Q: Why should consumers care what’s in their cleaning products?
A: Exposure to cleaning products may cause or exacerbate certain health conditions. Fumes from some cleaning products can induce asthma in otherwise healthy individuals and exacerbate asthma in people who already have the disease.
- The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) “has found that nearly 10% of all work-related asthma cases are caused by exposure to cleaning products.”[i] CDPH is concerned that the use of some cleaning products in schools may contribute to asthma in students and workers.[ii]
- About 8 percent of adults and children in California have asthma, with almost 200,000 new cases diagnosed each year.[iii] Asthma is much more prevalent in lower income communities.[iv]
- Children born to women who held cleaning jobs while pregnant have an elevated risk of birth defects, according to a 2010 study by the New York State Department of Health.[vi]
Q: Who is at most risk from these adverse effects? The general consumer, kids, or professionals like janitors?
A: Workers, children, and minorities are most at risk. Workers like janitors, maids, and housekeepers are most vulnerable to these products, being exposed for long hours every day.
- About 6 percent of janitors experience a job-related injury from chemical exposure to cleaning products every year.[vii]
- About half of the nation’s janitors, maids and housekeepers are Latino or African American.[viii]
- Children born to women who held cleaning jobs while pregnant have an elevated risk of birth defects, according to a 2010 study by the New York State Department of Health.[ix]
- The California Department of Public Health “has found that nearly 10% of all work-related asthma cases are caused by exposure to cleaning products.”[x]
- According to the U.S. EPA, cleaning products contribute to concentrations of many common pollutants that are 2 to 5 times higher inside homes than outside.[xi]
Q: Why should consumers care about fragrance?
A: The generic term “fragrance” when listed on a product label can refer to a mixture that may be composed of any of over 3,000 chemicals. According to the Califormia Department of PH, fragrances in cleaning products are actually a combination of many chemicals, some of which contain ingredients that have been associated with dizziness, cancer, endocrine disruption, and asthma.
The manufacturers of cleaning, and personal care products for that matter, are not required to list their fragrance ingredients on product labels. Without this information consumers do not know what ingredients, including potential allergens, are in their products.
Further, “unscented” does not necessarily mean a product is made without fragrance chemicals. This term can be misleading to consumers, particularly to those with an allergy related to fragrance. Natural fragrances can also cause sensitivities. The term “fragrance free” on the other hand denotes products that do not contain any fragrances at all.
Q: Why put ingredient information on a label? Will consumers really know what to do with it?
A: Consumers at the store can’t make informed purchasing decisions without accurate ingredient information on labels. A 2015 survey of 1,000 U.S. moms found that 73% of those surveyed, “often do research to understand the safety of ingredients to which their family is exposed.” Kids and workers with acute skin rashes and allergic reactions, or pregnant women counseled to avoid certain chemicals by their doctors, will be able to avoid cleaning products with ingredients they have reactions to. Union negotiations rely on ingredient information in order to negotiate for safer cleaning products in the workplace.
It comes down to consumer education and awareness. Think of food labels. While it was once a foreign concept to look at the ingredient labels of your food, it’s now commonplace and consumers are knowledgeable about certain ingredients they may choose to avoid.