The American Medical Association (AMA) disseminated several media reports, including this AP news report describing a disturbing national increase in the number of accidental poisonings of adults and children in the US. The authors believe these incidents are related to the use of disinfection products in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Most of you are keenly aware of how to avoid inhalation and contact injuries from toxic household cleansers. But, many others have no idea how damaging these chemicals can be to human health. The pervasive fear of catching COVID-19 is certainly understandable, but it is very important to take simple precautions when cleaning your home so you don’t do unnecessary harm to yourself or your family.

First, I rarely recommend harsh chemicals such as bleach as a household cleaning solution. Hydrogen peroxide and isopropyl alcohol can both be used to clean surfaces in the home and will both destroy coronavirus. Hydrogen peroxide requires a long contact time ( 6 to 8 minutes) to be effective and is therefore impractical for many surfaces. However, a concentration of >70% isopropyl alcohol will inactivate the virus in 30 seconds. If you choose to use a strong disinfectant like bleach, it is imperative to wear proper gloves made out of a material such as latex or nitrile. This will protect the skin on your hands and prevent chemical absorption through the skin. It is also important to turn fans on and open up windows to provide cross ventilation whenever you use any disinfectant. Fumes from bleach and other harsh cleaning products can damage the airways leading to the lungs, become absorbed into the bloodstream, and make you and your family sick.

Some people are disinfecting their produce with dilute bleach. Please don’t do this. If you have fruits and vegetables you want to wash, use a non-toxic fruit and vegetable spray designed to clean produce. Or, you can simply use a dilute solution of vinegar in water.

Hand sanitizers should be thoroughly washed from your hands before eating. Be aware that videos are circulating on the internet, showing that hand sanitizers are highly flammable. If you are going to cook on an open range or grill, be sure to first wash the sanitizer from your hands, wrists and forearms before engaging an exposed flame.

If you are attempting to disinfect a makeshift face mask by spraying it with bleach or another disinfectant, please don’t! Breathing in these toxic, concentrated vapors may poison you. Clean your mask with soap and water if it is washable. If your mask material is not washable, you’ll need to replace it often. Hospital masks also need to be replaced frequently. Please don’t attempt to spray your mask with alcohol to sanitize it, for the alcohol will damage the mask’s coating, and render it more penetrable to water droplets.

As always, remember to keep all cleaning and sanitizing products away from children. I suggest you place hand sanitizer gel on your children’s hands when appropriate. But otherwise, keep these bottles and dispensers out of their reach.

I hope you find these suggestions helpful. 

Take care and stay well this spring!