Is COPD Caused By Cleaning Chemicals?

Norwegian study states how lung conditions like COPD are caused by cleaning chemicals

Cleaning Chemicals Image
Bad news for lung functioning: some cleaning chemicals can irritate the respiratory system, with professional cleaners most likely to be affected. Image by Iakov Filimonov (via Shutterstock).


If you wish to duck out of the household chores, this week’s story should give you a valid reason. In a Norwegian study, it was revealed that certain cleaning chemicals could trigger respiratory diseases like COPD. From a survey of 5,000 women over a 20-year period, it was revealed that:

  • Professional cleaners saw a 17% decline in lung function compared the average woman;
  • Lung function dropped by 14% over the 20-year period with women who did most of the household chores.

Cleaning chemicals like ammonia can irritate the airwaves and other substances that are likely to cause an allergic reaction. Due to the increased potency of today’s cleaning products, they are more likely to cause respiratory disorders like COPD, bronchitis, and emphysema.

The study was conducted by Oistein Svanes, from the University of Bergen in Norway. His response to the findings: “Cleaning your home is a regular activity, and that’s why this concerns so many people.

“We need to start being much more aware of the chemicals we’re releasing into the air we breathe when we use things like cleaning spray.”

Dr. Gareth Walters, of the West Midlands NHS Regional Occupational Lung Disease Service, said: “It is a concern because it’s the first evidence that there’s some long-term damage to lungs due to exposure to cleaning agents.”

With concerns over MRSA and superbugs, domestic cleaning chemicals are using the same substances of their industrial equivalents. Though these make for more effective cleaning, the smaller space of a family home have made the chemicals bad for asthma sufferers.

Possible allergy triggers

Be aware of the following cleaning chemicals:

  • Methylisothiazolinone (MI/MIT): you will find this chemical in kitchen and floor sprays. Some beauty products also contain MI/MIT.
  • Benzalkonium chloride (Quaternary Ammonium Compound): popular as a disinfectant in household cleaners (for floors and hard surfaces).
  • Chlorine-based agents (Sodium Hypochlorite): used as the active
    ingredient in bleach.
  • Isothiazolinones: these are used in some washing-up liquids and laundry washing liquids.

Some scents within cleaning agents (for example, limonene) can also trigger allergies.

As with any cleaning chemicals – home or industrial – make sure your room is well ventilated. Some extra protection, like gloves and a face mask, could be a good idea. Also, consider purchasing products where the cleaning agent can be applied with a cloth, instead of aerosol-based products.

Clean Hire, 31 August 2016.