Why do cleaning products trigger migraine attacks?
For many people, strong fragrances cause migraine attacks. Science backs this up: one study examined the effects of odors on people with migraine and people prone to tension-type headaches. After less than 30 minutes of exposure, 70% of people with migraine reported an odor-triggered headache, while none of the participants reported a tension headache. Two major triggers were perfumed cleaning products and bleach.
However, fragrance isn’t the only culprit! Many cleaning products contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs): chemicals that are released into the air during use that can cause headaches and other negative health effects.
Scientists are still investigating the link between fragrances/VOCs and migraine. When inhaled, certain chemicals activate TRPA1 channels in trigeminal nerve endings in the airway, triggering a reaction that may cause a migraine attack.
Brand-name cleaning products that may be migraine-safe
Every migraineur’s sensitivities are different, so the products one person recommends may not be tolerable for someone else. Nevertheless, here are some brands that people recommend:
- Seventh Generation is an eco-friendly, low-fragrance line that can be found in most grocery stores. Seventh Generation disinfecting cleaners, wipes and sprays with CleanWell® are EPA-approved disinfectants.
- Method cleaning products, while scented, are used by many people with migraine.
- Ecover Zero dish soap is powerful, plant-based and available in a fragrance-free formulation.
- Bon Ami is a classic scrubbing cleaner that — unlike Comet and Ajax — is non-abrasive (it contains limestone and feldspar) and free of chemicals and fragrances.
- Unscented Lysol wipes are a favorite of many people with migraine (but these may be hard to find in stores for a while).
- Bona’s hardwood floor cleaner is low-VOC and very effective.
Homemade cleaning products to try
- White vinegar and distilled water is a classic combination. Just be aware that vinegar is more powerful than it appears! Don’t use it on stone countertops, because it can damage the finish.
- Hydrogen peroxide is an effective disinfectant when left to stand on surfaces. It can bleach fabrics, however.
- Jojoba oil, which has no fragrance, may be used to polish wood and leather.
- Baking soda can be made into a paste with water for scrubbing. You can also use it to deodorize upholstery and drains.
If cleaning, even with gentle or unscented products, is a consistent migraine trigger, then it may be time to evaluate your environment. Can you alter anything about your home so that it requires less cleaning to begin with?
For instance, you can reduce dust by replacing air filters often and decluttering. Keep the floors cleaner by instituting a no-shoes rule in the house. Place a reusable liner in the bottom of your oven, so you don’t have to use strong oven cleaners (a guaranteed migraine trigger for many people).
When it’s time to clean, do what you can to reduce your exposure. Open windows and doors. Put all your supplies in a caddy, so you can move swiftly from room to room. We like HGTV’s guide to speed-cleaning your house: In just 45 minutes, you’re done!
Did you know that the CEFALY DUAL’s PREVENT program can prevent migraine attacks by desensitizing the trigeminal nerve over time?
Try CEFALY risk-free for 90 days