March 1, 2024

“Green” cleaning products are often just as harmful as traditional cleaning products •

Recent findings indicate that “green” cleaning products may not be as environmentally friendly or safe as assumed, emitting harmful chemicals at levels comparable to traditional cleaning products.

This surprising discovery calls for strengthened regulations and clearer guidance for consumers regarding the safety of so-called “green” cleaning products, as well as their traditional counterparts.

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)

Published in the magazine Environmental science processes and impacts from the Royal Society of Chemistry, research highlights the potential risks to air quality posed by scented cleaning products inside homes.

These products release a variety of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), some of which are dangerous or can turn into harmful secondary pollutants.

Despite the growing popularity of “green” cleaning products, under the belief of their health and environmental benefits, the study led by the University of York challenges this assumption.

The research focused on comparing the VOC production of 10 traditional cleaning products and 13 “green” cleaning products, finding that the latter tend to release more monoterpenes.

This increase in monoterpene emissions can lead to higher concentrations of secondary pollutants such as formaldehyde and peroxyacyl nitrates.

These chemicals pose significant health risks, including respiratory problems and potential skin irritation. Prolonged exposure to certain pollutants like formaldehyde can even increase your risk of cancer.

“Green” Cleaning Products and Misleading Marketing

“Our research found that there is no strong evidence to suggest that clean green products are better for indoor air quality compared to regular products. In fact, there was very little difference,” said lead author Ellen Harding-Smith, an Environmental Chemistry researcher at the Department of Environment and Geography.

“Many consumers are being deceived by the marketing of these products and, as a result, they may be damaging the air quality in their homes – potentially putting their health at risk. For so many products on supermarket shelves, green does not mean clean.”

To mitigate the potential harm caused by these products, Harding-Smith advises manufacturers to disclose more information about their ingredients and to educate consumers about improving indoor air quality, such as increasing ventilation and opening windows during use. use.

This approach could significantly improve the safety and environmental friendliness of cleaning products used in homes.

Importance of indoor air quality

Poor indoor air quality can lead to a range of health problems, from short-term effects such as eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, dizziness and fatigue, to long-term effects including respiratory illnesses, heart disease and even cancer.

People with pre-existing health conditions, the elderly and children are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of poor indoor air quality.

Improving indoor air quality involves several strategies, including increasing ventilation to bring fresh air outdoors, using air purifiers to remove pollutants from indoor air, maintaining heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, controlling sources of pollution through choosing low-emission materials and products, and keeping the indoor environment clean through regular cleaning and dusting.

Monitoring indoor air quality through various sensors and indicators can also help to effectively identify and mitigate sources of pollution, ensuring a healthier indoor environment.

Understanding VOCs and “Green” Cleaning Products

As discussed above, Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) play a significant role in environmental chemistry and public health, warranting increased scrutiny due to their widespread presence and complex effects.

These organic chemicals, characterized by their high vapor pressure at room temperature, are prevalent in industrial settings and everyday environments, from homes to offices.

Understanding VOCs, both from traditional and “green” cleaning products, involves exploring their sources, effects and the steps we can take to mitigate their impact.

VOCs originate from a wide variety of sources. Inside homes, common contributors include paints, varnishes and solvents, which release VOCs during application and as they dry.

Manufacturers incorporate VOCs into cleaning products to improve their efficiency at dissolving dirt, grease and grime. From disinfectants and deodorizers to laundry detergents and floor cleaners, VOCs are common.

Impact of VOCs on health and the environment

However, the convenience these chemicals offer has a downside. During use and as they evaporate, these products release VOCs into the indoor environment, contributing to indoor air pollution.

Abroad, vehicles and industrial processes are the main sources, releasing VOCs into the atmosphere, where they contribute to air pollution and form tropospheric ozone, a key component of smog.

The impact of VOCs on human health and the environment is profound. Short-term exposure to high levels of VOCs can cause eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, nausea and dizziness.

Long-term exposure raises more serious concerns, including liver, kidney, and central nervous system damage, and some VOCs have been linked to cancer in humans.

From an environmental perspective, VOCs play a critical role in the formation of tropospheric ozone and particulate matter, two of the main pollutants that contribute to smog and poor air quality.

This not only affects human health, but also harms crops, ecosystems and buildings.

Future of “green” cleaning products

Addressing the challenges posed by VOCs requires a multifaceted approach. On an individual level, choosing low-VOC or no-VOC products, ensuring adequate ventilation when using products that emit VOCs, and adopting environmentally friendly cleaning alternatives can significantly reduce personal and household exposure.

On a broader scale, regulations and policies aimed at reducing VOC emissions from industrial sources, vehicles and consumer products are critical. These include setting emission limits, promoting cleaner production processes and encouraging the development and use of alternative, less harmful substances.

In summary, Volatile Organic Compounds are ubiquitous and multifaceted, posing challenges to public health and environmental quality.

By understanding its sources, effects and mitigation strategies, individuals and communities can take meaningful action to minimize its impact.

It is through informed choices and strict regulations that we can protect our health and the environment from the adverse effects of VOCs.


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