How to Give First Aid to Treat Mishaps With Common Household Chemicals

Updated on June 5, 2017
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Marlene spends numerous hours researching solutions to common and sometimes obscure health and beauty issues. She shares her results here.

Common Household Chemicals

Common household cleaning products found in my home.
Common household cleaning products found in my home.

Household Chemicals Have a Purpose

We clean our homes to remove bacteria and germs, but when we use them incorrectly or when we come into contact with them in an adverse manner, they can be very dangerous.

Most detergents contain surfactants which remove dirt, stains, and soil. Normal use does not usually cause harm; however, when ingested these chemicals can lead to vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Products that have a foaming agent pose a more serious problem because, when swallowed, these products can foam up in the mouth, leading to aspiration.

While sitting on the shelf, stored properly, most common household chemicals are safe. They serve the purpose of keeping our household environments clean, thus keeping us safe from infections and diseases caused by bacteria and germs. But there are cautions to heed and first aid treatments that can be administered in case of improper or accidental contact.

I went through my house and collected the products that I use for cleaning and sustaining my household. I picked up products like laundry detergent, dishwashing liquid, window cleaner, rust stain remover, carpet cleaner and such – things that can be found in most households. I diligently read the back of every label for the chemicals, potential dangers, and the first aid treatments prescribed.

Common Household Products, Chemicals, and Potential Danger

Products
Chemicals
Potential Danger
Air Fresheners
Formaldehyde
Flammable. Irritates the lungs and mucous membranes. Also, may cause cancer.
Air Fresheners (cont.)
Petroleum distillates
Flammable, irritate the eyes, skin, and lungs, fatal pulmonary edema
Air Fresheners (cont.)
p-dichlorobenzene (some contain this)
Toxic irritant to the eyes and respiratory system.
Antifreeze
Ethylene glycol
Poisonous if swallowed. When breathed in it can cause dizziness. Drinking can cause serious brain, heart, kidney, and other internal organ damage.
Bleach
Sodium hypochlorite
Causes irritation and damage to the skin and respiratory system if inhaled or spilled on the skin
Carpet Shampoo
Anionic Surfactant, acrylic copolymer
Can cause eye irritation. Can cause rashes, itches, allergies, sinus problems.
Disinfectant Cleaner
Pine oil. Detergents and other cleaning agents
Can cause eye injury.
Disinfectant Spray
Alkyl, Dimethyl Benzyl Ammonium Saccharinate, Ethanol
Flammable. Can cause eye injury and skin irritation.
Dishwashing Detergent
Surfactants
Can cause eye irritation. Can cause rashes, itches, allergies, sinus problems.
Drain Cleaners
Lye (sodium hydroxide) or sulfuric acid.
Causes serious chemical burn if splashed on the skin. Toxic when drank. May cause blindness when splashed in the eyes.
Glass Cleaner
Ammonia-D
Ingestion may cause nausea and vomiting. Fumes may irritate the lungs and mucous membranes.
Hard Water Stain Remover
Sulfuric acid, Ethxoylated Tallow Amine
Corrosive. Harmful is swallowed. Causes eye and skin damage. Causes respiratory damage if fumes are inhaled.
Laundry Detergent
Linear Alkyl Sodium Sulfonates (Anionic Surfactants), Petroleum Distillates, Phenols, Phosphates, Ethylene-diamino-tetra-acetate
Ingestion may cause nausea, vomiting, convulsion, and coma.
Moth Balls
One brand contained p-dichlorobenzene; the other brand contained naphthalene
Toxic and known to cause dizziness, headaches, and irritation to the eyes, skin, and respiratory system. Prolonged exposure can lead to liver damage and cataract formation.
Motor Oil
Hydrocarbons
Can cause cancer.
Motor Oil (cont.)
Heavy metals
Can damage the nervous system and other organ systems
Nail Polish Remover
Tocopheryl Acetate, Benzophenone-3, Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein, Panthenol
Flammable. Harmful is taken internally. Harmful to clothing, furnishings and plastic.
Oven Cleaner
Sodium hydroxide or Potassium hydroxide
Can be deadly if swallowed. Can cause chemical burns on the skin or in the lungs if the fumes are inhaled.
Rat Poison (Rodenticides)
Warfarin
Can cause internal bleeding if ingested.
Toothpaste
Sodium Fluoride
May cause mouth or gum irritation. Can cause hives, swelling in the face or throat and difficulty breathing. There can also be stiffness or aching bones in more serious cases. Can cause fluorosis.
Windshield Wiper Fluid
Ethylene glycol, Methanol, and Isopropyl alcohol
Toxic if drank. Can be absorbed through the skin and inhaled. Can cause dizziness, blindness, brain, heart, and kidney damage, and possibly death.

Warning Symbol for Hazardous Chemicals

When you see the symbol of the skull and crossbones on a product label, it signifies that the chemicals in this product are potentially harmful.
When you see the symbol of the skull and crossbones on a product label, it signifies that the chemicals in this product are potentially harmful.|Source

Common Sense for Common Household Chemicals

When storing and using common household chemicals, some basic handling practices apply:

  • Store all cleaning agents in their original containers.
  • Follow the directions on the label and use only the amount of product recommended. Read labels, follow safety precautions and contact the manufacturer if you have questions.
  • Keep household chemical products out of the reach of young children and pets.
  • Never mix bleach with ammonia or with toilet bowl cleaners or drain cleaners, because this can produce dangerous and possibly deadly fumes that, when inhaled can irritate the respiratory system and mucous membranes.
  • Clean spills and stains immediately.
  • Wear protective gloves when working with harsh chemicals.

Here Are Some of the Caution Statements Found on the Containers I Found in My Home

A general caution pertained to all of the products that I found around my home. On the back of almost all the containers the primary cautions are:

  • Store in original container.
  • Use in a well-ventilated area.
  • Replace cap after use.
  • Offer for recycling, if available.
  • Discard empty container in trash.
  • Do not reuse or refill the container.

The National Research Council on Toxic Chemicals

According to the National Research Council, "no toxic information is available for more than 80% of the chemicals in everyday-use products. Less than 20% have been tested for acute effects and less than 10% have been tested for chronic, reproductive or mutagenic effects." Most have not been tested for combined or accumulated effects, nor for their effects on unborn children.

-- Lorie Dwornic, researcher, educator, and activist, 2002

First Aid for Products Containing Flammable Chemicals

If you are burned with a flammable chemical, the first thing you should do is call 911 or the poison control center at 1-800-222-1222. Follow their directions.

In the meantime, the most common first aid solution for treating chemical burns is to flood the area with a slow stream of cool water for at least 20 minutes. Do this until medical help arrives.

Special note:Some chemicals should not be flooded with water immediately. Chemicals to be especially aware of are dry lime, phenols, sodium, potassium, calcium oxide, magnesium, and phosphorous, to name a few. Chemicals such as the ones listed here tend to become activated with water and should be brushed away before washing with water.

Once washed with water, if the skin has not been severely impacted, the burn can be wrapped with a dry, sterile gauze or clean cloth.Note:Severe skin damage requires specific treatment beyond the ability of an ordinary person. Seek medical advice to determine whether or not to cover the burn with a protective salve or ointment.

Precaution:Before using any flammable chemical, you should always read the label to know which active chemicals are contained in the solution. Read the warning and be prepared to administer the first aid advice found on the label.

Products that are flammable have the ability to cause bodily harm, as well as cause a fire to your home and surrounding areas. Most of the products contained in my home had the following cautions:

  • Do not use near fire, flame or pilot light.
  • Do not set on stove or radiator or keep where temperatures exceed 120 degrees Fahrenheit, as container may burst.
  • Do not puncture or incinerate.
  • Store in a cool, dry place.
  • KEEP OUT OF THE REACH OF CHILDREN AND PETS.

I discovered two products in my household that are highly toxic if swallowed. These are nail polish remover and windshield wiper fluid. The chemicals in these two products can lead to a quick death. The caution statement on the label issued the following warning: "If swallowed, contact the local Poison Control Center and seek emergency medical treatment." No if, ands, or buts – call for immediate help!

Be Aware of Minor Contact With Common Household Chemicals

Most people do not realize that after laundering clothes or washing dishes, some residue from the wash can be left on their clothes, bed sheets, and dishes. Laundered residue can be absorbed through the skin, causing rashes and itchy skin. Residue from washed dishes is left on them, accumulating with each washing. And, the residue gets mixed in with the food.

Some chemicals cause burns. Others may be absorbed through the skin or lungs, causing additional, internal damage.

First Aid for Chemical Exposure

Remove the person away from the area where the chemical may have spilled or has become airborne by way of particles or fumes and remove any clothing or jewelry that have come in contact with the chemical. In some cases, it may be best to cut the clothing off; such is the case if the person is wearing a turtleneck top. If you pull the top off over the person’s head, you risk the chance of spreading the chemical to the person’s face.

Act quickly, because, the longer the chemical remains on the person, the more it continues to react (burn). You may need to wear rubber gloves (if they are readily handy) or use a cloth to handle the clothing so that you, yourself do not come in contact with the chemical.

First aid when the chemical gets into the lungs:

Get the person to an area where he or she can receive fresh air. The person may go into shock or lose the ability to breathe, so you may need to perform rescue breathing or CPR.

First aid when the chemical gets into the eyes:

Flush out the affected eye with water for at least 15 to 20 minutes. Pull the eyelid away and move the eyeball in a circle. You want to make sure the entire eye area is flushed out. The water temperature should be cool. If the person is wearing contact lenses, remove the contact lenses after five minutes of rinsing, then continue rinsing. While rinsing, hold the head so that the affected eye is on the bottom and flush from the nose downward. This is to help assure that you do not accidentally flush chemicals into the unaffected eye.

First aid when the chemical gets onto the skin:

First (with gloved hands or a cloth) brush the chemical from the person’s skin. Then, flush the skin with cool water for at least 15 to 20 minutes. The flow of the water should be strong enough to wash away the chemical, but keep in mind that the skin may be sensitive from the chemical burn so do not use a water force that is so strong that it causes pain or breaks blisters.

If the skin becomes burned, treat the burn the same as you would any type of burn. First, cool water should be placed on the burned area immediately. Keep applying cool water for at least 20 minutes. If the person is experiencing pain, they may be given aspirin or other type of pain medication. It is important to prevent the person from going into shock.

If a blister has formed and broken, wash the area with cool, clean water and a mild soap. You should only leave a burn uncovered if you are in an area that is clean (without insects, dust, or chemical fumes). If you can, cover the burn with a wet sterile dressing.

In treating the burn, it is important that youDO NOT:

  • Remove anything stuck to the burn.
  • Apply lotions, fats, or butter.
  • Break blisters.
  • Remove loose skin.
  • Put anything on the chemical burn.

First aid when the chemical is swallowed:

The majority of the products found in my home could be treated with the methods described here. A couple of products, in particular need special mentioning.

One of these products is a cleaning solution that contains Sulfuric Acid, Ethxoylated, and Tallow Amine (Lime Away) used to remove lime, calcium, and rust. The caution statement on the label suggests that if this product is swallowed, rinse the person’s mouth, give them a glass of water AND call the poison control center.

Another product needing special attention is a product that contains pine oil (Pine Sol). The caution statement on the label stated“If swallowed,call a poison control center or doctor immediately for treatment advice. Have the person sip a glass of water if able to swallow.”Twice, on the caution label, you are asked to call the doctor or poison control center for treatment. I would take the ingestion of this product seriously.

For all the other products, if swallowed, the person could be treated by drinking water to dilute the formula. The doctor or poison control center would only need to be called if there were signs of distress.

Chemicals that are swallowed may harm the digestive tract. Even more alarming is the fact that if the chemical enters the bloodstream it can be transported to other parts of the body and cause internal distress to the heart, lungs, brain, and kidneys.

If you are helping a person who has swallowed a harmful chemical, your first objective is to make sure the airway is open. Check the person’s breathing and pulse. Be prepared to perform rescue breathing or CPR.

In most cases, vomiting should not be induced, as this could cause the chemical to burn its way back up. Give the person plenty of water, at least a glass or two. The person should sit or lay with their head and shoulders raised. If the person is unconscious, he or she should be laid on their side. Make sure there is nothing blocking them from breathing.

In administering care to a person who has been severely afflicted with a chemical injury, be aware that they may go into shock because of the amount of pain, fear, and the loss of bodily fluids that ooze out from the burn. It is your responsibility to offer the person comfort. Reassure the person that you are there for them. Do what you can to ease their pain, treat them if they go into shock, and most of all, make sure you give them plenty of liquids.

First aid treatment for shock:

The turmoil of chemical mishaps may cause pain, fear, and loss of bodily fluids. All of this trauma may cause a person to panic and go into shock. If the person goes into shock, have the person lie down with the feet slightly elevated above the head. Cover the person if they feel cold. It is important to keep the person rehydrated. If the person can drink, have them take sips of water.

If the person is unconscious make sure they remain laying down with the feet slightly elevated. If the person appears to be choking, pull their tongue forward with your finger. If the person has vomited, immediately clear the person’s mouth and do not give the person anything by mouth until the person becomes conscious.

Call for medical help.

Warning Found on Toothpaste Label

“Keep out of reach of children under 6 years of age.If you accidentally swallow more than used for brushing, get medical help or contact a Poison Control Center right away. When using this product, if irritation occurs discontinue use.” Sodium fluoride can cause hives, swelling in the face or throat and difficulty breathing.”

Special Warning About Toothpaste With Sodium Fluoride

While brushing my teeth, I glanced at the back label on the tube of toothpaste. I knew it was important not to swallow toothpaste. It’s right there on the back of the label, right? But, I'm in a mode now where I am stopping to do research on all the chemicals in my household. I didn’t know how important it was to heed that toothpaste warning until I did research on the active ingredient in my tube of toothpaste. The active ingredient is Sodium Fluoride. In fairness to all brands of toothpaste, I need to mention that all toothpastes are not created equal. There are some toothpaste brands that do not contain this very dangerous chemical compound.

Excessive consumption of Sodium Fluoride is linked to neurological abnormalities, which is one of the reasons the government discontinued the mandation that cities put it in our drinking water. While Sodium Fluoride has its benefits – helping to stop tooth decay, there are some cautions to heed when using toothpaste containing Sodium Fluoride. When used as prescribed on the label, there is not much to worry about. In some cases, though, Sodium Fluoride may cause mouth or gum irritation. If this symptom occurs, discontinue using the product. Contact a doctor if the condition worsens or does not disappear.

More serious side effects include hives, swelling in the face or throat and difficulty breathing. There can also be stiffness or aching bones in more serious cases. And, speaking of serious, a condition known as fluorosis can develop. Fluorosis occurs when a person ingests an excessive amount of fluoride. It can attack the bones of the body or damage the teeth, causing small marks and spots on the teeth, sometimes including a mild transparency of the tooth enamel, which can progress to pitted, cracked, and brittle teeth. The damage caused by fluorosis is permanent so you want to avoid this condition at all costs. The American Dental Association has abookletthat offers more information about fluorosis.

The most important caution about products containing Sodium Fluoride is – do not swallow toothpaste containing Sodium Fluoride.

Contact the American Association of Poison Control Centers

Find your local poison center.
Call 1-800-222-1222.


Residents of the Federated States of Micronesia must dial an access code (288) and then 888-222-4516 to reach a poison center. All other residents of the U.S. and their territories call 1-800-222-2222.

Final Thoughts

The best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from being injured or poisoned by common household chemicals is to be aware of the harm household chemicals can cause. Store them away from common areas and certainly away from young children and pets. Handle products made with harmful chemicals safely and as prescribed. Most importantly, educate yourself and if possible, look for safer alternatives to the products you use in and around your house.

When calling a poison control center or doctor, have the product container or label handy. This will allow you to relay reliable information about the chemical to the person prescribing professional help and treatment.

Your mishap could easily turn into a life-threatening situation. As in every life-threatening situation, call 911 to summon an ambulance for immediate medical assistance.

And last but not least, remain calm. If you are helping an injured person, give assurance to them so that they may be calm, as well.

First Aid: How to Treat a Chemical Burn

Sources

Questions & Answers

  • Is drinking Mr. Muscle Advanced Disinfected Floor Cleaner poisonous?

    I am not licensed to give advice on how to treat diseases. I do highly recommend that you call a poison control center or ask your physician for more information on the long-term effects of drinking poison.



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