New European research has found that women who regularly use cleaning products and sprays, either at home or in their work, are more likely to experience a decline in lung function than men, or women who do not clean.
Carried out by researchers at the University of Bergen in Norway, the team analysed data from 6 235 participants who were followed for more than 20 years.
“While the short-term effects of cleaning chemicals on asthma are becoming increasingly well documented, we lack knowledge of the long-term impact,” explained senior study author Cecile Svanes.
“We feared that such chemicals, by steadily causing a little damage to the airways day after day, year after year, might accelerate the rate of lung function decline that occurs with age.”
The team found that compared to women who didn’t clean, forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1), or the amount of air a person can forcibly exhale in one second, declined 3.6 milliliters (ml)/year faster in women who cleaned at home and 3.9 ml/year faster in women who worked as cleaners.
Forced vital capacity (FVC), or the total amount of air a person can forcibly exhale, declined 4.3 ml/year faster in women who cleaned at home and 7.1 ml/year faster in women who worked as cleaners.
The results still held true even after the researchers took into account other factors that could affect lung health such as smoking history, body mass index, and education.
However, the same association was not observed in male participants, with the team finding that men who cleaned either at home or at work did not experience any greater decline in FEV1 or FVC than men who did not clean.
In addition, the results also showed that women who cleaned were also more likely to have asthma, with 12.3% of those who cleaned at home and 13.7% of those who cleaned at work suffering from the condition, compared to 9.6% of those who did not clean.
Although the team commented that the level of lung impairment was surprising at first, lead study author Øistein Svanes noted that: “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.”
The team suggested that the decline in lung function could be caused by chemicals in cleaning products irritating the mucous membranes which line the lungs, which over time can lead to changes in the airways.
Although the study had some limitations, such as including only a small population of women who did not clean and men who worked as cleaners, Øistein Svanes still concluded that: “The take home message of this study is that in the long run cleaning chemicals very likely cause rather substantial damage to your lungs.”
“These chemicals are usually unnecessary; microfiber cloths and water are more than enough for most purposes.”