Safety guides and audits to make your job as a safety professional easier

Cleaning Chemicals and Your Health

Remember: A clean space is usually a safe space.


Safe work practices when using cleaning chemicals include the following:

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.

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1. Which of the following contains chemicals that reduce, but do not necessarily eliminate, microorganisms?

a. Cleaners
b. Disinfectants
c. Sanitizers
d. Reducers

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Be careful using chemicals in areas without good ventilation.

Safety and Health Hazards

Exposure to hazardous cleaning chemicals found and used in the laundgry or housekeeping process can cause serious injuries and illness.

  • Soaps and detergents may cause allergic reactions and dermatitis.
  • Broken skin from soap or detergent irritation may provide an avenue for infection or injury if exposed to chemical or biological hazards.
  • Mixing cleaning solutions that contain ammonia and chlorine will form a deadly gas.
  • 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.

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

2. Each of the following is a factor that may cause the use of a housekeeping chemical to result in a health problem EXCEPT _____.

a. how the chemical is being used or stored
b. the size of the chemical container
c. the chemical ingredients of the product
d. the mists, vapors, or gases released by the chemical

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Corrosive Chemicals

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 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.

3. If corrosive chemicals are splashed on the skin or in the eyes, it can cause _____.

a. irritability
b. severe burns
c. dizziness
d. paralysis

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Mixing Chemicals

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Mixing chemicals can create flammable and toxic liquids.

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

4. What is produced by combining bleach with ammonia?

a. Mustard gas
b. Smallpox toxin
c. Inflammatory cryogen
d. Carbon monoxide

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Review the proper protective equipment needed.

Safe Work Practices

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.
  • Store chemicals in gallon containers off the floor within easy reach.
  • Store similar chemicals stored in the same area.

5. Where should you store chemicals to reduce the probability of an injury?

a. Anywhere on or off the floor
b. On shelves that are about shoulder high
c. On the floor away from walls or cabinets
d. Off the floor within easy reach

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Better Ways to Clean

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Take advantage of recent advantages in equipment.

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.

6. Employers should take advantage of recent advances in safe cleaning practices and the availability of modern cleaning equipment that _____.

a. minimize the use of chemicals
b. eliminates any need for routine housekeeping
c. reduces the cost of keeping the workplace safe
d. better meets OSHA regulation requirements

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Take advantage of recent advantages in equipment.

Employer Responsibilities

Your employer is required to provide a safe workplace. That means they must provide personal protective equipment (at no cost to the employee), and equipment, 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

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.

7. Your employer is required to provide personal protective equipment _____.

a. only if a task will result in serious injury or illness
b. at no cost to the employee
c. if requested by the employee (first request only)
d. within two weeks of initial employment

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Employee Training

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Employee training is important for everyone.

Chemicals pose a wide range of health and safety hazards. OSHA 1910.1200, Hazard Communication, is designed to ensure that information about these hazards and associated protective measures is communicated to workers. Employee 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

8. All housekeepers must be familiar with _____.

a. 1910.1200, Hazard Communication
b. 1926.120, Housekeeping Requirements
c. 1915.330, Tool and Equipment Best Practices
d. 1904.39, Job Hazard Analysis

Check your Work

Read the material in each section to find the correct answer to each quiz question. After answering all the questions, click on the "Check Quiz Answers" button to grade your quiz and see your score. You will receive a message if you forgot to answer one of the questions. After clicking the button, the questions you missed will be listed below. You can correct any missed questions and check your answers again.

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