Determining the Safety of Cleaning Products
Help protect your workers from potentially harmful cleaning chemicals.
When working with cleaning products, it’s important to know the associated risks of their ingredients. According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the chemicals in some cleaning products can be hazardous, causing problems ranging from skin rashes and burns to coughing and asthma. Educating yourself and your workers on the potential dangers of cleaning chemicals is the first step in protecting them from serious harm.
Health Problems Caused by Cleaning Chemicals
When determining if a cleaning chemical will cause health problems, there are some important factors you’ll need to consider:
- The chemical ingredients in cleaning product
- How the cleaning product will be used and stored
- The ventilation in the area where the cleaning product will be used
- The possibility of splashes and spills
- Possible contact with the skin
- The potential release of mists, vapors, and/or gases.
Some chemicals in cleaners can be irritation to the skin and/or cause rashes. Some products contain corrosive chemicals, which can cause severe burns if splashed on skin or in eyes.
Mists, vapors, and/or gases from cleaning chemicals can irritate the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs. Symptoms might include burning eyes, sore throat, coughing, trouble breathing, and wheezing. Some chemicals can cause or trigger asthma attacks. Others can enter the body through the skin or by breathing gases into the lungs.
Some cleaning chemicals are toxic enough to be deadly. Mixing bleach and ammonia (or products that contain these ingredients) creates a lethal gas that can cause severe lung damage or even death.
Choosing Safer Cleaning Products
Cleaners, sanitizers, and disinfectants serve different purposes. It’s important to choose the least hazardous cleaning chemical that will accomplish the task at hand. In general, disinfectants and sanitizers tend to be more hazardous than cleaners. So, before purchasing cleaning products, determine whether sanitizing or disinfecting is necessary. If not, choose a cleaner.
Many employers and building managers are purchasing “green” cleaning chemicals with the expectation that green cleaning products are safer for workers and the environment. However, just because a manufacturer describes a cleaning product as green doesn’t necessarily mean that the chemicals it contains are safe. Review all cleaning chemicals in the products being considered for purchase, including green cleaning products, and choose ones with the least hazardous ingredients.
In discerning those ingredients, safety data sheets (SDSs) can be extremely helpful. Employers can use the information contained in the SDSs to ensure that workers are properly protected. SDSs include the following important information:
- Hazardous chemical ingredients
- Health problems and symptoms the ingredients could cause
- First-aid measures for exposure to the chemicals
- Recommended personal protective equipment, such as gloves, safety goggles, or respirators
- Proper procedures for cleaning up spills.
Employers must obtain and maintain SDSs for all hazardous cleaning products and chemicals that they use. SDSs must be readily accessible to workers as well.
To learn more, including training workers on safe work practices, visit and download OSHA’s fact sheet on protecting workers who use chemical cleaners. Also read Worker Develops Bronchitis After Mixing Cleaning Chemicals to discover how mistakes when working with cleaning chemicals can end tragically.