Is your cleaning spray as dangerous as a cigarette?

Now that winter is drawing to a close, it's almost time for a good spring cleaning.

And if you roll up your sleeves to clean, you know that making things spic-and-span isn't just about getting rid of dirt, grime, and dust bunnies.

It's also about waging war on those INVISIBLE germs that hide out everywhere from the kitchen to the bathroom.

So, you may have some "big guns" in your cleaning arsenal -- like chemical sprays that advertise their power against tough germs right on the label.

But according to a new study, you should think before you spray -- because over time, those cleaning chemicals may literally take your breath away.

In the study, Norwegian researchers tracked the cleaning habits of over 6,000 people for more than 20 years and measured their lung function.

Now, over two decades, we'd expect EVERYONE'S lung function to decline somewhat. Unfortunately, it's a part of aging.

But by the end of the study, it turned out that women who cleaned at home or worked as cleaners had an ACCELERATED decline in their lung function compared to women who didn't clean at all.

In fact, the damage to their lungs was nearly as severe as if they'd smoked a pack of cigarettes a day for 20 years.

Yikes!

The theory is that inhaling the small chemical particles found in cleaning products -- everything from fake lemon and pine fragrances to disinfectants like bleach and "quats" (a.k.a. quaternary ammonium compounds) -- causes irritation to the sensitive mucous membranes that line your lung passageways.

And over time, that inflammation can actually CHANGE the structure of your lungs, leaving you gasping for air.

Curiously, though, men who cleaned at home or on the job DIDN'T experience greater lung decline than men who didn't clean... and the study didn't determine why.

But that doesn't mean that we should hand off all of the chemical cleaning products to the guys -- because previous studies have shown that no matter what your gender, toxins in cleaners can up your risk of everything from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) to cancer.

Luckily, it's easy to turn over a new leaf on the cleaning front by swapping stuff like bleach and antibacterial sprays for "green" cleansers.

Just be sure to read ingredient labels carefully to make sure that the product you choose is truly all-natural and not just packaged to appear that way!

But you'd be surprised how far plain ol' soap, hot water, and a little elbow grease can go. If you need a germ-busting boost, add in a traditional antibacterial like baking soda, vinegar, or lemon.

And if you're worried about damage to your lungs from years of cleaning, raid the fruit bowl -- because studies show that diets rich in fruits like apples and tomatoes can repair lung damage.