Spring is finally here! Cleaning out the clutter in your home is a great way to start off the season and give yourself a fresh start. But before you dive in, consider the hazards that may be hiding in your home. Traditional cleaning products can be irritating to the nose, throat, eyes and lungs, making them especially dangerous to anyone who has asthma, COPD, or chronic lung condition.

For most people, lung function slowly declines after age 35. But certain toxins have been found to speed up this process and cause permanent damage to the lungs. One international study that followed more than 6,000 women over two decades found that women who used spray cleaning products at least once a week showed a decline in lung function that was faster than usual. Women who were exposed to the products every day, saw the most rapid rate of lung function decline. This is why you need to choose your cleaning products with care.

“Chemicals act as respiratory irritants and can provoke symptoms, such as cough, and can make asthma worse for people with asthma,” John’s Hopkins’ pulmonary expert Dr. Meredith McCormack said.

Here are some steps she suggests for safe spring cleaning:

1. Read labels and opt for the ‘Safer Choice.’

Even products advertised as "green" or "natural" may contain ingredients that can cause health problems. So, when reading labels, try to choose products that do not contain or have reduced amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), fragrances, chemicals and flammable ingredients. Avoid using air fresheners altogether. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has a list of products that meet its Safer Choice requirements for cleaning and other needs. If possible, these Safer Choice products are a good choice.

“It is also important to read product labels to make sure that you are not unnecessarily overexposing family members,” Dr. McCormack said. “For example, people often just dump Clorox and other chemicals in pail, then add water without measuring. They think if they can't smell it or see a color change, then they have not used enough chemicals, which actually often leads to overexposure.”

2. Never combine chemical cleaners.

Never mix bleach or any bleach-containing product with any cleaner containing ammonia. The gases created from this combination can lead to chronic breathing problems and even death.

3. Give natural products a try.

As a safer cleaning alternative, warm water and soap often will do the trick, especially at home. Baking soda is good for scrubbing. A mix of vinegar and water can clean glass.

4. Properly ventilate at all times.

Whenever you are using chemicals, open windows or doors or run a fan to help the air circulate. Never use cleaning products in a small, enclosed space. “In addition, try to clean when children or others with pre-existing conditions like asthma are not around to minimize their exposure and allow the area to ventilate,” Dr. McCormack said.

5. Clear out the dust.

Dust is unavoidable which is why collection and removal at least once a week can make a big difference for lung health. “Allergens that have settled on surfaces can be “stirred up” by spring cleaning activities like sweeping and dusting with a dry cloth. This can contribute to allergic symptoms, such as itchy and runny nose and watery eyes, as well as to asthma symptoms,” Dr. McCormack explained.

A damp cloth or a microfiber cloth can effectively remove dust stuck in little nooks and crannies in the home. Vacuuming frequently is another way to capture dust embedded in rugs or furniture. Washing linens in hot water can kill and remove dust mites trapped in fabrics.

6. Keep your indoor air purified.

Spring is also a good time to change the air filters in your heating and cooling systems or purchasing an air cleaner. This can cut down on dust, allergens, and irritants that may lurk in your home year-round. Be sure to purchase an air cleaner that is made for the size of your room and never use an air cleaner with an ionizer. An ionizer simply adds more chemicals (ozone) into the air.

Learn more about safe cleaning products on our webpage.

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