TV, radio, internet and social media messages on keeping areas clean, disinfecting surfaces and handwashing frequently to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus are unceasing. Sometimes it is easy to get confused on what to do and how far to push the envelope with cleaning. Over the past several weeks, the Illinois Poison Center (IPC) has seen a 49% increase in potentially harmful exposures to cleaning products compared to last year. With the current surge in cleaning product mishaps reported to the IPC, we estimate handling close to 8,000 exposures over the next 12 months. Some of the types of cases the IPC has received include:
- People using non-traditional chemicals to wash their hands (e.g. bleach, hydrogen peroxide, wipes, etc.) instead of regular hand soap, resulting in rash/irritation, cracked and painful skin;
- People using chemicals (e.g. bleach, wipes, cleaning powders) to wash their groceries, including produce, and are then concerned about toxicity upon ingestion; and
- Mixing cleaning chemicals together and inadvertently producing toxic gas.
Cleaning product exposures reported to the IPC in the first 16 weeks of 2020 compared to 2019:
From January through Mid-March, there was no real difference in cleaning exposure calls to the IPC. After March 15 through April 26, there was a 49% increase in cleaning product exposures.
Children under age 5 had a similar numbers of exposures, when compared to the same time frame last year, however exposures in older children, adolescents and adults increased dramatically—this is of great concern to us.
The following is some helpful safety information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and IPC:
Cleaning vs. Disinfecting
- Cleaning refers to the removal of germs, dirt, and impurities from surfaces. It does not kill germs, but by removing them, it lowers their numbers and the risk of spreading infection.
- Disinfecting refers to using chemicals, for example, EPA-registered disinfectants, to kill germs on surfaces. This process does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs, but by killing germs on a surface after cleaning, it can further lower the risk of spreading infection.
Cleaning and Disinfecting Hard Surfaces
- Wear disposable gloves when cleaning and disinfecting surfaces to protect hands as well as decrease potential contamination from surfaces that may have coronavirus on them.
- If reusable gloves are used, those gloves should be dedicated for cleaning and disinfection of surfaces for the novel coronavirus and should not be used for other purposes. Clean hands immediately after removing gloves.
- Dirty surfaces should be cleaned using a detergent or soap and water prior to disinfection.
- For disinfection, most common EPA-registered household disinfectants should be effective. A list of registered disinfectants that can kill coronavirus can be found here.
- Diluted household bleach solutions can be used if appropriate for the surface. Follow manufacturer’s instructions for application, ensuring a contact time of at least one minute, and allowing proper ventilation during and after application. Never mix household bleach with ammonia or any other cleanser as it will release toxic gases such as chloramine or chlorine gas.
Per the CDC, one can prepare a bleach solution by mixing: 5 tablespoons (1/3 cup) bleach per gallon of water or 4 teaspoons bleach per quart of water
Proper Hand Washing
One should wash their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available and hands are not visibly dirty, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol may be used. Disinfectants and bleach should not be used on hands as they can lead to drying and cracking, rashes or other injury.
Cleaning and Disinfecting Products Safety
- Never apply the product to yourself or others. Do not ingest disinfectant products. This includes never applying any product on the list of coronavirus disinfectants directly to food.
- Never mix products unless specified in the use directions. Certain combinations of chemicals will create highly toxic acids or gases.
- Wash the surface with soap and water before applying disinfectant products if the label mentions pre-cleaning.
- Follow the contact time listed for your product on list of coronavirus disinfectants. This is the amount of time the surface must remain visibly wet to ensure efficacy against the virus. It can sometimes be several minutes.
- Wash your hands after using a disinfectant. This will minimize your exposure to the chemicals in the disinfectant and the pathogen you are trying to kill.
IPC Safety Tips for Home Cleaning Products and Chemicals
Whenever using cleaning products, always read the product label first and use the product according to the label directions;
- Keep all cleaning products in their original containers with original labels;
- Store cleaning products out of sight, in locked cabinets;
- Keep all household cleaning products and other potentially harmful products separated from food products and beverages;
- Never leave a cleaning product open and unattended;
- When using cleaning products, work in well-ventilated areas; and
- Dispose of cleaning products according to the instructions on the label or at your community chemical waste drop-off site.
We hope this information will help individuals and families reduce accidental injury and harm due to household cleaners and disinfectants. Please share these tips with your family and friends.
Wishing you health and wellness as we all work to respond to the novel coronavirus pandemic. As always, if you have any questions, let us know in the comment box below or contact us at IPCadmin@team-iha.org.
To access the IPC’s free online Poison Prevention Education Course and materials (stickers, magnets, safety packets, posters, and other materials) go to: https://www.illinoispoisoncenter.org/Poison_Prevention_Education