A modern home is likely to retain a range of highly toxic chemicals for cleaning. They often come with tantalising labels that offer protection from infections and illness. In addition there are often toxic air fresheners, room deodorisers and toilet sanitisers, all of which claim to remove noxious smells and contaminants from the indoor environment. In reality these sophisticated cleaning agents are usually far more dangerous to health than the infectious agents they purport to remove. They frequently contain several toxic chemicals Many affect reproduction as well as seriously compromising general health.
I was alerted to the dangers of bathroom cleaners to reproduction after giving talks about my research results on lifestyle and reproduction. One woman told me that every time she cleaned her shower she would become dizzy and nauseous. Apparently her technique was to get into the shower, spray her cleaner on the tiles and then wash it off with very hot water. The heat plus the fumes were a dangerous combination. She was not alone. I soon discovered that many women regularly had reactions to their zealous cleaning. Many of these women had been told they had unexplained infertility. Others, who worked as cleaners, spoke about the disturbances in their menstrual cycles that occurred soon after taking up cleaning work.
The medical literature has many studies on the health risks of working with cleaning agents. These risks commonly include high rates of asthma and general high disability rates. Studies from Mexican American and Dutch women show increased rates of neural tube defects (spina bifida and anencephaly) in the children of female cleaners. Even fathers who are exposed to moderate to high levels of cleaning agents have increased numbers of children with neural tube defects.
The chemical p-dichlorobenzene is an example of a chemical frequently found in sanitisers, especially toilet bowl deodorisers and mothballs. This is an extremely dangerous chemical. A group of animals repeatedly exposed to 798 ppm of p-dichlorobenzene developed eye irritation, marked tremors, weakness, and loss of weight. Some died. In five cases of human exposure to p-dichlorobenzene in mothballs, one person with only moderate exposure complained of severe headache, swelling of tissues around the eyes and profuse rhinitis. These symptoms subsided 24 hours after cessation of exposure. However, the other four persons who had more prolonged exposure developed anorexia, nausea, vomiting, weight loss, and liver involvement with jaundice. Two of these people died. A third developed cirrhosis of the liver.
From a reproductive perspective, the most dangerous chemicals found in cleaning agents are formaldehyde, toluene and ethylene glycol butyl ether. Formaldehyde is commonly used to suppress the central nervous system smell receptors so that we cannot smell bad smells. It is used in most air fresheners. As well as causing cancer, it disrupts the menstrual cycle hence causing infertility, miscarriage and birth defects. Toluene is a solvent used in many different types of cleaning agents. It is also a reproductive toxin. Ethylene glycol butyl ether (2-butoxyethanol) is a solvent in carpet and specialist cleaners. It causes reproductive problems as well as blood disorders, liver and kidney problems. Ammonia may also cause problems. It is a natural fertility inhibitor and is also a respiratory irritant.
Books on safe cleaning methods advocate using bicarbonate of soda on a cloth for lightly soiled surfaces and bicarbonate and a brush for more difficult stains. Vinegar or lemon juice or vinegar with bicarbonate will remove most stains including baked on grease. In my experience you can really achieve a great deal with any one of these alone or with mixtures of them. Lemon juice is particularly good in shower recesses. Vinegar and bicarbonate will have your toilet shining. Eucalyptus Oil or Vanilla will give it a pleasant smell. These natural products are safe, effective and cheap and won’t compromise fertility.
It amazes me that clever marketing convinces us to fill our homes with toxic chemicals when simple, old-fashioned techniques are as, if not more effective. Many women needlessly suffer reproductive problems all in the mistaken belief that they are improving their own and their family’s health.