Are Your Cleaning Products Causing Your Migraines?

Reader Contribution by The Migraine Relief Center
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A migraine can be triggered by particular scents and odors. You may have experienced a headache yourself if you worked next to someone wearing heavy perfume or walked into a public restroom with an industrial sanitizer in use.

Smells are not the only thing that can cause a migraine to start. Certain volatile chemicals, even those with little odor, can cause nausea and headaches in some people.

If you notice that you develop migraines after a bout of housecleaning, it’s possible your cleaning products are to blame.

Photo by Adobe Stock/Sergey

Cleaning Products Can Trigger Migraines

In fact, cleaning products are one of the most commonly reported triggers for migraines. To be technical, the chemicals contained in many cleaning products directly irritate the trigeminal nerve receptors in the nasal lining. Migraine sufferers are particularly sensitive to this type of irritation.

It’s no wonder, considering the chemicals in many of them. Migraines are not only painful; they steal your time and energy that you would rather use for almost anything else.

  • A cleaning product may have any or all of the following: fragrance, solvents, and irritants.
  • The fragrance is typically used to mask the odor of solvent.
  • Solvents include alcohols, propylene glycol, glycol ethers, and others. Irritants include kerosene and formaldehyde.
  • These chemicals are known as VOCs or volatile organic compounds.

Some organic compounds not only trigger migraines and other illnesses, but some are also carcinogenic over long use or in high-exposure situations.

While not strictly cleaning products, today’s consumer preference for automatic air fresheners and scent defusing devices may have a negative impact on your health. You may have noticed that going to a friend or family member’s home seems to result in a migraine, and it isn’t because of tension or stress.

Reducing Migraines During Cleaning

Unfortunately, the house doesn’t clean itself. And not everyone wants or can afford a cleaning service. There are several things you can do to prevent a migraine the next time you need to mop the floor, dust, or scrub.

Bleach, Pine-Sol, Febreze, and other heavily scented products tend to cause problems in people with sensitive noses and a tendency towards migraines. Petroleum-based scents especially seem to linger on furniture and in carpets.

  • Choose the right products. Look for so-called “green” products and technologies that avoid using volatile organic chemicals.
  • Make sure the area is well-ventilated. Take breaks. Pace yourself and notice when you begin to feel unwell.
  • Use products according to the directions on the label. Whether it is a multi-surface cleaner or a specialized detergent, make sure you are using it as the manufacturer intended.
  • Never mix cleaning products. You could develop a migraine, or you could poison yourself.

Only purchase the amount of product you will use in a reasonable time. Stockpiling bleach or other products can lead to accidental spills or the degradation of the product, which could release worse compounds.


Photo by Adobe Stock/gpointstudio


Products Recommended By Migraine Sufferers

Out of all the cleaning products available, many are recommended by people who are prone to migraines who pass along their experience.

  • Unscented versions of your current products may be available. Selecting an unscented aerosol or liquid may be the only change you need to make.
  • Seventh Generation products come highly recommended by many people who are sensitive to VOCs. They are unscented and developed from materials low in organic compounds.
  • Simple powders like Bon Ami and Bar Keeper’s Friend can be used to clean dishes, toilets, and countertops. Baking soda also works, but you might have to scrub a little harder.
  • Hydrogen peroxide, especially when mixed with baking soda, has been a long-time favorite. You can dilute hydrogen peroxide with water and use it for removing stains from clothing. It also makes an effective disinfectant for surfaces.
  • Jojoba oil is unscented and recommended for cleaning wood and leather. Mineral oil may be a good substitute but don’t use cooking oils on these types of materials.
  • White vinegar or lemon juice can be used to remove mineral deposits and freshen sinks.

Some chemicals have been life-savers, almost literally. Cleaners have been developed that remove stains faster or more effectively. Detergents and softeners for fabric are appreciated by many, if only because the commercial leads them to smell the clothes just out of the dryer.

For migraine sufferers, though, the volatile chemicals and scents that are added to mask them cause housecleaning to be worse than the drudgery it already is. Using products with few ingredients and no added scent can mean the difference between a clean home and a day in bed in the dark.