healthier and insurance costs would plummet

  2. Ellen Hodges says:

    The problem with house holders they watch these commercial on TV showing these toxic cleaners that harm the body. yet they goes to the stores and buy them and find out how deadly they can be. l was one of those people tha use bleach to clean my bath room only to find out l can’t breathe when ever l use it. then l saw a web site that shows natural cleaners with out toxin such as baking soda vinegar even denture tablets can be put in the toilet bowl for a few hours and leave it smelling clean No toxin many more natural products to clean kitchen sinks refrigerator stoves we can check out these web site