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Wait a minute!  That sounds like a teenager’s excuse for a messy room.  But a closer look reveals that cleaning may create new hazards while it eliminates dust, deodorizes diaper pails, and makes food preparation safer.

Blog_Cleaning_picThis is a time of year when we think about spring cleaning.  But before you pick up that bottle, consider whether the surface is just dirty, or needs to be disinfected. Your choice of cleaner and method of cleaning could impact your health, and the health of those around you.

Scientific evidence is mounting that cleaning, especially using sprays and disinfectants, can have serious health consequences for you and your family:

  • Frequent use of chemicals in the home is associated with persistent wheezing in childhood that persists to age 7. Chemicals most frequently reported were disinfectant, bleach, aerosols and air fresheners.
  • Workers who clean for a living have more respiratory problems, including asthma, than other workers. This is especially true among those who clean homes and hospitals, and also among healthcare professionals.

Many cleaning products have disinfectant ingredients.  Disinfectants are actually chemical pesticides—antimicrobial pesticides—yikes!  Increasing our use of pesticides creates several problems.

  • We do not need to kill all microbes. Most microbes are helpful—not harmful. Overuse of antibacterial products increases the risk of antibiotic-resistant infections and asthma.
  • Pesticides are dangerous chemicals. When used appropriately in some settings, such as operating rooms and food preparation areas, antimicrobial pesticides protect us from harmful bacteria. But using pesticides where they aren’t needed can be harmful to our health.
  • Cleaners with disinfectants are often used inappropriately. This can cause asthma, create problems in our indoor environments and water supplies, and promote antibiotic resistance.

So, how do we balance keeping our environment clean and protecting ourselves from chemicals?

  • Wash your hands! This is even better than cleaning all the surfaces you touch.
  • Recognize hazardous pesticides. These include bleach, benzalkonium chloride and other quaternary ammonium compounds.
  • Clean without disinfectants, when possible. Pay attention to settings where dangerous microbes must be removed, and those where chemicals might be more harmful to you.  Cleaning products without disinfectants are sufficient for most settings—on floors, walls and windows.
  • When you do use a disinfectant: make sure it stays wet for the designated time on the product’s label to make sure it does its job. (For example, 2 teaspoons of PUMA bleach 8.25% in a gallon of water must stay wet on a food preparation surface for 2 minutes, and then air dry.)
  • Do not spray. If you must, spray into a cloth, not onto a hard surface. This way, less will bounce back into the air, limiting how much you breathe in.

Written By:


Industrial Hygienist, Occupational Health Surveillance Program

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