Beware: Mistakes with cleaners could poison you

According to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, poisonings from cleaners and disinfectants were up 20% during the first three months of this year compared to the same periods in 2018 and 2019. Although the authors can’t be certain, they think that people stepping up their cleaning in response to the coronavirus may be to blame.

The report considered over 45,000 recent phone calls to 55 poison control centers around the country that involved cleaning chemicals or disinfectants. In 2018, there were 39,000 such calls, while in 2019 there were 38,000.

What are some dangerous cleaning mistakes?

Failing to follow the instructions. Whenever you use a cleaning product, you should read the manufacturer’s instructions and avoid using too much of the product. Always ventilate the area you are cleaning. Open a window and, if possible, run an exhaust fan. If using a strong cleaner, wear rubber gloves, safety goggles and protective clothing. Whenever possible, keep children and pets away when you are using any cleaning product.

Underestimating the danger. Just because a cleaning product is commonly sold does not mean that it is safe. Acids and strong alkalis can be strong enough to corrode metal — or gnaw away at human tissue. Bleach products, especially those marked “ultra,” can cause chemical burns on contact or vomiting if even a small amount is swallowed. Polishes and waxes can cause coughing or vomiting if swallowed and can be aspirated into the lungs.

Mixing cleaning products. Most cleaning products can be hazardous on their own but mixing them can actually create new chemicals that can be very dangerous. For example, never mix an acid with bleach. This can create chlorine gas fumes that could cause serious breathing problems.

Leaving aerosol containers near heat. Never leave an aerosol cleaner on a stove, radiator or furnace — or even in direct sunlight. Heating these containers can potentially lead to toxic fumes and fire hazards.

Storing cleaners unsafely: According to the National Capital Poison Center, one of the most dangerous places to store cleaning products is in a low, unlocked kitchen or bathroom cabinet. This is where children and pets often get hold of these products. At the very least, you should install a child-resistant latch so that small children cannot easily open the cabinet where your cleaning products are stored. A better option is to move your cleaners to a high place where children cannot climb.

Manufacturers and retailers of cleaning products have a responsibility to ensure that their products are reasonably safe when used as expected — not necessarily as directed. If you or a loved one has experienced a poisoning, contact poison control at 1-800-222-1222 immediately.

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