Emergency Physicians Urge Caution with Household Cleaning and Disinfecting Products

As calls to poison centers sharply increase, a new CDC survey shows that more than a third of people (39 percent) fail to safely or correctly use cleaning products or disinfectant in the home.

People are making dangerous choices in order to do what they think might prevent coronavirus, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

With many of us hunkered down for the last month or two, it makes sense that 60 percent of people indicated in a CDC survey they are cleaning the house more frequently during the pandemic. However, more than a third (39 percent) of people that CDC surveyed reported engaging in high-risk behaviors that they thought would prevent the virus from spreading. The survey of 502 adults in the United States revealed other unsafe behaviors:

  • 19 percent said they washed food with bleach
  • 18 percent reported applying household cleaning or disinfectant products to bare skin
  • 10 percent misted the body with disinfectant, intentionally inhaled vapors from cleaning products (6 percent), or admitted to drinking or gargling bleach or other cleaning solutions (4 percent).

Emergency physicians urge everyone to use household cleansers and disinfectant products only as directed, wear appropriate protective equipment while cleaning and store all products safely and away from children or pets.

As communities re-open and your potential for exposure to the virus increases, it is important that your home remains sanitized and safe. But it’s also important to use cleaning products only as intended,” said Dr. Jaquis. “Remember, chemicals used in cleaning products can be toxic; avoid drinking or inhaling disinfectant solutions and do not apply bleach or other abrasive chemicals directly to your skin.

One quarter (25 percent) of respondents reported at least one adverse health effect during the previous month that they believed had resulted from using cleaners or disinfectants, including nose or sinus irritation (11 percent); skin irritation (8percent); eye irritation (8 percent); dizziness, lightheadedness, or headache (8 percent); upset stomach or nausea (6 percent); or breathing problems (6 percent).

A separate April CDC report noted that calls to poison control centers for incidents related to cleaning products rose by 20 percent, compared to this timeframe last year.

Emergency physicians remind you that inhaling toxic chemicals can cause severe lung or tissue damage. Ingesting hand sanitizer can be dangerous, too, particularly for children or pets. If you are mixing chemicals to create cleaning solutions, use water at room temperature, wear eye protection to avoid dangerous splashes and work with a window open to encourage necessary ventilation.

More tips for cleaning and disinfecting your home are available here.

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