Need a reason to put down your cleaning spray? Researchers say it could be bad for your health.

Regularly using cleaning products can have as much of an impact on your lungs as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of Bergen in Norway analyzed data from more than 6,200 people who used cleaning products over two decades. The participants had an average age of 34 when they enrolled in the study.

The researchers found that women who either cleaned at home or who had a job where they cleaned had a decline in their lung function that was equivalent to smoking 20 cigarettes a day.

"While the short-term effects of cleaning chemicals on asthma are becoming increasingly well documented, we lack knowledge of the long-term impact," senior study author Cecile Svanes, M.D., Ph.D., a professor at the university’s Centre for International Health, said in a statement. "We feared that such chemicals, by steadily causing a little damage to the airways day after day, year after year, might accelerate the rate of lung function decline that occurs with age."

The study was published in the American Thoracic Society's American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

How cleaning impacts breathing

To calculate lung function, the researchers measured the amount of air the participants were able to forcefully exhale. They compared that information to what they knew about the participants' cleaning habits.

They found that women who used cleaning products on a regular basis had a marked decrease in lung capacity and increased rates of asthma.

The drop in lung function was surprising at first, said lead study author Øistein Svanes, a doctoral student in the Department for Clinical Science. "However, when you think of inhaling small particles from cleaning agents that are meant for cleaning the floor and not your lungs, maybe it is not so surprising after all."

The researchers speculate that the lung impairment was connected to the chemicals, which can irritate the mucus membranes lining the airways. This can cause permanent changes over time.

The study didn't find that men who cleaned, either at home or on the job, experienced any change in lung function compared to men who didn't use cleaning products. The researchers noted that the number of men in the study who worked in jobs that required cleaning was small and their exposure to cleaning agents was likely different from the women who worked as cleaning professionals.

Other study limitations were that participants included very few women who did not clean either at home or at work. The study did take into account smoking history, body mass index and education.

"The take home message of this study is that in the long run, cleaning chemicals very likely cause rather substantial damage to your lungs," Svanes said. "These chemicals are usually unnecessary; microfiber cloths and water are more than enough for most purposes."

Mary Jo DiLonardo writes about everything from health to parenting — and anything that helps explain why her dog does what he does.