ST. LOUIS – You may want to think twice about the cleaning supplies you use in your home.
A new study from the nonprofit, non-partisan Environmental Working Group found unsettling details about the potential health risks of common household cleaning products.
“What chemicals are being emitted from cleaning products into our air that may be impacting our health and if there is an easy way for consumers to find products that led to lower volatile organic chemicals or VOC exposures, into our air,” senior scientist David Andrews said.
The study analyzed 30 cleaning products, both conventional and green, including multipurpose and glass cleaners, air fresheners, and more. Of the 530 unique VOCs researchers found, 193 were deemed hazardous, with the potential to cause respiratory damage, increased cancer risk, as well as developmental and reproductive impacts.
“There’s a lot of science linking VOC exposure and cleaning product exposure to health harm, increased risk of asthma and respiratory issues,” Andrews said. “This is a clear way to choose products that on average emit lower levels of chemicals into the air, less concerning chemicals into the air.”
The study concluded that products labeled “green” emitted fewer VOCs compared to conventional products—about half the number, on average.
“We aren’t outlining specific products or brands that are necessarily better, but we saw on average these green-certified and the fragrance-free products emitted lower levels of VOCs into the air and a clear option for consumers,” Andrews said.
The American Cleaning Institute responded to the study with a statement that reads in part: “The fact is, regulators have placed limitations on the VOCs in most consumer products over the past three decades and industry has been working with governments and regulators to minimize VOC concentrations to keep them well below levels that would be considered harmful. We take issue with the authors’ arbitrary criteria for judging products as ‘conventional’ or ‘green.’ Green is a marketing term, not a scientific one.”
“This is a place that’s really lacking in regulation and it’s unclear how much attention the formulators and the cleaning product producers are paying to this aspect of their products,” Andrews said. “These are not really targeted at human health protection, and I think there needs to be more of a focus on reducing the VOCs that likely are impacting health.”
Andrews says the research is clear: when it comes to cleaning products, green is good.
“Definitely beneficial for health, even if you’re cleaning infrequently or if you have kids in the home,” he said. “This is a great way to lower and to improve indoor air quality.”
You can read the ACI’s response in its entirety below:
The proper use of cleaning products contributes to public health and quality of life in homes, offices, schools, health care facilities, restaurants and throughout our communities every single day. Everyone who has dealt with the coronavirus pandemic can certainly recognize this fact.
The article suggests that the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that come from cleaning products are harmful, but most of what you smell on a daily basis is actually caused by VOCs. Cooking scrambled eggs, freshly cut grass, and peeling an orange all emit VOCs.
VOCs in cleaning products enhance cleaning effectiveness by dissolving dirt, grease, and stains, and provide a positive scent experience.
The findings of research on the estimated emissions of VOCs found in some cleaning products need to be put into the context of changes manufacturers have made in these products, particularly since this study was done with products purchased between 2019 and 2022.
The fact is, regulators have placed limitations on the VOCs in most consumer products over the past three decades and industry has been working with governments and regulators to minimize VOC concentrations to keep them well below levels that would be considered harmful.
Media reports on this research ignore the steps that have been taken by manufacturers to manage the VOC emissions from their products to ensure compliance, reformulating where necessary.
We take issue with the authors’ arbitrary criteria for judging products as ‘conventional’ or ‘green.’ Green is a marketing term, not a scientific one.
The cleaning products industry has demonstrated its commitment to manufacturing sustainably while maintaining its social commitment to providing consumers of all economic levels with cost-efficient cleaning products leading to improved hygiene.