The Secret Risk of Some Housecleaning Products

You might want to opt for some natural methods instead.

cleaning suppliesAvelina/Shutterstock

Doing some light housework—straightening up, dusting, taking out the garbage—can burn about 100 calories in an hour. But did you know that cleaning your home could also potentially cause you to put on some pounds?

A new study suggests that using some common cleaning products may encourage weight gain. Researchers at Duke University collected dust samples from 176 homes in North Carolina. They analyzed the chemicals in them and found they encouraged the development of fat cells.

“Interestingly, the greater the extent that the dust was able to promote fat cell development, the greater the BMI of the people living in those homes,” researcher Christopher D. Kassotis said in March at the Endocrine Society Annual Meeting. “We demonstrated a relationship between the chemicals present in the indoor environment and metabolic health.” Weight gain isn’t the only sneaky way spring cleaning can harm your health, but it certainly is an unexpected one.

So how could dust cause you to gain weight? Earlier research has suggested that some chemicals in cleaning products trigger triglycerides, a fat in the blood. The chemicals in question are known as endocrine disruptors. Found in some cleaning products, detergents, plastic bottles, cosmetics, and even toys, chemicals like BPA and phthalates can disrupt hormone function and have been linked to obesity, heart disease, developmental, immune, and reproductive problems.

The endocrine-disrupting chemicals that were associated with the creation of fat cells in the study were found in cleaners and laundry detergents. They attach to dust particles that remain in the home. The researchers found that the amount of these chemicals was “significantly elevated in the dust of homes of children who were overweight or obese.” Children typically take in between 60 and 100 milligrams of dust every day, according to the Oregonian.

But the risk of these chemicals causing child obesity is low, researchers found. That said, endocrine disruptors have been associated with other health problems such as increased risk of cancer and developmental and reproductive issues, such as endometriosis.

Fortunately, you can find out whether those cleaning products contain potentially dangerous chemicals. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services maintains a database that breaks down health and safety information on common household products. Looking for suggestions? Here are the safest dish soaps on the market.

Even better, consider ditching the chemicals altogether. The NRDC recommends cleaning with a damp cloth and investing in a vacuum with a HEPA filter, which gathers dust more effectively. Once you’ve done that, learn about some other things in your house that could be making you sick.

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Jen McCaffery
Jen McCaffery is an associate editor for Reader’s Digest. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Prevention, Rhode Island Monthly, and other publications and websites. When she’s not writing or editing, she’s growing veggies or trying to figure out the way home from assorted trails.