According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 92 percent of the global population is breathing polluted air. This measurement is based on outdoor sources from transportation vehicles, industrial activity, burning of household fuel and coal powered plants. Although these numbers are considerable, they are likely conservative. According to a recent study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, you may also expose yourself to fine particulate air pollution while cleaning your home.

Before modern soap products were sold in the mid-1900s, most people used water and white vinegar for their household cleaning needs. Over the past 50 years, the number of soaps, detergents and cleaning solutions have grown at an amazing rate as manufacturers try to meet the demands of consumers looking for a quick, fragrant solution to a dirty problem.

However, recent research6 from the University of Bergen in Norway demonstrates those who use chemical household cleaners as seldom as once a week experience an accelerated decline in lung function. Once-weekly use of cleaning products for 20 years may be equivalent to smoking 20 cigarettes a day for 10 to 20 years.7,8

Data from over 6,000 participants, whose average age was 34 when they enrolled in the European Community Respiratory Health Survey, were analyzed. Using 20 years of data, researchers found women who used commercial cleaning solutions experienced a reduction in lung function, as measured by forced expiratory volume and forced vital capacity, much faster than those who used them more seldom or not at all.

The authors postulate the decline in lung function could be attributed to the irritation most chemicals cause on the mucous membranes lining your lungs. Over time, this can result in persistent changes and airway remodeling. The data was adjusted for variables known to potentially bias the results, including body mass index, education and smoking history, The researchers acknowledged the study included very few people who did not clean, but they believe the results of the data analysis is strong.

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