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Cleaning Chemicals and Your Health


Chemical Concerns

Many cleaning chemicals could cause some serious health risks, especially when used on a daily basis.

Key concerns with cleaning chemicals include:

  • fumes that may be released by the chemicals
  • improperly diluting the chemicals with water
  • skin/eye irritation

Chemical-related problems can occur when chemicals aren’t stored properly or are mixed with chemicals that can produce very unhealthy, if not deadly, fumes.

Store chemicals in gallon containers off the floor so that they are easy to reach, with similar chemicals stored in the same area.

Potential Health Problems Caused by Cleaning Chemicals

glass cleaner

Many factors influence whether a cleaning chemical will cause health problems. Some important factors to consider include the following:

  • chemical ingredients of the cleaning product
  • how the cleaning product is being used or stored
  • ventilation in the area where the cleaning product is used
  • whether there are splashes and spills
  • whether the cleaning product comes in contact with the skin
  • whether mists, vapors, and/or gases are released

Health Problem Factors

Chemicals in some cleaning products can be irritating to the skin or can cause rashes. Cleaning products that contain corrosive chemicals can cause severe burns if splashed on the skin or in the eyes. Mists, vapors and/or gases from cleaning chemicals can irritate the eyes, nose, throat and lungs.

Symptoms may include the following:

  • burning eyes
  • sore throat
  • coughing
  • red, itchy eyes
  • skin rashes
  • skin and eye burns
  • wheezing
  • headaches or dizziness
  • nosebleeds
  • asthma

If you have health problems that you think are caused by using cleaning chemicals, make sure you tell your supervisor and ask to see a doctor.

Health Problem Factors (Continued)


Employees need to also recognize that bleach is very serious. If it’s mixed with ammonia, it can produce mustard gas. Other serious health risks are present when bleach is mixed with the following common cleaning chemicals:

  • glass or window cleaner
  • chlorinated scouring powder
  • drain cleaner
  • hydrogen peroxide
  • chlorinated disinfectants
  • vinegar

Mixing cleaning products that contain bleach and ammonia can cause severe lung damage or death.

Safe Work Practices

Review the proper protective equipment needed, such as gloves and goggles, and provide the proper protective equipment to the workers using the cleaning product.

Safe work practices when using cleaning chemicals include the following:

  • Chemicals must be diluted and employees should know how to correctly dilute the cleaners they are using.
  • Thoroughly review and train workers on the use, storage and emergency spill procedures for cleaning chemicals.
  • Review the proper protective equipment needed, such as gloves and goggles, and provide the proper protective equipment to the workers using the cleaning product.
  • Ensure all containers of cleaning products and chemicals are labeled to identify their contents and hazards.
  • Operate ventilation systems as needed during cleaning tasks to allow sufficient air flow and prevent buildup of hazardous vapors.
  • Provide workers with a place to wash up after using cleaning chemicals.

Cleaning Chemical Definitions


The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines cleaners, sanitizers and disinfectants as follows:

Cleaners remove dirt through wiping, scrubbing or mopping.

Sanitizers contain chemicals that reduce, but do not necessarily eliminate, microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses and molds from surfaces. Public health codes may require cleaning with the use of sanitizers in certain areas, like toilets and food preparation areas.

Disinfectants contain chemicals that destroy or inactivate microorganisms that cause infections. Disinfectants are critical for infection control in hospitals and other healthcare settings.

Cleaners, sanitizers and disinfectants serve different purposes, and it is important to choose the least hazardous cleaning chemical that will accomplish the task at hand. Before purchasing cleaning products, determine whether or not sanitizing or disinfecting is necessary. If sanitizing or disinfecting is not required, then choose a cleaner. In general, disinfectants and sanitizers are more hazardous than cleaners.

If sanitizing or disinfecting is necessary, be sure the product purchased is effective for the microorganisms being targeted.

Environmentally-Friendly Cleaners

Many employers and building managers are purchasing environmental-friendly, or “green,” cleaning chemicals, thinking they are safer for workers and the environment. However, placing the word “green” in a name or on a bottle does not ensure a chemical is safe. Employers should review the cleaning chemicals they purchase, including green cleaning products, to understand their health and safety hazards. Employers should choose the least hazardous cleaners.

Better Ways to Clean


Employers should note recent advances in safe cleaning practices and the availability of modern cleaning equipment that minimizes the use of chemicals.

Practices and equipment to consider include the following:

  • walk-off mats placed inside and outside of entryways (to prevent dirt from being tracked into the building)
  • microfiber mops, cloths and dusters
  • high-filtration HEPA vacuums
  • walk-behind hard floor auto-scrubbers
  • chemical-free cleaning systems

Building owners and planners should take building cleaning into consideration when designing new buildings, remodeling old buildings and choosing materials, such as flooring.

Safety Data Sheets

When choosing safer cleaning chemicals, employers can learn much from Safety Data Sheets (SDSs). Employers must obtain and maintain SDSs for all hazardous cleaning products and chemicals they use. SDSs must be readily accessible to workers. 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
  • symptoms and health problems that may be caused by the chemical ingredients
  • first-aid measures if workers are exposed
  • recommended personal protective equipment, such as gloves, safety goggles or respirators
  • proper procedures for cleaning up spills

Worker Training


Chemicals pose a wide range of health and safety hazards. OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard (29 CFR 1910.1200) is designed to ensure that information about these hazards and associated protective measures is communicated to workers. Worker training must be provided if the cleaning chemicals are hazardous. This training must be provided BEFORE the worker begins using the cleaners. Required training under the OSHA Hazard Communication Standard includes:

  • health and physical hazards of the cleaning chemicals
  • proper handling, use and storage of all cleaning chemicals being used, including dilution procedures when a cleaning product must be diluted before use
  • proper procedures to follow when a spill occurs
  • personal protective equipment required for using the cleaning product, such as gloves, safety goggles and respirators
  • how to obtain and use hazard information, including an explanation of labels and SDSs

The following are important issues to be discussed with workers during training:

  • Never mix different cleaning chemicals together. Dangerous gases can be released.
  • Cleaning chemicals should not be used to wash hands.

For more in-depth information on OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard, please check out OSHAcademy course 606 Hazard Communication for the Employee.

Employer Responsibilities

Your employer is required to provide a safe workplace. That means they must provide protective clothing, and safety gloves, when needed. Labels must also be visible on cleaning chemical containers. Your employer is also required to train on the hazards of the cleaning chemicals you are using and the safe work practices.

Your employer must train you to be knowledgeable of the following components:

  • hazards of the chemicals BEFORE using them
  • how to use and store cleaning chemicals safely
  • how and when to dilute cleaning chemicals you are using
  • what to do if there is a spill or other emergency
  • how to obtain and use hazard information on labels and SDS
  • how and when to use protective clothing, and safety goggles

Remember to wash your hands after using cleaning chemicals and before eating, drinking, or smoking.


Before beginning this quiz, we highly recommend you review the module material. This quiz is designed to allow you to self-check your comprehension of the module content, but only focuses on key concepts and ideas.

Read each question carefully. Select the best answer, even if more than one answer seems possible. When done, click on the "Get Quiz Answers" button. If you do not answer all the questions, you will receive an error message.

Good luck!

1. Chemical-related problems can occur when chemicals aren’t stored properly and _____.

2. Store chemicals in _____.

3. What happens when bleach is mixed with ammonia?

4. _____ remove dirt through wiping, scrubbing, or mopping.

5. Which of the following contains chemicals that reduce microorganisms from surfaces?

Have a great day!

Important! You will receive an "error" message unless all questions are answered.