Non Toxic Cleaning:
Allergy and Asthma Safe Products
This is National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month, and a great time to rethink the products we use in our homes, around our families, and at our workplaces. In the US, about 40% of adults and 30% of children have allergies, which means that in all likelihood, the product choices you make have a direct impact on the health and safety of someone with asthma or allergies. Due to the lack of regulation around product ingredient safety in the US, it can be very challenging to identify whether a product you purchase even contains chemicals that are skin or lung irritants. Types of ingredients vary across product categories, so what’s problematic in skincare may be different in laundry products. What we’ve got for you here are some tips you can apply across multiple types of products so that you can start to make a big difference by applying a few key watch-outs.
Allergy and Asthma Safe Products: Ditch the Fragrances
Did you know that the word “fragrance” on a label can actually hide a toxic cocktail of over 100 different fragrance chemicals? Fragrances are among the top 5 known allergens and can readily trigger asthma attacks. This is the case across multiple product categories, from cosmetics to baby wash to cleaning products. Fragrance cocktails can contain a wide range of toxic chemicals, allergens, and irritants, including phthalates, which are linked to hormone disruption, as well as skin and respiratory irritation. But you’ll never see specific fragrance chemicals itemized on a product label because the fragrance industry has convinced regulators that their conceptions are “trade secrets”. The fragrance industry is self-regulated, which makes it virtually impossible for the average person to be able to find out whether the ingredients they need to avoid are in a product. And get this, even products that say “unscented” on their labels can contain masking fragrance chemicals. If you see a product labeled “unscented”, always check the ingredient label for the word “fragrance”.
Asthma and Allergy Safe Products: Watch-out For “Natural” Products
Another class of ingredients that can be highly problematic for allergy sufferers is the preservative category. A liquid, gel, or cream product needs a preservative to prevent the growth of microbes. There is one preservative, in particular, that’s ubiquitous in products labeled “natural”, including laundry detergent, moisturizers, dish soap, and cleaning products that people with allergies should try their best to avoid. It’s called methylisothiazolinone, or MIT. MIT is a contact allergen and has been linked to allergic reactions and inhalation toxicity. The European SCCS has declared that there is no safe concentration of MIT in leave-on products. In Canada, it has been banned from use in cosmetics.
Another preservative to watch for in products labeled “natural” is methylchloroisothiazolinone or CMIT. This can be a health risk to people with asthma or allergies because it has been linked to allergic reactions, skin, eye and lung irritation, skin sensitization, and has also been restricted for use in the EU, Canada & Japan. The European Society of Contact Dermatitis has recommended that CMIT no longer be used in leave-on skin products.
And, since you read the section above on fragrances, you won’t be fooled by “natural” products that contain fragrances! When it comes to “natural” products, there aren’t any federal safety standards on most categories (there are a few exceptions in food), so you can’t assume that a “natural” product is non-toxic, allergy or asthma safe.
Allergy and Asthma Safe Cleaning Products
Cleaning products are a top and easily addressable trigger of allergies and asthma. Research has shown that some of the most frequently used cleaning chemicals can even cause allergies and asthma in adults and children who have never had them before. A couple of longitudinal studies have come out recently that have shown the staggering health impact on our lungs of chronic exposure to cleaning products. One showed that the cumulative effect of regular cleaning product use is as bad for our lungs as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. If that doesn’t get your attention, here is something that will: that research was on adults. Now think about the impact of cleaning product exposure on our children, day after day over their whole lives, especially now with the COVID-19 pandemic! Another longitudinal study on thousands of nurses showed that their risk of COPD increased by 32% due to chronic exposure to disinfectant chemicals.
When it comes to kids, the health risks of asthma and allergies can be even more profound. For example, research has shown that children with the highest exposure to cleaning chemicals during their first 4 months of life were 37% more likely to have asthma than those with the least exposure. Children’s immune and respiratory systems are still developing, which makes them more susceptible to the risks from allergy and asthma-triggering chemicals. They don’t have the same capacity to metabolize and clear chemicals from their systems as adults, which means their internal “doses” of the chemicals can be significantly higher than the same exposure in adults.
Allergy and Asthma Safe Cleaning Products: What To Avoid
The chemicals to avoid in choosing allergy and asthma-safe cleaning products are typically quaternary ammonium (quats), sodium hypochlorite (bleach), thymol, fragrances, preservatives & surfactants.
Quats & Bleach: Avoiding these can be extremely challenging if you’re looking for a disinfectant (ie killing germs, vs just cleaning). These 2 ingredients are the most common active ingredients in disinfectants but are well worth avoiding if the product could possibly be used around someone with allergies or asthma. In fact, the CDC recommends not using either of them at all around people with asthma.
Thymol: Another less common active ingredient in some disinfectants labeled “natural” is thymol. This ingredient is an allergen that should be used with caution (or not at all!) around people with allergies. It is also a suspected asthmagen.
Fragrances: Now that you’re an expert on fragrances, you know to avoid any cleaning products with fragrances. Everything we mentioned above applies to the cleaning category too, unfortunately!
Surfactants: Surfactants give you the perception that a cleaning product is working because they create foam or suds. But if you use cleaning products around someone with allergies – and given that 40% of adults and 30% of kids have allergies, you probably do – you’ll want to avoid the surfactants called sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) & sodium laureth sulfate (SLES).
A Cleaner and Disinfectant That’s Allergy & Asthma-Friendly
If you’re looking for a way to keep your home or workplace clean and disinfected without exposing people to skin or respiratory allergens or irritants, Force of Nature is a great option because it starts with just salt, water, and vinegar. Our little appliance uses electricity to convert the solution into an all-in-one cleaner, deodorizer, and disinfectant that kills 99.9% of germs. It’s even on the EPA’s List N, the disinfectants approved for use against COVID-19. You can use it to streamline multiple cleaning products – deodorizers, disinfectants, kitchen, bath, glass, floor & rug cleaners – to just one.