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Dangerous Cleaning Products

Many common household cleaning products can be dangerous when not used or stored properly. Household cleaners are ranked as the most common poisons for both children and adults and some are among the most dangerous. Cleaning product poisonings are the cause of almost ten percent of calls to poison control centers in the United States. The most dangerous products are drain cleaners, oven cleaners, and toilet bowl cleaners. These cleaners contain corrosive chemicals and can burn skin, eyes, and the throat, if swallowed. Products containing bleach or ammonia can irritate the lungs, eyes, and throat.

Some cleaning products are safe when used on their own but dangerous when mixed with other products. Chlorine bleach should not be mixed with ammonia, acids, or drain cleaners. Chlorine bleach is found in disinfectant cleaners and household bleach. Ammonia is sold as a cleaning product and is often used in glass cleaners and some paints. Ammonia is also found in urine, so bleach should not be used for cleaning litter boxes or diaper pails. Acids are used in: glass cleaners; dishwasher detergents and rinse agents; toilet bowl cleaning products; drain cleaners; rust-, lime-, and calcium-removers; and brick or concrete cleaners. Vinegar is an acid. When bleach and ammonia are mixed together, toxic chloramine gases are formed. Ammonia also reacts with lye, which is found in some oven cleaners, to create chloramine gases. Bleach mixed with acids, such as those found in toilet bowl cleaners, forms chlorine gas. Chlorine gas forms hydrochloric and hypochlorous acids when mixed with water. Bleach reacts dangerously with hydrogen peroxide, oven cleaners, and insecticides, so use with or immediately before or after these products should be avoided. Drain cleaners should not be used together or one after the other.

Product labels provide information on safe use and poison prevention. Products with the labels “Poison” or “Danger” are the most dangerous. Product labels also include specific safety information, such as whether the product is hazardous when inhaled or if it touches the skin or if the product is flammable. Product instructions specify the amount of product that it is safe to use. Using more of the product than specified may be dangerous.

Cleaning products are often harmful if inhaled. Use products labeled “use in a well-ventilated area” outside or with the windows open. Using these products in a confined space without access to fresh air can be harmful. If you feel dizzy or light-headed or begin coughing or wheezing when using a cleaning product, leave the area and find fresh air. Touching some products may be harmful. Check the label to determine if you should wear protective gloves, eye protection, or long sleeves when using the product. If anyone in the household has swallowed, inhaled, or touched a dangerous product, the local poison control center should be called. The poison control center can give information and advice on whether or not an emergency room visit is necessary.

Products that can cause minor irritation in adults can be more dangerous to children and pets. Children and pets should be kept away from areas being cleaned. Cleaning products should be kept out of reach of children at all times. After using a product or if called away from a cleaning job, tightly close or cap the product so a child cannot open or consume it. Cleaning products should be stored in a locked cabinet or a high shelf that cannot be reached by children using a stepstool, ladder, or chair. Do not leave empty or near-empty product containers in the trash where children may reach them or use them as toys. Household cleaners should not be stored near food because children may mistake it for food or drink. Talk to your children about the dangers of household cleaners and show them how to recognize the poison symbol on packaging.

Household cleaning products can pose problems for disposal. Cleaning product containers may be recycled but those that contained toxic products, such as drain cleaner or toilet cleaner, should neither be reused nor recycled but rather thrown out in the trash. Household cleaners that are washed down the drain are treated in wastewater treatment plants before flowing into rivers and streams. Many chemicals break down safely after being treated, but some are not biodegradable. Products that are not made to be used with water, such as furniture polish, should not be poured down the drain. Toxic chemicals move from wastewater treatment facilities to streams and rivers and may enter the groundwater. These chemicals harm fish and aquatic life.