Written by Stacy Kelleher. Medically-reviewed by board-certified pediatrician Dr. Ryan Blackman DO, FAAP.
Discover our tips for safe storage, what to do if your child has been exposed to hazardous chemicals, and why switching to natural, kid friendly cleaning products is the best way to avoid those unnecessary risks.
Cleaning Product 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 these cases are fatal. When it comes to accidental poisonings, research shows that toddlers are easily the most at-risk.
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.
“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.” - Dr. Ryan Blackman, board-certified pediatrician & member of the Puracy consulting team
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
- Odor of chemicals on the breath
What to Do if Your Child Shows Poisoning Symptoms
If your child shows any signs of poisoning mentioned above, call 911 immediately. 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.
Note: If you think that your child may have accidentally ingested a cleaning product – even if they don’t exhibit symptoms – call Poison Help at (800) 222-1222 or your local poison control center.
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The 4 Most Dangerous Household Cleaning Products
Many cleaners often come in brightly-colored packaging and pleasant scents, so many children may think they are harmless. While most harsh cleaners are child-proof, kids can still get into tamper-proof containers.
These are the most common, potentially dangerous cleaning products to be aware of:
1. Acid-Based Cleaners
From toilet bowl productс to hard water removers, acidic cleaners can range from mild (and relatively safe) 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, 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. 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.” Most 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 (ie. baking soda) or ammonia that’s typically used to clean glass and other surfaces. The most powerful alkali cleaners often utilize sodium hydroxide (ie. lye) and are able destroy bacteria, break up tough clogs in drains, and tackle caked-on messes.
Pro Tip: Our plant-based Multi-Surface Cleaner has a basic formula (the opposite of acidic) and is safe for use on practically every non-porous surface around your home.
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.
Though it depends on the specific chemicals and exposure time, organic solvent side effects usually include eye, nose, and throat irritation, dizziness, and headaches.
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 whiteners, most commercial bleach uses chlorine or hydrogen peroxide (ie. oxygen bleach). Chlorine poisoning can cause serious burns to the mouth, throat, and stomach. Vision loss and skin damage may occur with external exposure.
The Potential Dangers of Mixing Bleach
Mixing bleach with other chemicals is a risky idea. Avoid these combinations at all costs:
Bleach and Ammonia
Mixing bleach and ammonia 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, and urine. Avoid using bleach in litter boxes and diaper pails.
Bleach and Acids
The combination of bleach and acids create chlorine gas which burns the eyes, nose, and throat. If chlorine gas is mixed with water, it results in hydrochloric and hypochlorous acids.
Bleach and Rubbing Alcohol
Combining bleach and rubbing alcohol can create chloroform and hydrochloric acid. This can result in dizziness, loss of consciousness, and serious organ and tissue damage.
Simple Tips to Avoid Harsh Cleaning Chemical Exposure
Remember: There’s never a bad time to do a “safety check” on the products used to clean and disinfect your home.
Baby safe household cleaning products can make our lives easier and prevent potential exposure to caustic cleaning chemicals. Here are six simple methods that parents can use to ensure that happens:
Baby Proof Cleaning Chemicals
Children won’t be exposed to home cleaning chemicals if they can’t reach them:
- Leave cleaning products capped/sealed whenever they’re not in use.
- Secure cupboards and drawers with easy-to-install baby-proof cabinet locks.
- Adjust and update child-proofing systems once kids start walking (this includes securing overhead cabinets, too)l.
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, always check the ingredients to avoid potentially dangerous reactions. Thoroughly rinse surfaces with water after using each product.
Pro Tip: With the entire Puracy cleaning product lineup, you won’t have to worry about accidentally combining reactive chemicals. Our rigorous safety testing and effective ingredients ensure a “worry-free” clean.
Throw Empty or Broken Products Away
If the original product container is broken (or no longer closes properly), it’s never a bad idea to safely dispose of it. Trash cans with locking lids are a great idea to keep children from getting their hands on discarded products.
Use Caution If Reusing Cleaning Containers
If you’re transferring cleaning products to another container, don’t use one that has previously contained other reactive chemicals (like ammonia and chlorine bleach). If you do, be sure to thoroughly rinse it beforehand.
Choose Baby Safe Household Cleaning Products Whenever Possible
The best way to keep kids away from harsh cleaners? Replace them with baby safe cleaning products. Our 99.96% Natural Multi-Surface Cleaner clears gunk and grime from floors, glass, toys, high chairs, diaper pails, and more. Biodegradable and fume-free, you don't have to worry about accidentally combining it with reactive chemicals.
We founded Puracy to produce effective plant-based cleaning products which ensure the safety of families everywhere. That's why we’re completely transparent about every Puracy ingredient.