If you’re looking for a reason to slack off on the household chores, this might just be it. According to a study by the American Thoracic Society, women who work as cleaners or regularly use cleaning products at home seem to have a greater decline in lung function over time than women who do not clean.
The study is from researchers at the University of Bergen in Norway and was published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. They looked at data from more than 6,235 participants, all of whose average age was 34 when they enrolled, and then followed them for more than 20 years.
Researchers discovered that among women who clean, both the amount of air the participants could forcibly exhale in one second and the total amount of air they could exhale, declined faster than women who do not clean. This finding was especially noticeable when it came to women who work as cleaners.
Perhaps most shocking, however, is that the decline in lung function among women who clean was comparable to someone who smoked a pack of cigarettes a day for 20 years. (And we know how bad smoking is for you.)
Lead study author Øistein Svanes, a doctoral student at the Department for Clinical Science at the university, said the comparison makes sense when you consider people exposed to cleaning products are inhaling small particles meant for cleaning the floor. Cigarette smoke also releases small particles into the air, which are inhaled.
Women who clean at home fared slightly better than those who work as cleaners, but what is significant about the study is that both saw declines in lung function compared to those who do not clean at all. Asthma was also found to be more prevalent among women who clean both at home (12.3 percent) and at work (13.7 percent) compared to those who do not clean (9.6 percent).
One thing the study did not find, however, is the same results in men. No decline in lung function was found in men who either cleaned at home or at work. However, that does take into account that there was a smaller number of men in the study.
“While the short-term effects of cleaning chemicals on asthma are becoming increasingly well documented, we lack knowledge of the long-term impact,” senior study author Cecile Svanes, MD, PhD, a professor at the university’s Center for International Health, wrote in the study. “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.”
Svanes advised that public health officials should regulate cleaning products and encouraged companies to make products that cannot be inhaled.
“The take-home message of this study is that in the long run, cleaning chemicals very likely cause rather substantial damage to your lungs,” he said. “These chemicals are usually unnecessary; microfiber cloths and water are more than enough for most purposes.”
How To Make Your Own All-Natural Cleaning Products
So, how can you avoid inhaling chemicals while you clean your house? It’s surprisingly easy to make your own cleaning solutions — and many of them can be made with things you already have around the kitchen!
Always be sure to have baking soda, apple cider vinegar and lemons or lemon juice on hand. Baking soda can be used for all sorts of things, like removing scuff marks off the wall, cleaning sinks and grout, sprinkling on your carpet to freshen it before vacuuming and even adding it to your laundry detergent to make clothes smell fresh. You can even wash fruit and vegetables in it to help remove dirt, wax and pesticides.
Apple cider vinegar is also incredibly versatile. Not only is it antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal, you can use apple cider vinegar on just about any surface, from wood tables to the kitchen counter.
Lemons can be used as a replacement for even more chemicals and cleaning solutions, such as cleaning your garbage disposal, disinfecting your counters, washing glass, restoring furniture and even keeping ants away! That fresh lemon scent is pretty nifty, too.
Want more cleaning solutions similar to the ones you’d find at the store? Here are 17 products you can easily make at home with ingredients you likely already have in the pantry.