COVID-19 Resource Center

COVID-19 Resource Center

April 23, 2020
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Risks of turning to homemade cleaning products amid COVID-19

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As reports come in of household cleaning products like disinfecting wipes and sprays flying off the shelves in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, some people are turning to homemade products.

However, there are risks associated with these products, according to Bruce Ruck, PharmD, DABAT, managing director at the New Jersey Poison Control Center at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School’s department of emergency medicine.

“I would not suggest making your own cleaning products,” Ruck told Healio Primary Care. “People mix chemicals, and various chemicals can interact with each other and be quite dangerous.”

Cleaning to eliminate SARS-CoV-2

Ruck said that “one of the best things for cleaning is good old soap and water.”

He noted that for those who feel soap and water is not enough, they can use a few tablespoons of bleach in a bucket of water to disinfect surfaces in their home.

The CDC recommends using 5 tablespoons of beach for every gallon of water, or 4 teaspoons of bleach for every quart of water to disinfect surfaces. This is the only do-it-yourself disinfectant that the agency recommends, according to Robert Laumbach MD, MPH, CIH, an occupational and environmental medicine expert and associate professor at the Rutgers School of Public Health’s Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute.

“For those concerned with controlling infectious disease, the most significant concern about DIY disinfectants is their lack of demonstrated effectiveness at killing viruses and bacteria,” Laumbach said in a press release. “DIY products other than dilute bleach solutions are not recommended for disinfection to reduce the risk of exposure to viruses or bacteria on most hard surfaces in households.”

Ruck also noted that wiping high-touch surfaces, like doorknobs, with tissues that have been dabbed with rubbing alcohol can also be used in place of store-bought cleaning products.

High-touch surfaces should be cleaned routinely, according to the CDC.

Risks of homemade, store-bought cleaning products

Mixing cleaners at home can create a gas that, if inhaled, can “can choke you, cause you to have throat irritation, airway irritation and breathing irritation,” Ruck said.

“Bleach should not be combined with other chemicals, especially ammonia, which can be found in glass, window, and toilet bowl cleaners, and can produce toxic chlorine gases,” Laumback said in the release. “A commercial disinfectant may lose its effectiveness when mixed with other products, including DIY cleaning products.”

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Depending on the severity, primary care physicians may refer patients who have been exposed to toxic gases to call their local poison control center at 800-222-1222. Poison control can often tell patients with mild symptoms how to address their problem over the phone, according to Ruck.

“One of the first things is open your windows — air it out,” Ruck said.

However, if patients’ breathing is severely affected by the chemicals, they may need to call 911 for emergency medical attention.

Commercially available cleaning products also pose a threat to health if used improperly. Some products “can cause burns because there are acids and alkalis in them,” Ruck said. He stressed the importance of keeping products in high places and locked away from children to avoid accidental poisonings.

Recently, an MMWR report found that there was a 20.4% increase in calls to poison control centers between January and March of 2020 compared with the same time frame in 2019.

“The calls to poison centers are going up from children that are getting everything from hand sanitizer to bleach solutions to ammonia solutions and all kinds of chemicals,” Ruck said. – by Erin Michael

Reference:

CDC. Cleaning and disinfecting your home. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/disinfecting-your-home.html. Accessed April 22, 2020.

 Disclosure: Ruck reports no relevant financial disclosures.