Why Cleaning Your Home Can Result In Dangerously Dirty Air

Cleanliness is known to be an important part of good health. But, unfortunately, many of the things we use to clean contain pollutants that lower our air quality…. Which can have a major impact on our health.

What are the most dangerous pollutants?

While pollutants in outdoor air are commonly discussed and regulated, there are no standards for indoor air quality. Considering that most of us spend around 90% of our time indoors and indoor air is generally 2 to 5 times more polluted than outdoor air, indoor air quality is not spoken about nearly enough.

The two most worrisome pollutants that are emitted by cleaning products are PM 2.5 and VOCs.

PM 2.5

Fine particulate matter, also known as PM 2.5 are microscopic particles that are present in both indoor and outdoor air. What makes PM2.5 more dangerous than other particles is their size. To be classified as PM2.5, the pollutant must be 2.5 micrometers or smaller.

PM2.5 are small enough to bypass the body’s defense, penetrate your lungs, and even enter your bloodstream. Once in the body, PM2.5 can cause a myriad of health issues including:

  • premature death in people with heart or lung disease
  • nonfatal heart attacks
  • irregular heartbeat
  • aggravated asthma
  • decreased lung function
  • increased respiratory symptoms, such as irritation of the airways, coughing or difficulty breathing.

PM2.5 are so dangerous that 4.2 million people a year around the world die from breathing in excessive amounts. In fact, a recent study called them “the largest environmental risk factor worldwide,” responsible for many more deaths than alcohol use, physical inactivity or high sodium intake. 


Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, are gases that are emitted into the air from products or processes during a process called off-gassing. Some VOC’s are harmful by themselves, including some that cause cancer. But even if they’re not harmful alone, they often react with other gases and form new air pollutants once released.

Some of the most common chemicals off-gassed from household items include formaldehyde, benzene, ammonia, and toluene. While off-gassing is often accompanied by a “new” smell, it can also be odorless.

Although we don’t yet know all the ways off-gassing can impact our health, there has been research to show that many of these chemicals can cause allergic reactions and other health problems—including congestion, coughing, skin irritation, asthma attacks, and fatigue, as well as leukemia, lymphomas, or cognitive issues. 

The impact of VOC’s varies according to the particular chemicals involved, the concentration, and the length of exposure. 

Which products have the worst effect on your indoor air?

So many of our modern conveniences contribute to poor air quality that it can be nearly impossible to keep your home completely free of pollutants. But, ironically, items we use to clean our home can actually be the ones that make the air the dirtiest. Here are some of the worst offenders:

Cleaning products

While cleaners, sterilizers and disinfectants are often used to keep surfaces free of germs and dirt, the truth is they actually may add more harmful pollutants to your home than they remove. 

Most common cleaning products emit a variety of VOC’s including isopropyl alcohol and acetone into your home air. 

When these VOC’s waft into your air, they can interact with other chemicals to produce harmful ozone and even PM2.5. 

Air fresheners

The scent of an ocean breeze or fresh bouquet of flowers can disguise a lot of unpleasant smells and make your home feel fresh and clean. In fact, nearly 75% of US households use air fresheners. But, while air fresheners may give the illusion of cleanliness, the truth is that they contain a cocktail of potentially hazardous air pollutants that can lower your air quality. Even so-called green and organic air fresheners can release hazardous air pollutants. In fact, air fresheners are so toxic that their emissions can even affect outdoor air quality and contribute to photochemical smog.

Though the particular mix of VOCs for each air freshener may not be known, they’re typically some combination of the following dangerous pollutants:  volatile organic compounds: terpenes such as limonene, alpha-pinene, and beta-pinene; terpenoids such as linalool and alpha-terpineol; ethanol, formaldehyde, benzene, toluene, and xylene) and semi-volatile organic compounds (such as phthalates).

And it’s not just the VOCs themselves, air freshener emissions can also interact with chemicals already in your home to create more toxic pollutants such as formaldehyde, free radicals, and… you guessed it… PM2.5.

Personal hygiene products

There’s nothing like the pleasant fragrances of hair and skin products to make your home smell clean. Unfortunately, those scents are almost always a product of VOCs. 

In fact, the problem has gotten so severe that a new study suggests that petroleum-based chemicals used in some deodorants, perfumes, and other products can collectively emit as much air pollution in the form of volatile organic compounds (V.O.C.s) as motor vehicles do. 

Although sprays tend to be the heaviest contaminators, a recent study showed that as much as 40 percent of chemicals found in lotion end up in the air as well.

How can you keep things clean without lowering your air quality?

Fortunately, you don’t have to give up on a clean home in order to keep your air quality healthy. There are three easy ways to keep your house looking and smelling clean, while still maintaining good air quality.

Use safer products

Labels can help you find products that are safer to use. But, unfortunately, a lot of companies use misleading or vague terms such as “environmentally friendly,” “eco safe,” or “green”. For more reliably safe products look for those included in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Safer Choice program.  EPA offers the Design for the Environment (DfE) label on antimicrobial products, such as disinfectants and sanitizers. 


Because outdoor air is generally less polluted than indoor air, bringing in outdoor air can often help improve your air quality. Opening windows and doors and using fans vented to the outdoors all help increase ventilation. 

Air purifier

The most effective way to maintain consistently good indoor air quality is to use an air purifier. But, all purifiers are not equal. Some purifiers, like those that emit ozone, can actually make your indoor air worse. 

An aeris purifier combines True HEPA filters and activated carbon filters to keep your air free of both PM2.5 and VOCs, so you don’t have to compromise your air quality to have a clean house. 

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