Your favourite cleaning products ‘could release cancer-causing fumes’ – here’s what to avoid

YOUR favorite household cleaners could release hundreds of dangerous chemicals when used, a new study warns.

Disinfectants, stain removers and air fresheners have been found to produce harmful fumes called volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Household cleaners could release dangerous chemicals into the air, researchers warn


Household cleaners could release dangerous chemicals into the air, researchers warnPhoto credit: Getty

Inhaling these gases can cause eye, nose and throat irritation.

It can also cause breathing problems, nausea, damage to the nervous system and other organs, and even cancer, according to the American Lung Association (ALA).

Researchers tested 30 different cleaning products, including some that were marketed as eco-friendly and fragrance-free.

They were divided into categories of all-purpose, carpet, floor, glass and wood cleaners, as well as laundry stain removers and air fresheners.

Some were sprays and wipes, others were foams and powders.

Most were available at national retailers in the US, such as Walmart, Home Depot and Amazon.

However, many of the ingredient lists are comparable to products sold in the UK and other countries.

Scientists at the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that more than 530 VOCs were present throughout the range.

According to the California Department of Toxic Substances Control or the European Chemicals Agency, 193 of them are considered potentially dangerous to human health.

They could cause health problems such as respiratory damage, increased risk of cancer, developmental problems and fertility problems, experts say.

The cleaning products with the most VOCs, which were emitted frequently and in the highest concentrations, were conventional cleaning products.

The five with the highest hazard indices included 2-butoxyethanol, isopropanol, toluene and chloroform.

These ingredients are most commonly found in multi-purpose surface cleaners, glass cleaners, floor strippers and degreasers and have been linked to allergic skin reactions, drowsiness, suspected genetic defects, organ damage and cancer.

Other substances highlighted included: ethanol, propylene glycol ether, propylene glycol, D-limonene, propylene glycol butyl ether, 2-hexoxyethanol, acetic acid, 1-butoxy, 2,2,4-trimethyl-1,3-pentanediol diisobutyrate (TXIB). , acetaldehyde, nonanal, decanal, formaldehyde and methylene chloride.

The authors said that VOCs in cleaning products affect air quality both indoors and outdoors, but indoor contamination is two to five times higher, with some estimates as high as 10 times higher.

Some products emit VOCs for days, weeks or even months, they added.


Dr. Alexis Temkin, senior toxicologist at EWG, said: “This study is a wake-up call for consumers, researchers and regulators to become more aware of the potential risks associated with the many chemicals that enter our indoor air.”

“Our results highlight one way to reduce exposure to dangerous VOCs – by choosing products that are ‘green’, particularly those that are ‘green’ and ‘fragrance-free’.”

The peer-reviewed study, published in the journal Chemosphere, concluded that products labeled as “green” emit, on average, about half the VOCs compared to conventional products.

The green products classified as “fragrance-free” also produced the lowest VOC emissions – almost eight times less than conventional and four times less than green products whose labels contained fragrances.

Dr. Temkin said this pattern also applies to the number of VOCs considered hazardous in the products.

She said: “The eco-friendly products emitted, on average, just four chemicals classified as hazardous, compared to around 15 for eco-friendly fragranced products and 22 for conventional products.”

“This suggests that choosing green or green and fragrance-free cleaning products may make sense for consumers concerned about indoor air quality and potential health risks.”

Research shows that people who work in the cleaning industry have a 50 percent higher risk of developing asthma and a 43 percent higher risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), while women who work in this field do too are at increased risk of lung cancer, the authors said.

Children’s health may also be at risk, as some studies have found that increased use of certain room cleaners during pregnancy and infancy is associated with a higher risk of childhood asthma and wheezing.

Samara Geller, senior director of cleaning science at EWG, said: “These cleaning products can harm our health, but they can also harm the environment.”

“The results of the study have implications not only for human health, but also for environmental health.

“Volatile organic compounds emitted from consumer products can contribute to outdoor air pollution and increase existing environmental concerns.

“A 2018 study estimated that half of the VOCs responsible for air pollution come from consumer products.”

She added: “Being environmentally friendly with your cleaning products is an easy way to reduce your exposure to harmful chemicals.”

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“This may be particularly important for the health of women and children.”

According to the UK Air Pollution Information System (APIS), the largest emissions of individual VOCs come from butane, toluene, pentane, propane, ethanol and “white spirit”.

How to protect yourself from VOCs

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are a group of chemicals found in many everyday products.

These include paints, varnishes, carpets, upholstery, air fresheners, cleaning sprays, cosmetics, gasoline and dry cleaning.

The health risks of inhaling these fumes depend on the concentration, duration and frequency of inhalation.

Symptoms of short-term exposure include eye, nose and throat irritation, headache, nausea, vomiting and dizziness.

Long-term exposure over several years or a lifetime can potentially lead to liver and kidney damage, central nervous system complications and cancer.

To protect yourself from VOCs, you should:

  • Avoid or limit the use of high VOC products
  • Look for “Low VOCs” on the label.
  • If possible, use a different approach
  • Only buy as much as you need
  • Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions
  • Open the windows and use a fan
  • Allow new carpets or building materials to air out outside before installing
  • Do not store products containing VOCs indoors
  • Discard unused chemicals stored at home
  • Do home renovations while the house is unoccupied

Source: American Lung Association and Minnesota Department of Health

Aila Slisco

Aila Slisco is a Dailynationtoday U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Aila Slisco joined Dailynationtoday in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing:

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