Women who clean their home hurt their lungs, but scientists did not see the same effect in men. CC0 Creative Commons

Women have another reason to make men pick up a larger share of housework, with a new study that says cleaning at home affects a female’s lung function but not a male’s.

The researchers analyzed data that followed thousands of people over the course of 20 years, including measures of lung function and surveys in which the subjects reported their cleaning habits. According to a study in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, lung health declined faster for “women responsible for cleaning at home,” with things like cleaning sprays contributing to that effect.

A similar decline was seen in women who cleaned professionally.

The measures of lung function were forced expiratory volume, which is how much air a person can force out in the first second of an exhale following a deep breath in; and forced vital capacity, which is the total air can be forced out from the lungs after a deep breath. The two are related volumes.

“Women cleaning at home or working as occupational cleaners had accelerated decline in lung function, suggesting that exposures related to cleaning activities may constitute a risk to long-term respiratory health,” the study says. Meanwhile, “cleaning was not significantly associated with lung function decline in men.”

Compared to their non-cleaning counterparts, the female cleaners lost more than 3 milliliters of extra volume from their forced expiratory volume every year. From their forced vital capacity, home cleaners lost an extra 4.3 milliliters a year and occupational cleaners lost an additional 7.1 milliliters a year.

The researchers compared the damage to what some cigarette smokers would experience.

Most of the women studied said they were the primary cleaners in their homes, compared with less than half of the male participants who reported being the cleaners in their own.

“While the short-term effects of cleaning chemicals on asthma are becoming increasingly well documented, we lack knowledge of the long-term impact,” senior study author Dr. Cecile Svanes said in a statement from the American Thoracic Society. “We feared that such chemicals, by steadily causing a little damage to the airways day after day, year after year, might accelerate the rate of lung function decline that occurs with age.”

The researchers said people should be careful choosing how they clean the surfaces in their homes.

“When you think of inhaling small particles from cleaning agents that are meant for cleaning the floor and not your lungs, maybe it is not so surprising after all,” lead study author Øistein Svanes said in the statement. “These chemicals are usually unnecessary; microfiber cloths and water are more than enough for most purposes.”