Written by Stacy Kelleher. Medically-reviewed by board-certified pediatrician Dr. Ryan Blackman DO, FAAP.
If you’re doing some spring cleaning, take this time to do a “safety check” of the products used to clean and disinfect your home. Misusing or mixing harsh chemicals can quickly lead to serious health problems, especially accidental poisoning in children.
Follow our tips for safe storage, the correct use of cleaning products, and why switching to natural, plant-based cleaners is one of the best ways to protect your family from hazardous chemicals.
Poisoning from household products is more common than you may suspect: According to the CDC, 300 children require emergency treatment for accidental poisoning every day. Two of those children will die from toxic exposure.
Every parent, grandparent, guardian, and caregiver should know the most common signs of poisoning, including:
If your child exhibits signs of poisoning mentioned above, call 911 immediately.
If you fear 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.
Because cleaners often come in brightly-colored packaging and have pleasing scents, children may think they are harmless. While many toxic products are child-proof, some are still fairly easy for kids to get into (like spray bottles and detergents).
The most common products associated with accidental poisonings include:
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:
Acidic cleaners can range from mild and relatively safe products to highly-corrosive, depending on the type of acid they contain.
Those that get their dirt-dissolving power from vinegar or citrus fruits are often good for dissolving soap scum and hard-water spots from surfaces. When misused, 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.
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 burn the skin and irritate the eyes.
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. Effects, however, can 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.
Lemon juice and vinegar can act as natural bleaching agents, but 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 with other chemicals is never a good idea. Here are the combinations to avoid at all costs:
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. It’s always best to avoid using bleach on litter boxes and diaper pails.
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.
Combining bleach and rubbing alcohol can create chloroform and hydrochloric acid that can make you dizzy and/or lose consciousness. Exposure can also cause serious organ and tissue damage.
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 in people with sensitivities.
Detergent pods and packets have become more popular in recent years, but with added convenience comes added risk.
A study published in the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics found that laundry and dishwasher packets posed a greater risk to children than any other type of detergents. This is because they tend to contain higher concentrations 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 highly-concentrated liquid inside can cause skin and eye irritation on contact. Some children in the study had to be hospitalized after exposure.
The cleaning products we use throughout our homes help make our lives easier and keep our families healthy. If you have young children in the home, however, it’s important to prevent any possible exposure to harsh cleaning chemicals.
Children won’t be exposed to chemicals they can’t reach. Be sure to:
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 on each to avoid potentially dangerous reactions. Thoroughly rinse surfaces with water after using each product.
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 little ones from getting their hands on discarded cleaning products.
If you are going to transfer the product to another container, don’t use one that has previously contained other chemicals. If you do, however, be sure to thoroughly rinse it beforehand.
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 and let them air dry to prevent bacterial growth.
Note: Disinfectants should never be used on porous, cloth, or plush surfaces that come in contact with your kids. Spot treat them with a natural stain remover before laundering them in warm (ideally hot) water.
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.”
Puracy’s natural formulas are child- and pet-safe, and you’ll never have to worry about accidentally mixing dangerous chemicals. No matter the product, surface, or stain, our rigorous safety testing and effective plant-based ingredients ensure a “worry-free” clean each and every time.
We have the same concerns as every parent, which is why we developed our plant-based, enzymatic products. Join the millions of satisfied customers who have created safer, healthier homes for their family.
For more tips on keeping a chemical-free home, check out these earlier posts:
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