Safety with Household Products
Aaron Skolnik, MD, is the assistant medical director at the Banner Poison & Drug Information Center.
Question: Are there household products that I should avoid because they introduce toxins in my home? Is there something I should look for on product labels?
Answer: With rare exception, any product purchased from a commercial vendor within the United States is safe to have around the house and will not cause problems if used as directed. However, many common household chemicals can be dangerous if ingested or misused. Therefore, all chemicals should be kept safely out of reach of children.
Rarely, some people have sensitivities to common products, such as fresh paint, perfumes, or cleaning supplies. In predisposed individuals, a mild headache can ensue, which, while uncomfortable, is unlikely to be dangerous and should resolve after exposure to fresh air. Open windows to allow ventilation when working with chemicals around the house.
People may also have true allergies to ingredients in a product and, once this is known, exposure should be avoided. Some individuals, especially those with asthma, may have worsening airway symptoms after exposures to household chemicals, dust, or other allergens. Accumulation of dust or inhalation of household cleaning products, for example, can exacerbate underlying lung disease.
Short of these scenarios, there are not specific products that one should avoid in the house. Much more important is not to overlook the obvious; it is important to store food products and household chemicals far from one another and never to put chemicals into unlabeled or empty food containers. Mistaking a household product for food or drink may result in dangerous, if not fatal consequences.
Don't mix household chemicals together, which can produce irritating and rarely, toxic gases. Promptly discard old or outdated household products; local governments typically have programs to reclaim and safely dispose of hazardous materials. Wear personal protection as recommended by the manufacturer's labeling whenever working with household products. Child-proof your home and please make sure all medications, guns, and chemicals are locked out of reach of children, and swimming pools are appropriately fenced.
If you or someone you know has been exposed to a substance that might be poison, please contact your regional Poison Control Center immediately at 1-800-222-1222.