Spring cleaning in the age of COVID might have you wanting to use stronger products at higher quantities, but health experts at Baylor College of Medicine say that could be hazardous to your health if you are not taking the right precautions.
“I sometimes see patients in the clinic on Monday mornings with itchy eyes, congestion and even a sore throat because they were exposed to dangerous fumes while cleaning over the weekend,” said Isabel Valdez, physician assistant and assistant professor in the Department of Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. “Cleaning chemicals aren’t necessarily bad, but you have to watch out for exposure to skin and eyes as well as fume inhalation and ingestion.”
When it comes to cleaning products, Valdez suggests first reading directions and warning labels. A good rule of thumb is to never mix products. Use these products in a well-ventilated area to lessen the exposure to the chemicals
“Mixing products like bleach or vinegar, for example, can cause potentially deadly fumes. If you need to use chemical products, use only one at a time and use the recommended amount of a product. Large quantities of bleach or products that contain bleach can also cause irritation to the sinuses, throat or respiratory system,” Valdez said.
The first signs of irritation could be a burning sensation in the eyes, nose or throat and sneezing and could worsen to cough or shortness of breath. Valdez says immediately head outdoors for fresh air and let the affected area air out. Use fans or open windows or doors until the air is clear.
Cleaning products also can cause skin irritation if not used properly or if there is prolonged exposure. If you notice redness or burning of your skin during or after using a chemical cleanser or if the cleaning product has gotten in your eyes use clean water to thoroughly rinse.
Valdez says over-the-counter allergy products can be used if there is only minor irritation such as sneezing, watery eyes or mild congestion. If ingestion occurs, call poison control or head to an emergency room.
“Reading the directions and safety labels first will also help you to learn how to properly treat these types of exposures,” Valdez adds. “Cleaning products usually include poison control contacts if needed, but remember, never hesitate to call 911 or head to an ER if you can’t breathe properly after stepping away from the affected area or if you have swelling of the lips or tongue as those could be signs you are having an allergic reaction.”
Valdez said the best thing to focus on is prevention versus treating an injury.
“If you are cleaning with bleach products or other strong chemicals such as ammonia, it is a good idea to start with a well-ventilated area to avoid dangerous exposure. You can also wear a mask, use gloves and protective eyewear,” Valdez said. “Prevention is better than having to head to the doctor’s office or emergency room.”
-by Graciela Gutierrez