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Household Cleaners - A Poison Common in Every Home

Household Cleaners - A Poison Common in Every Home

There are many household cleaners in every home, some poisonous some not. A few simple hints will help lessen the risk of injury through prevention and appropriate first aid

Product Identification

The correct identification of the household cleaner is very important. When calling your Poisons Centre it is a good idea to bring the cleaning product to the phone. There is a wide range of cleaning products available, and some may be poisonous, while others are not. The exact name is important so that the most appropriate and accurate information can be given if a poisoning has occurred.

General Advice

Corrosive Cleaners
There are some household cleaners that may cause chemical burns if eaten, left on the skin or splashed into the eyes. Some examples include dishwasher powders, caustic soda, oven cleaners and pure bleach. These corrosive cleaners are potentially very dangerous and it is important to immediately call your Poisons Centre, to find out the most up to date first aid following any exposure to a household cleaner.

Irritant Cleaners
Irritant cleaners are less likely to cause injury, however may still make someone ill. Some common examples would be dishwashing detergents, liquid hand soaps, spray and wipe products and some floor cleaners. They may be irritating to the mouth or throat and could cause someone to vomit soon after an exposure. However irritant cleaners are still dangerous to the eyes; they can cause damage in some cases and still require good first aid. Irritant cleaners split on the skin may cause dermatitis or mild irritation to the skin.

General Prevention Advice for Household Cleaners

  • All household cleaners need to be stored out of reach and ideally in a locked, child resistant cupboard

  • Cupboard locks can be purchased from pharmacies to convert a cupboard into a secure cleaning cupboard

  • Extra caution must be taken when actually using the cleaners, as this is when most poisonings occur

  • Dishwasher powders and dishwashing detergents and other products used frequently need to be securely stored after each and every use

  • Child resistant lids need to be used correctly to limit the chances of a poisoning. Always replace the child resistant caps correctly. Never leave a lid off to make it easier to use the product; this also makes it easier for a child to be poisoned

More advice on preventing poisoning can be found by clicking here

Specific First Aid for Household Cleaners - What Should I Do?

If Swallowed
If Spilt on Skin
If Sprayed in Eyes

If Swallowed
Immediately rinse the mouth out and seek medical advice from your Poisons Centre or your Doctor.

If on Skin
Immediately flush the exposed area with lots of water and seek medical advice from your Poisons Centre or your Doctor

DO NOT leave the cleaner on the skin, even for a few minutes. If it is corrosive it may cause burns to the skin

If in Eyes
Flush the eye with room-temperature water for at least 15 minutes(Some cleaners will require even longer)and seek medical advice from your Poisons Centre or your Doctor

Click here to find out how best to flush an eye

The eye will then need to be examined at your Medical Centre or Hospital.

Click here for further first aid advice

Related Resources
Child Resistant Packaging - A leaflet detailing the use of child-resistant packaging
Prevent Poisoning: Keeping Children Safe From Poisons - A brochure on general poisoning prevention information including home safety tips
Put Your Kid's Safety First - A brochure detailing the risk of dishwasher detergents and simple safety tips for their use


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University of Otago NZ National Poisons Centre


Last updated 15/11/2012



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