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a woman being engulfed by smell, surrounded by cleaning products

Chemicals and Cleaning Supplies: The New Normal

After walking into a store recently, my partner and I were assaulted by the fumes of strong chemical cleaners. Since we started in-store shopping after the pandemic, this seems to happen more often than not. In order to prevent the spread of COVID-19, most stores and businesses have adopted cleaning procedures that involve strong-smelling sanitizers, disinfectants, and cleaning supplies. Although these practices are helpful for preventing the spread of COVID-19, these strong scents can be an asthma trigger.

Chemicals, cleaning supplies, and asthma

If you live with asthma, chances are chemicals and cleaning supplies could be a trigger for you. Where exactly might you encounter strongly scented cleaners and chemicals? In most public places, schools, and workspaces nowadays. Here are some of the common situations where you may happen upon these potential triggers:1,2,3

  • Sanitized tables and menus at a restaurant
  • Scented hand sanitizers, which are now often offered in public places
  • Scented Clorox wipes for desks and shared tables in offices
  • Cleaning sprays for counters
  • Bleach, which is used for disinfecting surfaces and shared area
  • Airports and airplanes have adopted new cleaning protocols that involve strong cleaners

Be prepared

Now that you are well aware of all of the places you may encounter cleaners and chemicals, you can plan on being prepared for these potential encounters. Have your asthma medication on hand or close by, either in your car, pocket, or purse. If possible, step away when someone is spraying hand sanitizer or a cleaning spray. Be prepared to leave a situation when necessary for your health.

Minimize exposure

If you know that exposure to these triggers could be detrimental to your health, and would cause an asthma attack or flare-up, avoiding these things to the best of your ability is key. On days where you already are flared up, avoidance is even more crucial. Obviously, it can be near impossible to know when and where you encounter triggers like this. However, you might know that the grocery store you go to uses strong cleaners, and you might ask a loved one or roommate to go in for you. If your office uses many sanitizers and bleach-based wipes, you might see if you could work from home on days when your asthma is flared-up.

Taking control when possible

The one place you can have the most control is your home. In your own space, you can choose what cleaners and sanitizers you use.  It might be trickier if you live with other people, but ideally, all of your housemates can agree to be on board with using cleaners that will likely not trigger you.


Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of sanitizers, cleaners, disinfectants, and chemicals has greatly increased. These items kill germs, bacteria, and viruses, and help prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, if you live with asthma, it is possible that strong scents, like cleaning supplies and chemicals, are a trigger for you. It can be close to impossible to prevent exposure to these things in public spaces now, but you can do your best to be prepared, minimize your exposure, and have control in your own spaces.1,2

Is it difficult for you to avoid cleaning supplies and chemicals out in public? How do you prepare for potential exposure?

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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