Cleaning products linked to lung function decline in women, says a new study

Women who made use of sprays or other cleaners at least once per week had a faster decline of the lung function. The decrease was faster for women who worked as cleaners.


Women with regular exposure to detergents may be faced with a stronger decline in lung function over time, according to an international study.

Women who made use of sprays or other cleaners at least one time per week an accelerated decline than women who did not, the authors of the study wrote.

“We are too clean in our homes, every day and every week. It is important to have this discussion about cleaning and what we do in our homes,” said lead study author Dr. Oistein Svanes of the University of Bergen, Norway.

“This does not mean that we should not clean – of course we need to keep our houses clean,” he told Reuters Health by phone. “But we need to question what chemicals we use and how they affect us.”

Bergen and colleagues studied more than 6,200 participants in the European Community Respiratory Health Survey. At 22 centers in nine countries in western Europe, participants had lung function tests and completed questionnaires three times over the course of 20 years.

On average, the survey takers were in their mid-30s when they are registered. About half of whom are women. Eighty-five percent of the women said that she was the person cleaning in the house.


A total of 8.9 percent of the women and 1.9 percent of the men said cleaning was their profession.

The survey is on two measurements to assess lung function: forced expiratory volume per second, which is the amount of air a person can forcibly exhale in one second, and forced vital capacity, or the total amount of a person can exhale in a second.

According to the American Lung Association, lung function slowly declines after about age 35.

In the first two decades of the study, women who do not work as cleaners and are not involved in the cleaning at home I found the slowest decrease in lung function.

Compared to women, sprays or other cleaning products at least once per week had a faster decline of the lung function. The decline was even faster for women who worked as cleaners.

Exposure to cleaning products was not linked to a decline in lung function for men. However, the authors admit, that may be because there are so few male professional cleaners in the study.

By the decline in lung function were not associated with a higher risk for obstructive respiratory diseases such as emphysema or asthma, however.

Still, the authors say, for women whose occupation was cleaning, the effect of exposure to cleaning products was only “slightly less” than smoking a pack of cigarettes per day for 20 years.

“The biggest surprise was that the results were fairly consistent,” Svanes said. “After the following persons for 20 years and taking lung capacity measurements three times, the results still stood out, even on a multi-center, multinational study.”

While the study is not intended to prove that exposure to cleaning products causes lung problems, the authors suggest that the findings may be explained by the irritation which the cleaning chemical substances cause to the mucous membranes in the airways.


In many cases, instead of chemicals, “lukewarm water and a microfiber cloth would do,” Svanes said. “The cleaning experts that would be perfect for most purposes.”

Future studies should examine the types of chemicals and detergents that cause the most damage, he added. The cleaning of sprays, in particular, may contribute to an increased risk of asthma if particles flying in the air.

“There is an idea that is clean is equal to good and healthy, but this should broaden our idea of what cleaning work is and what the chemical risks in particular,” said Dr. Margaret Quinn of the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, who was not involved in the study.

Quinn is investigating how the home care staff who care for older patients can be affected by cleaning tasks. In Quinn’s experimental lab, assistants perform typical tasks, while the air monitors to test air quality for off-the-shelf cleaning agents.

“We need to think about our products and the way we apply them,” Quinn told Reuters Health by phone. “Cleaning products, especially the sprays contain a mix of chemicals that can lead to respiratory disease.”

The fact that the study were a few women who not clean at home or at work, and a few men who worked as cleaners, raise broader social questions about gender and the cleaning work, Quinn added.

“Cleaning at home, in hotels, office buildings, and in the kitchen is still seen as women’s work, and the majority of employees are still women,” she said. “We need to think about the social perception and how the different types of work risks.”

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