- Children living in a home with a greater use of any cleaning product during a child’s infancy increased the odds of a recurrent wheeze, recurrent wheeze with atopy, and asthma diagnosis.
- The highest risk of respiratory issue was associated with scented and sprayed cleaning products.
- The most common cleaning products used were dishwashing soap, dishwasher detergent, multi-surface cleaners, glass cleaners, and laundry soap.
We all want to raise our children in a safe environment. Part of that is maintaining a clean home that minimizes the risk of catching a cold or flu from contaminated surfaces.
However, there are common household cleaners that can pose a risk to your child’s health.
Some cleaning agents may significantly increase the risk of lung conditions like wheezing or asthma, according to recently published research.
Babies who have an early exposure to household cleaning products are associated with the development of childhood asthma and wheeze by 3 years of age, the study found.
“Society has been conditioned us to believe that a home needs to smell of cleaning products in order to be ‘clean’, but that’s not the case,” lead study researcher Dr. Tim Takaro, professor of health sciences at Simon Fraser University in Canada, told Healthline.
Takaro and team analyzed data from questionnaires completed by the parents of more than 2,000 children exposed to cleaning products from birth to about 4 months.
All the children were participants in the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development (CHILD) Cohort Study, who were recruited from Canadian urban centers.
A majority of the children examined were white, hadn’t been exposed to tobacco smoke up to age 3 to 4 months, and almost 70 percent didn’t have a family history of asthma.
The children were then examined at 3 years old to determine whether they had asthma, allergic sensitization (
Takaro explains they assessed how often different household cleaning products were used and then examined “the development of asthma and recurrent wheeze at age 3 and saw whether their household cleaning product use exposure differed in early life.”
The study found that children living in a home with a greater use of any cleaning product during a child’s infancy increased the odds of a recurrent wheeze, recurrent wheeze with atopy, and asthma diagnosis by 3 years of age.
The most common cleaning products used were dishwashing soap, dishwasher detergent, multi-surface cleaners, glass cleaners, and laundry soap.
The highest risk of respiratory issue was associated with scented and sprayed cleaning products.
“Cleaning products are a simple exposure that parents can control and minimize to reduce their child’s risk of developing respiratory disease,” Takaro said.
Unsurprisingly, scented and sprayed cleaning products were associated with the highest risk of respiratory issues, according to the study findings.
“I would agree with the study. Obviously we need to keep our houses clean, but the less chemicals we use to do it, the better,” said Dr. Afif El-Hasan, pediatrician and national spokesperson for the American Lung Association.
According to Takaro, they can’t say with certainty how much exposure at 3 months compared to 1 year affected the association with the respiratory issues observed.
But he emphasizes they do know that infants are especially vulnerable because:
- Their immune and respiratory systems are still developing.
- Infants spend the majority of their time indoors crawling and contacting many surfaces where cleaning products are used.
- Infants have relatively rapid respiratory rates. Their small size means their bodies are more affected by smaller exposures than older children.
“Based on what we know about this type of exposure with the multiple chemicals known to contribute to asthma, the complexity of asthma and allergic disease, and findings from other studies, we, as researchers, weren’t surprised,” Takaro said. “However, we think parents will be.”
According to research by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), 53 percent of cleaning products they assessed contained ingredients known to harm the lungs.
About 22 percent contained chemicals reported to cause asthma in otherwise healthy individuals.
There are many household cleaners. Some are name brand, some generic store brands. A significant number even claim to be “green.”
But the only way to be sure which is safest is by reading the product label.
The EWG reports specific chemicals that should be avoided, including formaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane, which are both carcinogens.
Also, benzalkonium chloride, found in antibacterial spray cleaners and fabric softeners, is known to cause asthma.
Sodium borate, also known as borax and boric acid, is a cleaning agent that can act as a hormone disruptor.
EWG specifies that some products you can simply do without, such as air fresheners that have unspecified fragrance mixtures or fabric softeners that can contain asthma-causing substances.
El-Hasan says parents should try to avoid cleaners with volatile organic compounds (VOCs), ammonia, and bleach, and that natural fragrances, especially strong ones, can cause issues.
“Also ozone-producing air freshener, you know, these electrostatic air fresheners, which have fallen out of use but are still around, shouldn’t be used,” he added.
El-Hasan explains it’s best to keep it simple.
“A lot of things can be taken care of by warm water and soap. Baking soda is good for scrubbing. Vinegar and water is very good for cleaning glass,” he said.
New research finds that early exposure to chemicals found in common household cleaning products is associated with increased risk of asthma and wheezing by 3 years old.
Experts emphasize the importance of reading the labels of cleaning products to confirm whether they contain potentially hazardous chemicals.
Some products that contain harmful chemicals you can do without completely, like air fresheners and fabric softener.