Do Household Cleaners Cause Breast Cancer?

Melissa Breyer

Posted by Melissa Breyer

Pesticides, household cleaners, and air fresheners are of interest in breast cancer research because many contain mammary gland carcinogens and/or endocrine disrupting compounds, according to a new study published in the journal, Environmental Health.  The population-based case-control study investigated whether the use of household cleaners and pesticides increases breast cancer risk.

Researchers asked more than 1500 women about their usage of cleaning products and found that women who reported using more air fresheners and products for mold and mildew had a two-fold higher incidence of breast cancer.

Julia Brody, from the Silent Spring Institute, worked with the team of researchers to carry out telephone interviews with 787 women (in Massachusetts) diagnosed with breast cancer and 721 comparison women. She said, “Women who reported the highest combined cleaning product use had a doubled risk of breast cancer compared to those with the lowest reported use. Use of air fresheners and products for mold and mildew control were associated with increased risk.”

Since the results were based on personal recall, the researchers recommend further study of cleaning products and breast cancer using prospective self-reports and measurements in environmental and biological media.

Meanwhile, a study from the University of Bristol called “Children of the ’90s” (Alspac), which has followed the health and development of 14,000 children since before birth, also looked at the health impacts of air fresheners. The study didn’t analyze the ingredients in air fresheners, just the effects: 32 percent more babies suffered diarrhea in homes where air fresheners were used every day, compared with homes where they were used once a week or less, and they had significantly more earaches in these homes as well.

Air fresheners also affected mothers—those who used them daily suffered nearly 10 percent more headaches. Perhaps most surprising is the finding that women who lived in homes with daily air freshener use had a 26 percent increased risk of depression! So much for the soothing effects of Clean Linen and Fresh Mountain Morning.

Another study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that when used indoors (where it is presumed one would be using these items) under certain conditions, many common household cleaners and air fresheners emit toxic pollutants at levels that may lead to health risks.

In 2008, Americans spent over $5 billion on household cleaning products, and around $1.7 billion dollars of that on air fresheners alone (just the money spent on air fresheners is enough to buy 75,000 brand new Toyota Prius cars!)  I maintain that we have become a bit brainwashed into believing that germs are far more evil than they really are. There has been such a wide swing from the disease-thriving filth of centuries past to the obsession with cleanliness and hardcore hygiene that we see in industrialized countries today. Given the plagues and epidemics of our past it makes sense that we strive for sterile environments, but it seems to me that perhaps we are going to a place that may be equally as unhealthy.

So, what to do? Dial it back a bit and practice healthy moderation: Skip commercial toxic housekeeping products and instead use green products, either commercially produced, or better yet, homemade. It’s amazing how effective humble ingredients like baking soda and vinegar are, and notice how seldom you hear about baking soda causing breast cancer?

For non-toxic air freshening:

For natural cleaning:

For those so inclined, making your own green cleaning solutions is easy and cheap. According to The Green Guide, consumers can “circumvent the armada of commercial cleaners” by keeping handy an ample supply of eight ingredients for nearly every do-it-yourself cleaning job: baking soda, borax, distilled white vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, lemons, olive oil, vegetable-based (liquid castile) soap, and washing soda.


Cancer Prevention Coalition,; Gaiam,; Earth Friendly Products,; Citra-Solv; Ecover,; Clorox Green Works,; Mrs. Meyers,; Sun and Earth,; Seventh Generation,; SimpleGreen,; Method Green Home Care Products,