Best Cleaning Products for Asthma Sufferers

By Marilee Nelson |

Best Cleaning Products for Asthma Sufferers

Did you know asthma is the #1 chronic illness in American children and affects over 24 million American adults and children?

If you, your child, or anyone else in your life has asthma, you know how scary and unpredictable this condition can be.

Part of what makes managing asthma so challenging is the ubiquitous nature of indoor air pollutants, which range from fragrance chemicals to cleaning chemicals, dust, pollens, dander, mold, and more.

Therefore, one of the best things we can do to prevent asthma attacks and promote respiratory wellness is to keep a clean and healthy home free of (or low in) common indoor air pollutants.

How do we do this? 

One of the most vital steps to improving indoor air quality is to examine the cleaning and laundry products we use at home, as they are one of the top sources of things like VOCs, which can trigger asthma attacks. 

In this article, we’ll share the best cleaning products for people with asthma, along with tips on how to read labels and vet products for safety before bringing them into your home.

1. Fragrance-Free All-Purpose Cleaners 

All-purpose cleaners are essential for removing germs, dust, and grime from surfaces.

However, many brands, including some organic or green brands, contain signature fragrances.

Fragrances, which can contain dozens to hundreds of undisclosed chemicals per scent, are one of the world’s top allergens and contain various asthmagens, chemicals known to cause, contribute to, or trigger asthma.

One of the most toxic groups of fragrance chemicals are phthalates (pronounced tha-laytes), which are asthmagens, carcinogens (cause cancer), endocrine disruptors (disrupt hormones), neurotoxins (cause nervous system disorders), and obesogens (cause weight gain and metabolic disorders). 

Phthalates can also cause congenital disabilities and allergies, making them risky for pregnant mothers.

This is just one example of one ingredient in cleaning products that should be avoided for people with asthma (or anyone else who cares about their health).

Instead, we recommend choosing a human-safe, fragrance-free all-purpose cleaner like Branch Basics All-Purpose.

Branch Basics was created as a safe and natural cleaning line for the most sensitive individuals, including those with asthma, chemical sensitivities, and other chronic conditions.

Branch Basics All-Purpose is made with Branch Basics Concentrate plus water. 

Branch Basics Concentrate is a Made-Safe, EWG-Verified, biodegradable, cruelty-free, non-GMO natural cleaning concentrate made with only gentle, naturally derived ingredients, zero fragrance, and zero asthmagens. 

Read more about Branch Basics Concentrate and other naturally fragrance-free and healthy cleaning options here. 

2. Baking Soda

Health-conscious DIYers love baking soda because of its versatility as a bleach alternative, non-scratch scouring agent, deodorizer, water softener, stain remover, and more.

It’s also safe for those with asthma or respiratory conditions.

Note: As with any powder, do not inhale baking soda. 

Get more tips in: Cleaning With Baking Soda: 12 Surprising Uses.

3. Safe Dish Soap 

Most of us wash dishes every day. Yet, it’s easy to forget about the toxins and allergens in synthetic dish soap.

Yet, dish soaps and dish detergents contain some of the most dangerous chemicals in the home, many of which are asthmagens, allergens, and endocrine disruptors, and can cause severe internal or external tissue and organ damage.

The good news is that finding human- and environmentally-safe dish soap and dish detergents has become easier.

Branch Basics All-Purpose, for example, can be used for handwashing dishes, and our plastic-free, phosphate-free Dishwasher Tablets are a perfect fragrance-free dishwasher detergent alternative with no harmful fumes or residue.

Get more tips and resources in: 8 Effective Natural Alternatives To Dish Soap and Dish Detergent. 

4. Hydrogen Peroxide For Non-Toxic, Asthma-Friendly Disinfecting

While over-sanitizing can cause more harm than good, a non-toxic disinfectant is essential for specific jobs like cleaning baby items or while sickness is present in the home.

So, what do you use when you can’t use bleach OR Quat-containing disinfectant sprays or wipes (all of which are asthmagens)?

Good old 3% hydrogen peroxide to the rescue!

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 3% Hydrogen peroxide (in the brown bottle) is safe for those with asthma. 

But is it effective? You bet. 

Studies have shown hydrogen peroxide is as effective or more so than Quat-containing disinfectants for killing bacteria, viruses, and other germs.

Cheap, effective, non-toxic, and asthma-safe. What more could you want in a disinfectant?

Peroxide is also an excellent bleach alternative for brightening whites, as a stain remover, mirror cleaner, and more.

The only caveat is hydrogen peroxide must not be mixed with other chemicals that can create a toxic gas, such as peroxyacetic acid, acetic acid (vinegar), or peracetic acid. So use it alone. 

Get more fascinating tips and advice on using hydrogen peroxide for cleaning (including why it is considered non-toxic) in: How To Use Hydrogen Peroxide for Non-Toxic Cleaning, Disinfecting, Laundry, & More.

5. Naturally Fragrance-Free, Human-Safe Laundry Detergents And Products

The laundry room is often the most toxic room in the home, especially for those with asthma.

This is due to the concentration of fragrance chemicals, surfactants, optical brighteners, and other synthetic ingredients found in laundry detergents, stain removers, laundry boosters, fabric softeners, and dryer sheets.

Unfortunately, fragrance-free laundry detergents aren’t necessarily healthier due to the use of fragrance-masking chemicals, which can create an even more toxic product.

We discuss this at length in: How To Toss Your Toxic Laundry Detergent; here are the CliffsNotes:

Clever marketers would have us believe that highly fragranced synthetic chemical products are essential for doing laundry.

However, this is a complete myth! You can absolutely have clean, wrinkle-free, stain-free, great-smelling clothing without toxic asthma-triggering chemicals.

Asthma-Triggering Ingredients To Remove From Your Home 

There are few things more empowering for those with asthma than taking back control of your health by eliminating asthma triggers from your home. 

It can be the difference between health or disease, a missed day of work or school, or even life and death.

As we’ve alluded to in previous sections, the number of known asthmagens and suspected asthmagens in cleaning products is extensive.

Here, we’re sharing a list of some of the most common asthma triggers and cleaning and laundry products so you can start removing them from your home right now.

(In the next section, we’ll share some helpful resources for vetting products before you buy).

  • Ammonia: Ammonia is toxic when inhaled or ingested and is a lung and respiratory irritant that can trigger asthma and other breathing problems. When combined with bleach, it also creates a deadly gas.
  • Bleach: This common cleaning and laundry chemical creates a chloramine gas when combined with other chemicals or organic matter (like the dirt and grime you’re cleaning, for example) that is highly irritating and corrosive to the skin, lungs, and eyes.[Sources: 1,2,3 ]
  • Ethanolamines: A type of surfactant used in cleaning and personal care products rated “6” on EWG’s Skin Deep Database (a rating system that scores ingredients on a scale of “1”—least toxic to “10”—most toxic) and therefore not allowed in EWG-verified products. These go by various names, including:
    • 2-Amino- Ethanol
    • 2-Aminoethanol
    • 2-Hydroxyethylamine
    • Ethanol, 2-Amino-
    • Ethanol, 2amino
    • Ethanolamine
    • Monoethanolamine
  • Essential Oils: Although 100% pure wildcrafted and organic essential oils can be therapeutic, they can also trigger asthma. Therefore, we do not recommend their use in cleaning products or diffusers. Terpene-containing essential oils (citrus and pine) can also react with ozone and create formaldehyde in areas with high ozone (due to pollution or ozone-emitting devices).
  • Formaldehyde preservatives (aka: formaldehyde donors). Although formaldehyde is an asthmagen and known carcinogen, it is liberally used in cleaning and personal care products as a slow-release preservative. They go by various names, including:
    • Diazolidinyl urea
    • Imidazolidinyl urea
    • DMDM hydantoin
    • Quaternium-15
    • 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol (most commonly known as bronopol),
    • Sodium hydroxymethylglycinate
  • Fragrance: Also known as “the new secondhand smoke,” over 3163 chemicals are considered “fragrance,” including VOCs, and are not required to be listed on labels.
  • Phthalates: Commonly found in plastics, fragrance, and other cleaning chemicals.
  • Quats: Also known as quaternary ammonium compounds or QACs, are ammonia-based disinfectants used in everyday cleaning and disinfecting products, like Lysol. Quats are asthmagens and are typically paired with other respiratory-harming chemicals in cleaning products.
  • VOCs: Also known as volatile organic compounds, synthetic VOC exposure is considered triggering for people with asthma. Research has shown cleaning products, including “green” and “sustainable” brands, are a primary source of VOC pollutants. 

    Note: This is not a complete list of all asthmagens and potential asthmagens in cleaning products. For more information, see EWG’s Healthy Living Home Guide: Cleaners & Air Fresheners and follow the advice of your healthcare practitioner.

    Helpful Tools For Vetting Cleaning Products

    As you can see, it takes some detective work to identify these asthmagen chemicals in cleaning products—some of which may not even be disclosed on labels.

    In addition, you cannot presume a brand is free from asthmagens just because it is labeled “sustainable,” “organic,” or “from nature,” as many of these brands contain things like fragrance, phthalates, VOCs, and other harmful chemicals.

    This is why we love using consumer advocacy tools like EWG’s Skin Deep Database and App or their Guide to Health Cleaning, which rates products for you based on their level of toxicity.

    For anyone with asthma, we’d recommend only using products rated “1,” or “2,” or “A,” in addition to checking ingredients.

    20 Tips For Keeping Your Asthma at Bay 

    Identifying, removing, and replacing toxic cleaning and laundry products is essential for controlling and preventing asthma.

    Here are some other tips to help keep asthma at bay:

    1. Vacuum & dust frequently: We highly recommend using a certified sealed HEPA vacuum, which ensures particulates aren’t redistributed into the air during vacuuming.
    2. Eliminate other sources of fragrance, such as fragranced personal care products, perfume, air fresheners, car air fresheners, automatic toilet bowl cleaners, etc.
      1. Open windows for 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes in the afternoon to bring in fresh air and improve indoor air quality. Check with your doctor if you’re concerned about reacting to pollens or other outdoor air pollutants.
        1. Consider using high-quality air purification systems, such as those discussed in: How To Choose An Air Purifier For Your Home.
        2. Be vigilant about mold and mildew, especially in damp areas like bathrooms, basements, crawl spaces, closets, etc. Related read: How To Get Rid Of Musty Smells In Your House Naturally.
          1. Swap out toxic dryer sheets for dryer balls.
          2. Avoid inflammatory foods such as excess sugar, meat, and processed foods. Related read: How To Use Food As Medicine To Heal.
            1. Practice stress-relieving exercises such as yoga, meditation, prayer, grounding, or deep breathing.
            2. Eat a healthy diet with plenty of whole foods, including fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, organic pastured meats, legumes, cultured foods, etc.
            3. Get regular exercise and joyful movement.
            4. Change your sheets frequently (and wash them with healthy, fragrance-free laundry soap) to prevent dust mite build-up.
            5. Tend your gut microbiome, which naturally helps support immunity, digestion, stress response, and more.
            6. Switch to non-toxic pest control. Many types of pesticides contain asthmagens like phthalates, ammonia, formaldehyde, etc. Get the scoop on non-toxic alternatives in: Our Guide To Replacing Toxic Pesticides.
              1. Take steps to avoid other formaldehyde-containing products. Get a complete list in: 23 Sources of Formaldehyde to Remove From Your Home.
                1. Use NASA-tested houseplants to clean the air and absorb toxins (just make sure they don’t get moldy). Learn more in: Improve The Air Quality In Your Home With Indoor Plants.
                  1. Ventilate your kitchen well to avoid strong fumes or smells when cooking.
                  2. Consider keeping a no-shoes-indoors policy to prevent contaminants like pesticides, heavy metals, fecal matter, etc., from entering your home (and carpets).
                  3. Be aware of any reactions to pets. We all love pets, but their hair, fur, and danger can trigger asthma. Talk to your doctor, but regular dusting, HEPA vacuuming, ventilation, air purification, and washing your pet with safe pet wash (yep, you can use Branch Basics for that, too!) can all help.
                  4. Stand up for yourself and your family at work, school, church, etc. Most people have no idea that common cleaning chemicals can trigger asthma, which is why these cleaners are used in nearly every school, office building, church, etc., without a second thought. Use this guide to help present your case calmly and intelligently to your employer, your children’s teacher, etc., on how (and why) to create a healthier, low-trigger environment for people with asthma (and everyone else!).
                  5. Be prepared with travel-size, human-safe hand wash, and cleaning products. If fragrance is a trigger (which it almost always is), bring along (or send along with kiddos) your own human-safe, fragrance-free hand wash and cleaning products. Tip: Branch Basics Travel Kit with All-Purpose, Foaming Wash, and Concentrate or Mini-Foaming Wash are perfect for purses, backpacks, and car

                      Ask your doctor or healthcare practitioner for more tips.

                      Toss the Toxins With Branch Basics 

                      Asthma can feel scary, frustrating, and disempowering, especially if you don’t understand its triggers.

                      However, you have just learned some of the most powerful ways to improve indoor air quality in your home.

                      Yes, we’ve covered a lot! However, the best place to start is by identifying and replacing the toxic cleaning products you use most with healthy brands.

                      You don’t have to do it all at once, and we have plenty of resources to help.

                      For more information, see: The Toss The Toxins section of our blog and the Branch Basics Toss The Toxins Online Course.

                      Ready to create a healthier home with asthma-friendly cleaning products?

                      Our Premium Starter Kits (available in refillable glass or plastic) provide everything needed to replace every toxic cleaning product with just one natural, EWG-verified, Made Safe Concentrate, including:

                      • All-Purpose: For countertops, desks, surfaces, kitchens, spot-cleaning carpets, and everything in between
                      • Bathroom: For all things bathroom
                      • Laundry: For washing clothes and treating stains.
                      • Foaming Wash: For hands, face, makeup removal, and more.
                      • Streak-Free: For windows, glass, stainless steel, and more

                      They also come with Oxygen Boost, a safe bleach alternative, laundry booster, soaking aid, stain remover, scouring agent, and more.

                      For more information on how Branch Basics cleaning system works, plus a video demo, see: How To Get Started With Your Branch Basics Kit.
                      Marilee Nelson

                      Marilee Nelson

                      Marilee Nelson is an Environmental Toxins expert who has spent nearly 30 years advocating for the chemically-sensitive and chronically-ill. She is a Board Certified Nutritionist, Certified Bau-Biologist and Bau-Biology Inspector and specializes in Food As Medicine. She has helped thousands of families and individuals identify, heal and recover from toxic exposures and is on a mission to revolutionize the way American families view their health.