Household Products

There are many items around the house that can be harmful to both humans and pets. Many household products come in attractive colors or look like products that children routinely eat or drink.  Products like some pine floor cleaners may look like apple juice or automatic dishwashing detergents in pill form can look like candy to some children. This page will provide some essential information about some of these types of products.  It must be recognized that no list is all inclusive.  The following information only includes some of the more common types of products involved in exposure calls we receive through our poison help hotline.  The poison center is available 24 hours a day in both English and Spanish to answer questions about potential or known toxic substances or to provide medical advice about any exposure by calling 1-800-222-1222.


Did you know… Household cleaning products are the cause of over 10% of the poisonings in children under the age of six.

First Aid

Inhalation exposure (Breath it in)

  • Remove from contaminated area.
  • Call the Poison Center for treatment information
  • If the victim has difficulty breathing call 911 immediately

Absorption (Skin Contact)

  • Wash area with soap and water with caution not to expose more sensitive areas such as eyes, mouth, nose, ears and genital area.
  • Call the Poison Center for treatment information

Ingested Exposure (Swallowed)

  • Call the Poison Center for treatment information
  • If difficulty swallowing or breathing call 911 immediately
  • Do not:
    • Induce vomiting by any means
    • Give anything to eat or drink without calling the Poison Center first

Ocular Exposure (Eye splash)

  • Irrigate with running water for minimum of 15-30 min
  • Call the Poison Center for treatment information
  • Observe for:
    • Continued redness
    • Tearing
    • Sensitivity to light
    • Blurred vision (sight problems not previously existing)
    • Severe redness to eyes
Did you know? Cosmetics and person care products account for approximately 12% of poisoning in children under the age of six.

The term “cosmetics” covers a broad range of products usually intended to enhance appearance or improve hygiene.  Through out history and in different cultures multiple substances have been used to enhance beauty and decorate the human body.  In the late 19th century women would use belladonna extract to dilate the pupils in an attempt to make the eyes appear more attractive.  In present day most products used in cosmetics are considered to be of low potential for toxicity but may still pose a significant hazard, especially to children.  Every year, Poison Control Centers receive hundreds of thousands of calls involving cosmetics, of these; the majority of them involve children less than 6 years old. 

Back to top

Dishwashing liquids

  • Hand dishwashing liquids mostly cause irritation
    • Skin exposure can cause redness if not rinsed off right away
    • Ingestion can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal discomfort.
    • Eye spills can cause irritation, and if not rinsed off immediately, may cause corneal damage.
  • Automatic dishwashing liquid
    • Have more irritating effects and can have greater problems if not irrigated quickly
    • Automatic dish washing detergent can have corrosive effects.
Back to top

Bleach (Chlorine) containing cleaning products

  • Chlorine is the most common ingredient in household cleaning products involved in child poisonings.
  • Many household cleaners contain chlorine even though not indicated on the label.  They are often labeled under other names like “sodium hypochlorite” or “hypochlorite.” 
  • Products like automatic dishwashing detergents, chlorine bleach, chlorinated disinfectant cleaners, mildew removers, and toilet bowl cleaners can contain chlorine.
  • Most household chlorine exposures results in only minor effects.  
  • Symptoms may include:
    • Mouth, throat, and stomach (GI) irritation
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Abdominal pain
    • Diarrhea
  • These types of exposures may be handled at home under the direct supervision and telephone follow-up by the poison control center.
Important Note: When chlorine containing cleaners are mixed with acid or ammonia containing products, a chlorine gas may be produced.  This chlorine gas may result in mucous membrane and respiratory tract irritation and can cause difficulty in breathing.

 

Back to top

Ammonia containing cleaners

  • Household ammonia contains 5-10% ammonia
  • Extended exposure or higher concentrations of ammonia can cause corrosive effects and severe burns.
    • Significant ingestions can cause swelling of the throat which can cause problems swallowing or breathing
    • If splash into eyes, corneal abrasions are possible.
Back to top

Rust and Calcium buildup removers

  • May contain strong acids (cause corrosive injury)
  • Skin exposures can be severe depending on time of exposure and product concentration.
  • Ingestion symptoms can range from nausea, vomiting abdominal pain and diarrhea, up to severe burns to mouth, throat, and stomach.
  • Eye exposures can cause significant injury to include corneal abrasions.
Back to top

Oven Cleaners

  • May contain strong alkali products making them very corrosive.
  • Unlike acids which usually cause limited damage, corrosive alkali products will continue to burns (cause damage) as long as in contact with tissues (skin, eye, mouth).
  • Skin exposures can be severe depending on the concentration of product
  • Eye exposures can cause significant eye injury including corneal abrasions.
Back to top

Drain Cleaners

  • May be either an acid or an alkaline.
  • The added danger is that these substances are also available in a gel form, causing it to remain on a surface for an extended period of time.
  • Severe burns can occur.
Back to top

Insect Repellant

  • Ingredient used in most insect repellents is N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide (DEET)
  • Available in lotions and sprays form from 4-100% in concentration.
  • Appropriate use is extremely important to reduce exposures
    • Always apply in well ventilated area.
    • Do not use in children under 2 months of age.
    • Never use greater than 30% DEET on children.
      • 10% DEET is effective for approximately 2 hr.
    • Do not apply over open wounds, abrasions or irritated skin.
    • Do not apply to hands, near mouth or eyes on young children
    • Do not apply more than once a day.
      • Apply sparingly to skin or clothing.
      • Do not apply underneath clothing.
  • When applying to face apply on your hand then rub on face.
    • Use caution when applying around eyes and mouth.
  • When returning indoors wash applied areas w/ soap and water.
    • Launder clothing sprayed with DEET prior to re using.
  • Health concerns include:
    • Because DEET is absorbed through skin, repeated use can result in increased risk of poisoning.  Children are at greater risk of toxicity.
    • Accidental ingestion can result in significant poisoning.
    • Effects may include:
      • Drowsiness, movement disorders, confusion, tremors, seizures, coma and possible death.
      • Burning sensation, blistering and scarring on skin.
      • Serious allergic reaction.
Back to top

Hair Products

Most shampoos are considered low to non-toxic exposures.  Other hair products such as hair lighteners, straighteners and waving agents contain chemicals that could potentially cause severe burns and/or metabolic problems depending on the route of exposure.

Back to top

Hair Coloring, Lighteners, Waving agents & Straighteners

Most contain an oxidizing agent, usually hydrogen peroxide; but many others may also contain other oxidizing agents such as ammonia and potassium or sodium persulfate and a dye. 

  • Hydrogen peroxide usually at 6% concentration but can be up to 12%.
    • >10% solutions are associated with significant burns (corrosive injury).
    • Large ingestion of 6% solutions can cause significant irritation (gastritis).
  • Dyes can also cause significant irritation to include severe burns
    • Other chemical used to assist the dyes (i.e. ammonia) may have an elevated pH which can increase the possibility of a severe burn.
  • Oxidizing agents and dyes can have an elevated pH which can cause severe burns.
  • Other active ingredients in hair coloring can be a significant problem as well.
  • Some products may contain lead.
  • Lead may pose a significant problem if ingested by a child.
Back to top

Shampoo, Conditioner, Soaps, Bath Oils/Salts & Hair Sprays

  • In typical accidental ingestions by children, most of these are considered of low toxicity.
  • Some however, may contain active ingredients that can cause significant problems.
  • Some of these ingredients include:
  • Soaps/Salts – anionic & non ionic detergents
    • Can cause upset stomach and vomiting.
    • In large ingestions salts can cause electrolyte imbalances.
  • Alcohol – different products will contain elevated concentrations of alcohol.
    • If ingested, inebriation can occur
    • Potential for injury from loss of balance and decrease in mental status.
    • In children it can cause severe lowering of blood sugar.
  • Oils/Salts
    • Can cause a laxative effect when ingested. 
    • If inhaled or ingested may cause a severe chemical pneumonia
    • Symptoms of chemical pneumonia include:
      • Cough
      • Shortness of breath
      • Problems breathing
      • Fever
Back to top

Colognes, Perfumes & Hand sanitizers

  • In typical accidental ingestions by children, they are considered of low toxicity.
  • Typical ingestion consists of child tasting or spilling or spreading on skin.  
  • Two active ingredients of concern are oils and alcohols.   
    • Oils when swallowed can cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal discomfort and possible diarrhea.  If the oil is aspirated (enters) into the lungs, it can cause a chemical pneumonia
      • The lower the viscosity of the oil the higher potential for aspiration. 
    • Alcohols in concentrations of 50% to 95% can cause symptoms that can range from simple irritation to severe inebriation and drop in blood sugar.
      • An ingestion of ½ oz (15 ml) of a 77% alcohol solution can potentially produce a blood alcohol level of 147 mg/dl in a 2 year old 23 lbs. child.
      • Alcohol can also cause tissue irritation, especially if spilled in eyes.
Back to top

Finger Nail Care Products

  • Nail Polish, Nail Polish Remover and Acrylic Nail Removers.  
  • Most accidental ingestions result in low to no toxicity, however in high quantities, has the potential to produce significant toxicity. 
  • Most common active ingredients include: xylene, toluene, acetone, plasticizers, resins and alcohol solvents.  
  • Usually contains Bitrex – a bittering agent that discourages ingestion by making the product very bitter.  This agent aids in reducing the amount ingested and consequently decreases the toxicity of the exposure.
  • Most active ingredients are irritating to skin.
  • Acetone can cause inebriation similar to that of alcohol.
  • Older formulations of acrylic nail removers may contain a product called acetonitrile.  When ingested acetonitrile is metabolized into cyanide.
Back to top

Oral Hygiene Products

  • Toothpaste, mouth wash, denture cleaners and teeth whitening products in small quantities are considered low in toxicity.
  • Fluoride in toothpaste and certain mouth wash products can be of concern.  When fluoride mixes with stomach acids it creates a stronger acid (hydrofluoric acid) which is very corrosive and may cause severe abdominal pain.  In large quantities, in can bind with the calcium and cause hypocalcaemia which can affect your heart and even result in death.
  • Alcohol is also of concern in certain mouth wash preparations.  Symptoms in children can range from simple irritation to skin to inebriation and significant drop in blood sugar.
  • Certain denture cleaners and teeth whitening products can contain active ingredients that may cause significant irritation.
    • Active ingredients can include sodium perborate and hydrogen peroxide.
    • Symptoms can include vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal discomfort
    • Swelling and redness can be expected if spilled on skin.
Back to top

Cosmetics

  • These include lipstick, rouge, mascara, and blush.
  • Mostly considered non toxic.
  • Some of possible concern include:
    • Powders – if inhaled could cause respiratory problems.
    • Body Paints – may contain high concentration of alcohol.
    • Lipstick – some may contain camphor, fortunately in very small amounts 
Back to top

Deodorant & Antiperspirants

  • Like most other cosmetic products is mostly considered low in toxicity.
  • Ingredients of concern include:
    • Alcohol – skin irritation and potential of inebriation if ingested.
    • Deodorant – skin and eye irritation as well as mild GI irritation possible.
Back to top

Depilatories – hair removers

  • These products when not used correctly can cause significant burns. 
  • The active ingredients in most of these products are alkali ingredients that may cause significant burns. 
  • These products will continue to burn as long as they are in contact with the skin, eyes or mouth/throat. 
    • Eyes – potential for significant corneal abrasion.
    • Skin – potential for 1-3rd degree burns if enough is allowed to sit on skin for extended period of time.
    • Ingestion – potential for burn to throat causing problems swallowing or breathing

If you have any questions about the safety or danger of any household product or if someone has been exposed to any household product call the Poison Center immediately at 1-800-222-1222.  We are open 24-hours a day 365-days a year and available in both English and Spanish.