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Accidental Poisoning: Which Cleaning Chemicals to Avoid in Your Home

May 13, 2020

Accidental Poisoning: Which Cleaning Chemicals to Avoid in Your Home

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.

Children at the Greatest Risk for Accidental Poisoning

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.

harsh cleaners poisoning
Research from the National Capital Poison Center shows that children 6 and under are disproportionately involved in accidental poisonings. In 2018, for example, toddlers aged 1-2 had the highest numbers of poison exposures among all age groups.

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.”

Signs of Accidental Poisoning

Every parent, grandparent, guardian, and caregiver should know the most common signs of poisoning, 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 Has Poisoning Symptoms

    If your child exhibits signs of poisoning mentioned above, call 911 immediately

    child has 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.
     

    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

    Common Toxic Products Around the House

    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).

    common toxic products house

    The most common products associated with accidental poisonings include: 

    • Alcohol 
    • Household cleaners and disinfectants 
    • Batteries 
    • Beauty products
    • Flea and tick shampoos and treatments 
    • Paints
    • Pesticides 
    • Prescription medications
    • Street drugs 
    • Vitamins and supplements 

    The 5 Most Dangerous Household Cleaning Products

    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. 

    most dangerous household chemical products

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

    1. Acid-Based Cleaners 

    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.

    2. Alkaline Cleaners

    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.

    alkaline cleaners
    Alkaline cleaners come in a range of different strengths. Milder products usually contain sodium bicarbonate (otherwise known as baking soda) while stronger products may contain ammonia which is 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. Effects, however, can 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. 

    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 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: 

    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. It’s always best to avoid using bleach on litter boxes and diaper pails. 

    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.

    Bleach and Rubbing Alcohol

    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. 

    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 in 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 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.

    6 Simple Tips for Preventing Exposure to Toxic Chemicals 

    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. 

    1. Keep Cleaning Products Out of Reach

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

    • Never leave cleaning products open or unattended around children. 
    • 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 on each to avoid potentially dangerous reactions. Thoroughly rinse surfaces with water after using each product.

    3. Throw Empty or Broken Products Away

    properly throw away empty broken products

    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. 

    4. Use Care if Reusing Containers

    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. 

    5. Carefully Disinfect Children’s Toys  

    natural stain remover kids 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 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. 

    6. Choose Natural Cleaning Products Whenever Possible

    Puracy natural cleaning products

    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.

    Puracy Products for a Safe, Naturally Clean Home 

    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: 

    Keeping Your House Clean with a New Baby

    The Best, Safest Ways to Clean Baby Bottles and Toys

    Are Phthalates Harmful and Should I Use Them?

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