How do Disinfectants Harm your Health?


Close up view of woman person using small portable antibacterial hand sanitizer on hands.

“All chemical disinfectants are, by their very nature, potentially harmful or toxic to living organisms – including humans,” says psychiatrist and neurologist Chris Norris, MD.

So, what exactly are disinfectants doing to your body?

1.- They’re damaging your skin.

“While disinfectants are intended to protect us from getting sick, they’re a bit of a double-edged sword,” says dermatologist Brooke Jackson, MD. “Cleaning of surfaces with disinfectant wipes can disrupt the barrier function of the skin when they cause irritation—including rashes or tiny splits in the skin—that invite pathogens to enter.

2.- They’re causing chronic respiratory problems.

It doesn’t matter which surfaces you’re cleaning: Many of the most widely used disinfecting products contain chemicals that can be hazardous to breathe or touch, whether you’re using them yourself or you’re nearby someone who is. Many disinfectants contain volatile organic compounds—known as VOCs for short. “Many of these chemicals are in products you may be using to wipe down surfaces every day, such as chlorine bleach, aerosol spray disinfectants, detergents, dishwashing liquids, and floor cleaning products.” The resulting health complications can include everything from chronic respiratory problems, allergic reactions, and occupational asthma.

3.- They’re triggering allergies and asthma.

The harsh chemicals that many products use as ingredients can wreak havoc on air quality, triggering allergies and increasing the risk of asthma or other respiratory issues.

“Prolonged and consistent exposure to chlorine-based bleach can be harmful to your health, especially for young children,” says Rashmi Byakodi, BDS, a health and wellness writer and the editor of Best For Nutrition. “An especially dangerous problem occurs when bleach is mixed with other household cleaners such as toilet cleaners and ammonia, which results in the release of toxic chlorine gas—a potentially fatal asphyxiant—that can damage your airways.”

Besides avoiding mixing any cleaning products, you should also be cautious using any spray disinfectants that can be easily inhaled, especially in poorly ventilated areas.

4.- They’re causing cancer.

The heavy fragrances in many of your go-to cleaning products may create what seems like a clean-smelling home, but those fresh scents may actually be the signs of something much more dangerous: phthalates and parabens. “Companies who make these disinfectant products are under no obligation to disclose what is in these ‘fragrances’ or how they are made,” says Norris. “Many of the toxic chemicals present have been associated with cancer.”

5.- They’re causing autoimmune diseases.

The use of heavy disinfectants also kills the microscopic bacteria that cover the surfaces all around us. Unfortunately, bleach and ammonia can’t tell the difference between the microorganisms that make us sick and the ones that are actually beneficial to our health. “Some bacteria are harmful and even deadly for humans, but others are necessary to help digest foods, protect us from other more harmful microbes, and challenge our immune systems,” say Leann Poston, MD, of Ikon Health.

Poston cites a theory in the medical community known as the “hygiene hypothesis,” which posits a possible correlation between an increase in allergies, asthma, and autoimmune disorders with the excessive use of antimicrobial products or disinfectants. “The thought is, if the immune system is not busy fighting true pathogens, it might start attacking its own cells—an autoimmune response—or attacking pathogens that are not harmful, otherwise known as allergens,” she says. To stay safe, make sure to avoid sterilizing your home.