Lifesaving Spring Cleaning Tips
Before you start your spring cleaning, the Illinois Poison Center (IPC) advises you to take additional precautions when clearing out cupboards, closets, basements and garages. Spending a few extra minutes to correct any potential poisoning hazards in your home could prevent serious harm — even death — for a family member, neighbor or pet.
Each year, the IPC handles many calls involving toxic exposure to household cleaners, with products such as bleaches, disinfectants, floor and tile cleaners, automatic dishwasher detergent and glass cleaners, most commonly mentioned as the source of the poisoning. Frequently, exposures occurred because these products were not in their original containers, had been improperly used, or had been left open and unattended by an adult.
To protect children and adults from an accidental poisoning exposure during your spring clean-up, the IPC offers the following tips for poison-proofing your home:
- 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 poisonous products separated from food products
- Never leave a cleaning product open and unattended
- When using cleaning products, work in well-ventilated areas
- Dispose of cleaning products according to the instructions on the label or at your community chemical waste drop-off site
These poison-proofing tips also apply when cleaning garages and basements, which typically contain many potential hazards, such as bug spray, weed killers, gasoline, oil, paint and other supplies.
Special caution should be observed when mixing cleaning products that contain bleach or other chlorine-active compounds (sodium hypochlorite). If bleach is mixed with ammonia or ammonium-based products, it will release a noxious gas called chloramine. If bleach is mixed with an acid-based product, such as a toilet bowl cleaner or lime remover, it will release chlorine gas.
These types of poisonings often occur in the bathroom, in part, because many bathroom cleaners are acid-based. For example, the IPC has received numerous calls from people who, while cleaning the bathroom shower, mixed a mildew stain remover (containing bleach) with a lime remover (containing acid) and as a result, were exposed to chlorine gas. This is one of the many reasons it is important to read product labels carefully.
Exposure to either of these gases can cause mild to serious respiratory tract irritation, including coughing, burning and tightness in the chest, difficulty breathing and shortness of breath; more serious cases may require treatment in a hospital emergency department.
Because of their curious nature, children frequently come in contact with household cleaning products. Keeping the IPC phone number (1-800-222-1222) on all your phones will ensure you don’t waste precious seconds when dealing with a poisoning emergency.
The nationwide, toll-free poison center number, 1-800-222-1222, automatically connects callers with their designated local poison center, from anywhere in the U.S. All calls placed in Illinois will be routed to the IPC.
In case of a poisoning exposure, follow these first-aid steps, then call the IPC:
- Swallowed: Give water to drink. If the victim is unconscious, call 911 or take the victim to the nearest hospital emergency department. Never try to chemically neutralize any poison.
- Skin: Remove contaminated clothing and wash skin gently with soap and cool water.
- Eyes: Rinse eyes with lukewarm water for 15 minutes.
- Fumes: Remove victim to fresh air, taking care not to become exposed yourself. If the victim is not breathing, call 911 and start artificial respiration and continue until medical help arrives.
Approximately 90 percent of poisonings can be treated safely and effectively at home, by calling the IPC and providing the name of the poisonous substance and the approximate amount involved in the exposure. The IPC’s staff of pharmacists, physicians, nurses and poison information specialists have access to references which allow them to quickly determine the degree of toxicity or hazard, and they will offer recommendations for managing the poisoning. They will advise callers to see a physician or visit an emergency room if a doctor’s care is needed. They’ll also make a follow-up call and suggest further care, if necessary.