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Killers Lurking Around Your Home

Updated on April 20, 2011

The Cleaning Cupboard: Potential Poisonous Minefield

Dishwasher Detergent No 1 Offender

Phosphates Cause Most Problems

It’s frankly amazing more people don’t swell the lists in the obituary columns from being poisoned by ordinary household products they use every day. Here is a report from an Illinois hospital :-

“The house was blessedly silent as Geri headed up towards the bathroom, ready to begin her cleaning. She wouldn’t have to pick Kim up from nursery school for several hours. At the tub, she stared down at the mess her daughter had left and the stain around the bath. Taking out the ammonia, she began to scrub and finding the stains hard to shift, changed to the bleach. A strong odour assaulted her senses in seconds and dizziness struck. Surprised, she reeled over and sank down on the toilet seat, not realizing what had happened. He husband found her there, unconscious, when he returned in the evening.”

What had Geri done wrong? She had used bleach and ammonia all her adult life with no previous problems.

One of the dangerous substances in household bleach is sodium hypochlorite. Bleach alone can be dangerous if swallowed. But what Geri had done was use bleach and ammonia at the same time, producing chlorine gas, which can a host of problems, one of which is coma. Geri recovered in the emergency room of the hospital - a much wiser home-maker. (Gringo for “housewife“), My generation is comfortable with the title, one which women were once proud to admit to, Everyone knows that some acids are poisons that can also burn severely. But not so many realize that their opposites, alkaline, can be just as vicious. We all use acid and alkaline daily, they are present in our foods - such as ascorbic acid (Vit. “C”), and the alkaline in hand soap, neither strong enough to be abrasive.

Alkaline found in many household cleaners are : potassium hydroxide, sodium hydroxide (Lye), sodium phosphates and sodium carbonate. Batteries also contain alkaline. The small watch batteries should be viewed as a potential hazard to children as swallowing one can do significant damage to the intestinal tract and the oesophagus. As well as causing your watch to fail.

It’s hard to do away with oneself using acids or alkaline as the burn immediately suffered by the lips, mouth and throat might cause you to abandon the project before enough liquid had reached the inner you.

Potassium hydroxide is found in cuticle remover as well as some small batteries. As well as in benign soaps, sodium hydroxide is found in aquarium products, drain cleaners and…other small batteries. Drano is one product that combines several strong alkalines. If it can burn gunk out of the pipes, imagine what it can do to little Jimmy’s gut if he swallows some. Sodium phosphates helps give abrasive cleaners their punch. Dye removers work by using this chemical, also found in some washing up liquid, which is why it works fast on grease.

Manufactures like to create a soft, fuzzy image where washing up liquid, among others, is concerned. Names like “Fairy,” bring to mind a fragile, benign creature, and a product perhaps distilled from nectar or God’s spit. We also have “Natural Extracts, Aloe Fresh; Fresh Floral Breeze; Purple Herbal,“ et al. Read the label and the truth becomes clear. Not the maker’s fault: fairy pussy dew won’t get the burned-on chicken grease out of the oven dish,

But will “The hands that do the dishes be as soft as your face,” as one leading dishwasher manufacturer proudly (and erroneously) claimed? Not only will they not, but if you aren’t rinsing your dishes really well after you have washed them with these liquids, you could be ingesting enough chemical, such as styrene, to make you ill. Most contain “surface active ingredients,” cleverly abbreviated to “Surfactants.” They are too long to list, but some contain 1.4 dioxin (so does the infamous Agent Orange!), most go down the drain and become a hazard to marine creatures (and ultimately to us as we consume contaminated fish).

I was going to add a list of household products that could be hazardous to health. I suddenly realized that they all were! Well, nearly, you would be hard put to suffer a life-threatening event while using a feather duster. But nearly everything in a bottle, can or packet, bought to use for cleaning, polishing or decorating will make you seriously ill if ingested, or suffering if left in contact with your skin. Most have adequate warnings on the product. Some don’t, and it’s not easy for a company like Proctor and Gamble, for example, to list all the chemicals and combinations on every product they provide. We just have to remember they can be dangerous; not leave them around where kids and animals can get at them. And to be careful to remove all of the product from the surfaces we are cleaning whenever possible with good old hot water and elbow grease - substances too often forgotten in the war against grease and grime these days.

We might also note it is a bad idea to keep these products in the same cupboards as foodstuffs, or the crockery, and cutlery we eat from and cook in. Even new, unopened products can leak - slowly, (especially aerosols) and opened or leaking cleaning products are frankly hazardous. Be specially careful with plates washed in dishwashers, many dishwasher liquid contains chlorine or phosphates, or both. Bad for you and bad for the environment as they go down the drain. (Phosphate is a fertilizer and causes overproduction of algae harmful to fish). Use products such as Palmolive Dishwasher Detergent or Acover Dishwasher Tablets, etc., free of these two harmful chemicals.

Notes: Every year thousands of household poisonings are reported. Many are fatal. Approximately 70% of all poisoning accidents occur in children between the ages of one and five. Almost all childhood poisonings are caused by unsafe storage and handling of household cleaning products and medicines. According to Poison Control, dishwashing detergent accounts for more accidental poisonings than any other household substance. Dandruff shampoo, if swallowed, causes vital organs to degenerate. As we saw, household ammonia, when mixed with bleach is a deadly substance. Bug spray can remain active and airborne in your home for up to 30 years. That’s THIRTY YEARS folks. Quite a price to pay for one dead mosquito. And on it goes.

So, hubbers, stay safe and write lots of hubs!!!



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    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Not a bad idea, Amanda. I was especially surprised at how toxic dish washing liquid is, I am going to definitely rinse plates, etc., better in the future. It's all a trade-off I suppose. There's too much of the junk though: Lake Erie is in a heck of a mess with algae at the moment. Bob x

    • Amanda Severn profile image

      Amanda Severn 

      8 years ago from UK

      Bob, do you think we should be using these chemicals in our homes on any pretext? There are natural alternatives for many day-to-day products, and I only wish I knew more about them. It's all too easy to reach for the bleach, but maybe I'm just unwittingly contributing to the decimation of our marine life, and all for the sake of a white toilet bowl, or a stain-free bench. Maybe you should write a hub on the alternatives!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Many thanks for that. It's amazing what you learn researching these hubs. I had never heard that about bleach and ammonia before. Bob

    • profile image

      JJ (pachuca213) 

      8 years ago

      The first rule I ever learned when I was a kid with Bathroom Chore duty was NEVER mix Cleanser with Windex (bleach and amonia) because of the toxic cloud it makes. Good hub!


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