Published in the American Thoracic Society’s American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, the study examined data from more than 6,200 participants, analysing their health over a period of 20 years.
Researchers found that deterioration in lung function of women working as cleaners or regularly using cleaning products was the same as smoking 20 cigarettes a day over 10 to 20 years. This trend only applied to women.
Lung function was determined by looking at the amount of air a person could forcibly exhale. For women cleaning at home, the forced expiratory volume in one second declined 3.6ml faster, for female cleaners it declined 3.9ml per year faster. Women who cleaned at home or at work were also more likely to have asthma than those who did not clean.
It’s suspected that inhaling cleaning chemicals causes irritation of the mucous membranes of the airways. These products are full of chemicals designed to strip dirt and grime off surfaces, so it’s likely they are way too harsh for our lungs.
However, there are few women who have never cleaned, and only a small group of men working as cleaners that the researchers were able to analyse. The researchers explained that more investigation will be needed to track the longterm effects of using cleaning sprays.
In the meantime, experts advise replacing harsh chemicals for everyday cleaning with hot water and a microfibre cloth, or a steam cleaner.
"The take home message of this study is that in the long run cleaning chemicals very likely cause rather substantial damage to your lungs," lead author Øistein Svanes explains.
"These chemicals are usually unnecessary; microfibre cloths and water are more than enough for most purposes."