Homes cleaned at least once a week with bleach might provide an environment that puts children at a higher risk of catching viral infections. The observational study suggests the modest, yet significant higher risk of infection may be due to a suppression of the immune system. Also, it might very well be due to the irritant properties of volatile or airborne compounds generated during the cleaning process that can damage the lining of lung cells, sparking inflammation and making it easier for infections to take hold.


Image: Vitro Eg

Parents are constantly bombarded with advertising that urges them to keep their house clean, which in principle sounds alright but not when it’s enforced with the erroneous belief that homes should be devoid of microbes. First of all, no matter how hard you scrub there will still be germs lying around. Secondly, keep the house to clean is ironically making children more prone to allergies and infections, a growing body of evidence shows. A new published in Occupational & Environmental Medicine, now suggests that your choice of cleaning products might affect how children build tolerance to infections.

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The team measured the exposure to bleach in the home among more than 9000 children between the ages of 6 and 12 attending 19 schools in Utrecht, The Netherlands; 17 schools in Eastern and Central Finland; and 18 schools in Barcelona, Spain. The parents were asked to fill a questionnaire where they’d specify how often their children had flu; tonsillitis; sinusitis; bronchitis; otitis; and pneumonia infections during the past 12 months. After factoring for things such as passive smoking at home, parental education, the presence of household mould, and use of bleach to clean school premise, the researchers found that children who were lived in homes frequently cleaned with bleach were at a higher risk of developing infections.

Specifically, the risk was 18% higher among children whose parents regularly used cleaning bleach.

The authors caution, however, that this is an observational study and they’ve yet to uncover a cause-effect relationship. Moreover, they had little to no information regarding other cleaning products used in the homes. More investigation is warranted, however, since excessive bleach exposure might be a genuine public health concern.