People all over the world are cleaning themselves sick. Many of the dozens of cleaning products on the market contain toxic compounds that are clearly linked to lung damage. The latest evidence to tarnish cleaning products' standing comes from a study that IDs occupational hazards that are likely to lead to an asthma diagnosis.
Researchers from the Imperial College London tracked about 9,500 people and found those who chose certain career paths were more likely to develop asthma. Of the 18 jobs associated with a higher risk of asthma, seven involved exposure to cleaning products. Farmers, hairdressers, and printers were among the other trades with a higher risk, according to the study published in the journal Thorax.
Without meaningful labeling laws, harsh industrial ingredients used in professional formulations often also hide out in cleaning products available at supermarkets, unbeknownst to consumers. According to a recent analysis by Environmental Working Group, 53 percent of cleaning products damage lungs, sometimes polluting your indoor air with carcinogens like formaldehyde and chloroform. "Green" cleaning products aren't guaranteed to be safe, either, making creating your own cleaners an economical and healthier choice.
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To protect your lungs while cleaning:
Tap the "best cleaner." Consumers Union recently put 20 all-purpose cleaners to the test and found the one your great-grandmother likely used came out on top. A solution of half water, half white vinegar proved to be effective without creating toxic indoor air pollution. The best part? It costs about 50 cents to whip up a batch in a spray bottle.
Hail the HEPA. Be sure to use a vacuum equipped with a HEPA filter to reduce the dangerous tiny particles floating through your air. Why? The Environmental Protection Agency notes that indoor air can be up to five times more polluted than outdoor air, thanks to all of the chemicals found in scented products, off-gassing furniture, paint, and, yes, even store-bought cleaning products.
Both Consumer Reports and the Good Housekeeping Institute conduct annual vacuum cleaner tests, and what they've found over the years is good news for bargain hunters: Less-expensive brands like Hoover, Kenmore, Bissell, and Eureka usually rate better than fancier brands that come with hefty price tags. In its 2010 tests, Consumer Reports gave props to all those brands for their ability to pick up tough pet hair, good suction when used with their tools, performance on both carpeted and hard flooring, and reliability (those brands usually required the least number of repairs). The Good Housekeeping Institute lauded vacuums sold under those brand names for ease of use and consumer-minded features like not tipping over when you pull on the hose attachment. Good Housekeeping Research Institute and Consumer Reports regularly list Miele as a high-performing vacuum that limits emissions. Be sure to check your favorite brand's performance before investing in your next HEPA-equipped vacuum.
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Mix your own. Whip up a batch of your own housecleaning products using simple—and cheap—ingredients. Use these recipes for homemade cleaners to get started.