Prolonged or frequent exposure day-to-day cleaning products we use at home could mean long-term damage to the lungs, a new study finds.
The study of 6,000 people by a team from Norway’s University of Bergen, found women appeared to be more badly affected than men. They said cleaning chemicals were “unnecessary” and microfiber cloths and water were “enough for most purposes”. UK experts said people should keep their homes well ventilated and use liquid cleaners instead of sprays.

The team looked at data from the European Community Respiratory Health Survey. Previous studies have looked at the short-term effect of cleaning chemicals on asthma, but this work looked at the longer term. Prof Cecile Svanes, who led the Bergen team, said: “We feared that such chemicals, by steadily causing a little damage to the airways day after day, year after year, might accelerate the rate of lung function decline that occurs with age.”
Microfiber cloths and water ‘enough’
Adults in the study, published in the American Thoracic Society’s American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, were followed for more than 20 years. Their lung function was measured by looking at how much air people could forcibly breath out – and the amount declined more over the years in women who cleaned.
The research followed more than 6,000 people over a 20 year period and found women in particular suffered significant health problems after long-term use of these products. Lung function decline in women working as cleaners or regularly using cleaning products at home was comparable to smoking 20 cigarettes a day over 10 to 20 years.
The authors suggest the chemicals in cleaning products irritate the mucous membranes that line the airways of the lungs, causing long-term damage. No difference was seen between men who cleaned and those who did not.
The researchers said that could partly be explained by there being far fewer men working as cleaners, but also suggested women might be more susceptible to the chemicals’ effects. These chemicals are usually unnecessary; microfiber cloths and water are more than enough for most purposes.
While the short-term effects of cleaning chemicals on asthma are becoming increasingly well documented, we lack knowledge of the long-term impact. This study further confirms that air pollution can come from a range of sources, including from paints, adhesives and cleaning products we use indoors.
Ensuring we keep our homes well ventilated, using liquid cleaners instead of sprays and checking that our cookers and heaters are in good working order will help protect us and prevent everyday products impacting on our lungs.

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