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By Naomi German, Associate Industrial Hygiene Consultant

Though it may not feel like it yet, spring is coming…eventually…which means that it’s almost time to clean out closets, organize those boxes you’ve been ignoring all year and do some good old-fashioned spring cleaning. One thing you may have seen recently is the oddly satisfying, aesthetically pleasing act of transporting cleaning products from their original labeling & packaging into clear containers with no labels, so that your cleaning cabinet looks organized and Instagram/TikTok-worthy.  

While this does look very nice to strangers on social media, you absolutely should not separate your household chemicals and their packaging—which contains the product’s safety information. Whether it’s floor cleaner, disinfectant or just isopropyl alcohol, you should always keep your products in their original container with their label, so you can easily refer to the product’s uses,instructions for using it, and possible hazards. Chemicals are used in many ways in our homes – to generate power, in repairs or renovations, or simply to clean. For example, your car runs on a battery which is powered by a chemical reaction involving sulfuric acid and lead. Sulfuric acid is one of the 7 strong acids and, according to NIOSH, can be “destructive to the skin, eyes, teeth, and lungs. Severe exposure can result in death.”  

Don’t be alarmed though; not all batteries contain sulfuric acid and lead. That type of battery is highly toxic because it needs a strong reaction to generate a lot of power, and typical batteries like the ones that power your TV remote are made up of non-toxic materials such as steel and a mix of metal, paper, and plastic. Still, it pays to be aware since lead-acid batteries can leak, making the cleanup and repair potentially dangerous. (Which means it’s best to not touch any weird puddles in your garage!)  

Unfortunately, another current TikTok trend is to dissolve pieces of Styrofoam in acetone. Essentially, the acetone completely dissolves the Styrofoam, making your packaging vanish instantly. But what if you were out of acetone and decided to use a different household chemical, say gasoline?  

You’d end up creating napalm. That combination of gas and Styrofoam is HIGHLY DANGEROUS AND THIS SHOULD NOT BE ATTEMPTED. Napalm can burn at more than 5,000°F, causing death by severe burns or asphyxiation from the oxygen turning into carbon monoxide. There’s a reason that this was outlawed by the UN. If TikTok has taught us one thing, it’s that people will follow trends without considering the danger of them. 

From the first week of the pandemic, the dreaded supply chain issues have been cleaning out a particular aisle – the cleaning products aisle. Antibacterial wipes, disinfectant sprays, bleach, and many others were in short supply for quite some time, given the high demand for cleanliness. Though we may see most of these items as more helpful than they are harmful, there are several household chemicals for cleaning you should just never mix.

Here are some common chemicals that when combined can be very dangerous:

  • Bleach + Ammonia = Chloramine –> Smells like chlorine and irritates eyes, skin and mucous membranes.
  • Bleach + Alcohol = Chloroform –> Can knock someone unconscious, cause liver damage and potential respiratory or cardiac failure.
  • Bleach + Vinegar = Chlorine Gas –> A toxic gas that attacks the eyes, respiratory system and skin.
  • Peroxida + Vinegar = Peracetic Acid –> Highly corrosive & irritates the eyes, skin and respiratory ststem.

While chemicals in the workplace are normally in higher quantities and have the potential to become chemicals that are more dangerous (like those for water treatment or in manufacturing processes) Chemicals exist everywhere, and we need to be aware of what they can do if misused.

5 Household Chemical Storage Tips 

1. Substitute natural disinfectants when possible.

  • Often, natural disinfectants are just as effective as harsh chemicals, the only difference is that they require more time on the surface to properly disinfect it. A few examples of natural disinfectants would be a 1:1 solution of isopropyl alcohol and water, hydrogen peroxide and water, or vinegar and water.

2. Don’t mix products. EVER.

  • As said above, do not mix chemicals. Consolidating chemicals that are the same type and brand is ok!
  • This doesn’t just apply to when you’re using two different chemicals at the same time—make sure that you’ve completely rinsed away one cleaning chemical before applying another, such as when you use one solution to clean your shower walls and one to clean the tub.

3. Store products in their original containers.

  • The safety and storage information is immediately available, usually provided on the manufacturer’s label.

4. Store flammable items outside (i.e., a shed) and never near an open flame or heat source.

  • Whether it’s a shed or outdoor cabinet in your backyard, make sure it’s a fair distance away from your firepit or grill.

5. Use safety locks and guardrails on shelves.

  • This can prevent spills (and the associated cleanup), as well as protect pets or children from accessing them.

VelocityEHS Can Help Manage Chemicals  

Whether they’re chemicals in the home or workplace, it’s important to know which chemicals you’re handling and what their hazards are. Whether you’re a large organization or smaller business, the VelocityEHS Safety Solution offers a chemical management service which supports businesses in creating and maintaining their SDS eBinder. This helps ensure that all workers know how to properly handle and store chemicals, and, if need be, know how to treat chemical exposures.