Washingtonians are more frequently reporting concerning exposures to household cleaning products such as bleach, ammonia and antiseptics, according to the Washington Poison Center.

The poison center has received 23% more of these calls, year-to-date, compared with the same time period last year.

The center is urging people to be cautious handling — and mixing — cleaning supplies and to read labels and follow directions. Many of the accidental, and potentially dangerous, recent exposures reported have been from ordinary household cleaning supplies or the combination of them, according to a statement released Tuesday by the center.

“These are preventable trends,” Dr. Erica Liebelt, medical director of the Washington Poison Center, told The Seattle Times on Tuesday. “It’s important for people to take appropriate measures for cleaning and disinfecting, but it’s also important to read labels carefully, follow instructions, and only use substances for their intended use.”

One of the most common reports comes from people who’ve mixed bleach and ammonia, releasing potentially lethal chlorine gas, she said.

Among the newer kinds of calls: The center is hearing from people who have used bleach-infused wipes to clean masks, also releasing chlorine gas. Liebelt said it’s better to clean cloth masks with soap and water and let them thoroughly air dry.


The trend holds nationally as well. Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say they suspect, but cannot prove, the spike in accidental poisonings from cleaners and disinfectants is related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Nationwide, accidental poisonings from cleaning products were up about 20% in the first three months of this year, compared with the same period in 2018 and 2019, according to a CDC report released this week.

The report was based on more than 45,000 recent calls to 55 poison control centers across the country involving exposures to cleaning chemicals or disinfectants from January through March. The same period in 2019 saw 38,000 such calls, while 2018 had 39,000.

Roughly 40% of calls this year were about poisonings in children age 5 or younger, but increases were seen in all age groups. Bleach accounted for the largest share of the increase overall, but for young children, the rise was mainly in mishaps involving non-alcohol disinfectants and hand sanitizers, the CDC reported.

In Washington, some of the types of exposures reported to the Washington Poison Center include:

  • Mixing cleaning chemicals, which can inadvertently produce a toxic gas.
  • Using bleach and hydrogen peroxide to wash hands and faces, resulting in allergic reactions and skin rashes.
  • Using chemicals to wash and “disinfect” groceries and fresh produce. (In most cases, rubbing fruits and vegetables under running tap water with a vegetable brush is enough to clean them.)
  • Directly applying bleach and other chemicals to disinfect homemade masks, resulting in inhalation of toxic gases.
  • Young children getting in to cleaning products left open and unattended.

To prevent poisoning, the Washington Poison Center recommends the following strategies:

  • Wear gloves and open windows and doors for ventilation when cleaning.
  • Don’t mix cleaning products, as mixing can create hazardous gases.
  • Don’t use cleaning products on food.
  • Store cleaners, household chemicals, and other potentially harmful substances in their original containers.
  • Keep these products, including hand sanitizers, up high and out of the reach of young children.
  • Supervise young children when using hand sanitizer, as ingestion could lead to alcohol poisoning.
  • Call the Poison Helpline (1-800-222-1222) for help with any questions or poison emergencies.

Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.