Home » Nearly every cleaning product in your home produces hundreds of toxic chemicals linked to cancer, infertility – these are the worst offenders

Nearly every cleaning product in your home produces hundreds of toxic chemicals linked to cancer, infertility – these are the worst offenders

by Press room

Nearly every cleaning product releases hundreds of potentially toxic chemicals when used, a study suggests.

Researchers at the Environmental Working Group tested 30 common household products such as glass cleaners, stain removers and air fresheners.

All but one released measurable levels of volatile compounds, or VOCs, which are tiny toxins and are linked to cancers, breathing problems and fertility problems when inhaled. 

Ten released levels of the chemicals that were so high they breached European safety standards and the VOCs lingered in the air for four hours.

Even some ‘green’ products — that claimed to be safer and more environmentally friendly — released hazardous levels of VOCs.

The researchers said the study was a ‘wake-up call’ for consumers, saying people needed to be ‘more aware’ of the risks from chemicals in indoor air.

The above shows the ten cleaning products that released the highest amount of VOCs, according to an analysis by the Environmental Working Group

Four of the worst ten were all-purpose cleaners, while two were for cleaning glass, two for cleaning floors and one was for cleaning carpets. One was also an air freshener.

Dr Alexis Temkin, a senior toxicologist at the EWG, said: ‘This study is a wake-up call for consumers, researchers and regulators to be more aware of the potential risks associated with the numerous chemicals entering our indoor air.

‘Our findings emphasize a way to reduce exposure to hazardous VOCs — by selecting products that are “green”, especially those that are “green” and “fragrance-free”.’

For the study, published in the journal Chemosphere, scientists purchased the most popular cleaning products sold online at stores including Walmart, Amazon and Home Depot between December 2019 and May 2022.

Fourteen of the products claimed on their packaging that they were less toxic and environmentally friendly compared to conventional products.

Each was sprayed onto a glass sheet inside a sealed chamber and then wiped off about a minute later in order to mimic how they are used in the home.

For glass and disinfectant sprays, one full sprayed was applied, while stain removers and carpet cleaners were sprayed twice and wipe and mopping cloth products were applied until a surface became visibly wet. Air fresheners were sprayed five times.

The air inside the chamber was then tested over the next four hours for the presence of VOCs.

A total of 530 VOCs were released in total by all products combined.

Of those, 193 were considered hazardous for human health according to Californian and European standards.

Dr David Andrews, a senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group, told DailyMail.com: ‘There is no established safe exposure value or limit for VOCs nor are there specific health-based regulations for VOC emissions from cleaning products.

‘Some VOCs are much more hazardous than others but which VOCs or VOC mixtures are causing the most harm hasn’t been established.

‘Our results found that about half of the total VOC emissions was from chemicals that have no established safe exposure level even in an industrial setting.’

He added: ‘In the absence of clear research that identifies what chemicals are causing health harm, it is prudent to reduce total VOC exposure.’ 

Conventional products emitted the most VOCs out of all 30 products with HDX glass cleaner, Scott’s liquid gold wood care and Lestoil heavy-duty multi-purpose cleaner the worst offenders.

Green products, on the other hand, emitted about half as many VOCs but some still exceeded European measures of potential harm to health.

Those that were categorized as green and fragrance-free released the lowest number, or nearly eight times fewer than conventional products and four times fewer than green products.  

Only one product — Dr Bronner’s pure-castile soap, baby unscented — did not release any VOCs when it was used.

Three of the most harmful VOCs recorded among the products were 2-butoxyethanol, isopropanol and chloroform.

They are used to help remove grease and oils, kill micro-organisms and remove stains.

Chloroform has also previously been called a ‘date-rape’ drug because of its ability to render a person unconscious when inhaled or ingested.

The VOCs can cause damage when breathed in over a sustained period by irritating the lining of the lungs. 

Previous studies have shown that 2-butoxyethanol can cause irritation to the eyes, ears and nose, leading to coughing, runny nose and headache, while isopropanol is known to cause a skin rash, itching and dry skin.

Other ingredients used in cleaning products — like phthalates, parabens and alkylphenols — have previously been linked to breast cancer, says Breast Cancer Prevention Partners.

Research has previously shown that cleaners — who are regularly exposed to these products — are 50 percent more likely to develop asthma. Women in this field also have a higher risk of lung cancer.

Some studies have also suggested that higher use of certain indoor cleaners in homes with children can raise the risk of youngsters developing asthma. 

The VOCs can also harm the environment, contributing to outdoor air pollution, scientists say. 

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