30 October, 2021

We spend nearly 90% of our time indoors, and as working from home becomes more commonplace, the quality of our indoor air is important.

The average home can be as polluted as a busy city street, especially if it includes an open fire or wood-burning stove. As we move into winter, this can be increased as we turn the heating on and keep the windows closed.

This pollution can come from a variety of sources:

  • Harmful synthetic chemicals, such as endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) found in domestic cleaning sprays, scented candles, artificial air fresheners, and perfume. Studies suggest that these may increase our risk of breast cancer, especially when combined with other risk factors.
  • Some materials used in the home, such as some household paints, new carpets, and furniture, can release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and flame retardants, which may affect breast cancer risk.
  • Cigarette smoke, pollen, mould, dust, and pet hair may be present in indoor air. Some studies suggest passive smoking increases our breast cancer risk.
  • Open fires, stoves, and gas cookers are a significant source of indoor air pollution, emitting particulate matter (a mixture of extremely small particles and liquid droplets that disperse into the air), carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and may emit benzene and EDCs such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Studies suggest indoor air pollution from burning gas or wood from stoves and fires is associated with increased breast cancer risk.

But the good news is there are lots we can do to clean up the air inside our homes to minimise the impact on our health and reduce our risk of breast cancer.

Here are our top tips to reduce exposure to harmful chemicals in the home:

  1. Use natural cleaning products such as liquid soap, washing soda, citric acid, white vinegar, bicarbonate, and lemons.  When used in different combinations, these can cover the majority of your cleaning needs. A little bit of elbow grease and your house can sparkle without harmful chemicals. There are lots of recipes online (check out Pinterest).  Liquid soap and soda can replace commercial washing powders for your clothes too.
  2. Make your home a jungle – use plants to naturally deodorise indoor air.  NASA commissioned a study to find out if house plants could improve the air in space stations.  They discovered that some house plants clean the air by not only absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen but also by eliminating significant amounts of VOCs and other chemicals from the air. So, increase the number of plants in your home, such as snake plants, Boston ferns, peace lilies, and aloe plants, to help purify the air.
  3. Simply hoover and dust more often.  Stick your favourite podcast on or switch on an audiobook and listen while you clean.  (Bonus, this will help increase your physical activity levels too, which also reduces your breast cancer risk.
  4. If your source of heating is an open fire or wood-burning stove, buy good quality dry wood (look for “Ready to Burn” fuel). Do not burn treated waste wood which can emit harmful fumes and pollutants. Maintain your stove and get your chimney swept regularly and if you do buy a wood-burning stove – make sure it has a ‘Defra exemption’ or is an ‘Ecodesign Ready’ stove that has low smoke emissions.

Ready to reduce exposure to harmful chemicals in the home? Remember to share your tips on social with us @breastcanceruk


  1. NASA – Interior Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Pollution Abatement https://ntrs.nasa.gov/citations/19930073077 September 15, 1989
  2. Zeinomar, N. et al. (2020). Environmental exposures and breast cancer risk in the context of underlying susceptibility: A systematic review of the epidemiological literature. Environmental Research 187: 109346. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0013935120302395?via%3Dihub
  3. White et al. (2018). Air pollution and Breast Cancer: A Review. Current Epidemiological Report 5(2): 92–100. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40471-018-0143-2
  4. Kim, A-S. et al. (2018). Exposure to Secondhand Smoke and Risk of Cancer in Never Smokers: A Meta-Analysis of Epidemiologic Studies. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 15(9): 1981. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30208628/

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