To try to kill the novel coronavirus, some Americans are unsafely using disinfectants and cleaners, including washing food with bleach, using the products on bare skin, and inhaling and ingesting them, federal health officials reported Friday.
Health experts caution explicitly against using cleaning products in those ways.
The findings come from an online survey of 502 adults conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in May. Thirty-nine percent had misused the cleaning products, and one quarter reported “an adverse health effect that they believed was a result” of the products.
Of the respondents, 19% said they had used bleach on food, 18% said they had applied household cleaners to their skin, 10% said they had misted themselves with disinfectant sprays, 6% had inhaled vapors from the cleaners, and 4% had drunk or gargled diluted bleach solutions, soapy water, or other disinfectants.
“These practices pose a risk of severe tissue damage and corrosive injury and should be strictly avoided,” the CDC researchers wrote in a paper, published in the agency’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. “Although adverse health effects reported by respondents could not be attributed to their engaging in high-risk practices, the association between these high-risk practices and reported health effects indicates a need for public health messaging regarding safe and effective cleaning practices aimed at preventing SARS-CoV-2 transmission in households.” (SARS-CoV-2 is the formal name of the novel coronavirus.)
The paper does not mention President Trump’s public questioning at a press conference in April of whether an “injection inside” the body of a disinfectant could kill the virus. His remarks led poison control centers and manufacturers of cleaning products to reiterate that disinfectants and cleaners should not be ingested, inhaled, or injected. The president later claimed he was trying to prank reporters with his remarks.
The CDC survey set out to see if consumers knew how to safely store and use disinfectants at a time when health officials were urging regular cleanings of high-touch surfaces to combat the spread of the virus. It also came amid an increase in calls to poison control centers about exposures to cleaning products.
The survey showed that many people did not know how to safely use different cleaning products, even as most said they knew how to properly store and use them. About a quarter of respondents knew that only room temperature water should be mixed with bleach, and a third knew not to mix bleach with vinegar. More of the respondents — about two thirds — knew that eye protection and gloves were recommended when using certain cleaners.
The researchers pointed to several limitations of their report, including whether the respondents were representative of the country.