Are Household Cleaners Linked to Breast Cancer?

cleaning productsA study has found a potential link between the use of household cleaners and air fresheners and breast cancer.

But when about 800 women (400 with breast cancer and an equal number without) were asked about cleaning products, researchers found a potential connection.

Breast-cancer risk was highest among women who reported the most use of cleaning products and air fresheners -- it was twice the risk of those who reported low use of the products.

According to The Columbus Dispatch:

"The connection was drawn mostly between mold and mildew cleaners and air fresheners. Surface and oven cleaners were not associated with increased risk. Chemicals of concern include synthetic musks, phthalates, 1,4-dichlorobenzene, terpenes, benzene and styrene and some antimicrobial agents."

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

You clean your house to keep it pure and free from harmful contaminants, but if you’re using many of the popular cleaners on the market, you’re actually introducing potentially toxic chemicals into your home.

In the latest study involving close to 800 women, those who reported the most use of cleaning products and air fresheners had double the risk of developing breast cancer compared to those who reported low use.

While it is very difficult to prove that a person’s exposure to household cleaners over the course of 10, 20 or 30 years is what caused their cancer diagnosis, it is well known that commonly used household chemicals do, in fact, cause cancer, along with other serious health effects like reproductive and developmental problems in developing children.

Just what types of toxic cleaning chemicals may be putting your health at risk?

Common Toxins in Household Cleaners

The lead researcher of the above study found the greatest correlation with breast cancer with mold and mildew cleaners and air fresheners. Among the chemicals of greatest concern were:

  • Synthetic musks: Widely used in detergents, fabric softeners and air fresheners (along with perfume), these compounds have been found in 36 of the 52 people tested by Environmental Working Group (EWG)/Commonweal studies.

    They have been found in the breast milk of American mothers, which has raised increasing concerns about their safety. Synthetic musks are suspected endocrine disruptors and at least one, tonalide, prevented cells from blocking entry of toxins in an animal study.

  • Phthalates: The effects of phthalates on your endocrine system, particularly during pregnancy, breastfeeding and childhood, are very disturbing. For instance, animal studies on certain phthalates have shown these chemicals may cause:
    • Reproductive and developmental harm
    • Organ damage
    • Immune suppression
    • Endocrine disruption
    • Cancer

    They are widely used in household cleaners, air fresheners and plastics.

    • 1,4-dichlorobenzene: Found in air fresheners, toilet bowl cleaners and other household cleaning products, 1,4-dichlorobenzene is present in the blood of nearly all Americans. Along with being linked to lung damage it is known to cause organ system toxicity.
    • Terpenes: Commonly used in household cleaners with pine, lemon or orange scents, terpenes interact with ozone in the air to produce toxic substances similar to formaldehyde, a known carcinogen.
    • Benzene: Also common in cleaning agents, benzene is a known human carcinogen and has been linked to increased risk of leukemia and other blood diseases, along with organ system toxicity.
    • Styrene: Linked to cancer, birth or developmental effects, organ system toxicity, and problems with reproduction and fertility, this is another chemical found in far too many household cleaning products.

    Other very nasty chemicals likely to be lurking under your kitchen or bathroom sink include:

    • Phenol: A common main ingredient in household detergents like Lysol, Pine-Sol and Spic-n-Span. It’s also found in mouthwash. Phenol is toxic and people who are hypersensitive can experience serious side effects at very low levels. Studies have linked phenols to:
    • Damage to your respiratory and circulatory systems
    • Heart damage
    • Respiratory problems
    • Damage to your liver, kidneys and eyes

    Nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs), a common ingredient in laundry detergents and all-purpose cleaners, is banned in Europe, and known to be a potent endocrine disrupter. It’s already thought to be the cause of male fish transforming into females in waterways around the world.

    • Formaldehyde, found in spray and wick deodorizers, is a suspected carcinogen.
    • Petroleum solvents in floor cleaners may damage mucous membranes.
    • Butyl cellosolve, found in many all-purpose and window cleaners, may damage your kidneys, bone marrow, liver and nervous system.
    • Triclosan, the active ingredient in most antibacterial products, not only kills bacteria, it also has been shown to kill human cells.

Reading the Labels Won’t Always Help

I always advocate reading the labels on the foods and personal care products you buy, but in the case of household cleaners even the most meticulous eye for labels won’t get you very far.


Because many of the most dangerous chemicals will not be not listed on the label. The manufacturers have conveniently lobbied the government to exempt them from this requirement and can omit any ingredient that is considered a secret formula from its label, and many of these secret ingredients are toxic and carcinogenic.

Household goods are still very much an unregulated market. And, cleaning product manufacturers -- even those that claim to be “green” -- are not required by law to disclose all of their ingredients on their labels.

So while it’s still better to read the label than not, be aware that a lack of ingredient on a label doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not in the product!

Using Natural Cleaning Products on My Top List of Cancer Prevention Strategies

Research is beginning to suggest just how powerful a role environmental chemicals like these play in your long-term health.

In 2009, 1.5 million Americans were diagnosed with cancer, and a report from the President’s Cancer Panel suggests that the percentage of these directly caused by environmental factors has been “grossly underestimated.”

This is why my top list of cancer prevention strategies has always included reducing your exposure to environmental toxins like pesticides, household chemical cleaners, and synthetic air fresheners.

Fortunately, this is a relatively easy task to accomplish.

For those times when you need to do a bit of cleansing, one of the best non-toxic disinfectants is simple soap and water. You can use this for washing your hands, your body and for other household cleansing. Another all-purpose cleanser that works great for kitchen counters, cutting boards and bathrooms is 3% hydrogen peroxide and vinegar.

You can also keep your home very fresh and clean by making your own natural cleaning products using items you probably already have around your home. Some more tips for making simple and effective all-natural cleansers:

  • Use baking soda mixed with apple cider vinegar to clean drains and bathtubs, or sprinkle baking soda along with a few drops of lavender oil or tea tree oil (which have antibacterial qualities) as a simple scrub for your bathroom or kitchen.
  • Vinegar can be used to clean almost anything in your home. Try it mixed with liquid castile soap, essential oils and water to clean floors, windows, bathrooms and kitchens. It can even be used as a natural fabric softener.
  • Hydrogen peroxide is safer to use than chlorine bleach for disinfecting and whitening.
  • Vodka is a disinfectant that can remove red wine stains, kill wasps and bees and refresh upholstery (put it into a mister and simply spray on the fabric).

For a great video on how to use these ingredients and other tips for cleaning your home without hazardous chemicals, please review the article How to Keep Your Home Clean Naturally.

Finally, if you're still using air fresheners because you like a scented environment, I urge you to switch to safer alternatives like therapeutic essential oils.

Remember, essential oils are NOT the same thing as fragrance oils. Fragrance oils are artificially created and often contain synthetic chemicals -- so make sure the essential oil you use is of the highest quality and 100 percent pure. A few drops placed in a diffuser around your home, or mixed with water and sprayed onto upholstery or fabrics, is a safe and soothing way to scent your home naturally.

+ Sources and References