6 Safe And Natural Cleaning Products & Tools For Asthma Sufferers

By Marilee Nelson |

6 Safe And Natural Cleaning Products & Tools For Asthma Sufferers

Did you know the cleaning products and tools you’re using to help control indoor asthma triggers could be making your home’s air quality worse? Did you know that asthma is the #1 chronic illness in American children?

Unfortunately, most cleaners, including several “green” or “natural” brands, contain ingredients known as asthmagens, substances known to cause or contribute to asthma.

Yet, despite that over 24 million American adults and children suffer from asthma, these cleaning and laundry products are marketed as safe and effective to use in our schools, workplaces, and offices.

And it’s not just the cleaning products that can cause problems. 

The wrong cleaning tools, such as vacuums and dusters, can also kick up a storm of asthma-inducing dust, pollen, and other indoor air pollutants.

Fortunately, there are many natural cleaning products and tools that can help improve your asthma versus making it worse.

Here, we share six of our favorites that will thoroughly clean your home of asthma triggers without compromising indoor air quality or eco-friendliness. We’ll also discuss common ingredients to avoid in cleaning and laundry products and how to vet products for added safety.

1. Branch Basics 

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

Our flagship product, Branch Basics Concentrate, contains only gentle, naturally derived ingredients, zero fragrance, and zero asthmagens. 

It’s also Made Safe Certified, EWG-Verified, never tested on animals, biodegradable, and non-GMO.

Read more about what’s in Branch Basics Concentrate here.

Branch Basics Oxygen Boost is a mineral laundry booster, stain remover, and soaking aid made from pure Baking Soda and Sodium Percarbonate. 

It is also Made Safe Certified, EWG-Verified, never tested on animals, biodegradable, and non-GMO.

Oxygen Boost is generally safe to use if you have asthma, provided it is not inhaled. Sodium percarbonate, like any other powdered product, can be a lung irritant when inhaled.

The consistency of Oxygen Boost is granular. When used as intended as a laundry booster, soaking agent, bleach alternative, scouring agent, etc., this makes it more difficult to inhale than a very fine powder. However, hold your breath when pouring or transferring the dry product. Those with asthma should take extra care not to stand directly over the bag when opening and closing, or using it in very hot water.

Learn more about Oxygen Boost here.

Branch Basics Dishwasher Tablets are also an excellent option for people with asthma as they are free of fragrance and other common asthmagens found in dish detergents.

Like any tablet, dusting is possible from friction when shipping and handling. Hold the breath when transferring the tablet from the container to the dishwasher. 

Just pop a plastic-free tablet in your dishwasher, turn it on, and breathe easy.

Get the details on our Dishwasher Tablet ingredients here.

2. HEPA Vacuum 

Regular vacuuming is critical to reducing indoor asthma triggers such as dust, pollens, and pet dander.

However, did you know the average vacuum will leak these particulates back into the air with force during cleaning?

This means your indoor air quality will be worse than before vacuuming (and who has time for that?)!

This is why we have always said HEPA vacuums, with a certified HEPA-sealed system, are indoor air pollution’s worst enemy.

The sealed system traps all dust and allergens and prevents them from being redistributed into the air.

HEPA vacuums not only vastly improve indoor air quality but also help keep your home cleaner for longer, which makes a big difference for people with asthma.

Get all the facts on HEPA vacuums, including our favorite brands, in: The Best Vacuums For Non-Toxic Living: The HEPA Difference. 

3. Castile Soap  

Pure liquid castile soap is a must-have for DIY cleaning recipes.

As a natural soap, it’s also safe for those with asthma, provided you purchase 100% pure and fragrance-free liquid castile soap.

Unfortunately, not all castile soaps are created equal.

For example, some castile soaps may contain natural essential oils.

In contrast, others may contain essential oils with natural or synthetic fragrance, which is no bueno for those with asthma (more on this coming up).

Even natural scents, like 100% pure essential oils, can trigger asthma attacks in some people.

Therefore, we recommend choosing tried and true pure castile soaps  like Dr. Bronner’s Fragrance-Free Baby liquid castile soap

4. Microfiber Dusting Cloths

Regular dusting (we’re talking daily or every other day) is one of the most effective ways to keep asthma triggers under control at home.

However, what you dust with is just as important as how often you dust.

For example, feather dusters or non-HEPA vacuums will just redistribute and/or increase dust vs. removing it from surfaces.

This is why we recommend reusable microfiber dusting cloths, which trap dust, allergens, and 99% of bacteria with water and can then be washed and reused.

Dry unscented swiffer pads or cloths are also a good disposable option.

Our favorite microfiber dusting tools include:

Related read: Essential Cleaning Tools For A Happy And Healthy Home.

5. Hydrogen Peroxide

What do you do when you need a disinfectant…but chlorine bleach (aka sodium hypochlorite) is off the table because it’s an asthmagen (among other things)Reach for 3% hydrogen peroxide!

Per the Centers for Disease Control, hydrogen peroxide at a 3% concentration is safe for those with asthma and has been shown to be as effective or more so than Quat-containing disinfectants for killing bacteria, viruses, and other germs.

As discussed in How To Clean White Clothes Without Bleach: 6 Non-Toxic Tips, it’s also an excellent bleach alternative for removing stains and brightening whites.

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

6. Baking Soda

Baking soda is a must-have for human-safe household cleaning and is safe for those with asthma*. 

This versatile product has seemingly endless uses, including acting as a natural:

*As with any powder, take care not to inhale baking soda. Otherwise, enjoy putting this powerhouse to work in your home.

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

What Cleaning Ingredients Trigger Asthma? 

We know asthma is an inflammatory condition of the lungs. Therefore, any substance—natural or synthetic—that irritates the lungs, causes lung inflammation that can trigger asthma.

This means many synthetic chemical ingredients used in commercial cleaning products can cause, trigger, or worsen asthma. 

However, self-proclaimed “natural,” “green,” and “eco-friendly” cleaning products may also contain asthma triggers, including ingredients used in popular DIY recipes.

Here are some of the most common asthmagens found in everyday cleaning products.

1. Phthalates and Fragrance

Fragrance has been called “the new secondhand smoke” and is considered one of the world’s top allergens.

One of the biggest issues with fragrance is a single signature fragrance, such as what you’d find in an all-purpose cleaner or laundry detergent, can contain dozens or hundreds of undisclosed proprietary chemicals. Many of these are asthmagens.

One of the most concerning groups of chemicals used in fragrance is phthalates (pronounced tha-layt).

One study from the Environmental Working Group found 72% of fragranced products contain phthalates, which, in addition to being asthmagens, are also potent endocrine disruptors (disrupt hormones), obesogens (cause weight gain and metabolic disorders), carcinogens (cause cancer), neurotoxins (cause nervous system disorders), and can cause congenital disabilities and allergies.

Phthalates aren’t the only fragrance asthmagen chemicals of concern. We’ll discuss others, like formaldehyde, coming up.

Learn more about phthalates and why you should avoid them in this in-depth article.

2. Vinegar (Yes, Really!)

This one may come as a shock. Still, as we’ve covered in numerous articles, natural vinegar contains acetic acid, which is a lung irritant when sprayed.

This is why we do not recommend its use as a spray around babies or anyone with lung or respiratory issues, including asthma.

Safer DIY options include inexpensive unflavored vodka, or 3% hydrogen peroxide. 

If you do not find vinegar irritating and choose to use it, do not make it airborne (pour vs. spray) and ventilate, ventilate, ventilate!

If you do not have a lung issue (or small babies or children around), feel free to enjoy its many non-toxic cleaning benefits.

3. Formaldehyde Preservatives/Donors

Most of us know the offensive smell of formaldehyde from exposure to fresh plywood and certainbuilding materials. It’s a smell that warns us to keep away for good reason.

Formaldehyde is a known asthmagen and those with asthma and hyper-reactive airways (10-20% of the U.S. population) are especially susceptible to its effects. 

It’s also a carcinogen, a VOC (volatile organic compound) and universal sensitizer—meaning it can make you hyper-sensitive to all other chemicals.

However, few people realize that formaldehyde-based preservatives (also known as formaldehyde donors) are liberally used in commercial cleaning and personal care products.

In addition, research has shown terpene-containing essential oils, such as pine and citrus, can mix with ozone and produce formaldehyde on ozone-alert days.

All the more reason to choose fragrance-free cleaning and personal care products if you have asthma or any other respiratory condition.

Related read: 23 Sources of Formaldehyde To Remove From Your Home Starting Right Now. 

4. Quats (Quaternary Ammonia Compounds) 

Quats, also known as quaternary ammonium compounds or QACs, are ammonia-based disinfectants used in common cleaning and disinfecting products, like Lysol.

They are also EPA-registered pesticides and used in various other household products like textiles, detergents, dishwashing soap, and hand soap.

Quats are asthmagens and are typically paired with other respiratory-harming chemicals in cleaning products, like fragrance, formaldehyde donors, alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium saccharinate, and ethanolamine, for example.

Quats are rated “F” by the Environmental Working Group and are completely unnecessary when you know how to clean and disinfect surfaces naturally.

Learn more in: 7 Effective & Natural Alternatives To Lysol.

5. VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds)

VOCs, also known as volatile organic compounds, are scents emitted from natural and synthetic sources.

A flower, for example, emits VOCs as does a brand new car. 

However, inhaling VOCs can be harmful to people with asthma (and without!) depending on their chemical makeup, how much you breathe in and how often, and the ventilation.

Experts have long warned about VOC exposure as an asthma cause trigger. 

Specifically, synthetic chemicals that emit toxic VOCs are what you want to avoid.

These can include VOCs from:

  • Fragrance
  • Plastics
  • Textiles
  • Building materials
  • Formaldehyde
  • Bleach
  • Paint

We share more helpful tips and advice about VOCs and SVOCs and how to avoid them in: 

6. Ethanolamines

Ethanolamines are a type of surfactant used in cleaning and personal care products. 

As discussed in, Are Surfactants Toxic? The Dangers And Alternatives, surfactants, which can be natural, naturally derived, or synthetic, are used in cleaning products to reduce the surface tension of water.

They are widely used in cleaning and personal care products because they facilitate water emulsification with other cleaning ingredients and help stir up and remove dirt, grime, and debris.

Ethanolamines are rated “4” for acute toxicity when inhaled and rated “3” for causing respiratory irritation and targeted organ damage.

They are rated a “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.

Identifying ethanolamines on labels can be tricky as they go by many names, including: 

  • 2-Amino- Ethanol
  • 2-Aminoethanol
  • 2-Hydroxyethylamine
  • Ethanol, 2-Amino-
  • Ethanol, 2amino
  • Ethanolamine
  • Mea
  • Monoethanolamine

7. Bleach

Last but not least, is bleach, one of the most common ingredients in household cleaners and laundry products.

Bleach is a well-known asthmagen that 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 ]

In addition, fumes from bleach, such as chloroforms and nitrogen trichloride, can cause DNA damage, cancer, asthma, and a host of other illnesses.9 These fumes also create VOCs which can further irritate or damage the respiratory system and other organs.

Fortunately, like Quats, bleach is not necessary to clean, disinfect, and remove stains when you know your alternatives.

Get empowered to break up with bleach in: Is Sodium Hypochlorite (Bleach) Toxic? The Dangers And Alternatives.

What About Essential Oils? 

As discussed previously, essential oils can be triggering for people with asthma depending on what type is used, ozone levels, individual tolerance, and the concentration.

For these reasons, and a lack of transparency about essential oil quality in most cleaning products, we do not recommend cleaning products with essential oils even if you don’t have asthma.

Toss the Toxins With Branch Basics

Although it can seem like there’s a lot to learn about ingredients to avoid in cleaning products when you have asthma, the main things to remember are:

  1. Look for human-safe and natural products you can find that have all ingredients  ranked “1” - “2” on EWG’s SkinDeep database.
  2. Avoid fragranced products, including those with essential oils.
  3. Avoid cleaning products that contain the common asthmagens discussed here.
    1. Note: We have not listed all asthmagens and potential asthmagens here. For more information, see EWG’s Healthy Living Home Guide: Cleaners & Air Fresheners and follow the advice of your healthcare practitioner.

At Branch Basics, our mission has always been to create natural and human-safe cleaning products that are easy to use and appropriate for those with chronic disease, allergies, or various sensitivities.

Check out our Branch Basics Starter Kits to learn more about how our signature asthma-friendly Concentrate plus water can replace every single cleaner and laundry product in your home.

Consider our Toss the Toxins course which directs you to systematically  remove all food and products with harmful ingredients throughout the pantry and house that can trigger asthma and other chronic health conditions. The need for inhalers and medications for asthma are quickly reduced or eliminated! 

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.