Written by Stacy Kelleher. Medically-reviewed by board-certified pediatrician Dr. Ryan Blackman DO, FAAP.

If you’re doing some spring cleaning, take the time to do a “safety check” of the home cleaning chemicals you use to clean and disinfect your home. Not only can misusing harsh chemicals cause serious health problems, but they can also lead to accidental poisoning in children. 

Discover our tips for safe storage, what to do if your child has been exposed to hazardous chemicals, and why switching to natural, baby-safe household cleaners is a straightforward way to protect your family.

Accidental Poisoning Is More Common Than You Think

According to the CDC, 300 children require emergency treatment for accidental poisoning every day. On average, two of those cases are fatal. Research from the National Capital Poison Center shows that toddlers are overwhelmingly the most at-risk group when it comes to accidental poisonings.

baby safe household cleaning products

Dr. Ryan Blackman, a board-certified pediatrician (and member of the Puracy consulting team) advises:

“Children under 6 are especially curious and explorative of their environment. I always reinforce safety proofing and accident prevention techniques with parents, but sometimes – despite our best intentions and vigilance – children still find their way in harm’s way.”

Cleaning Chemical Poisoning Symptoms

Every parent, guardian, and caregiver should know the most common cleaning chemical poisoning symptoms, including:

  • Burns or redness around the lips/mouth
  • Coughing or choking
  • Burning eyes
  • Itching and/or blistering of the skin
  • Confusion or altered mental state 
  • Difficulty breathing 
  • Drowsiness
  • Odor of chemicals on the breath 
  • Vomiting 

What to Do if Your Child Exhibits Poisoning Symptoms 

If your child shows any signs of poisoning mentioned above, call 911 immediately.

cleaning chemical poisoning symptoms

Be prepared to describe the victim’s age, weight, and information about the substance they were exposed to. This includes when and how much they may have ingested. If the package or container is nearby, a poison control center representative will ask you for information on the label and direct you on how to assist the victim. 

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If you think that your child may have ingested chemicals – even if they don’t exhibit symptoms – call Poison Help at (800) 222-1222 or your local poison control center

The 5 Most Dangerous Household Cleaning Products

Because cleaners often come in brightly-colored packaging and have pleasing scents, children may think they are harmless. While many toxic cleaning products are child-proof, many are still fairly easy for kids to get into (like spray bottles and detergents). 

The National Poison Data System records data collected from the nation’s 55 poison control centers. In 2018, cleaning products were the second leading cause of accidental poisonings in children 6 and under. 

These are the most common and potentially dangerous cleaners you need to be aware of: 

harsh cleaning chemicals

1. Acid-Based Cleaners 

Acidic cleaners can range from mild and relatively safe products to highly-corrosive. It all depends on the type of acid they contain. 

Those that derive their dirt-dissolving power from vinegar or citrus fruits are often good for dissolving soap scum and hard-water spots from surfaces. If misused, however, some acid-based cleaners might cause some eye or skin irritation (or tissue damage if ingested). 

Stronger acidic cleaners may contain phosphoric acid, hydrochloric acid, and sulfuric acid. These types of caustic cleaners are often used to clean toilet bowls, bathtubs, concrete, and rust. Because of their corrosive properties, direct contact can cause serious damage to the eyes, lungs, and skin.

2. Alkaline Cleaners 

Common oven cleaners, drain cleaners, window cleaners, dishwasher detergents, and various scouring powders belong to a group of cleaners called “alkalis” (named for the alkali salts they contain). Most alkalis are poisonous and stronger products can cause skin burns and eye irritation.

Alkaline cleaners come in a range of different strengths: Milder products usually contain sodium bicarbonate (otherwise known as baking soda) or ammonia (used to clean glass and other surfaces). 

The most powerful alkaline cleaners often utilize sodium hydroxide (ie. lye) and are able destroy bacteria, break up tough clogs in drains, and tackle caked-on messes on ovens. 

3. Organic Solvents

Paint thinners, varnish removers, and degreasers belong to a group of carbon-based cleaners that contain organic solvents. Organic solvents are powerful chemicals used to dissolve oil, wax, paints, and varnishes in order to clean surfaces and/or prep them for repainting. 

The risks of organic solvents depend on the specific chemicals and exposure, but the side effects most often include eye, nose, and throat irritation, dizziness, and headaches.

4. Bleach

Bleaching agents are different from other types of cleaners in that they don’t work by removing dirt and stains. Instead, bleach chemically alters them to appear lighter and brighter. 

While lemon juice and vinegar can act as natural bleaching agents, most commercially available bleach whitens with chlorine or hydrogen peroxide (ie. oxygen bleach). Oxygen bleach is generally less toxic but it should still be stored and used with extreme caution. 

Chlorine poisoning can cause serious burns to the mouth, throat, and stomach. Vision loss and skin damage may occur with external exposure.

Mixing Bleach and Other Chemicals

mixing bleach with chemicals

Mixing bleach with other chemicals is never a good idea.  Here are the combinations to avoid at all costs: 

1. Bleach and Ammonia

Mixing these two substances together creates gases called chloramines that can lead to eye, nose, and throat irritation. High exposure can lead to shortness of breath, hospitalization, and even death

Note: Ammonia is commonly found in glass cleaners, paints, as well as human and animal urine. Avoid using bleach in litter boxes and diaper pails. 

2. Bleach and Acid Products 

This combination creates chlorine gas which burns the eyes, nose, and throat. If chlorine gas is mixed with water, it results in hydrochloric and hypochlorous acids.

3. Bleach and Rubbing Alcohol

Combining bleach and rubbing alcohol can create chloroform and hydrochloric acid. This can make you dizzy, lose consciousness, and may even cause serious organ and tissue damage. 

5. Cleaning Detergents

Detergents encompass a wide-rage of cleaning agents that use the power of surfactants, like soaps, laundry detergents, and dishwashing liquids. 

When these substances are used on surfaces like wet clothing, dishes, and countertops, surfactants in the cleaning solution break the water’s surface tension so it can spread out, trap, and remove dirt and grime. 

Exposure to surfactants can cause skin irritation, especially for people with sensitivities. 

Punctured Laundry Pods 

Detergent pods and packets have become more popular in recent years, but with added convenience comes added risk. 

dangers of detergent pods

A study published in the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics found that – for children – the biggest risk of detergent poisoning comes in the form of laundry and dishwasher packets. This is because they tend to be more highly concentrated than alternative products. 

In addition to safely storing detergents out of the reach of children and pets, detergent packs should never be punctured or torn. The liquid inside can cause skin and eye irritation on contact, and some of the children in the study required hospitalization.

6 Simple Tips for Preventing Exposure to Toxic Chemicals 

Baby-safe household cleaning products make our lives easier, keep our families healthy, and prevent any possible exposure to harsh cleaning chemicals. 

1. Keep Cleaning Products Out of Reach

Children won’t be exposed to chemicals they can’t reach. Be sure to: 

  • Leave cleaning products capped/sealed.
  • Secure cupboards and drawers with easy-to-install baby-proof cabinet locks
  • Adjust and update child-proofing systems once kids start walking. Be sure to secure overhead cabinets as well. 

2. Never Mix Cleaning Products 

Avoid mixing cleaning products or using cleaners for any non-intended use. If you want to use different products to clean and/or disinfect household surfaces, check the ingredients to avoid potentially dangerous reactions. Thoroughly rinse surfaces with water after using each product.

3. Throw Empty or Broken Products Away 

recycle and discard trash

If the original product container is broken (or no longer closes properly), it’s probably best to safely dispose of it. Trash cans with locking lids are a great idea to keep children from getting their hands on discarded cleaning products. 

4. Use Caution if Reusing Containers

If you’re transferring cleaning products to another container, don’t use one that has previously contained other reactive chemicals. If you do, however, be sure to thoroughly rinse it beforehand. 

5. Carefully Disinfect Children’s Toys 

Cleaning removes surface dirt and debris, but disinfecting goes one step further to kill germs.  

Use care when disinfecting surfaces and toys that children touch or put in their mouths. After disinfecting, rinse them thoroughly with fresh water to remove chemicals, then let them air dry to prevent bacterial growth. 

disinfect children's toys

6. Choose Natural, Baby Safe Household Cleaners Whenever Possible

Even with safe storage, diligent childproofing, and close supervision, our children always seem to be one step ahead of us. The best way to keep kids away from harsh cleaners is to replace them with safe and effective baby-safe household cleaners whenever possible. Dr. Blackman adds,

“Having non-toxic products in the home lessens the likelihood of an accidental exposure turning into a tragedy.”

baby safe household cleaners

Puracy’s natural formulas are child- and pet-safe, so you’ll never have to worry about accidentally combining harsh chemicals. No matter the product, surface, or stain, our rigorous safety testing and effective plant-based ingredients ensure a “worry-free” clean.

Puracy Cleaning Products for a Safe, Naturally Clean Home 

We’re a family-owned company, which is why Puracy cleaning products are the safest, most effective plant-based cleaners anywhere. If you’re not totally satisfied with one of our products, let us know: We’ll give you your money back, no questions asked.