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Dangerous Misuse of Bleach, Disinfectants Widespread in Pandemic

High-risk practices include drinking, inhaling, washing with household cleaning products, CDC finds

Disinfecting vegetables

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En español | More than one-third of Americans have dangerously misused household cleaning products — including gargling with diluted bleach — to prevent transmission of the coronavirus, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Based on an online survey of 502 Americans, the report showed that many adults are unfamiliar with the “safe preparation of cleaning and disinfectant solutions, use of recommended personal protective equipment when using cleaners and disinfectants, and safe storage of hand sanitizers, cleaners, and disinfectants."

In particular, the survey found that 39 percent of respondents reported engaging in at least one “high-risk practice” in the prior month to prevent the transmission of COVID-19, including:

  • Rinsing fruits and vegetables with bleach (19 percent)
  • Washing hands or skin with household cleaning and disinfectant products (18 percent)
  • Misting the body with a cleaning or disinfectant spray (10 percent)
  • Inhaling vapors of household cleaners or disinfectants (6 percent)
  • Drinking or gargling diluted bleach solution, soapy water, and other cleaning and disinfectant solutions (4 percent each)

The CDC commissioned the survey after an April report found that accidental poisonings from household cleaners and disinfectants have increased as Americans are spending more time at home in an effort to slow the coronavirus pandemic.

During the first three months of the year, 55 poison centers across the United States received 45,550 exposure calls related to cleaners and disinfectants, or about 20 percent more than the 37,822 reported during the same period a year ago, according to a CDC report.

The report noted, at the time, that the data do not provide a “definite link” between poison exposures and COVID-19 cleaning efforts.

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In the May survey, 25 percent of respondents reported that in the previous month they had at least one adverse health effect after using cleaners or disinfectants, including nose or sinus irritation (11 percent); skin irritation (8 percent); eye irritation (8 percent); dizziness, lightheadedness or headache (8 percent); upset stomach or nausea (6 percent); and breathing problems (6 percent).

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