Scientific Study on Household Cleaning Products and Women’s Lung Health Explained

women cleaning damage to their lungs

A new, independent, 20-year research study reveals a sobering fact: cleaning your home with common, well-known grocery store products made with ammonia, chlorine bleach, quaternary disinfectant compounds, and other dangerous chemicals significantly damages lung tissue in women. In fact, the study showed that cleaning with such products as little as once per week over time was as damaging to respiratory health as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day for 20 years! 1

About the Study

Starting in the 1990s, the European Community Respiratory Health Survey (ECRHS III) began tracking a large population of 6,235 women and men with a beginning average age of 34 at 22 health centers in multiple countries. Over the next 20 years, participants were quizzed about their use of both spray and liquid home cleaning products and had their lung capacity tested regularly. Lung capacity was measured by breathing into a spirometer, an instrument that measures how much air you can exhale. Those with compromised lung function are not able to exhale as much volume as someone who is healthy.

Fifty-three percent of the participants were women and 44% were lifelong non-smokers. Analysis was adjusted for smokers and those with doctor-diagnosed asthma. Participant data was extensive, ensuring that each subject was well characterized, significantly reducing the likelihood of misrepresentation.

Once twenty years of data had been collected, the results were compiled and analyzed by a top team of 28 international researchers from nine countries, led by scientists at The University of Bergen in Norway. The study was recently published in the American Thoracic Society’s American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

The results confirm what Melaleuca has known for years: toxic chemical ingredients in home cleaning products take a toll on the health of those who clean with them. The extent of the devastation is only now beginning to be uncovered.

Finding 1: Weekly use of home cleaning products is as damaging to lung health as smoking 20 cigarettes per day.

By now, just about everyone knows the dangers of smoking cigarettes. Among their many hazards include depleted lung capacity—the result of damage to the tender internal tissues of the respiratory system. Lung capacity is important because it is a marker of overall health and fitness. The body depends on the lungs’ life-giving ability to oxygenate blood and expel carbon dioxide—the waste product of metabolism.

Decreased lung capacity can lead to obvious declines in fitness, but since the body is so dependent on oxygen exchange, whole systems of the body can be compromised when the lungs become even partially debilitated.

Shockingly, the ECRHS III study concluded that women who used home cleaning products at least once per week saw the same reduction in lung capacity as those who smoked a pack a day over the same period. According to the authors, “Women cleaning at home or working as occupational cleaners had accelerated decline in lung function, suggesting that exposures related to cleaning activities may constitute a risk to long-term respiratory health.”

Finding 2: Women are affected far more than men.

Though there was a clear correlation between women who cleaned and respiratory illness, there was no correlation for men. While the scientists pointed out that the total number of men regularly using household cleaning products was significantly lower than women, the study summary also points out previous research that elaborates the increased sensitivity in the female respiratory system.

While not completely unaffected, male lungs have been proven to endure greater exposure to environmental pollutants including cigarette smoke and wood dust before experiencing a similar drop in lung capacity. 2 3 4

This finding is particularly concerning when considering that the most sensitive members of the population are also those engaging with these products with the most frequency.

Finding 3: Cleaning at home is just as, if not more harmful, than being an occupational cleaner.

The ECRHS III survey categorized participants as “not cleaning,” “cleaning at home,” and “occupational cleaning.” While the “not cleaning” subset of women saw only expected, age-related change in lung capacity, the “cleaning at home” group saw the same decreases in lung health as “occupational cleaning.” How could this be the case when cleaning professionals are using cleaning products on a daily, ongoing basis, versus someone performing chores less frequently in their own home?

First, consider that occupational cleaners are most often required to use protective gloves, clothing, and even masks while performing their duties. Those at home casually disregard warning labels and use cleaning products without adequate protection. Additionally, professional cleaners move from room to room, working in larger spaces with better ventilation than someone at home. In fact, using cleaning products within the relaxed, comfortable confines of home may actually lend to a general complacency that ultimately leads to impaired health.

Finding 4: Liquid cleaners are just as dangerous as sprays.

Study researchers originally suspected that products delivered through a spray or mist would prove more dangerous than those applied as a liquid, gel, or wipe. Surprisingly, the study found no significant difference between cleaner delivery types. The implication is that the chemicals in liquid cleaners become just as available for inhalation through evaporation as those used in sprays.

liquid cleaner spray products lung danger

Finding 5: Ammonia, chlorine bleach, quaternary disinfectant compounds, and other dangerous chemicals appear to be primary culprits.

In their conclusions, the researchers stated, “one could hypothesize that long-term exposure to airway irritants such as ammonia and bleach used when cleaning at home could cause fibrotic or other interstitial changes in the lung tissue, thereby leading to accelerated decline of FVC (forced vital capacity).”

Finding 6: Women who regularly use cleaning products have increased rates of asthma.

Researchers found increased rates of asthma within the groups who used cleaning products regularly. This echoes multiple recent studies that have clearly linked the use of dangerous chemical cleaning agents with the onset of asthma.

Finding 7: Damage is cumulative over time.

When chemical agents like ammonia, chlorine bleach, quaternary disinfectants, and other dangerous compounds are regularly inhaled into the sensitive tissues of the lungs, it makes sense that the long-term consequence would be serious respiratory problems. “It is biologically plausible,” the researchers wrote, “that exposure to cleaning chemicals could result in accelerated lung function decline and chronic airway obstruction; low-grade inflammation over many years could possibly lead to persistent damage to the airways, alternatively, persistent damage could result from continued exposure after onset of cleaning-related asthma.” They added that it is already well documented that, “airway irritants such as ammonia and bleach” cause “fibrotic” changes to the delicate lung tissue, essentially scarring the lungs.

Simply stated, regular exposure to the toxins within the home never allow the respiratory system an opportunity to heal, creating a condition where internal damage accumulates. Dr. Cecile Svanes, a professor at the University of Bergen and senior author of the study said, “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.”

What the Study Means for You

For most women who try to keep a clean, safe home, the results of the ECRHS III study is an imperative call to action.

If you haven’t already, rid your home of the cleaning products that contain ammonia, quaternary disinfectants, chlorine bleach, and other dangerous chemicals! What kind of products use such ingredients? Most all home cleaning products including disinfectants, bathroom cleaners, toilet cleaners, shower and tub cleaners, scrubs, stain removers, floor cleaners, degreasers, window and glass cleaners, and surface cleaners.

Though the research results have gained some immediate public interest online and in the general news media, it is up to you to not only take care of your own home, but to warn friends, family, and neighbors of the very real consequences of using these conventional home cleaning products.

Only Melaleuca Offers a Solution

For more than three decades, Melaleuca scientists have formulated cleaning products that perform the household chores required of them without reliance on the cheap, available, and now documented-as-dangerous chemicals cited in the ECRHS III study. Our EcoSense line has taken a firm stance on ingredients like ammonia, quaternary disinfectants, chlorine bleach, and other dangerous chemicals. We don’t use them! We never have and never will!

This is why our cleaning products are so safe, no child safety caps are required.

What’s more, EcoSense products are proven to perform. They clean as well or better than the competitive products that use dangerous ingredients. They provide a clean that is far greater than water alone could ever provide. And their advanced formulas clean better than other supposed “green” products by measurable margins. There is a reason Melaleuca has been the leader in safer-for-your-home cleaners for more than a generation.

Melalueca products are safer for your home and family

Better Health Starts at Home

Melaleuca is committed to providing the products our customers need for the ultimate in healthy living. We are the Wellness Company. From supplements to foods to home cleaning products, the products you bring into your home do make a difference.

We are pleased to see the scientific community draw unequivocal conclusions about topics we have been aware of for years. We are confident that as the facts about our competitors’ products become more widely known, more consumers than ever will seek out the products that only Melaleuca can provide.

Full Study: Cleaning at home and at work in relation to lung function decline and airway obstruction

1. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2018 Feb 16. doi: 10.1164/rccm.201706-1311OC.
2. Silverman EK, Weiss ST, Drazen JM, Chapman HA, Carey V, Campbell EJ, Denish P, Silverman RA, Celedon JC, Reilly JJ, Ginns LC, Speizer FE. Gender-related differences in severe, early-onset chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Am J Respir Crit Care Med 2000;162:2152-2158.
3. Foreman MG, Zhang L, Murphy J, Hansel NN, Make B, Hokanson JE, Washko G, Regan EA, Crapo JD, Silverman EK, DeMeo DL, COPDGene I. Early-onset chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is associated with female sex, maternal factors, and African American race in the COPDGene Study. Am J Respir Crit Care Med 2011;184:414-420. 31.
4. Jacobsen G, Schlünssen V, Schaumburg I, Taudorf E, Sigsgaard T. Longitudinal lung function decline and wood dust exposure in the furniture industry. Eur Respir J 2008;31:334-342.


  1. Terri Hildebrand says

    Long time user of Tough-N-Tender since 1989! Don’t ever change the formula!
    Cleaning with Sol-U-Gard has kept our family free from flu virus and other germs promoting healthy living. I recommend it to all of my friends especially if you are ill in order to prevent the germs from spreading to their family members!

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