Misusing cleaning products can be dangerous

In March, the National Poison Data System reported a sharp jump of 20% in the number of poisoning emergencies for the first three months of 2020.

The calls to emergency poison centers included the overuse of traditional household cleaners as Americans tried to disinfect against COVID-19. Callers reported incidents of children swallowing hand sanitizer; people being overcome by fumes when they mixed cleaners; a kitchen filling with fumes after a woman attempted to soak her vegetables in a bath of disinfectants.

Dr. Shawn Varney, an emergency medicine doctor at University Health, is also the medical director at the South Texas Poison Center. He said the center’s hotline has received an increased number of calls about exposure to cleaning substances, and some calls “you wouldn’t believe.”

“One caller was inquiring about the proper dilution ratio of disinfectant to water to help fight the virus after swallowing (the disinfectant),” Dr. Varney said, saying the question alarmed him.

“We do not swallow (disinfectants). We don’t inhale them. We don’t inject them because it will only lead to bad outcomes,” he told the caller.

In this video Dr. Varney answers the following questions about the proper use of household disinfectants and how to avoid problems caused by misusing them.

  •  How has COVID-19 increased the misuse of household disinfectants?
  •  How will we know if we’ve misused or overused a disinfectant?
  •  Many of us use bleach as well as ammonia. Can you safely use them together?
  •  How long must a household disinfectant be on a surface before it has killed the germs?
  •  When should you seek medical help because of improper exposure to disinfectants?

If someone is having trouble breathing, chest pains or is not responsive following exposure to disinfectants, call 911 for emergency help. If they’re coughing and have some irritation contact the 24-hour Poison Center hotline: 1-800-222-1222.

Subscribe icon
Get health living and wellness information, recipes, and patient stories from University Health.
View other related content by:

Tell us your patient story

Share your inspiring personal story of hope and healing at University Health.