The COVID-19 pandemic has undeniably changed our cleaning habits at home. Aside from practicing hand hygiene and other health protocols, we’re also paying more attention to high-touch surfaces like doorknobs, light switches, and remote controls—which is helping us prevent other diseases caused by viruses, bacteria, and other germs.
The irony of all this cleaning? While the powerful ingredients of home disinfectants can kill disease-causing germs, exposure to these cleaning agents, even in small doses, can be dangerous for vulnerable members of the family—young children and household pets. “They can irritate the skin, eyes, nose, and throat,” says Robert Dennis Garcia, MD from the Section of Infectious Diseases of top hospital in the Philippines Makati Medical Center (MakatiMed). “When swallowed, these toxic products can cause confusion, nausea, vomiting, and other symptoms.”
Young kids and little dogs and cats have small builds and fast metabolisms, making them especially susceptible to toxicity from ingested cleansing agents. Dogs and cats are at higher risk for poisoning from these products as they walk and roll on floors freshly mopped with disinfectant and lick their fur and paws.
Below are things to keep in mind when cleaning any corner of your home.
Keep kids and pets out of the room when cleaning is ongoing. It can be tempting to multitask and finish as quickly as possible, but it’s best to first keep the babies out of a room while cleaning. “Have someone look after the little ones in another part of the house while you disinfect floors, tables, doorknobs, and other often-touched surfaces,” says Dr. Garcia. “Allow the room to be properly ventilated and free from fumes before you bring them back in.”
Use cleaning products properly. Make sure to take only the proper amount of product you need, never more than what’s indicated. Check the label if it can also be diluted. “This makes them less toxic when accidentally ingested but just as effective in ridding surfaces of harmful germs,” Dr. Garcia points out. To further protect yourself, use the proper gear like gloves or goggles when cleaning.
It’s also unwise to mix cleaning agents especially if they contain certain ingredients. “Chlorine bleach, ammonia, alcohol, and hydrogen peroxide are strong ingredients on their own,” says Dr. Garcia. “Mix them together and you create a highly toxic gas.”
Keep the labels to save safety information. Transferring cleaning products in containers that match your home’s design may be more aesthetically pleasing, but it can also increase risk of accidents at home. Instead, keep labels and never allow them to get torn or damaged as they contain important life-saving information. “Always make it a priority to completely understand the label and directions on how to use the product to keep your kids or pets safe from its potentially dangerous effects and on what to do in case of emergency,” he explains.
Store and dispose of products well. “Close cleansing agents’ lids and screw caps tightly and keep them locked in high places so that small children and pets can’t get to them,” says Dr. Garcia. Rags, sponges, gloves, tissues, and other items used to clean a room and surfaces must be properly disposed of too.
This goes for seemingly “harmless” disinfectants and cleansing agents as well. “Alcohol and hand sanitizers stored in small containers that dangle from the handle of bags could attract the curiosity of kids or pets,” he warns. “Keep them locked in your bag and out of reach.”
In addition, cleaning products should never be stored in food or drink containers as someone at home may mistake clear liquids as water.
Pandemic or not, keeping our home clean is a must for keeping our family healthy. However, it’s also important to be aware of the health risks of the usual cleaning products we rely on. When your child or pet accidentally ingests, inhales, or comes in contact with a powerful cleaning agent, call your health practitioner who can guide you to perform first aid, Dr. Garcia reiterates. “If you need to go to the hospital or vet, bring the product that they swallowed, inhaled, or came in contact with so doctors know what ingredient caused the irritation and can address symptoms with proper treatment.”