When we clean the house we think of freeing it from unwanted substances, viruses and bacteria, to make it safer for us and our family. However, we need to pay attention to the products we use as, sometimes, they can release toxic and harmful substances into the air... in short, exactly the opposite of what we would like to achieve. But let's try to understand better on the basis of recent scientific research.
Household cleaning products can release toxic substances
The study is very recent and was published a few days ago in the journal Chemosphere by an American research team (Temkin et al, Chemosphere, Sep 2023). The scientists procured 30 household cleaning products. The products were purchased online on a well-known platform and were chosen among the products most purchased by customers. The products used for the experiment were air fresheners, stain removers, products for cleaning glass, carpets, wood and tiles. Among these products, 19 were considered conventional, namely without particular indications regarding the absence of dangerous substances, 9 green but with fragrance and 7 green and without fragrance. To consider a green product, the researchers based themselves both on what was reported on the label by the producers and on the presence of any certifications issued by recognized bodies. Each product has been tested to verify the type of emissions. What emerged was that it was possible to detect the presence of more than 500 volatile organic compounds, almost 200 of which were dangerous for health. Conventional products were found to have the highest presence of volatile organic compounds. The green products released a lower amount of volatile organic compounds and the green and fragrance-free ones proved to be the safest, releasing an amount of volatile organic compounds 8 times lower than conventional products and 4 times lower than green products with fragrance. This research confirms another previous study that showed that household cleaning products considered environmentally friendly but containing fragrances can still release toxic substances. In fact, the most used substances in fragrances are terpenes. Terpenes react with ozone in the air to generate a series of polluting compounds such as formaldehyde and ultrafine particles (Steinemann et al, Air quality, Atmosphere and Health, 2015).
What are the health risks
Volatile organic compounds released by home cleaning and scenting products are substances that can cause lung and heart problems. The greatest risks are observed in people who are professionally exposed to cleaning products, such as employees in cleaning companies. However, cleaning at home can also be a problem, especially in the long term. In fact, studies have observed a decline in lung function in people who regularly clean the house (Temkin et al, Chemosphere, Sep 2023). In children, exposure to substances released from room fragrances and cleaning products increases the risk of respiratory tract infections (Temkin et al, Chemosphere, Sep 2023). Exposure to these substances during pregnancy increases the risk of asthma in children (Temkin et al, Chemosphere, Sep 2023). Finally, high and long-term exposure to these substances can also be associated with cellular degeneration and neurotoxicity (Temkin et al, Chemosphere, Sep 2023). The volatile compounds emitted by cleaning products are difficult to detect, as the labels are often not complete and do not indicate exactly the substances used. In addition, these volatile compounds are added to others released by daily actions such as cooking and heating the house or emitted by some furnishing objects, such as new furniture or parquet (Temkin et al, Chemosphere, Sep 2023).
Green cleaning at home, how to do it, tips and some recipes
The experts' advice for actually cleaning your home without saturating it with toxic substances are as follows. It is a good choice to prefer certified green and fragrance-free cleaning products. If present, the fragrances are listed on the label under the heading fragrance or parfum. Follow the instructions for use on the package to avoid using excessive quantities of product. Air your home often, especially while using cleaning products. It is also possible to use DIY cleaning products based on vinegar or citric acid. They may not work on the most stubborn encrustations but for maintenance cleaning they can be a valid alternative. Vinegar, thanks to its acetic acid content, is a bactericide and citric acid is an interesting disinfectant, also useful for deactivating viruses, as stated by scientists from the University of Pittsburgh (Cortesia et al, mBio, 2014 - Pavlick, University of Pittsburgh). Here are some ideas on how to use vinegar and citric acid. Bring two cups of water to a boil, remove from heat and add two tablespoons of citric acid, let cool. Wet a cloth and use to clean surfaces, avoid on marble, granite and wood. After cleaning, wait a couple of minutes and then rinse. Citric acid should be handled with care as it can be irritating to the eyes. Vinegar, preferably white, is safer but is milder. It should be used diluted in water in equal parts or pure in the case of particularly resistant stains.