- A new study has found that several popular household cleaning products can give off hundreds of volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
- VOC exposure is associated with health issues like lung cancer and cardiovascular disease.
- The researchers found that “green” products and those without fragrances emitted the lowest levels of VOCs.
- Experts say steps like using low-VOC products or making your own homemade cleaners can reduce exposure.
- It also helps to buy products that are certified as being safer by the EPA and other groups.
A study recently published in the journal Chemosphere has found that many cleaning products — including commonly used items such as air fresheners, multipurpose cleaners, and glass cleaners — are capable of emitting hundreds of volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
However, some types of cleaning products had lower levels of VOCs than others.
“Green” cleaning products, which purport to be safer for the environment, had fewer VOCs than conventional ones. Additionally, those that were fragrance-free had lower levels.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), VOCs are chemical compounds with high vapor pressure and low water solubility, and it’s these qualities that allow them to be easily released into the air.
VOCs can accumulate in indoor areas like homes and remain in the air for an extended period of time, per the EPA. However, many of them are known to have effects on health, both in the short and long term, so excessive exposure is a cause for concern.
The team of scientists used 30 products for their study that were purchased from online retailers.
They included 16 conventional cleaning products, 9 that were green but contained fragrance, and 7 that were both green and fragrance-free.
Among the types of products tested were:
- air fresheners
- laundry stain removers
- all-purpose, carpet, floor, glass, and wood cleaners
They chose the more popular cleaning products by looking at customer reviews on websites such as Amazon as well as by checking what was available.
To determine which cleaners were green, they examined the products’ own marketing claims as well as whether they had any sort of certification like the EPA’s Safer Choice label.
They relied on the manufacturer’s statements to determine if the products were fragrance-free.
Products were designated as “conventional” if they did not possess any sort of green claims or certifications or if the manufacturer disclosed the presence of ingredients of concern, such as 2-butoxyethanol or dyes.
The products were then put through air chamber testing in an indoor air quality laboratory.
Dr. Luísa Borges, who is an environmental researcher and the author of the book “How to Do More for the Environment With a Little Help From Science,” commented on the study explaining that this method of testing was selected because it was “recognized in previous studies as effective proxies for real-world household cleaning environments.”
VOC emissions from the products were then analyzed in order to identify what was present as well as how concentrated it was in the air samples.
The team reported finding 530 unique VOCs in the 30 products. Out of these, they identified 193 as being potentially hazardous.
The researchers further found that green cleaning products tended to release about half the number of VOCs as conventional ones.
Fragrance-free green products did the best, with the fewest VOC emissions. They emitted nearly four times fewer VOCs than green products with fragrance and nearly eight times fewer VOCs than conventional products with fragrance.
Borges noted that the study “offers a compelling analysis.”
Borges said that the results of this study have important implications for anyone looking to improve indoor air quality.
“The study’s findings underscore the importance of choosing green cleaning products, particularly those without fragrances, as they demonstrate considerably lower VOC concentrations when compared to their conventional counterparts,” she concluded.
Dr. Kevin Huffman, the CEO and Founder of AmBari Nutrition, who was also not involved in the study, said that one way to reduce exposure is to use “low VOC” or “VOC-free” cleaning products.
“It’s important to ensure adequate ventilation when using any cleaning products,” he added, “by opening windows and doors to dissipate harmful fumes.”
Huffman further noted that homemade cleaning solutions with ingredients like vinegar and baking soda are also safe alternatives to store-bought cleaners.
Lastly, he suggested storing cleaning products away from where children can reach them in order to reduce their potential for exposure.
“By following these measures, individuals can decrease their exposure to VOCs and create a healthier indoor environment for themselves and their families,” said Huffman.
When it comes to purchasing cleaning products, the EPA further cautions that consumers should be careful about trusting products labeled “environmentally friendly,” “eco-safe,” or “green.”
This practice, known as “greenwashing,” can be deceptive, giving people the impression that the products that they are buying are more environmentally friendly than they actually are.
To make it easier to identify products that are truly safer for humans as well as the environment, the EPA maintains a database of products with their Safer Choice label.
The Environmental Working Group, whose scientists performed the study, also provides a listing of green cleaning products.
A new study has found that several popular household cleaning products can give off hundreds of volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
VOC exposure is associated with health issues like lung cancer and cardiovascular disease.
The researchers found that “green” products and those without fragrances emitted the lowest levels of VOCs.
Experts say steps like using low-VOC products or making your own homemade cleaners can reduce exposure.
It also helps to buy products that are certified as being safer by the EPA and other groups.