Most homes contain a wide selection of household products to make household cleaning jobs easier. Items like washing detergents, disinfectants, anti-bacterial cleaners, bleaches, and other products are kept in most kitchens or utility rooms.
Many household products may cause harm if accidentally swallowed or following skin or eye contact. It is important to carry out your household cleaning jobs safely while keeping poisoning prevention to the forefront of your mind!
- Always read product labels and use products only as directed.
- Use gloves to prevent irritant or corrosive chemicals causing damage to your skin.
- Never mix cleaning products together, for example bleach and other household cleaners.
- Open windows in the area where you are working with chemical products to get fresh air.
- Do not leave product containers open or unattended even for a short time.
- Do not transfer products from their original containers into soft-drink bottles or other containers.
Disinfectants, anti-bacterial cleaners, and detergent-based products often contain ingredients called surfactants (another name for detergent-based chemicals). If small amounts of surfactants are swallowed accidentally, this can cause nausea, vomiting, and sometimes diarrhoea. If vomiting occurs or if there is foaming (bubbles) at the mouth, there is a small risk that the surfactants may enter the lungs and cause coughing and breathing difficulties later on. Surfactants may also cause eye irritation after contact and it is important to wash eyes thoroughly with tap water for at least 10 minutes if a splash occurs. Always seek medical advice if symptoms develop.
There are two types of household bleach:
(1) chlorine-based bleach containing sodium hypochlorite,
(2) oxygen-based bleach containing hydrogen peroxide.
Sodium hypochlorite present in household bleaches is of relatively low toxicity if accidentally swallowed in small amounts. It can cause a mild burning sensation to the mouth and throat, nausea, retching, and vomiting. Seek medical advice if more than minor symptoms develop.
Hydrogen peroxide can cause irritation to the mouth, nausea, vomiting, and belching if a small amount is swallowed. A small amount of milk or water can be given if the patient has no symptoms and is not vomiting. Seek medical advice if more than minor symptoms develop.
Window cleaners can contain a variety of chemicals that may be present alone or in a mixture. Ingredients may include isopropanol, petroleum distillates, glycol ethers, and/or detergents. Always seek medical advice if accidental poisoning occurs as different chemicals can cause different symptoms which may sometimes be delayed.
Oven cleaners and drain cleaners must be used with caution as they contain corrosive chemicals that can cause severe burns, Always seek medical advice even if small amounts are swallowed. Do not give drinks to a patient who is vomiting or has a sore throat after swallowing oven cleaner or drain cleaner. Wash the eyes and skin thoroughly with tap water and always seek medical advice after exposure to these chemicals.
If you put a descaler product into your kettle, remember to wash the kettle thoroughly before re-using it. If you accidentally forget and make a drink from the water without rinsing out the descaler, you may develop minor symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and a mild burning sensation. Small amounts of milk or water to drink may help soothe irritation to the mouth.
Liquid air-fresheners and plug-in air-fresheners may contain perfume, essential oils and different types of alcohol. If small amounts are swallowed there may be minor nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea. Drowsiness, dizziness and incoordination can develop if large volumes are swallowed. Eye exposure may result in a stinging sensation and tear production. Rinse the eyes thoroughly with tap water and seek medical advice if symptoms continue.
Look for the UFI!
The UFI, also called the Unique Formula Identifier, is a 16 character code consisting of capital letters and numbers that is printed on the label of products that are classified as hazardous. The code helps the Poisons Centre find out what chemicals are in the product and their concentrations.
An example of a UFI is H563-L90S-R783-J823
Know what to do if accidental poisoning occurs
If your child manages to get hold of a cleaning product it is important to act quickly. Here’s a list of what you should do.
- Stay calm.
- Take the product from the child.
- If they swallow the product, make them spit it out. Check their mouth for redness, irritation or burns.
- NEVER make your child vomit.
- If the product has splashed onto their skin or into their eyes rinse them for 15 minutes with running water. Do not apply eye drops to the eye.
- Signs and symptoms of poisoning can be delayed, so it is important to always seek medical advice.
- Bring the product container to the phone and call the Poisons Centre for advice on 01 809 2166 (available from 8am-10pm daily).
If your child has serious symptoms for example if they are unconscious or having seizures, call the emergency services immediately on 999 or 112.
Contact the National Poisons Information Centre
Healthcare Professional Line: 01 809 2566 (24hr)
Public Poisons Line: 01 809 2166 (8am-10pm)