someone pushing a mop while cleaning a home

Stay Safe During Spring Cleaning

March 8, 2024

With the days getting longer and the itch for spring cleaning in the air, we wanted to learn more about home cleaning products and their possible hazards. Adam Blumenberg, MD, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, has additional expertise in toxicology. Here’s what Dr. Blumenberg told us.

Columbia Medicine on Instagram: "With the days getting longer and the itch for #spring cleaning 🧽🫧 in the air, it’s important to learn about the #cleaning products you may use and their possible hazards. ⚠️

Do cleaning products present any potential dangers? Are there certain cleaning products that warrant special care?

Most household cleaning agents are safe to use for regular home cleaning, but there are a few products that could be dangerous if they’re not used properly.

Drain cleaners, toilet cleaners, and oven cleaners are especially dangerous because they can destroy human tissue. These cleaners contain caustic chemicals such as lye or hydrochloric acid. Drinking even a small amount of lye or hydrochloric acid can lead to permanent damage of the mouth, stomach, lungs, and esophagus, or even be fatal. If these chemicals get on the skin, it can cause a burn, so the area should be washed with lots of running water for at least 15 minutes right away. 

Laundry and dishwasher detergent pods can be dangerous if someone puts them in their mouth. This is especially dangerous for small children who might think they’re candy or a toy. Cleaner pods contain substances that can cause severe breathing problems and should be kept away from children.

If someone is exposed to any of these products and they become unconscious, have difficulty breathing, or shortness of breath call 911 right away. If they’re awake and breathing comfortably, call the poison center at 1-(800)-222-1222 for advice.

To handle a messy spill or a tough stain, people might be tempted to mix cleaning products. Why is this a bad idea? What are some of the possible health effects?

Cleaning products should never be mixed because they can react to form dangerous gasses. These gasses can damage the lungs, irritate the eyes and nose, and can even be deadly. Mixing cleaners like bleach, window cleaner, toilet cleaner, or rubbing alcohol can release poisonous gasses such as chlorine, phosgene, and chloramine. These gasses can be so dangerous some of them were used in World War I as weapons.

If you’re ever exposed to one of these gasses, you should get to fresh air as soon as possible. If you’re having trouble breathing or shortness of breath, call 911.

The possible health effects from breathing gasses released from mixing cleaning products range from mild irritation to severe lung damage requiring intensive care. In extreme cases where someone is exposed to a high concentration of these gasses and they can’t get to fresh air, it can be deadly.

What about storing cleaning products? Could you suggest one or two best practices? 

Household cleaning products should always be stored in their original containers. They should never be placed in food or beverage containers because even if you remember what’s in there, other people might get mixed up and get sick from drinking the liquid. Unfortunately, storing dangerous substances in food and beverage containers is a relatively common way that people can get poisoned. Keeping cleaning products in their original containers keeps everybody safe.

Household cleaning products should be stored “up and away” to protect children and pets. They should be kept in a high place like the upper shelf of a closet so that kids can’t get to them.

Could you recommend any additional resources for our Health Insights audience?

There are a few great websites that can give you more information about poison prevention and safety. An excellent resource is America’s Poison Centers website.

Another great resource is, which answers more detailed questions. If you ever have a question about a possible poisoning or would like more information, please call the poison center at 1-(800)-222-1222.


Adam Blumenberg, MD, is an assistant professor of emergency medicine at the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons at CUIMC.