It’s great when your home smells fresh, but what’s lurking in the scents that linger after you clean? The secret to that smell might be putting your health at risk. A group of chemicals called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in cleaning products pollute the air inside Canadian homes. That’s what we found in our new report, The Dirty Truth: How toxic cleaning products are putting Canadians at risk.
VOCs are a key contributor to poor indoor air quality. They have been linked to respiratory illnesses, cancer, and lower birth weights and lower IQs in the developing fetus when pregnant mothers are exposed.
Scientists have looked at VOCs from cleaning products in controlled laboratory settings. But how cleaning products react with indoor air in homes, and how people use products at home, mean the air will be affected differently than in controlled lab setting. We wanted to know what happens when real people use real cleaning products at home. It’s not every day that we get to play detective outside the office, so we eagerly suited up and with the help of CASSEN Testing Laboratories, we brought air testing kits to the homes of volunteers to investigate.
The Cleaning Products Experiment
14 volunteers from Toronto, Montreal and Cobalt, ON cleaned their kitchens for 30 minutes for our experiment. We tested the air in the homes the day before the cleaning, and again during the cleaning, to compare samples. The first-of-its-kind research found that VOC levels went up in all the households with the use of cleaning products, with a stark difference between the conventional and green products:
- After the cleaning, the air quality in 12 of the 14 tested households exceeded the German AGOF institute standard for indoor VOC levels (no Canadian standard exists – yet).
- For eight households, air quality went from decent to poor during the cleaning.
- For the nine homes where conventional cleaners were used, total VOCs increased by an average of 120 per cent.
- For the three homes cleaned with certified green products, the increase averaged 35 per cent.
How You Can Make Cleaning Your Home Healthier
By simply using cleaning products, you could be lowering your indoor air quality and putting your health at risk. That’s why we have put together a handy guide that shows you simple steps to reduce your risk from cleaning product VOCs.
Consumers have the right to know what chemicals are in the products they buy. It’s time for the government to end the guessing game for Canadians by making full ingredient disclosure mandatory on product labels. US-based Women’s Voices for Earth has also reviewed companies’ performance on product ingredients and labelling and concluded that more transparency is needed.
Products should also carry clear warnings about chronic hazards, not just information about immediate risks like skin irritation. It’s good to know what to do if a substance gets in your eye, but just as important to know if it’s linked to asthma or cancer.
Last year, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne promised to “provide Ontarians with better information about chemicals linked with cancer.” Environmental Defence is calling on Ontario’s government to make good on the promise through stronger product labelling rules.
We are also calling on the federal government to stop the foot-dragging and publish promised regulations for consumer product VOC content. These guidelines were originally set to come out in 2014, but we are still waiting.
We need government and industry to clean up their act so we can breathe easy again in our homes.
Written by Maggie MacDonald, Toxic Program Manager, Environmental Defence