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Your Home Environment Resource - University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension in Lancaster County

Household Hints & HELP!

Are Cleaning Products Safe?
submitted by Lorene Bartos, Extension Educator

This article appeared in the September 8 Lincoln Journal Star Newspaper.

Many consumers tend to think anything sold must be safe. However, the American Association of Poison Control Centers recorded many exposures to household cleaning substances were serious enough to require treatment in a health care facility.

Cleaners and polishes are effective for the job they are designed to do because they contain chemicals. As a precaution, use all household chemical products as the label directs. Minimize your exposure as much as possible. Watch for signal words on the label: CAUTION, WARNING or DANGER.

Read the Label and Follow the Directions

* Never mix products, unless the label allows it. Never mix bleach with acid toilet bowl cleaners or ammonia. These mixtures may produce toxic fumes. Again, watch out for signal words such as CAUTION, WARNING AND DANGER.

* Don't mix different brands of one type of product (for example, different brands of drain openers), because dangerous chemical reactions may occur.

* Avoid skin and eye contact with cleaners and polishes, especially drain and oven cleaners. Use protective clothing and gloves. Protect eyes when using strong cleaners such as bleach or drain openers. If you get these products on any exposed skin, wash the area immediately with lots of water.

* Avoid breathing cleaner and polish fumes. Ventilate the room when using them.

* If you are pregnant or suspect you may be pregnant, avoid exposure to as many hazardous chemicals as possible. Many chemicals in household products have not been tested for their effects on unborn children.

* Keep products in their original containers. You need the label to follow directions for proper use and to identify the ingredients if the product poisons someone.

* Keep out of reach of children. If you are called away to answer the door or telephone when using one of these products, carry it with you to keep it in sight and away from children.

* Buy just enough product to do the job.

* Look for a non-hazardous or less hazardous product to do each job.

* Dispose of empty containers properly. Wrap aerosol cans or containers in newspaper, secure with tape or string and place in garbage containers on the day of pick up.

* Follow the recommendations of your local solid waste authority for disposing unused products.

Most household cleaners and polishes cause little damage to the environment if used up according to label directions. However, some product uses and disposal of unwanted products merit particular attention!

Cleaners and Polishers that are Generally More Hazardous

Aerosols: Exploding aerosol spray cans can cause accidents, injuries and deaths. Don't throw aerosol cans into fires or incinerators or leave them near stoves, in auto glove compartments or in the sunlight where they can heat up.

Bleach: Chlorine bleach is extremely reactive. Never mix bleach with ammonia, or other cleaning products unless the label specifically permits it.

Cleaners for Rugs and Upholstery, Dry Cleaning Fluids: Many of these products contain chemical solvents. Some solvents are extremely flammable. Consumers should be careful to use up products containing solvents before disposing of the containers.

Detergents: Laundry products contain various chemicals. To reduce the release of such chemicals to the environment, use detergents conservatively. Use clothes and dish washers only when you have a full load to clean.

Disinfectants and Pesticides: Disinfectants are pesticides used to control bacteria. Use disinfectants conservatively and with caution, especially spray disinfectants that disperse these toxic chemicals into the air where you can easily breath them.

Drain Openers: Drain openers are highly corrosive. Don't add a drain opener to a toilet bowl that contains toilet bowl cleaner.

Oven Cleaners: Oven cleaners contain very strong, corrosive chemicals.

Polishes and Furniture Oils: Polishes come in several forms and different chemicals are used to help apply polish to furniture. Organic solvents that carry or dissolve the polish are often health hazards. These solvents may be identified as "inert" ingredients on the label.

Disposal of unwanted products may cause environmental damage. Contact your community health department for proper disposal of unwanted products. If you live in Lincoln/Lancaster County, collection dates (if available) can be found on this site. Visit "News and Announcements"

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