3 Signs Your Cleaning Supplies Are Irritating Your Lungs or Skin

updated Apr 9, 2021
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It’s not the most relaxing feeling in the world to look at a weekend to-do list and see “deep clean the bathroom” on the schedule. That type of nitty-gritty cleaning is an all-day affair: One that requires elbow-length rubber gloves and scrubbing on your hands and knees. The kind that makes you break a sweat.

Naturally, you’ll need to make sure you’re going into the process with all the best resources at hand. Nobody wants to run out of cleaner halfway through, or discover you’ve used all your favorite sponges and are out of back-ups. You also don’t want to leave the job unfinished because you’re experiencing uncomfortable symptoms due to irritating cleaning solutions or ingredients.

It’s important to know that some cleaners can contain ingredients that can cause not-so-fun health side effects. This doesn’t mean that any specific cleaner is inherently harmful to your health, but it does mean that you should pay close attention to how you’re feeling when you use your cleaning products. For example, one person might adore their floral-scented all-purpose cleaner, while another person finds the added fragrance is irritating their skin. (This is a good time for a reminder: It’s never a bad idea to wear gloves when you clean.)

Knowing when to leave the room, try a new cleaning product, or seek professional medical assistance could be the difference between a pleasant cleaning experience and a crummy one. 

Credit: Photo: Sarah Crowley; Location: Publishing House, Chicago

3 Signs You Should Pay Attention To

Here are three things to look out for when using cleaning supplies to know and how to address the problem.

You have allergy-like symptoms.

If you’re experiencing allergy-like symptoms while using certain cleaning supplies (or directly after using them), take note, says Dr. Abisola Olulade, a family medicine doctor in San Diego.

“You could get coughing and wheezing. Symptoms can also include watery eyes, sneezing sore throat headaches and even skin issues like rashes and excessive dryness. These are signs that your body may be reacting to the chemicals,” Olulade says, going on to say that it’s possible that these symptoms could be caused by something like allergies, or even a reaction to mold, dust, or pets, which is why it’s especially important to relay your entire medical history with your doctor while describing your symptoms.

“You should call your doctor and they will take a careful history about when you started using the cleaning products and if you have had these issues in the past,” Dr. Olulade says. 

2. You have wheezing, an asthma flare-up, or an eczema flare-up.

While many common household cleaning supplies are safe to use in well-ventilated areas, it may be worth being extra careful if you have other existing health conditions. “If you are someone with a respiratory issue like asthma then this could pose even more of a risk and you may have wheezing and a flare up of your asthma from this,” Dr. Olulade explains.

The same goes for those who deal with conditions like eczema, which may make their skin extra sensitive to harsher ingredients.

3. You have a specific, unusual reaction while using the product — or directly after 

If you have any sort of a noticeable physical reaction or discomfort while using a product, the best thing you can do is to stop using the product then and there. But you can also experience a reaction some time after using cleaning supplies, says Dr. Olulade, and this is also important to pay attention to in the hours and days after introducing a new product to your routine.

To be proactive in avoiding any sort of reaction whatsoever, Dr. Oulade suggests always cleaning in a well-ventilated area — leave doors and windows open and turn on fans or vents — and wearing protective gloves when handling cleaning products to avoid potential skin irritation. 

What To Do If You Experience Symptoms

If you experience any of the above symptoms and they don’t subside, or you ingest a product or accidentally splash it in your eyes, it’s always best to call poison control. If your symptoms do subside and you’re able to move to a well-ventilated area, there are a few things you can do next, though.

The first thing is, as Dr. Olulade suggests, to schedule a call or appointment with your doctor to describe your symptoms as well as your medical history. The next is to try preventative measures to avoid the same issue in the future, like eliminating products one by one until you find what’s bothering you.