We're all using household disinfectants more than ever but they can be poisonous if swallowed. Here's what to keep in mind when using them.

By Kristi Pahr
February 21, 2020
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Like most parents, you probably have a bottle of disinfectant stowed in pretty much every room. Next to the changing table? Yep. Under the kitchen sink? Of course. In the bathroom? Duh.  Between sprays and wipes, there's no denying the sheer utility of them especially during the coronavirus pandemic—just spray, wipe, and go breathe a sigh of relief that you've done your part to defeat the spread of germs in your home.

Unfortunately, a recent report from Consumer Reports shines a light on some of the less awesome parts of these ubiquitous cleaning supplies. Namely, quaternary ammonium compounds (quats for short), which as you can probably guess from the name, aren't that great for you or your kids. They're actually registered as pesticides with the EPA. Some wipes also contain bleach or hydrogen peroxide, which are also...not great. But it's the quats that we really need to be aware of. Compounds like bleach and peroxide are familiar enough that we know to be careful when using them on surfaces our kids might touch, but quats? Who's ever even heard of those?

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Turns out, inhaling quats can trigger asthmatic episodes and a 2005 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that disinfectants that contained bleach or quats were responsible for over 30 percent of pesticide-related injuries like eye, skin, and respiratory complaints in school children.

In fact, kids are at higher risk than adults from these compounds. “Kids breathe more air per pound of bodyweight than an adult does. Their exposure will be greater in terms of inhalation than an adult exposure would be,” Jerome Paulson, M.D., a pediatrician and emeritus professor at George Washington University, told Consumer Reports.

While we're all spraying and wiping the day away, it's important to remember that these are not benign compounds and care should be taken with their use. Household disinfectants should never, ever be ingested or otherwise taken internally. They are poisonous and can result in sickness and death. And that goes for rubbing alcohol and alcohol-based disinfectants like hand sanitizer as well.

Reckitt Benckiser, the maker of Lysol cleaning products, recently released a statement regarding improper and dangerous use of household disinfectants. "As a global leader in health and hygiene products, we must be clear that under no circumstance should our disinfectant products be administered into the human body (through injection, ingestion or any other route)," said Benckiser in a public statement. "As with all products, our disinfectant and hygiene products should only be used as intended and in line with usage guidelines. Please read the label and safety information."

Also, be mindful of using disinfectants anywhere near kids or older adults. Make sure there's adequate ventilation and keep little hands from contacting surfaces still wet with disinfectants—let them dry completely.

Maintaining a clean home is important, especially now, but careful and common-sense use of cleaning products and disinfectants can save lives.

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