Disinfectant Exposure

Disinfectant exposures up most in adults

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – As California residents use more cleaning products to disinfect their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic, the California Poison Control System’s Sacramento Division, housed at UC Davis Health, has seen a spike in reported household disinfectant exposures in March and April.

All age groups in California have reported more exposures to disinfectants, including bleach, but cases involving adults have grown the most:

  • Adults 20 or older: 262 cases in February, 724 cases in March, 796 cases in April
  • Children ages 6-19: 65 in February, 60 in March, 86 in April
  • Children under 6 years: 133 in February, 232 in March, 215 in April

“May seems to be on track to be similar to March and April,” said James Chenoweth, assistant professor of emergency medicine at UC Davis Health. “Most of these calls are accidental exposures.

Do NOT Use on Food

People are buying cleaning products and using them on food or spraying them excessively. There can also be issues with mixing certain cleaning products together.” He said most cases have been minor and did not require hospitalization.

The National Poison Data System, the data warehouse for the nation’s 55 poison control centers, has also seen an increase nationally in disinfectant exposure cases during this same time, with 1,673 cases in February, 3,401 cases in March, 3,601 in April.

With more children staying home during the COVID-19 pandemic, the odds of children accidentally being exposed or ingesting household cleaning products also increases.

Justin Lewis, director of the California Poison Control System’s Sacramento Division, recommended the following tips to help prevent accidental household disinfectant poisonings:

  • Use products as directed on the label.
  • Don’t mix multiple disinfectant products together.
  • Make sure to be in a well-ventilated area when using disinfectants.
  • Use the recommended personal protective equipment (gloves, goggles) per the product label.
  • Don’t use cleaning products on the skin or ingest or inject them.
  • Do not use disinfectants on food.
  • Keep household disinfectants out of reach of young children and add child locks to cupboards where disinfectants are stored.
  • Store cleaning products in their original labeled containers. If diluted disinfectants and sanitizers are put in spray bottles, be sure that they are clearly labeled and stored out of the reach of children.
  • Know the poison control number – 800-222-1222 – and PoisonHelp.org, which is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Language interpreters are available.