If you’ve ever sat at a restaurant while someone cleaned the table next to you, and you experienced an unpleasant sensation in your throat, nose and eyes, that was likely your body telling you that the contents of the spray cleaner were bad for your health. Studies over the past several years have documented that the VOC’s like those found in conventional cleaners are asthma triggers for children. Now, the evidence that spray cleaners are linked to asthma in adults is back in the news.
VOCs are Volatile Organic Compounds. They’re carbon-based chemicals that form vapors at room temperature, and these vapors are very easily inhaled by anyone nearby. Cleaning product manufacturers like to use VOCs because their tendency to evaporate quickly means they help the surfaces being cleaned dry quickly. The VOCs evaporate and carry away much of the rest of the moisture in a given cleaning product with them.
We can’t tell from this new study whether or not it’s the VOCs in cleaners or something else they contain that’s triggering asthma in adults. The study only says that the more you use conventional cleaning products, the greater your chance of contracting the disease. It could be another compound or family of chemicals that’s responsible. There’s also evidence, for example, that phthalates contribute to asthma risk, and just a week or so ago I was talking about how aerosols can carry all kinds of chemicals deep into our lungs.
But what exactly is happening is not so important as the simple fact that whatever is going on happens when conventional cleaners are used. You add up all the evidence that’s been coming to light lately and it’s very clear that chemical cleaning products should be approached with extreme precaution or, much better yet, not used at all. They may make our homes and workplaces look spic and span but they’re making a real mess of our health.