Should household cleaning products carry health warnings? 

The market for household cleaning products is valued at around $30 billion. For consumers, these are everyday items that many people rely on. 

However, according to scientists, cleaning products, along with DIY products and some cosmetics, should carry a warning label due to a potential link with asthma. 

Cleaning products, paint, wax, varnish, air fresheners, and even shampoo, contain Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), which can significantly increase the risk of asthma in adults. 

The researchers at Smartline, a research project funded by the European Regional Development Fund, claim that using VOCs at home could increase the risk of adults developing asthma by up to 40%. 

As an example, one compound that’s found in shampoos and detergents called limonene, which is added as a citrus scent, could increase the risk of asthma by 15%. 

Additionally, high exposure to this and other VOCs could lead to wheezing, shortness of breath, and other respiratory problems in adults not suffering from asthma. 

VOCs are known to be harmful to humans generally. But, as the researchers point out, when used indoors, they can also react with gases and produce additional pollutants, which poses an even greater risk to people’s respiratory health. 

The evidence suggests that when indoors, concentrations of VOCs can be up to ten times higher than outside. This puts people that spend a lot of time at home, like children or the elderly, at increased risk of health problems. 

One of the researchers, Professor Karyn Morrissey from the University of Exeter, advises people to open their windows as much as possible to stop the VOCs from building up in the air. 

She has also called for governments to do more to warn and protect the public about the risks of poor indoor air quality by introducing a labeling system similar to those on food products. This could warn people if a product contains dangerous levels of VOCs. 

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