For almost a decade there has been a passionate debate whether there is a real link between cleaning products and breast cancer. The reason for it was a study conducted in Massachusetts in 2010. The outcome of it was not conclusive enough to provide a definitive “yes” or “no” answer to the question, however, credible sources like the Independent and even the NHS published information about the findings of the study, which fueled up the discussion even more. So let’s look at what it was all about.
The primary aim of this research was to determine whether women who use cleaning products more often have a higher chance of developing cancer. The scientists wanted to explore this due to doubt about the contents of most widely available cleaning products. The substances found in those are either cancerogenic chemicals like methylene chloride (fabric cleaners), nitrobenzene (soaps) or pesticides that can harm the breast tissue.
During the research, a control group of 787 women from Massachusetts who have been diagnosed with breast cancer between 1988 and 1995 were compared to healthy (non-cancer diagnosed) 721 women of the same or similar age who have lived in or around the same area. All participants were questioned about their family health history, living habits such as eating, smoking, alcohol use, exercise, etc. They were also asked about their use of pesticides and cleaning products.
The results from the study show that the top 25% of women who reported the highest use of cleaning products were at least 2 times more likely to develop breast cancer than those who reported the lowest use. The participants who indicated that they use air fresheners and mould and mildew removers often had 70% increased chance of cancer. These statistics sound really scary, but there is a spinner.
The Psychological Factor
During the study, the researchers also questioned the participants about their belief on the link between cleaning products and cancer. Amazingly, women who said they think there is a real link fell in the category with the highest chance of developing cancer. Those who said they don’t believe there is a correlation ended up in the no increased risk category. why is that? Scientists state that the psychological factor here plays a big role because those who believe the frequent use of cleaning products causes cancer may be remembering using the products more often than they actually did, which could then impact the outcome of the study. This is also the reason why researchers were reluctant to give a definitive answer on the question “Do cleaning products really cause cancer?”
What are the facts we know
Unfortunately, it is true that most widely available cleaning products that we use for everyday cleaning of our homes do contain harmful chemicals. The Environmental Working Group published a list of cleaning materials and air fresheners that have a long-term negative impact on human and animal health. Improper or extensive use of some of those can even be fatal.
As we mentioned above, nitrobenzene, methylene chloride and pesticides are found to be cancerogenic and dangerous to healthy mammaric tissue. Ammonia, present in many cleaning sprays is known to be linked to long-term decline in lung function. The real problem, which the Environmental Working Group found is that the majority of cleaning products available on the market contain one or more of these and other cancerogenic chemicals and ingredients harming the respiratory health of humans, but they aren’t listed on the labels. That makes us think, if transparency is not an option for these manufacturers, are their cleaning products really safe to be used by both the general public and professional cleaners.
What can we do to protect ourselves
The Massachusetts study may not be convincing enough to give us grounds for claiming that mainstream cleaning products really cause cancer, but the data gathered from it is certainly worth taking into consideration. To add to this, Breast Cancer UK actually recommends swapping commonly used cleaning materials that you buy from the supermarket with non-toxic eco-friendly cleaning products.
Minimising the use of fragranced sprays and air fresheners can also help. If you need to get rid of unpleasant odours in your home, you can use natural ingredients such as lemons, other citrus fruits or essential oils boiled in water and left in the room for 6-8 hours. Keeping the place well ventilated would be another easy and harmless option.
Another tip from BCUK is to avoid the use of bleach. Most of the time it isn’t really necessary, because there are plenty of other eco-friendly alternatives such as lemon juice, baking soda and vinegar. Excessive use of chlorine-containing products can damage a range of organs in the human body. Elderly people and young children are particularly at risk, as well as some household pets.
DIY cleaning products that are completely cancer free
Usually, nature has solutions to all of our problems. We just need to look for them. Here is a list of some natural ingredients that you can use to create your own cleaning products. They will contain no chemicals, which makes them completely cancer free!
- Lemon juice – women of the past used it to get rid of mould and mildew, imposing no health risks on themselves or their household.
- Vinegar – this is a natural acid, stronger than the lemon juice, so it deals effectively with grime, soap scum and grease.
- Baking soda – the wonder cleaner that makes a variety of surfaces shiny and eliminates grime and grease. Even more – it has virus-killing properties!
- Olive oil – fine woodwork cleaner and polisher.
- Castile soap – it is made of 100% natural plant oils and removes grease without a glitch.
- Essential oils – they are the healthy alternative to air fresheners and odour removers. Do keep in mind, however, that some scent combinations can trigger allergies.
You can also make your own cleaning recipes by mixing these ingredients together for even better results. Avoid mixing castile soap with vinegar or lemon juice because of their chemical consistency. The castile soap is a base, while the other two are acids. If you mix them together, they will cancel each other, which means you lose their effectiveness.
There is no dispute over the fact that widely available cleaning products in shops and supermarkets contain harmful ingredients. However, we cannot yet claim that there is a 100% concrete link between the frequent use of those and cancer development, simply because we also have to consider the psychological factor as evident from the 2010 Massachusetts study. That said, it’s always best to stay on the safe side, keeping in mind that there are tons of chemicals we use in our everyday life while we eat, take care of our body and skin, maintain our household environment, make an effort to look good and so on. Cutting on some of these probably won’t guarantee you will never fall sick with a serious long-term or terminal disease, but will certainly decrease your chances of finding yourself in such a situation.