Most people think it’s a good thing when their homes have a “clean smell”, that scent of artificial pine, lemon and other disinfectant odors from household cleaners. For most, these scents usually mean the house is clean and germs have been eliminated, but a new study reveals that it may also mean you’ve exposed yourself — and your family — to a healthy dose of toxins.
Researchers from the University of California-Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory analyzed 21 household cleaners and air fresheners and to determine their health risks and found that many, especially those with pine, lemon or orange scents, released high levels of toxic pollutants.
Six of the products contained ethylene-based glycol ethers, which are classified as hazardous air pollutants by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 12 more products contained terpenes, which have been found to react with ozone and produce a variety of toxic substances. Terpenes are found some cleaning products to give them their clean scents of pine, lemon and orange.
Adding to the problem is that many consumers are not aware that cleaning products and air fresheners represent a major source of indoor air pollution.
“On the one hand, they think `I’m cleaning germs,’ which isn’t a bad thing,” said Gennet Paauwe, spokeswoman for the California Air Resources Board, which funded the study. “But what else are you doing in the process? You or your family members may be inhaling toxins while you’re doing that.”
- Cleaning a shower stall for 15 minutes with a product containing glycol ethers may result in exposures that are three times the recommended one-hour exposure limit.
- People who clean houses professionally take in double the recommended formaldehyde (a known carcinogen) levels if they clean four homes a day, five days a week, 50 weeks a year.
- Using an air freshener along with an ozone-creating air purifier in a child’s room may result in formaldehyde levels that are 25 percent higher than California recommends.
How to Protect Your Family and Home
Of course you shouldn’t stop cleaning your home. Instead you should clean with caution using the following guidelines:
- Open doors and window while cleaning and keep rooms adequately ventilated after cleaning.
- Use some products in diluted, rather than full-strength, form.
- Remove cleaning supplies from occupied rooms when you’re done cleaning and keep cleaners carefully sealed in a cool location. Pay attention to the ingredients in your cleaner.
- Look for natural or scent free products and try to avoid products containing terpenes.