Wednesday, March 14, 2018 by Isabelle Z.
Cleaning is not the most exciting household task, but for most people, the worst part about it is the time lost on all that scrubbing and mopping to get the house looking perfect. However, a new study shows that cleaning might do more harm than simply taking up a few hours of your week – it could also be taking years off of your life the same way smoking does.
The study looked at health and behavior data taken from more than 6,000 people in Norway over the course of two decades, and it was published in the American Thoracic Society’s American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. The researchers found that women who were exposed to cleaners at home or at work on a regular basis had a greater decline in lung function. In tests of lung strength and capacity known as forced vital capacity (FVC), women who cleaned at home had a 4.3 mL/year quicker lung function decline, and those who were professional cleaners had a 7.1 mL/year quicker decline.
If those figures don’t really mean much to you, allow me to put it into perspective: It’s comparable to anywhere from 10 to 20 pack-years of smoking tobacco. Pack-years is a clinical term that multiplies the number of packs of cigarettes a person smoked each day by the number of years they smoked.
Many cleaning products contain small particles of chemicals that are easily inhaled. They irritate mucus membranes in the lungs, changing the airways and even the way that people breathe. While it was already known that chemical cleaners have short-term effects like triggering asthma attacks, this is one of the few studies that looked at the effects of regular exposure to such cleaners over a long period of time. The study also revealed that asthma was more common among women who used cleaners frequently.
Interestingly, cleaning does not seem to have the same effect on men. Men who cleaned at home or at work showed little difference in FVC and another metric, Forced Expiratory Volume in 1 Second (FEV1). However, the study authors note that the number of men working as professional cleaners was very small, while the studied population did not include many women who reported not cleaning at work or home. The researchers accounted for factors that could have influenced their results, such as education level, body mass index, and smoking history.
The study’s lead author, Oistein Svanes, said he was initially surprised by the levels of lung impairment they found. “However, 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,” he said.
Svanes called on public health officials to regulate cleaning products and push for the production of cleaning agents that can’t be inhaled. He also pointed out what an unnecessary risk people are taking, saying that for most purposes, water and microfiber cloths is usually sufficient.
If you want to keep your lung function as strong as possible as you age but you’d prefer not to have a filthy house, consider making your own natural cleaning products. Apple cider vinegar is a great choice for many cleaning purposes, and don’t worry about the smell; it disappears pretty quickly if you add some essential oils. Tea tree oil is a good addition on account of its clean fragrance as well as its antifungal and antibacterial properties. Lemon juice and baking soda are also good to keep on hand for natural cleaning.
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